Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde: The Happy Prince
by P. Craig Russell
Available from NBM Publishing $8.99
I confess: I did know Oscar Wilde wrote poetry, plays, and the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, but I did not know that he had written a series of children-friendly-though-enjoyable-by-adults ‘fairy tales’ in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm. I bet you didn’t either. But now, thanks to artist P. Craig Russell, who gives the perfect compliment to the text, more people will. Or they should.
You probably know Russell’s art, if not his name: he worked with Neil Gaiman on some of the Sandman series, and on Coraline. Which, I think, gives him substantial cred in (as in he’s perfect for) his project of illustrating all of Wilde’s fairy stories, each one a separate thin volume (though I can’t imagine NBM Publishing won’t do a compendium of all of them at some point.
This particular fairy tale, The Happy Prince, concerns a the statue of a prince who died young, and his interaction with a swallow. The swallow begins the story somewhat self-centered and/or a little feeling sorry for himself. The prince/statue, who stand above a big city and sees all the suffering going on, teaches the swallow about compassion. And redemption, with a surprisingly christian (in a good way) ending.
Said suffering is going on, surprise, among the poor: Wilde doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for the rich, who are even more self-centered than the swallow, and lacking in compassion, though Wilde might, perhaps, be leaving room open for anyone to learn compassion. All that’s needed is a, figurative if not literal, big picture view of the world.
Along the way we get Russell’s magical-realist art, the kind that serves so well in Sandman. I can’t imagine a perfect pairing of text and art here (except maybe Sandman). I’m usually not a fan of adaptations from just-text to text-and-art, and I don’t know for sure if Russell is changing or taking out any of Wilde’s words. I doubt it. But neither is he taking away from the text. In fact, I think the text seems meant for accompanying art, as all good fairy tales are. Another confession: I might have just passed on the Wilde fairy tales by themselves. Maybe we’ve needed to wait the hundred-odd years for someone like Russell to really do justice to Wilde’s talent.
I will gladly pass this book on to my young nieces, they’ll love it, and I have this vision that Wilde’s fairy tales might become a young reader standard, and rank as some of Wilde’s greatest contributions to literature. And if that’s too grandiose a vision, The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde: The Happy Prince is at least a great way to introduce kids to comics and graphic novels. Which, you could argue (and I would) children’s books kind of are anyways.