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Literature / The Selfish Giant

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1972 short film

"The Selfish Giant" is an 1888 short story by Oscar Wilde.

Somewhere in medieval times there is a village. The children of the village like to play in a garden, filled with beautiful flowers and grass and songbirds and peach trees that bear ripe fruit. The garden belongs to a giant, who has a castle but has been absent for seven years.

When the giant finally does return from his long vacation, he promptly scares the children out of his garden and builds a wall. But this has unintended consequences.

It has been adapted many times. In 1972 it was adapted into a 26-minute animated short film directed by Peter Sander, which ran on Canadian television.

The story can be read here.


  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: Some versions leave out the part with the giant dying and going to heaven, and just end with him playing happily with the children.
  • Died Happily Ever After: The Giant is found dead by the kids at the end of the story, with a peaceful smile on his face and covered in blossoms, implying his soul has been taken to Heaven.
  • Empathic Environment: Quite literally. After the giant walls off his garden, the flowers don't grow, the trees don't bloom, and the songbirds don't come anymore.
  • Endless Winter: After the giant sends the children away, the grass refuses to grow, the flowers refuse to bloom, and the trees won't give fruit. So Snow, Frost, the North Wind, and Hail all come and make the giant's castle their home. The castle is locked in eternal winter as the giant wonders why spring never comes.
  • Fairy Tale: Written specifically by Wilde as a children's story. It was included in the same 1888 story collection that included another famous Wilde story, "The Happy Prince".
  • Gentle Giant: He becomes this, after seeing how the children brought joy and spring to the garden, and specifically when he helped the one lonely child into the tree, and the child hugged him. Thereafter he opened the garden and invited all the children in, and played with them.
  • Messianic Archetype: After all the other children flee from the giant in terror, the giant finds one child alone, trying to climb a tree. He lifts the child up into a tree branch, whereupon the child hugs and kisses him. Later that child tells all the other children that the giant is nice now and they can go back into the garden. That child is never seen again, until the giant is very old. He finds the child again in the garden, and sees that there are holes in its hands and feet. The little child then takes the giant up to heaven.
  • Neglected Garden: After the giant chases the children away, winter comes and the garden wilts. It does not grow again until some stones in the wall fall, and the children find a way in again.
  • Papa Wolf: When the giant has become very old, he sees the little boy who he helped long ago, but the boy has strange wounds on his hands and feet. Not realizing that the boy is the Christ Child, the giant angrily demands to know who hurt him, so he may take his sword and slay that person.
  • Title Drop: "He was a very selfish giant."

Tropes specific to the 1972 animated short:

  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: After the giant goes up to heaven with the little child that turns out to be Jesus, Wilde's story ends with all the other children coming to play and finding the giant's body covered with cherry blossoms. That was too intense for a children's cartoon, apparently, so instead the animated short ends with a "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending.
  • Animated Adaptation: An Oscar Wilde short story adapted into an animated short, almost unchanged except for a slightly revised ending.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Snow, Frost, North Wind, and Hail are all personified as humanoid beings in the short. Hail is dressed up in a suit of armor.
  • Narrator: Nearly the entire text of the Wilde story is read by a narrator over the animation. There is no dialogue.
  • "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending: After the angelic Christ child says the giant can come up to his garden in Paradise, the camera pans up to the sky, and the cartoon ends.
  • Seasonal Baggage: Shots of the giant's castle, the fields, and the town, show winter changing to summer and back again, snow appearing and disappearing and green fields also appearing and disappearing, to convey the passage of many years. After this montage the giant has gray hair and wears glasses.