Saturday 6 May 2023

The Selfish Giant

The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde, illustrated by Rita Voutila (Allen & Unwin) HB RRP $32.99 ISBN 9781742376509

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Trespassers Will be Prosecuted. This is on the sign which the Giant, returning from seven years away, posts on a noticeboard. He does not want to share his garden, especially with the children who played happily in it during his absence. Now the children have nowhere to play; the road is very dusty and full of hard stones.

When Spring comes, there are flowers everywhere, except in the Giant’s once beautiful garden. The only people who are pleased are the Snow and Frost (depicted exquisitely as snow women in Voutila’s gorgeous illustrations). So it is that the Giant’s Garden remains frozen.

Meanwhile, the Giant yearns for Spring. But Spring never comes to his garden, nor does Summer or Autumn. One day the giant hears a linnet singing outside his window. Perhaps this is the Spring he’s waited for! Looking out the window he sees a most wonderful sight – through a hole in the wall the children had crept in and were sitting in the branches of the trees – and the trees had covered themselves in blossoms. However, one child – a tiny boy – was too small to climb a tree so in his corner there is only frost and snow, and the North Wind is blowing and roaring above it.

It is then that the Giant realised how selfish he’d been. He decided to tear down the garden wall and make the garden a children’s playground for ever and ever. So, the children played in the garden with the giant. But the tiny boy, who the Giant loved, was missing. However, during Winter, there was a tree in the otherwise frost-filled garden covered with blossoms and silvery fruit. Underneath it stood the little boy. The boy has prints of two nails on his hands, and the prints of two nails on his feet. ‘These,’ he tells the giant, are the wounds of Love. He tells the giant he will come with him into his garden, which is Paradise.

‘And when the children ran in that afternoon, they found the Giant lying dead under the tree, all covered with white blossoms.’

Wilde’s classic tale of forgiveness is one of the most beautiful stories in the English language. In this book, it is accompanied by magnificent illustrations by Australian artist Voutila who painted the intricate, and exquisite illustrations in oil, a feat which took her more than a year to complete. They are the ideal pictures for Wilde’s story.

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