Three of Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales for children are republished with gorgeous original art by Robinson.
It would be a loss for contemporary children not to have these stories: “The Happy Prince,” who sacrifices his entire self to save those who need saving, with the help of a little bird; “The Nightingale and the Rose,” another tale of love and sacrifice; and “The Selfish Giant,” with its beautiful images of a garden of delight and a child savior. The language is stately and the tales, moral and sentimental, but at their cores, they are about love and how love behaves. The pairings of story and art glow with the truth that love knows no boundaries. The 1888 art is beautifully reproduced in full pages, while the linear, originally black-and-white images have been washed with color. The latter is always a chancy business, as the book’s designer, Emma Byrne, acknowledges: “[T]his is a tightrope act, as it is important not to destroy the integrity of the fine linework.” It does not seem meretricious in this case; the result is lovely. This is full-blown art nouveau: The watercolors are voluptuous in their sinuous line and delicacy of hue, and even the text pages have shadow patterns beneath their lovely type. Chaste biographies of Wilde and Robinson are appended.
With great respect for the past, this edition succeeds in bringing the illustrations into the present. (Fairy tales. 6-10)