________________ CM . . . . Volume VIII Number 17 . . . . April 26, 2002

cover Oscar Wilde's the Happy Prince.

Oscar Wilde. Illustrated by Robin Muller.
Toronto, ON: Stoddart Kids, 2001.
24 pp., cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 0-7737-3318-3.

Kindergarten and up / Ages 5 and up.

Review by Sylvia Pantaleo.

**** /4


High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statute of
the Happy Prince. He was gilded all
over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two
bright sapphires, and a large ruby glowed on his sword-hilt.

The Happy Prince was greatly admired by the people of the city. However, although the statue's expression was fashioned into a smile, the Happy Prince was very unhappy.

     A Swallow, who finally realized that loving a beautiful Reed was futile, began his late migration to Egypt. The Swallow alighted on the statue one night, but as the bird prepared to go to sleep, a large drop of water fell on him. When additional drops fell, the Swallow realized that the Happy Prince was weeping. The Prince explained that, from his high vantage point, he witnessed the ugliness and the misery of the city. On three occasions, the Swallow helped the Happy Prince relieve some of the suffering and poverty in the city. At the Prince's direction, the Swallow gave the ruby from his sword-hilt and the Prince's two sapphire eyes to needy people. Once the tasks were completed, the Happy Prince instructed the Swallow to migrate, but the bird refused to leave the now blind Prince.

The following day, the Swallow told the Prince stories about sights it had seen in strange lands. Although the Prince was interested in the Swallow's marvelous stories, the Prince stated that "more marvelous than anything is the suffering of men and women. There is no Mystery so great as Misery." The Prince asked the Swallow to fly over the city and tell him what he saw. The Swallow returned with stories of poverty and suffering. The Prince instructed the Swallow to give the poor people the golden leaves that adorned the statue. Once again, people benefitted from the Prince's generosity. However, the statue of the Happy Prince looked dull and grey. The Swallow suffered more as winter settled in and the weather became colder and colder. One day he flew to the Prince's shoulder to say good-bye as the bird knew that it was going to die. The Swallow kissed the Prince and fell dead at his feet. At that moment, a curious crack sounded; the
Prince's leaden heart snapped in two as he had loved the Swallow.

     The next morning, the Mayor and Town Councillors were walking in the square, and they noticed the shabby appearance of the Happy Prince. "Little better than a beggar," commented the Town Councillors. The Mayor was disgusted at the sight of a dead bird at the Prince's feet and suggested that a proclamation be made to ensure that "birds are not allowed to die here." The statue of the Happy Prince was removed and melted in a furnace. However, the broken lead heart of the Happy Prince would not melt in the furnace, and so it was thrown "on a dust-heap where a dead swallow was also lying."

     When God instructed one of His Angels to bring Him "the two most precious things in the city," the Angel brought the leaden heart of the Happy Prince and the body of the Swallow. God praised the Angel and stated that in His garden of Paradise the Swallow would "sing forever more," and in his city of gold, the Happy Prince "shall praise me."

     Part social commentary, part fairy tale, Wilde's bittersweet tale is as significant today as when it was first published in 1888. The classic story of compassion and selflessness will appeal to readers of all ages. The last page of Muller's book provides some biographic information about Oscar Wilde. As well as his fairy tales, Wilde published poetry, plays and one novel.

     The endpapers are effectively patterned with a white silhouette of a swallow. The blue and brown hues in Muller's soft watercolour illustrations are particularly effective in complementing the text. The high-quality glossy paper augments the richness of Muller's version of this Victorian story.

     Robin Muller is a well known Canadian author/illustrator and painter. His has received many honours for his work including the Governor General's Literary Award and the IODE Book Award. He is also an Ezra Jack Keats Memorial Award medalist.

Highly Recommended.

Sylvia Pantaleo is a language arts professor in the Faculty of Education, the University of Victoria.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364