Welcome to my first short story review! Featuring 'The Happy Prince' by Oscar Wilde.
Plot - /30
Without giving anything or too much away, this is a story about the friendship between the statue of a city's former 'happy prince' and a swallow. The two form an unlikely kinship as the swallow abandons his courtship of a reed, following the reed's refusal to travel with the travel-loving swallow. The swallow begins his journey to Egypt to rejoin his friends on their pursuit for a warmer destination as the winter months approach. His first nightly pit-stop is at the feet of the statue of the 'happy prince'. As the swallow rests his eyes, rain drops meet him. Or, at least he believes them to be rain drops. In reality, tears fall from the eyes of the statue. The two strike up a conversation, and the swallow learns that the once 'happy prince' lives a dismal life as a statue, as he now has a complete view of his former city and witnesses the dark realities for those living in poverty and hunger. They form a friendship aimed at helping those in need. This being the story in a nutshell.
As far as my enjoyment of the story and plot, I quite liked it. It was simple and familiar, in terms of its themes, and one that can easily resonate and touch you. I greatly appreciated its theme of perspective. We see how the 'happy prince' had a fantastical life during his years living within his royal quarters - showcasing one's micro-perspective. But then, following his death and the creation of his statue in the center of the city, his new perspective, one of the macro variety, exposes him to the dark realities he never saw from within his privileged life. It's a theme, and a lesson, that I believe everyone should consider. We all have our lives and we generally operate within their parameters - this being life within the micro. But that being said, there is always more than what we know - the macro - and it's important for us to have the curiosity and humanity for its discovery. It took the once 'happy prince' a life time and re-birth as a statue to learn this, but he discovered it in the end and endeavored to help those he once overlooked.
Was this an exciting plot? No. Was it an exceptionally humorous one? No. Was it a meaningful one? Absolutely. And as you know, this is an incredibly important criteria for me. This is a story fixed on perspectives, reflection, and humanity. It did a fantastic job of covering all three, while touching my heart in the process, and for that reason I give it the following score: 27/30.
Characters - /20
There are really only two characters in this story: the swallow and the statue of the 'happy prince'. The remaining few take a purely supporting role, and a tiny one at that. I personally loved the characters for two reasons: their individual characteristics, and the symbolism of their relationship.
The swallow is the most relatable of the two. Not in physical form, but in terms of how he approaches life. He begins on the selfish side, abandoning his courtship of the reed to travel and attempting to leave the 'happy prince' for the same reasons. By the end of the story, this all changes, as you will see ;) His selfishness softens and he evolves into, what I saw, as an inspiration and hero. A classic character arc, but one that has lasted this long for good reason. Never mind the fact that whenever I hear 'swallow', I think of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which just made the character that much more amusing, for me.
The 'happy prince' followed a very similar character arc, but in his resurrection as a statue. The one difference, however, is that I continuously felt for prince. That never changed, as from the moment we met him right to the very end, his character was one flooded with reflection, regret, and a desire to make up for his previous life. Both characters are deeply human in their core.
Finally, the relationship between the two is one I believe everyone understands unconsciously, but seldom registers when fully conscious. We always see birds sitting and resting on statues, polls, cables buildings, etc, but I don't feel we always openly point out that reality. Reason being, why would we? Honestly, who cares? Which is why I enjoyed the relationship between the swallow and the statue of the 'happy prince'. The swallow was simply doing what he would normally do and use the statue for his benefit. Oscar Wilde flips this by having the statue attempt to use the swallow - a fun move.
Classic character types. Nothing out of the ordinary, but ones that are extremely relatable, familiar, and symbolic. They carried the story very well and displayed traits and doings of relationships between people that we can consider in a heartfelt fashion. I personally loved this, and will give these two a perfect score: 20/20.
Writing - /15
Wilde's writing fit the context of the story. It was short and concise, yet gave you enough to let your imagination wander as you read. The brevity of his writing established the tone of a fairy-tale, which I believe made the experience of reading the story that much better. It matched up extremely well, considering the characters - a talking swallow and statue - adding to the 'distance' of the story experience (if you recall my thoughts on creating 'distance' in stories). This was far from an account. It was a story, through and through.
Additionally, I found the writing to be natural, smooth, and free-flowing. This is probably because when reading classic writers, I often read translations, which, while enjoyable, lose their naturally intended form during the translation process. So for me, Wilde delivers a fluid, visual, and effortless read. Highly enjoyable and visually engaging. Another perfect score: 15/15.
Setting - /5:
There isn't much to discuss here. I often find that the 'Classics' serve as a fantasy (a future blog post). They force us to re-imagine a world we never knew and will never know. Given the reality that Wilde's short story was centered on a prince, I instinctively imagined an old English town, somewhat medieval, somewhat renaissance in flavor. Cobblestone roads, markets, shops, wooden townhouses for the poor, elegantly dressed nobles walking round city squares, with the large statue of the 'happy prince' as the focal point of the city. All I can say is, nothing wrong with that: 5/5
The Gut Feeling - /30
Lastly, the all important gut feeling... Did I enjoy this story? Would I read it again? Would I genuinely share and recommend it to friends and company? Yes. All of the above! It was very well written, both natural and pleasant in flow while visual. The characters were familiar and relatable in great way, serving as symbols for the actions, doings, and growth of individuals. And the plot further cemented the tone and meaningful purpose set by the characters, whom I loved greatly. 30/30
Final Score - 97/100
This was a much higher score than I expected to give. Part of the reason for this, I believe, is that I have almost no expectations for most stories on my review list. In this case of The Happy Prince, I've always wanted to read some of Oscar Wilde, so there was definitely a dash of eagerness. Nevertheless, it was a great story, one I would recommend 100%, and a great one to open my reviews with.
Click on the image to take you to the story! Read it! Let me know what you think!
Till next time!