Stephen Fry Reads Oscar Wilde’s Children’s Story “The Happy Prince”

I first encoun­tered Oscar Wilde’s sto­ry “The Hap­py Prince” while work­ing part-time as a tutor on New York’s Upper East Side. Look­ing for suit­able read­ing mate­r­i­al, I came across Wilde’s children’s sto­ries, which I had not known exist­ed. They were perfect—vivid, charm­ing, lit­er­ary fairy tales with some­thing more besides. Some­thing best described by avid Wilde read­er Stephen Fry.

In the pro­mo­tion of a recent Kick­starter project to fund a 20-minute ani­ma­tion of “The Hap­py Prince” around Fry’s read­ing of the sto­ry, the actor talks of com­ing to know Wilde’s fairy tales as a child, before he knew any­thing else about the 19th cen­tu­ry Irish writer. He loved the lan­guage, he says, of all of the sto­ries, and “the beau­ty of thought, the nobil­i­ty of thought.” But “The Hap­py Prince” affect­ed him espe­cial­ly, as it affect­ed my young stu­dents and me. It is a sto­ry, he says, “about the cost of beau­ty. It is hard for me to read The Hap­py Prince with­out cry­ing. I guess because it is also some­how a love sto­ry between the swal­low and the Prince.”

Fry alludes to the two cen­tral char­ac­ters in the sto­ry, but I won’t sum­ma­rize the plot here. We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured a 1974 ani­mat­ed film of “The Hap­py Prince.” In the video at the top, hear Fry read the entire­ty of the sto­ry, and direct­ly above, watch the video pre­view for the b good Pic­ture Company’s Kick­starter to bring his read­ing, and Wilde’s sto­ry, to new life. The project has met its min­i­mum goal and now seeks more fund­ing for an orig­i­nal score and a self-pub­lished sto­ry­book, among oth­er things.

Fry’s rela­tion­ship to Wilde, whom he calls “Oscar,” has been, accord­ing to him, life­long, capped by his por­tray­al of the writer in the 1997 biopic Wilde. He has dis­cussed how his read­ing of Wilde helped him come to terms with his own sex­u­al­i­ty. But his love for Wilde’s work exceeds the per­son­al. As he says in the video above, from 2008, he “fell in love with the writ­ing of Oscar Wilde” at the age of 11; after see­ing a film ver­sion of The Impor­tance of Being Earnest,” he found his “idea of what lan­guage could be… com­plete­ly trans­formed.” Fry also says above that he was not exposed to Wilde’s fairy tales as a child, in seem­ing con­tra­dic­tion to his more recent state­ments. Did he read Oscar as a child or did­n’t he?  Only Stephen Fry can say for sure. In any case, as an adult, he’s tak­en on the man­tle of Wilde’s pop­u­lar inter­preter, and I think he wears it pret­ty well.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Ani­ma­tions of Oscar Wilde’s Children’s Sto­ries “The Hap­py Prince” and “The Self­ish Giant”

Oscar Wilde Offers Prac­ti­cal Advice on the Writ­ing Life in a New­ly-Dis­cov­ered Let­ter from 1890

Shakespeare’s Satir­i­cal Son­net 130, As Read By Stephen Fry

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (4)
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  • John Adams says:

    Oh how won­der­ful that Stephen Fry has ‘dis­cov­ered’ and record­ed this beau­ti­ful sto­ry. We had a vinyl record­ing nar­rat­ed by Bing Cros­by when I was a child and it always brought me to tears such is the beau­ty and hon­esty in the sto­ry. I love this ver­sion. Thank you

  • Ramachandran says:

    The Hap­py Prince had inspired me in my col­lege days made me think about the val­ue of true love and ded­i­ca­tion towards a Friend or any body, and many more. I was cry­ing in all my life inside, just like Hap­py Prince, but I was always mak­ing oth­ers laugh, and tried to smile and talk till now. In short I used to be like Hap­py Prince in every respect. I was very much suf­fer­ing in want of Love Food, Acco­mo­da­tion & Employ­ment, and com­mon neglet from child-hood. I even now laugh like Hap­py Prince, after so many months (12 by now) wail­ing as my only son who was a doc­tor expired due to ill­ness last year.

  • Dermot Canniffe says:

    He encoun­tered Wilde’s writ­ing as a child, but not Wilde’s chil­dren’s sto­ries.

  • Maryam Amr says:

    i can’t under stand any thing :(

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