Oscar Wilde’s The Remarkable Rocket could be described as a fable, namely a fictional short story in which some inanimate objects (fireworks; e.g. Squib, Roman Candle, Catherine Wheel, Bengal Light, Fire-balloon, Rocket, etc.) or creatures (animals of the swamp; e.g. Frog, Dragon-fly, White Duck, etc.) are anthropomorphized, that is to say, they are given some human qualities such as language and speech capacity. It does not seem to me that The Remarkable Rocket belongs to the literary genre referred to as “fairy tale,” insofar as The Remarkable Rocket does not cast fairy-like creatures (Gnome, Ondine, Sylph, Salamander, Giants, and so on). However, the setting (a castle, a princess, a prince, a king, etc.) is definitely reminiscent of some sort of enchanted world wherein wonderment along with a certain type of fantastic seem to be important features. To some extent, The Remarkable Rocket could be compared to Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables or even to a parable.
It seems to me that The Remarkable Rocket implements multiple analogies very much based on three distinctive worlds the first of which being the Castle. The second world would be the place where the fireworks have been stored. Finally, the third world would be the swamp where the poor Rocket is left to sink in. Through a rhetorical play of displacement and metonymies, the main characters of the fable find their counterparts in each one of these different worlds. For this blog entry, I will focus solely on the main character that is the Rocket.
The Rocket has a great sense of self-pride that would better be described as arrogance (or overweening pride). The Rocket among his fellow fireworks is somehow similar to the King and his royal court, except that the King is respected whereas the Rocket is rather embarrassing himself when he starts rhapsodizing on his alleged excellence and superiority. In other words, the Rocket would like to be highly considered and respected; unfortunately that is not what the Rocket gets at the end (because of his tears, he will not take off during the Royal firework). As it is the case for the King and his flute he plays so badly, the Rocket knows “only two airs:” the first pertains his extraordinary genealogy, his dubious background, and the idea according to which the Prince and the Russian Princess are to be married in his honor. The second is related to his sensitiveness and his great sense of sympathy.
In the swamp, the Rocket is confronted with his own image. Acting like a distorted image of the Rocket, the Frog behaves pretty much as the former. Indeed, as it is also the case for the King who “always answered questions that were addressed to other people,” the Frog is a great talker who likes hearing himself talk. And this is definitely true for the Rocket too who “spoke with a very slow, distinct voice, as if he was dictating his memoirs.” Very interestingly, the Frog compares the Rocket’s voice (or rather his cough) with the “most musical sound in the world,” that is, in his humble opinion, croaking. It goes without saying that a cough (the Rocket), a croak (the Frog), or even a very badly played flute song (the King) could hardly be brought close to the “most musical sound in the world.” But rather—and here we find some hints on a moral the reader can draw from the tale—these three arrogant and proud characters, produce strictly wind when they are talking (I’m referring to the French idiom: “parler pour faire du vent/parler pour ne rien dire,” which I translate literally by: “to talk to produce wind” which is relatively close to the English idiom: “to talk drivel.”)
Finally, another idiom that seems to fit well the sad destiny of the poor Rocket would be: “pride comes before the fall.” Indeed, in fables and other literary genres alike one usually finds some normative principles at the end. Generally written in the form of a maxim or proverb, and thus pertaining practical wisdom, it seems that such a moral is absent from The Remarkable Rocket, would have Oscar Wilde let the reader entirely free to interpret the tale as s/he likes? -R.C.