Oscar Wilde is best known for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and play The Importance of Being Earnest so it might be a surprise to some that he also wrote a couple of fairy tales. Though not as well known as the classic fairy tales made popular by the Grimm brothers and other writers in the past, they still contribute an important aspect in the study of fairy tales.
What makes Wilde’s stories unique from the other stories we have read so far is the use of Christian motives of sharing with and suffering for others which usually results in death. This can be seen in The Selfish Giant, when the giant realizes that he has to share the garden with the children and thus becomes selfless but then dies at the end under one of his trees. There is one child of particular importance, a little boy who at the end has wounds in his hands and feet and invites the Giant to come to his garden which results in the giant’s death. This child resembles Christ inviting the Giant to come join him in Paradise. Another example of the use of Christian motives can be found in the story of The Nightingale and the Rose. Here the nightingale sings her heart out while pricking her heart with a thorn to create a red rose for a scholar who needs a rose to impress a girl. At the end, her selfless sacrifice of her own life so that the human can find love is in vain for the rose is carelessly discarded.
Wilde’s writing is marked by these sacrifices by the protagonists which ultimately end in death can be taken as a commentary on how people’s selfless actions for others is futile since it only brings temporary happiness at best and results in the ending of a life. Not a very happy moral to take from a reading!