Turn the page

 

When we were kids, my mother bought my sisters and me two ‘talking books’. They were large format, beautifully illustrated books of pictures related to particular stories. The only words were the ones spoken on the LP record tucked into an envelope at the back of the book. You put the record on and looked at the first picture in the book, and when that part of the story had finished the actor’s voice told you to turn the page to the next picture. 

One of the stories was Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’. I don’t remember the other one at all, and I suspect that it bored me, and that I ignored it after a couple of sessions. But ‘The Happy Prince’ entranced me for hours at a time. I’d put the record on and listen to whomever it was telling the story (a man with an old-fashioned and highly modulated actor’s voice: could it have been Basil Rathbone?) turning the page every time I was told to, completely engaged in the story which is satisfyingly – and achingly – sad, with a triumphantly resolved ending. I can still recite almost all the (abridged) story off by heart, even now, and hear the narrator’s voice in my head, and picture those brightly coloured illustrations. 

High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold. For eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword hilt…

And I was reminded of all this by catching a quote from the late, great New Zealand writer, Janet Frame, at the weekend. Clearly, her family also invested in talking books, and years later she wrote this poem about it. Like Wilde’s story, it’s also achingly sad. 

 

In the children’s record of the Happy Prince,

before each gold flake is peeled from the Prince’s body,

the voice orders, Turn the Page, Turn the Page,

supposing that children do not know when to turn,

and may live at one line for many years,

sliding and bouncing boisterously along the words,

breaking the closed letters for a warm place to sleep.

Turn the Page, Turn the Page.

By the time the Happy Prince has lost his eyes,

and his melted heart is given to the poor,

and his body taken from the market-place and burned,

there is no need to order, Turn the Page,

for the children have grown up, and know when to turn,

and knowing when, will never again know where.

 

 

 

2 Responses to “Turn the page”

  1. Brian McNab Says:

    Am seeking a copy of this recording for the elderly mother of a friend of mine. She has the book, but not the record, lost some years ago when moving. She would love to obtain a copy. Is yours for sale, or would it be possible to make a copy of the recording?

  2. Brian McNab Says:

    Am looking for a copy of the record. Is yours for sale or could a copy be made?

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