The Remarkable Rocket
by Oscar Wilde

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

included in —
The Happy Prince and Other Tales
Nutt, London; 1888

collected in —
Complete Works of Oscar Wilde
  edited by Vyvyan Holland
Complete Works of Oscar Wilde
  edited by Merlin Holland
The Annotated Oscar Wilde
  edited by H. Montgomery Hyde

February 2004

Suddenly, a sharp, dry cough was heard, and they all looked round.

It came from a tall, supercilious-looking Rocket, who was tied to the end of a long stick. ...

"Ahem! ahem!" he said, and everybody listened except the poor Catherine Wheel, who was still shaking her head, and murmuring, "Romance is dead."

Writing which is both lovely and satirical, in the small compass of short stories, is rare; the ability to create such miniature fanciful masterpieces is a great gift. Oscar Wilde's short story "The Remarkable Rocket" is one of his neat, charming, and sharp fairy tales.

"The Remarkable Rocket" begins:

The King's son was going to be married, so there were general rejoicings. He had waited a whole year for his bride, and at last she had arrived. She was a Russian Princess, and had driven all the way from Finland in a sledge drawn by six reindeer. The sledge was shaped like a great golden swan, and between the swan's wings lay the little Princess herself. Her long ermine cloak reached right down to her feet, on her head was a tiny cap of silver tissue, and she was as pale as the Snow Palace in which she had always lived.

Yet this is a below-stairs fairy tale, more of servants than masters. The grand and delicate ceremonies of the royal wedding furnish the background, and reason for existence, to the fireworks who will enliven the climax of the party. The main characters all are fireworks: the Remarkable Rocket himself, a Catherine Wheel, a Bengal Light, a small Fire-balloon, assorted Squibs and Crackers.

Fireworks have a spectacular but short life. The fireworks' conversation in the King's Garden on the wedding evening is the center of the story.

The Remarkable Rocket asserts himself as the main attraction. He says angrily to a firecracker:

"What right have you to be happy? You should be thinking about others. In fact, you should be thinking about me. I am always thinking about myself, and I expect everybody else to do the same. That is what is called sympathy. ..."

Gentle pyrotechnics in prose, sweet and funny and thoughtful.

For more about the development and nature of rockets — other than their personalities — see Willy Ley's Rockets, Missiles, and Space Travel.

Oscar Wilde's fairy tales simply and purely outshine most latter-day attempts for children or for adults, as firework sprays of delicate sparklers soar above the squibs.


© 2004 Robert Wilfred Franson


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