Scandareview #5: The Fisherman and His Soul

So it’s become glaringly clear that my original plan of posting weekly despite my return to school hasn’t worked. I’m really sad about that; I’d had high hopes that I could organize my Scandaroona time around my workload and social life, but so far I seem to be having trouble — I’d forgotten how incredibly busy life tends to get. We’ll see how things go in the coming weeks (I haven’t given up just yet!) but I’m trying to come up with a new plan, one that allows me to continue writing Scandareviews and drawing awful pictures as well as permitting me to do college-y stuff unfettered.

That might mean a hiatus after mid-October, so I have more time to finish my second fairy tale; it might mean four posts a month rather than six; it might mean frequent delays in Scandareviews; or it might mean none of the above. I need time to think about it. But I’ve missed it here, and am seriously excited to talk about today’s fairy tale.

I read most of it during an awkward college symphony I went to with my friend Dana — awkward because almost everyone else there was over the age of sixty, and awkward because we’d brought a picnic blanket and most people were sitting primly in their seats. But it was also fun — they played the Star Wars theme, for heavens’ sake! — and I can’t say that Oscar Wilde coupled with a little John Williams was bad.

Oscar Wilde isn’t an author I’ve read all too widely, to be honest. I did the obligatory The Picture of Dorian Gray reading my senior year of high school, thought it was a bit weird, and didn’t think much more about it after that. Then last year I read “The Importance of Being Ernest” and laughed until I cried, and then I left for Ireland and was greeted by his picture nearly everywhere I went (they are very proud of his Irish roots), and looked up more information online and found hundreds of beautifully witty aphorisms, and then I started to understand just how Oscar Wilde-y Oscar Wilde is, which is a wonderful thing to discover. When I realized I had a book of fairy tales by him, the obvious thing to do was to use it for Scandaroona.

Oscar’s on the left. The guy whose lap I’m sitting in is Eduard Vilde, who he never actually met.

Oscar’s fame precedes him enough that I don’t think I need to provide a biography or nickname him Ozzie in order to make him interesting. He’s already one of the most famous writers of the twentieth century, and his life is interesting enough that a brief discussion here simply wouldn’t do him justice.

I do think it’s interesting, though, that he wrote fairy tales in addition to his plays and novels. According to the back pages of the edition I have, he created them as bedtime stories for his sons, Cyril and Vyvyan. (Must say I’ve been wondering what went through his head when he named Son #2.) That’s impressive to me already — he made them up while he was telling them, and then he wrote them down? Absolutely feckin’ brilliant, as the Irish would say. I’ve tried doing that sort of thing and I can never remember quite what I said; the written-down version always lacks some quality that I remember the out-loud story as having had. But my point is, although Oscar had written any number of things for adults, he didn’t oversimplify or dumb-down his fairy tales just because he was writing for children. He allowed them to be intelligent. The stories are pristine and startlingly mature.

A Japanese version, it seems.

I chose “The Fisherman and His Soul” completely at random — it was the last story featured in the book, and had a whimsical enough title that I just assumed it would be good. It’s also quite long, and so I won’t do a rundown of the plot the way I have in most of my other Scandareviews — like the author himself, a quick summary just won’t do it justice. But I will link you to it, so you can read it yourself — you can find it here, or  elsewhere, too, if you use a search engine.

If you want a very general description of the events that take place, the best I can tell you is that it’s about love and it’s about evil and it’s about what it is to be human, and it spoon-feeds you no answers. You have to figure out what you think for yourself (and honestly, I’m still thinking.) If it weren’t for the slight sickly-sweet tone that sometimes crops up in Wilde and his occasional religious biases (I think they take away from the true sentiment of the story, but you’re free to disagree with me), I think it would be pretty darn perfect.

As I’ve failed to provide a summary for this week, here are a few wonderful shreds and images from the story.

“Vermilion-finned and with eyes of bossy gold…”

“…like lines of blue enamel round a vase of bronze, the long veins rose up on his arms.”

“Heaven… and Hell, and that dim twilight house that lies between.”

Yet another version.

Highlights:

– Just the writing. The writing itself. It’s so beautiful I caught myself staring at phrases here and there, just trying to make sense in my head of how he manages to say things so simply and yet so perfectly. The images catch in your head and you can see them; it’s some of the most gorgeous prose I have ever seen. *Sigh.* Can’t praise the writing enough.

– The scene where the Devil smoothly watches the fisherman during the witches’ dance. The description of the Devil is so human, really — his sad eyes, and his plumed hat and his riding gloves. All while the fisherman struggles with his own humanity. It’s the kind of perfect parallel I adore reading, as well as being spine-tinglingly creepy and setting the stage for what the soul does after the fisherman goes to seek the dancer. (And that, for me, was the really terrifying part of the story. The fisherman being unable to rid himself of his vengeful soul… I couldn’t stop shuddering.)

– The slow realization of what the soul is doing — the way it quietly dawns on you that he isn’t up to anything good, when the story is initially set up to make you believe that the soul will save the fisherman from himself. It’s so sneaky, and makes such a jolt when the realization comes.And then you’re forced to answer certain questions that are a little bit uncomfortable — because love is better than wisdom, riches, and girls with dancing feet, isn’t it? But the fisherman was wrong to send away his soul, wasn’t he? So how on earth can both of those things be true? Are both the soul and the fisherman right on a certain level? Or are they both wrong? There’s so much to think about.

– The fisherman’s end. Whether or not you are a crier at books, it’s one of the saddest scenes I have ever read, especially in light of all the doubts and questions that arose in my head. Absolutely heart-breaking, and perfectly done.

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2 thoughts on “Scandareview #5: The Fisherman and His Soul

  1. Libby, I so completely feel your pain of trying to balance it all, and having these expectations of being able to and then realizing you totally need to rethink your ability to schedule and balance everything! It’s so hard!

    Loved this post, I’ve only briefly read Wilde’s The Happy Prince, but now I want to read more. My fairy tales professor gave us this idea, which I’m taking as a challenge, to try and read one fairy tale a night, and I really want to track it on my blog and post images from illustrators and brief snippets of thoughts but haven’t posted yet!! (although at least I’m keeping up, sort of with one a day, so far) But I’ll definitely add this fairy tale to my list!

    Good luck with the juggling act, of college and blogging and reading and social lives and such, and know you’re not alone :)

    • Thanks so much, Jess! It’s been AWFUL realizing I can’t keep up with this as much as I’d planned to — I’d been so incredibly determined, and had drawn up all sorts of schedules and things… well, I’ve never been the most organized person, and I guess it shows. I’m trying, though, and I hope to get another Scandareview up soon!

      I’ve done a glance-over at your fairy-tale-a-day on your blog, and it looks FAB. Oh my gosh, SUCH a good idea, and you must be learning tons. I’ll have to do a proper Jess’ Blog Reading once I manage to get a block of time that doesn’t involve me having to go run somewhere (I actually have to go run to these far-away-apartments and talk to people in about five minutes, or else I’d do it now!)

      Hope your classes (and juggling act) are going excellently, too!

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