"Shall joy wear what grief has fashioned?"
It's a good question, and one which dear Oscar posed a century before anyone investigated overseas child-labour in service to big-brand trainers.
Following the success of P. Craig Russell's impeccable adaptation of Oscar Wilde's THE HAPPY PRINCE, publisher NBM is gradually going back to reprint his earlier efforts. THE HAPPY PRINCE is recommended with all my heart as a tale of iniquity and inequality, true love and self-sacrifice, no matter the consequences. It is an ode to the redistribution of wealth, and a poignant and persuasive one at that.
The first story here pokes a socialist sceptre at those very same issues but proves problematic, if only because Russell's craft and colouring hadn't quite reached their peak and some of the script lies buried under very dark purples and reds. That at least could have been rectified for reissue. The Young King's mullet is probably unsalvageable.
The only daughter of a king has a dalliance with a beautiful boy "of marvellous and foreign beauty" way beneath her station. She has a baby boy who is promptly dispatched to the countryside to be brought up as a shepherd, thereby prepping him for his Jesus Complex later on in life. At the same time the princess is poisoned and dumped in an open grave along with her upstart lover. Fast-forward a few years and the king is dying. In a fit of remorse (or the more likely desire to keep it in the family) he acknowledges his long-lost heir who is scooped up from penury and deposited in a palace of incomparable beauty and riches. To his credit, the prince does seem smitten by the beauty rather than the wealth which that beauty represents, although tellingly he does have a thing for a mirror held by a naked Narcissus. I imply no same-sex stirrings here - however homoerotic P. Craig Russell's art always is - but a certain degree of self-regard.
For his coronation, then, he designs the most luxurious robe, crown and sceptre, demanding that everyone hop to it, labouring on the loom night and day or searching the world far and wide for the whitest pearls and the reddest rubies. The boy then experiences an epiphany in the form of three dreams during which he sees the suffering endured by others to order to meet his somewhat superficial and difficult demands. For example, an old man toiling at night on the robe:
"The land is free, and thou art no man's slave."
"We have chains, though no eye beholds them; and are slaves, though men call us free. Through our sunless lanes creeps poverty with her hungry eyes, and sin with his sodden face follows close behind her. Misery wakes us in the morning, and shame sits with us at night."
When he wakes up he throws a diva fit, refusing to wear the robe and crown or carry the sceptre. Which is all very well, but they've been made now. Instead he slips back into the shepherd's smock and takes up his old staff, crowning himself in thorns for good measure. It doesn't go down well, not even with his poorest subjects waiting for him on the road to the Cathedral, expecting a right royal show.
"Sir, knowest thou not that out of the luxury of the rich cometh the life of the poor? By your pomp we are nurtured, and your vices give us bread
. What hast thou to do with us, and what we suffer?"
"Are not the rich and the poor brothers?"
"Ay, and the name of the rich brother is Cain."
The courtiers, the commoners and the Church tell him that his self-abasement brings shame to them all; that the current hierarchy is just as it should be; that he cannot do anything about it; indeed that he should not do anything about it. Here's the bishop:
"Is not He who made misery wiser than though art?"
Wilde's scenario seems completely valid to me: if, on his Coronation Day, Prince William strolled up solo to the doors of Westminster Cathedral in jeans and a t-shirt thereby saving the country a billion pounds which could be redirected to our crumbling schools, put-upon teachers, neglected nurses and virtually broken NHS, there would be the most almighty fucking uproar even from those who stood to benefit from those services most: the fanatically royalist poor who line the streets a dozen deep to wave their flags whenever even the lamest royal retard waves a bloody pinkie at them.
Whoops, there goes the knighthood.
The second story follows The Remarkable Rocket who is most remarked upon by himself. In fact he spends so much time blowing his trumpet up his own arse that he probably never learned how to spell "self-regard". His trajectory is far from stellar.
Oscar Wilde is legendarily the most quotable writer in history - so succinct when taking the pith - and although this is far from his most famous short story, it is bursting with witty aphorisms as The Remarkable Rocket's own words line up to condemn him as the rudest, most deluded pyrotechnic in history. Bang, bang, bang!
"You cannot understand my friendship for the prince."
"Why, you don't even know him."
"I never said I knew him! I dare say if I knew him I should not be his friend at all. It is a very dangerous thing to know one's friends."