Friday, October 19, 2012

My Little Brother and Wilde's "The Nightingale and the Rose"

PJ Lynch's illustration for the tale

I wish I could have recorded what I just witnessed.  My little eight year old brother just finished listening to an audio recording of Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince and other Fairy Tales, and he came up to me after finishing the story, and obviously after having thought about them to himself for a little while and said, “Jess, there was a story in there that, well, I didn’t really like...”  My little brother then proceeded to recount in a most articulate and engrossing way the tale of “The Nightingale and the Rose”.  I could tell that despite his assertion that he DID NOT like the tale, it had captured something in him, captivated him in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen him be by any other story, and that’s saying something because this little person has heard A LOT of stories, great ones, many, many more than I had at his age.  But I was amazed by how he narrated the story not only with wonderful attention to plot progression, but also to detail, and he recounted bits of dialogue almost as if he had memorized them.  “And then he threw the rose into the gutter...” after that last line of his narration, he paused for a bit, a moment of silence for the trial of the story I guess. 
And he then said, “And that’s why I don’t like the story.” 
“Why,” I asked. 
“Well because it didn’t have a happy ending.”
“But not all stories have happy endings...”
“Well,” he went on, “Most stories need happy endings to be good, and this one needed it.  It just did.”

And a few more things passed between us, but I can’t remember the specifics, and then he returned to playing with his knight Legos.  But then, just now, as I was typing this he called out from the family room:

“The bird wasted her life... She died for nothing!!  And that girl was just so annoying!”

What is it about this story, about Wilde’s fairy tales in general, and perhaps all fairy tales, that strike a chord within the hearts of so many, in both adults and children?  But I think this one is doing something different, especially in the fact that it truly does not have a happy ending.  In “The Happy Prince” for example, which I read to him two nights ago, at least the swallow and the Prince sacrifice themselves but are then taken up to heaven as the most “precious” individuals the angel could find to bring to God.  But here, as my little brother exclaims passionately, “She died for nothing!”

What do you make of this scene?  Why did the story captivate him so, while at the same time infuriating him? I just had to record his reaction, at least in words!


  1. What a wonderful reaction! We don't always like what we read/listen to, but I think it's better to react angrily than to read/hear something and forget it completely. Very interesting!

    1. I agree, I think sometimes when you read something that makes you upset, sometimes it produces really interesting responses because it really makes you think (I just experienced this, almost for the first time really, this past week in my Young Adult Lit class, I really, really didn't like a book, but it gave way to a lot of interesting ideas that I was able to bring up in class)

  2. I'm with him. My favorite stories have happy endings. I know it's not true to life but I want my fiction to whisk me away. I like his instincts, I love what you told him, and I loved this post.

    1. Thanks :) I almost felt like I didn't really say enough, but to be honest I wasn't sure what to say...especially to an 8yr old. The young student doesn't believe in true love anymore? She did sacrifice herself for something she believed in, she was brave enough to sacrifice herself for something that was true and right, but as he says that girl is annoying she just messed it all up, because it does make it seem like, well now she just died for nothing! It was a very interesting moment :)

  3. What I find amazing (and thank you for sharing this) is that superficially your brother didn't like the story BUT it stayed with him and made him think about things. I wonder if this, subsequently, will change the way he reacts to future stories? That perhaps ones with very easy, happy endings will feel less satisfactory? They might not but it's great that he engaged with it so well. I know you are studying fairy tales like I am at the moment - one critic I read wasn't so keen on Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde because he said that they do play with your emotions, whereas other traditional fairy tales don't really engage you psychologically. I know that Andersen's and Wilde's have led me to tears before but I think they are actually some of the most beautiful stories ever written.

    1. I so agree with you! I'm trying to read more of Wilde's story now as well as Anderson because they are, as you said, just so beautiful! I'm excited to get to Andersen, and I'm assuming also Wilde, in my fairy class as we move into the "literary fairy tale" which is what Andersen's stories fall under (our professor brought up this term and I'm very interested to see what we talk about!). Do you remember which critic said that about their tales?

      And what you said is so interesting about the possibility that this story could have that effect, altering the way he accepts endings and what he's looking for. I'll have to keep an eye out :)