Why we need fairytales: Jeanette Winterson on Oscar Wilde  by Jeanette Winterson

Academic criticism of Wilde’s work has too often dismissed these fairy stories as a minor bit of sentimentalism scribbled off by an iconoclast during a temporary bout of babymania. But since JK Rowling‘s Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, children’s literature has been repositioned as central, not peripheral, shifting what children read, what we write about what children read, and what we read as adults. At last we seem to understand that imagination is ageless. Wilde’s children’s stories are splendid. In addition, it seems to me that they should be revisited as a defining part of his creative process.

Wilde had a lifelong interest in Catholicism, although he was only baptised on his deathbed. He had a theory that Christ was the perfect example of what an artist should be – a true individual, a political and social radical, someone who enjoyed the company of the poor and the outcast – as Wilde did. Someone who could forgive and in whom love was transfigured as imagination. What is the resurrection if not the triumph of imagination over experience? His most overtly religious story is „The Selfish Giant”. In a world that is always winter, long beforeCS Lewis created Narnia, Wilde’s Giant is both fairytale giant and Victorian industrialist. Wilde hated the hoarding and excesses of his epoch’s materialism – not because he was a socialist, but because his whole endeavour, his cult of art and beauty, was a fight against the coarsening of the soul.