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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


The Star Child
By Oscar Wilde,
abridged for Passport Magazine,
illustrated by Nica Harrison.

ome woodcutters were in a pine forest in winter. The mountain torrent was hanging motionless in air, for the Ice-King had kissed her. All the animals, from wolf to linnet, turtle doves to woodpeckers, rabbits, squirrels and great horned owls knew that the snow is cruel to those who sleep in her arms. One cried out, there was a thing of gold lying on the white snow, a cloak of golden tissue, wrought with stars, and wrapped in many folds, and within, a little child asleep.

The woodcutter carried the babe home. Despite their own poverty, his wife kissed the child, and laid it in a little bed with the youngest of their own children. The woodcutter took the cloak of gold and chain of amber that was round the child’s neck and stored them in a chest.

The child grew strong and beautiful, but also proud, cruel, and selfish. In summer, he would lie by the well and look down at the marvel of his own face, and laugh with pleasure at his beauty. But he and his cruel friends pierced the dim eyes of the mole, cast stones at the leper and clipped the linnet’s wings, and laughed. When a poor beggar-woman passed by, he threw stones at her, and mocked her, and she looked at him with terror in her eyes.

When the woodcutter rescued her, and took her in, and told her how they had found the star child, and showed her his cloak and amber, she wept for joy, and said, “He is my little son whom I lost in the forest. I pray thee send for him quickly, for in search of him have I wandered over the whole world.”

But when he spoke to her, his voice was hard and bitter. “If thou art my mother, better had you stayed away, and bring me to shame. I thought I was the child of some Star and not a beggar. Get away, and let me see thee no more.”

The beggar fled, in tears, but the star child was cursed. When he went to the well and looked in, his face was the face of a toad, and his body was scaled like an adder. “This has come upon me by reason of my sin. I have denied my mother, and driven her away, and been proud, and cruel to her. I will go and seek her through the whole world, and not rest until I have found her.”

The birds and the animals fled from him, as they remembered his cruelty, and he was alone save for the toad and the adder. The Star-Child wept and bowed his head, and prayed forgiveness of God’s things, and went on through the forest, seeking the beggar-woman.

When he came to a city on the plain, he was refused entry, but sold as a slave to a vile magician, in disguise. He took the Star-Child into a dungeon. The old man set before him some mouldy bread on a trencher and said, “Eat,” and some brackish water in a cup and said, “Drink,” and the old man, went out, locking and chaining the door. Each day, the old man set the Star- Child into the forest, with a task of finding gold. Each day, a hare, which the Star-child had freed from a trap, led him to his prize; but each evening, a leper at the city gate persuaded him to hand it over to feed him.

On the third day, he was expecting death as he had failed his tasks. But he was brought to the feet of the leper, and the old beggar-woman. And he sobbed again, and said: “Mother, my suffering is greater than I can bear. Give me thy forgiveness, and let me go back to the forest.” Both the beggar-woman and the leper put their hands on his head, and said “Rise!”

He rose and looked at them, and lo! They were a King and a Queen. And she said to him, “This is thy father whom thou hast helped.” The King said, “This is thy mother, whose feet you washed with your tears.” And they brought him into the palace, for him to reign wisely over the city. “Much justice and mercy did he show to all. The evil Magician he banished, and the Woodcutter and his wife he sent many rich gifts. Nor would he allow any to be cruel to bird or beast, but taught love, kindness and charity. He gave bread to the poor, and clothes to the naked, and there was peace and plenty in the land.

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