One thing that I found particularly interesting about The Happy Prince stories was their similarity to fairy tales. This literary form seemed out of character for Wilde, whose works tend to cater to an educated and upper-class audience. Many of his poems, essays, and stories have the pre-requisite of being “in the know,” referencing other decadent works and making allusions to texts with which the average person would not be familiar. Additionally, some of his work comes off as classist. He treats the poor as predisposed to a certain lifestyle and favors the educated and bored wealthy as the main subjects of his work.
The Happy Prince tales took on a completely different mode of communication. They were generally straightforward stories that were easy to understand. They featured talking animals, mythical creatures, and even anthropomorphic rockets. Most seemed to contain a moral. Some even seemed to criticize the wealthy and upper class, like The Remarkable Rocket, The Happy Prince, and The Devoted Friend.
While reading these stories, I wondered why Wilde would choose to write in this form. One reason could be that he was reveling in contradiction. Wilde eschews consistency for fear of becoming boring and deliberately runs from the familiar in The Happy Prince tales. The morals he presents throughout the story may be true beliefs as much as his seemingly contrasting beliefs in other stories. His use of a simple form may be an appeal to the uneducated as he makes his work more accessible. This great contrast in his work could have been appealing to Wilde’s aesthetic of difference and contradiction.
On the other hand, the stories may mean nothing at all. Wilde might be following a different belief and creating art for art’s sake, in which case the fairytales are merely beautiful. According to Wilde, art for art’s sake should lack meaning completely, voiding the morals throughout the collection of stories.
Lastly, the stories may have been a personal challenge for Wilde, who stressed the importance of letting the genius shine by constraining them within a form. Wilde may have been challenging himself to work within the fairytale form to produce greater beauty and genius. Whatever his motive, The Happy Prince stories were an interesting break from Wilde’s usual style and revealed a range of creativity.