Oscar Wilde: “The Fisherman and His Soul”

Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Fisherman and His Soul” marks the first work I’ve ever read by Wilde.  I’m sure there are literary critics somewhere whose ears would be burning if I described Wilde as a little – well – wordy, but that’s what has first popped into my head.

The fairy-tale style story gave me a feeling of “been there, done that”.  A fisherman falls in love with a Mermaid but must get rid of his soul in order for her to love him (because mermaids don’t have souls).  The fisherman makes his way to a Witch whose well-dressed Master (I could here him saying “Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name”) forces the fisherman’s soul to leave.  For this first part of the story, I continuously conjured up visions of Robert Johnson going down to the Crossroads or a Georgia resident named Johnny taking part in a fiddling contest with otherworldly beings.  Now I realize that Oscar Wilde didn’t rip off the pop culture references I’ve mentioned because he came before they did (this story was published in 1891).  Apparently, making deals with our souls is a common theme among art.

The Collected Oscar Wilde (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

The unusual aspect of the story and what made it a little more interesting, but more wordy also, came when the fisherman’s soul became it’s own character traveling all over the world and annually calling up the fisherman to try to get him to take him back.  The Soul traveled to exotic locales such as India and the Middle East. His/it’s travels sounded apocalyptic in nature as though it were something from the book of Revelation in the New Testament:

‘There are nine gates to this city, and in front of each gate stands a bronze horse that neighs when the Bedouins come down from the mountains. The walls are cased with copper, and the watch- towers on the walls are roofed with brass. In every tower stands an archer with a bow in his hand. At sunrise he strikes with an arrow on a gong, and at sunset he blows through a horn of horn.

As far as short stories go, this one took me the longest to finish.  It could have possibly had something to do with my schedule this week ( a little busier) or it could have had something to do with too many words.  I read this story online here and I thought the little scroll bar to the right would never get to the bottom of the page.  For any Wilde fans out there, don’t despair, I haven’t given up on him, yet.  I still have two more of his stories in my Deal Me In project and The Picture of Dorian Gray is on my Classics Club list.  He’s still got a few more chances.

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5 responses to “Oscar Wilde: “The Fisherman and His Soul”

  1. Hi Dale,
    I read my way through Wilde’s short stories/fairy tales many years ago. This one doesn’t stick out in my memory, though (although I do remember the title). I have revisited a couple several times over the years, “The Selfish Giant” being my favorite, but I also liked “The Happy Prince.”

    The subject matter (fisherman meets mermaid) reminded me (just a little) of one of my favorite short stories from last year’s DMI: Isak Dinesen’s “The Sailor Boy’s Tale” – yet another great story/book which I never blogged about.

    -Jay

    • I’ve started an author list for either next year’s DMI or just random short stories I want to read sometime. I’ll have to add Dinesen and The Sailor Boy’s Tale to it…and possibly some more Wilde.

  2. P.S. I forgot – I wanted to share with you a short story resource “discovery” I made recently. The New Yorker has a podcast (I think it’s just called The New Yorker Fiction Podcast”) where they have generally famous writers read something from the NY’s archive of published short fiction. Pretty cool!

    -Jay

  3. Pingback: “The Remarkable Rocket” | Mirror w/ Clouds

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