Wilde and Wonderful

“The Selfish Giant and Other Stories,” by Oscar Wilde; The Folio Society, $44.95, 192 pages, ages 13 and up.

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THE SELFISH GIANT Copyright © 2013 by Grahame Baker-Smith. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, The Folio Society, London.   

Perhaps best known as a playwright and novelist, Oscar Wilde also wrote several fairy tales. The Folio Society has published a new edition that would make an excellent gift to fairy tale fans as well as to those who love a beautiful, well-crafted book.

As with everything published by the Folio Society, the production standards for The Selfish Giant are first-rate. A sturdy metallic silver box keeps everything safe, and beautiful end papers covered in snowflakes set a magical mood. The book is printed on Abbey Wove paper and is three-quarter bound in buckram. (Buckram is a 100% cotton cloth used to cover the boards of the book.) On the cover is an exquisite illustration of the title character looking over a little boy sitting in an ethereal white-blossomed tree.

Grahame Baker-Smith illustrated The Selfish Giant. (Smith was also recently commissioned to illustrate the Folio Society’s 2012 edition of Pinocchio.) During a conversation with the illustrator I asked if he incorporated Wilde’s likeness into any of the images. He did; try to find which one it is in the accompanying image post. The mixed-media illustrations capture Wilde’s wit, yet recall a certain melancholy, suggesting – rightly – that these stories are not for the faint of heart.

British fiction author Jeanette Winterson writes an engaging introduction, giving readers a quick primer on Wilde’s life while intertwining major life milestones with his work. She reminds us that these are not bedtime stories for babies; rather, Winterson declares that these tales ‘tell us what science and philosophy cannot and need not’. As a result these stories deal with themes that young children may not understand.  Still, this is a glorious book, and as Wilde himself said, “With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?” 

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The Selfish Giant Illustrations © 2001, 2013 by Bill Bell All Rights Reserved.

Sky Pony Press has also recently published a version of The Selfish Giant, retold by Mary Hollingsworth and illustrated by Bill Bell. At $14.95, this book is within the purchasing power of most consumers. The acrylic paintings are more whimsical than those in the Folio edition, and more appropriate for a younger audience. Hollingsworth has taken Wilde’s original text and modernized it somewhat, yet the story retains most of what exists in the original.

Here, young readers may better appreciate the story of an inconsiderate giant who chases children from his garden. To make sure the children stay out, the giant builds a wall. Not only are the children banished, so too are the seasons. The Giant is punished for his behavior until something unexpected happens, encouraging the ogre to change.

Unlike the Folio Society’s publication, Sky Pony has published just one fairy tale. It is short enough to be read in one sitting, but it does deal with themes of death as well as the Resurrection.  Avoid reading this story if your child has trouble conceptualizing death, unless this book is to be used as part of a larger conversation about mortality.

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