crhp_hp1_sans_souci

The Palace of Sans-Souci, illustration by Charles Robinson, 1911 edtion.

Last week, as part of the giveaway, I asked folks to tell me their favorite fairy tale character. One person mentioned the happy prince from Oscar Wilde’s story, a character I had never heard of, so of course I had to read the story.  I really should have been warned that it would make me cry.

The story is from The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde, first published in May 1888, and you can find all five sotires included in the collection on-line here. The Happy Prince is a statue that stands high over the city. He is covered in gold leaf, has sapphire eyes and holds a sword with a ruby in its hilt. Everyone in the city admires his beauty and happy attitude. A swallow who has put off migrating to Egypt land at the statues feet when he is looking for a safe place to rest and feels drops of rain that he quickly discovers are actually tears. The Happy Prince’s statue holds the spirit of a true prince, who when he was living  Palace of Sans- Souci had known nothing aside from playing, dancing, beauty and joy, but now, trapped in the statue, he sees all the misery and sadness in his city. The swallow stays with the statue, even though it gets colder and colder, delivering the gems and gold leave to the poor and needy throughout the city as the happy prince directs. The bird tells the prince all about exotic Egypt and about what he sees in his flights around the city.

The poor little Swallow grew colder and colder, but he would not leave the Prince, he loved him too well. He picked up crumbs outside the baker’s door when the baker was not looking and tried to keep himself warm by flapping his wings. But at last he knew that he was going to die. He had just strength to fly up to the Prince’s shoulder once more. “Good-bye, dear Prince!” he murmured, “will you let me kiss your hand?”

“I am glad that you are going to Egypt at last, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “you have stayed too long here; but you must kiss me on the lips, for I love you.”

“It is not to Egypt that I am going,” said the Swallow. “I am going to the House of Death. Death is the brother of Sleep, is he not?”

And he kissed the Happy Prince on the lips, and fell down dead at his feet.

At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken. The fact is that the leaden heart had snapped right in two. It certainly was a dreadfully hard frost.

Now I’m crying again. I hate when stories do that to me. Anyway, the town councillors realize how shabby the statue is looking and pull it down. The statue is melted, all except its lead heart which won’t melt, so the workmen throw it into the refuse pile along with the dead bird.

There is a happy ending, though.

“Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird.

“You have rightly chosen,” said God, “for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me.”

In caring for others, acting unselfishly, both the prince and bird are rewarded in heaven. I can see why Vendea would mention the happy prince as her favorite character. He truly cares and is willing to sacrifice everything he has to help others.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.