‘The Selfish Giant’ by Oscar Wilde

The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde, 1888

The magic trick:

Moving the story into larger, biblical territory without pretense

Certainly not the first thing that people think of when you think of Oscar Wilde, that being children’s stories. But he did write several, and we’re going to be looking at those this week on the short story magic trick website.

We start with “The Selfish Giant.” In a lot of ways, it’s your standard children’s story arc. We’ve got a character who acts in a way that is mean and selfish, and not at all how we ask children to act. So it stands out in direct contrast to these sweet, innocent kids who want to play in his yard. So, there’s nothing particularly imaginative there. But what is pretty cool is the way the story unfolds at the end into something much bigger than the narrative itself or just a story about a giant and some kids. It really transcends the fairy tale realm and goes into a, quite frankly, biblical territory. The Christian messages are delivered in a way that doesn’t feel pretentious or labored. It gets to that place pretty naturally. And that’s quite a trick on Wilde’s part. 

The selection:

He was a very selfish Giant.

The poor children had now nowhere to play. They tried to play on the road, but the road was very dusty and full of hard stones, and they did not like it. They used to wander round the high wall when their lessons were over, and talk about the beautiful garden inside. “How happy we were there,” they said to each other.

Then the Spring came, and all over the country there were little blossoms and little birds. Only in the garden of the Selfish Giant it was still winter. The birds did not care to sing in it as there were no children, and the trees forgot to blossom. Once a beautiful flower put its head out from the grass, but when it saw the notice-board it was so sorry for the children that it slipped back into the ground again, and went off to sleep. The only people who were pleased were the Snow and the Frost. “Spring has forgotten this garden,” they cried, “so we will live here all the year round.” The Snow covered up the grass with her great white cloak, and the Frost painted all the trees silver. Then they invited the North Wind to stay with them, and he came. He was wrapped in furs, and he roared all day about the garden, and blew the chimney-pots down. “This is a delightful spot,” he said, “we must ask the Hail on a visit.” So the Hail came. Every day for three hours he rattled on the roof of the castle till he broke most of the slates, and then he ran round and round the garden as fast as he could go. He was dressed in grey, and his breath was like ice.

“I cannot understand why the Spring is so late in coming,” said the Selfish Giant, as he sat at the window and looked out at his cold white garden; “I hope there will be a change in the weather.”


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