To be quite honest I am not familiar with Oscar Wilde’s work in the least bit and it’s for no other reason other than: Time and Exposure. Having now read an Oscar Wilde fairy tale, I am very interested in the other stories but only if they’re illustrated by P. Craig Russell. “The Happy Prince” was a delightful story that had a bittersweet ending, but was worth the heartache.
The story is about a statue made to honor a deceased Prince. It’s placed in the center of the city to look out over it. The story begins with all of the comments from the different people in town about the statue until one night a swallow lands in front of the Happy Prince. The swallow is migrating to Egypt after spending too long with a river reed that it was in love with. As the swallow tries to sleep at the Prince’s feet it feels a water drop on its head. After ruling out rain the little swallow looks up and finds the Prince crying.
The swallow asks what’s wrong and he tells the little bird about a mother pouring herself into a dress she’s making in order to feed her starving, fever stricken child. He asks the swallow to pluck the ruby from his sword and deliver it to the mother so that she may take care of her child. The swallow reluctantly agrees, but says that it must leave for Egypt the next day.
The story continues with a predictable outcome, but the journey getting there is what makes the book worth it. The story is over a hundred years old so it goes without saying that it’s not terribly complex and as the book jacket tells us, Wilde had children in mind when creating his fairy tales. As I said this was my first exposure to Wilde’s work and it was very good; full of social commentary that sadly is still relevant in our modern times.
The art is fantastic and truly brings Wilde’s story to life. I don’t know if I could read another of his fairy tales if they weren’t illustrated by P. Craig Russell. Russell’s page layouts are one of the most impressive things about the book (although there are many other reasons as well). When the Prince is talking about the mother and her child the panels slowly zoom in as it builds the drama and emerges the reader deeper into the story. The caption and dialog boxes were also cleverly utilized to play right to the strengths of the original story. Russell’s line work in general is beautiful and he does an amazing job of drawing characters in all shapes and sizes giving the story a real world feel.
Looking inside the book jacket I can see four other books that Russell has adapted from Wilde’s work and I’m very curious to see how they match up. “The Happy Prince” was a great story with wonderful art that while simple contained the magic that is great storytelling. This is one master complimenting another and it’s worth having in any collection and spans all age gaps.
Story: Oscar Wilde
Illustrator: P. Craig Russell
Publisher: NBM Publishing
Price: $16.99 (Hardcover)