Oscar Wilde wrote a fairy tale called The Young King
which has given me some fits for interpreting. For those of you not interested in clicking the link, the story revolves around a young shepherd boy (I'm not even going to go into the parallels between the Greek god Pan and the clearly Christian overtones of the story) who, because he is the only, albeit illegitimate, heir to the King, finds himself thrust into wealth and power quite unexpectedly. He worships Beauty so much that he orders a robe made of gold, a scepter with pearls, and a crown with jewels made for his coronation. The night before his crowning, he dreams three dreams. In the first, he sees the weavers toiling endlessly to make his robes, watching as they die and work endlessly for him without knowing who he is. In the second, he sees pirates forcing slaves to find the pearls for his scepter. In the third, he sees Death and Avarice arguing over who will own the miners searching for the jewels for his crown. Death asks for 1/3 of the miners, but Avarice refuses, and so Death takes them all.
Upon waking, he is presented with his three gifts, but refuses them. He cites the dream and all the courtiers argue that it was nothing but fantasy, just a dream. Ignoring them, he dons his humble shepherd's clothing and parades through the streets to the church where he will be crowned. The Bishop, horrified at his attire, asks him where is his finery; when the boy replies citing his dream, the Bishop rebukes him, arguing that evil is always in the world and it is not up to one man to bear the consequences of this evil. He cites his argument using these words:
"Canst thou make these things not to be? Wilt thou take the leper for thy bedfellow, and set the beggar at thy board? Shall the lion do thy bidding, and the wild boar obey thee? Is not He who made misery wiser than thou art?"
The boy refuses, asking the Bishop how he can say that in this house (ie, the house of God) and accepts his crowning before the altar. The light shines through the window and he becomes "king-like", the lilies of his peasant staff blooming wondrously and his face is like "an angel".
Now, here's wherein the difficulty lie. The Bishop's words instantly put me in mind of the book of Job, specifically Job:39, which has a passage remarkably similar syntactically:
"Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions, When they couch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait? ... Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib?"
Later, God reproves Job further and asks him, "Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous? Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him? Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty."
The idea is nicely juxtaposed. Job begins as a prosperous man and is brought low through no sin of his own. Others question him, his wife even asking him to "curse God and die", but Job maintains that he has committed no sin. When he finally questions God, God reproves him by saying that he cannot do the things Job can and therefore has no right to question His judgment. After repenting and accepting what the Lord has given him, Job is restored with twice his wealth. Clearly, we have the opposite happening with the shepherd boy turned prince: he is low, but brought high through no virtue of his own. However, when God--in the form of the Bishop--questions him, he rejects this philosophy and is "restored" to his former self.
Sean and I were discussing this and Sean brought up the interesting--and very Wildean point--that it would seem to be saying that the reverse is true, namely that if you are rich, you must accept that just as God has seen fit to make others poor. But the boy rejects
this, so I'm confused as to what Wilde is doing here. Sean said that he could be rewriting Job from a New Testament standpoint; that is, in the Old Testament, the wicked got their "just desserts". A king who is righteous will remain in power, but worshiping idols brings his downfall and so on. In the New Testament, this is reversed, so that poverty itself is a Christian virtue and persecution a sign of righteousness.
I can see this, but at the same time, it just doesn't fit with Wilde's personal philosophy. It's maddening because Wilde appears to have written this very clear-cut fairy tale, but you know
something deeper is lurking in there that completely undercuts the moral he's set up. And I just don't know what it is.