July 13, 2017

THE HAPPY PRINCE

The cover of a book can tell a reader a lot, especially when it's an illustrated adaptation of an age-old tale. The story of Oscar Wilde's "The Happy Prince" has been illustrated in many media over the years by many different illustrators, but Maisie Paradise Shearring's new adaptation adds a softness and visual yearning to the story that is yet unprecedented.


"The Happy Prince" was originally published in 1888 as a part of Wilde's The Happy Prince and Other Tales, a collection of stories for children. It tells the tender and heart-breaking story of a generous statue and the kind-hearted Swallow who save a town, giving their lives in the process. Swallow is heading for Egypt for the winter, but he pauses briefly at the feet of a golden statue in a European town. The statue, who represents a former prince of the town, begs the Swallow to give away pieces of himself to the less fortunate in the town (golden flecks, precious stones), and he and Swallow develop a deep love for each other as they work together to save the town around them.


Shearring won the International Award for Illustration at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, and the prize included the Spanish publication of The Happy Prince, specially commissioned from Shearring after she received the award. Of course, in looking at her adaptation, it's hardly a surprise: the illustrations breathe new life into the story as they rely heavily on oranges and blues to convey the sadness and kind-heartedness of the characters giving away all of themselves to people who will never know what they've done. Shearring maintains Wilde's original sense of somberness and still imparts the same lessons, but her illustrations make the story come to life as we meet the characters the statue and Swallow save.


Shearring's version of The Happy Prince publishes this September from Thames & Hudson.