From time to time, my friends may ask me what my favourite story is. “After all,” they would add, “you do read so much.”
And I’ve been hard-pressed to answer this question, as the answer may change at each turn; indeed I am nothing if not capricious and tiresomely inconsistent. Yet today, as I was walking along a street filled with Christmas trees and fairy lights, as the heart-warming smell of freshly brewed coffee wafted over and beckoned to me, this story came to mind. A story which, in some ways, begins with this particular scene for me:
“Who are you?” he said.
“I am the Happy Prince.”
“Why are you weeping then?” asked the Swallow; “you have quite drenched me.”
“When I was alive and had a human heart,” answered the statue, “I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans-Souci, where sorrow is not allowed to enter. In the daytime I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall. Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot chose but weep.”
Oscar Wilde wrote “The Happy Prince” in the 1880s and no other story has quite captured my heart in my growing years. It’s a fairy tale for children, yet ethereal enough that adults will be moved (or perhaps unnerved). Sacrifice, love, generosity, faith in humankind. It tells us everything we need to know about Life, or rather, everything we need to believe about ourselves.
I know of no other story that demonstrates my belief in the goodness present every day in us, of the kindness of strangers, of the magic of just one perfect friendship than this story.
‘Tis the season of love.