|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!