"The Happy Prince" is a fantasy short story for children by the Irish author Oscar Wilde. It was first published in the 1888 anthology The Happy Prince and Other Tales, which also contains "The Nightingale and the Rose", "The Selfish Giant", "The Devoted Friend" and "The Remarkable Rocket".
The story's title character is a beautiful statue, covered in gold leaf and decorated with jewels. The statue represents a prince who, during his lifetime, was famous for being happy. However, the truth is that the prince appeared to be happy only because he knew nothing of life outside of his palace. Only after he died and became a statue did the prince learn of the suffering of the poor people in his city. The Happy Prince enlists the help of a swallow to offer some assistance to a few of the many people who are living in poverty.
There have been numerous adaptations of the story to other media, including a 1974 Canadian animated film and stage musicals from 2012 and 2014.
In an unnamed city in northern Europe, there is a statue known as the Happy Prince which stands on top of a tall pedestal. The statue appears to be made of gold (although it is really made of lead and covered with gold leaf), there are two sapphires on the statue which represent the prince's eyes and a ruby on the hilt of his sword. The statue is greatly admired by all of the people in the city for its beauty.
At the start of the winter, one swallow remains in the area. The Swallow had fallen in love with a reed and spent all summer with her. When the other swallows left for Egypt at the start of the autumn, the Swallow remained behind. However, he eventually decides that there is no future in his relationship with the reed and decides to catch up with the other birds. One evening, the Swallow takes shelter under the statue of the Happy Prince. He is splashed by what he thinks at first is a raindrop but which is really a tear falling from the Happy Prince's eye.
The Swallow is surprised that somebody known as the Happy Prince is crying. The Happy Prince explains that he appeared to be happy when he was alive because he knew nothing of life outside of the Palace of Sans-Souci Only after having died did the Happy Prince learn of the realities of life for the poor. As a statue on top of a pedestal, the Happy Prince can see all over the city and, although his heart is now only made of lead, he feels greatly for those who are living in poverty. He tells the Swallow of a poor seamstress whose son is suffering from a fever. He tells the bird to pluck the ruby out of the hilt of his sword and take it to the woman. The Swallow agrees to do this one good deed for the Happy Prince but insists that he will fly to Egypt the following day.
The next evening, the Swallow comes to say good-bye to the Happy Prince. The statue tells the bird about a young playwright who is weak from hunger, insisting that the Swallow take one of his sapphire eyes to the young man. The Swallow reluctantly does so, again insisting that he will leave for Egypt the next day. When the Swallow returns again to say good-bye to the statue, the Happy Prince tells him to give his other sapphire eye to a little match-girl in the square below. After having done so, the Swallow promises to stay with the Happy Prince, who is now blind, forever.
The Swallow flies around the city, observing the poor and reporting what he sees back to the Happy Prince. The statue tells the bird to peel off pieces of his gold leaf and to give it to those who are in need, until all of the gold is gone. At the same time, the Swallow is suffering as the weather gets steadily colder and knows that he will soon die. The Swallow bids farewell to the Happy Prince one more time just before he dies, at which point the Happy Prince's lead heart breaks.
The Mayor notices that the gold, ruby and sapphires are gone from the statue of the Happy Prince and is even more shocked to find a dead bird at the statue's feet. The statue no longer being beautiful, the Mayor orders that it be removed and melted down. However, it proves impossible to melt the Happy Prince's lead heart, which is thrown onto a garbage heap with the dead Swallow.
God asks an angel to bring Him the two most precious things in the city. The angel brings Him the dead Swallow and the Happy Prince's lead heart. God is pleased with the angel's choice and says that both the Swallow and the Happy Prince will be happy forever in Paradise.
- ↑ Sans-Souci is French for "without misery" or "carefree". There is a Palace of Sanssouci in Potsdam, Germany, which was built between 1745 and 1747.