I have read Wilde’s first collection of fairy tales which included The Nightingale and the Rose — my absolute favourite and saddest fairy tale of Wilde’s.
However, I have never read his second collection, or at least I do not recall reading it, so when I came upon this gorgeous edition I could not resist buying and reading it immediately. This collection includes four fairy tales: The Young King, The Birthday of the Infanta, The Fisherman and his Soul, and The Star-Child.
Each story follows the traditional fairy tale set up more or less — strong imagery, repetition, personified animal and inanimate characters, and a moral to be taken out of each story. The imagery Wilde provides is startlingly beautiful and vivid in each tale, and it creates perfect settings, like this one from The Birthday of the Infanta:
“Underneath a great canopy of gold cloth, on which the lions and towers of Castile were broidered in seed pearls, stood the throne itself, covered with a rich pall of black velvet studded with silver tulips and elaborately fringed with silver and pearls.”
Not to mention the gorgeous illustrations which are just as vivid in line and colour as Wilde’s imagery is in words.
In the same story appears a metaphorical oxymoron that I thought was piquant, although simple. Little Infanta, beautiful and lovely as she is, represents the shallowness and beastliness of human nature, while the little Dwarf, unsightly as he is, represents its beauty through the human ability of love.
The Fisherman and his Soul explores, well, the worth of a human soul, among other things.
“Alack, alack, thou art mad, or has eaten of some poisonous herb, for thes oul is the noblest part of man, and was given to us by God that we should nobly use it. There is no thing more precious than a human soul, nor any earthly thing that can be weighed with it. It is worth all the gold that is in the world, and is more precious than the rubies of the kings.”
That is the Priest’s response to the young Fisherman’s plea to get rid of his soul. I saw some parallels between this story and Wilde’s only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray in that both young men corrupt their souls in the end for the sake of love. In the Fisherman’s case — the love of the Mermaid, and in the Dorian’s — the love of himself.
” ‘Love is better than Wisdom,’ he cried, ‘and the little Mermaid loves me.’
‘Nay, but there is nothing better than Wisdom,’ said the Soul.
‘Love is better,’ answered the young Fisherman…”
Pronounced much in the style of Dorian Gray, except “Vanity is better” would have been his motto. 🙂