There's nothing that an ink-stained wretch like this reviewer can add to the poignancy and lyrical beauty of Oscar Wilde's stories. Fortunately, there's plenty that legendary artist P. Craig Russell can add, as he does in "The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, Vol. 5: The Happy Prince" (NBM, $17).
The award-winning Russell is famous for his beautiful, Raphael-esque artwork, on display in his stunning adaptations of Wagner's "Das Ring die Nibelungen," Mozart's "The Magic Flute" and Strauss' "Salome." Russell has even managed a superhero or two, including Marvel's Killraven and Dr. Strange.
The downside to Russell's classical style is that it takes a lot of time. As he explains on his text and video blog (find it at www.nbmpub.com/blog), "The Happy Prince" has "waited, sometimes accusingly, it seems," for eight years, while other projects have taken precedence.
It was well worth the wait.
As usual, Russell's art is transcendent, transporting the reader to a world where even trash dumps have their own textured, fine-lined beauty. Those things that are supposed to be beautiful fairly glow, as if painted in layers of oil like the Old Masters Russell resembles, and not merely ink and watercolor on paper.
Then there's the story, a classic of long standing. Wilde's tale is that of a "Happy Prince" who was a royal lad who led a life of ease and indolence before dying young. The prince's spirit now resides in his gold-leafed and gem-embroidered statue on a tall steeple, where he can see the wretched poverty of his people for the first time. He cajoles a barn swallow into denuding him of his riches and distributing them to the needy, with dire consequences for them both.
I won't spoil everything here, but I will note that this story of heroic altruism and the gap between rich and poor is of special relevance today, where it's reflected in the Occupy Wall Street movement and presidential politics.
Russell's work speaks for itself, but there is one thing I can add: Go look for yourself, and see if "The Happy Prince" doesn't convince you to take him home, where his message can enrich all who hear it.