Despite having spent a lot of time with The Happy Prince and Other Tales, I freely admit that each of the tales still puzzles me. The sort of irresolution we ended our class on them with feels maybe predictive of the irresolution I imagine I’ll feel even at the close of my thesis — almost more questions than answers. And I guess that’s some of their charm, that, like Wilde, they are a little elusive, seemingly random, but undeniably charming (I’m sure that’s a bit of a bold claim to make, but bear with me). It’s difficult too to identify what exactly gives them that quality, if it’s the abundance of small details such that it’s hard to know what to focus on, or perhaps their less-than-satisfying ends. It’s just hard to make something tangible of them — hard, but not impossible.
One element of “The Happy Prince” I’m still trying to understand are the religious details that come in at the very end. God asks his angels to bring him “‘the two most precious things in the city’” (277) and he is brought the Happy Prince’s heart and the dead Swallow. The Swallow is conferred into Paradise to sing eternally and the Happy Prince is restored to a city of gold. They are clearly rewarded for their love, as they are brought together to God. The question is why God must bestow this reward, when for the rest of the story all that seemed to matter was the relationship between the Prince and the Swallow and the value they found in each other. This sort of religious quirk at the end of a tale happens again in “the Selfish Giant” when the Giant is brought into Paradise by a child Christ: “You let me play once in your garden, today you shall come with me to my garden which is Paradise” (285). This line in “the Selfish Giant” however, allows a much more direct explanation of why the Giant is going to Heaven compared to that in “The Happy Prince” — the children can now play in his garden because he has learned not to be selfish. This direct line of reasoning doesn’t seem as critical in “The Happy Prince.” Perhaps it has something to do with the sacrifice of both the Happy Prince and the Swallow. While I don’t read their relationship to be wholly mutualistic, there is a sense in which they both died in the service of others — the Swallow to the Happy Prince and the Prince to his city and perhaps that granted them a place in Paradise.
What is most curious about these religious elements to me is not that they simply exist, or even puzzling out why they exist. Instead what feels most key about them to me is that, though they are abrupt, they are not out of joint with the rest of the story. While it is narratively confusing that God and his Angels appear at the end, it somehow doesn’t also feel wrong. It is as if on some level those elements just fit the story. I don’t have an explanation for why they fit, they just seem to, and it’s something I’m going to keep trying to explain as we keep thinking about Wilde this semester.