jasonsteinfairytales

They’ve gone wild–the girls have gone Wilde! | April 16, 2012

In true Mean Girls sense (anybody catch the titular quote?), Oscar Wilde lived a life “as artificial as possible.” Nevertheless, he sought a deeper understanding of human motive in capturing sorrow through fairytales. His intended audience, unlike the common Grimm tale or even Andersen’s tales upon which he based many of his works, is “childlike people from eighteen to eighty.” Almost all of his fairytales characterize magical individuals, but they never end happily ever after. In fact, they almost always die, or were never alive.

The Selfish Giant, for example, poses a mean ogre-like character who prevents children from playing in his garden and causes a chilly winter around the garden. Wilde animates the seasons to illustrate the giant’s emotional state, loneliness; it is no surprise, then, that when the ogre finally finds the little boy he was looking for (the one who snuck into his garden during the first winter period and made it spring again), the overshadowing winter pales in comparison to the white blossoms of the tree in the corner of the garden. The ogre asks who could have put nails in the no-coincidence Jesus-like boy, and the boy responds that it was out of Love and tells the ogre he will take him to Paradise. The ogre then dies, lying peacefully under the tree.

He dies–not the best message to give to young children, who may see that the only way to be happy is to die. But the ogre dies having found a reason to live–to entertain and facilitate the children’s play. It is this complex emotional paradox of figuring out one’s personal reason for existence and then being happy to die once it is found out that surrounds most of Oscar Wilde’s stories. He injects regular moral-telling fairytales with deep existential undertones to allow more adult readers to be able to learn from the stories, not just children who have yet to learn the “rules of society.” Wilde differs from other fairytales, despite using magic and marveling over a cute canon of typical fairytale characters, in that he fixates on figuring out the purpose of life and understanding one’s own situations instead of transcending an entire society’s worth of lessons.

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