|From The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde.|
Illustrated by Charles Robinson (1920).
The Selfish Giant is a children's story by Oscar Wilde first published in The Happy Prince and Other Tales in 1888. It's very short and simple: whilst the Selfish Giant of the title is visiting his friend the Cornish Ogre, children love to play in his beautiful garden:
"It was a large lovely garden, with soft green grass. Here and there over the grass stood beautiful flowers like stars, and there were twelve peach-trees that in the spring-time broke out into delicate blossoms of pink and pearl, and in the autumn bore rich fruit. The birds sat on the trees and sang so sweetly that the children used to stop their games in order to listen to them. 'How happy we are here!' they cried to each other."
One day, however, the giant returns and is furious to see the children have been in his garden. So, he puts up a sign: "Trespassers will be prosecuted" and the children no longer have anywhere to play.
But, something strange occurs: as winter passes and spring begins in the world, it does not begin in the garden:
"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.”
But the Spring never came, nor the Summer. The Autumn gave golden fruit to every garden, but to the Giant’s garden she gave none. “He is too selfish,” she said. So it was always Winter there, and the North Wind, and the Hail, and the Frost, and the Snow danced about through the trees."
Perpetual winter: one cannot help but be reminded of Narnia, which was first published some sixty-two years later. One day, however, he wakes up to find spring has returned, and so too have the children having crept in through a little hole. The giant realises the horribleness of his actions and was truly repentant. When he goes out to see the children, though, they run away, all but one who does not desert him. He helps the boy into the tree, and the children return along with spring. The story does not end there, however; the children continue to play in the garden all summer, with the exception of the little boy who seems to have disappeared until one day he returns:
"Downstairs ran the Giant in great joy, and out into the garden. He hastened across the grass, and came near to the child. And when he came quite close his face grew red with anger, and he said, “Who hath dared to wound thee?” For on the palms of the child’s hands were the prints of two nails, and the prints of two nails were on the little feet.
“Who hath dared to wound thee?” cried the Giant; “tell me, that I may take my big sword and slay him.”
“Nay!” answered the child; “but these are the wounds of Love.”
“Who art thou?” said the Giant, and a strange awe fell on him, and he knelt before the little child.
And the child smiled on the Giant, and said to him, “You let me play once in your garden, to-day you shall come with me to my garden, which is Paradise.”
And when the children ran in that afternoon, they found the Giant lying dead under the tree, all covered with white blossoms."
It is a very moving little story and it's not difficult to see the Christian and socialist undertones. The Giant represents excess, acting only on his own self-interest and disregarding the happiness of others in his greed. But he is saved by the Christ-like figure of the boy who, it could be argued, died for him: the Walter Crane illustration (1910) is a reminder too - the placing the boy into the tree perhaps mimics the crucifixion. The Giant is saved, and, ultimately, he dies in peace.
And that was my 26th title for the Deal Me In Challenge: the half way point! Next week: The Rose and the Ring by William Makepeace Thackeray.