Review by Ian Keogh
It wasn’t until this fifth book adapting Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales, a full twenty years after the first, that P. Craig Russell turned his attention to Wilde’s best known and most loved of them, The Happy Prince. While many of the others fell from fashionable grace over the years, its reputation has been sustained, and as lovingly detailed by Russell it’s a definite crowd pleaser.
Those never read the original as a child may be surprised to learn the happy prince is a statue, very finely adorned and upon a pedestal both literally and figuratively, universally admired and held up as an example by mothers to misbehaving children. In the manner of fairy tales, this statue has a sentience and embodies the spirit of the boy it represents, having memories of the happy closeted days in a beautiful palace before he died young. Now high above the city he has a full view of the misery and deprivation he was spared when alive.
Wilde was an astute social commentator with a propensity to cut through self-serving hypocrisy, and as a condemnation of what we’re prepared to sanction as long as we’re prosperous The Happy Prince is among his strongest works. It remains distressingly relevant a century after Wilde’s death. There is the indulgence of the writer starving in his garret, and accusations of excess sentimentality certainly have a foundation when we reach the conclusion, but you’d have to have a lead heart to completely ignore Wilde’s message.
There is a very minor problem, and it’s that Russell’s work is so elegant that his style is incapable of portraying the squalor intended by Wilde as contrast to the gold leaf adorned statue. He takes particular care with that statue, depicting it consistently from varying angles, and with a relative simplicity that’s nonetheless emotionally strong. As with his other adaptations there’s a sheer and pure beauty to some of his pages, as there is to this timeless reminder of our failings.
Make the most of this. Extending the mathematical sequence between appearances of Russell’s fairy tale adaptations it’ll be 2022 before NBM can publish The Fisherman and his Soul.