"The Star-Child" is a short fantasy story for children by the Irish author Oscar Wilde. It was first published in 1891 as part of the anthology House of Pomegranates, which also includes "The Young King", "The Birthday of the Infanta" and "The Fisherman and his Soul".
The title character and protagonist of "The Star-Child" is a handsome boy who for the first ten years of his life believes that he is truly the son of a star. As a result, he believes himself to be superior to everyone else and becomes vain, arrogant and cruel. When his real mother, a beggar woman, comes to the village where he lives, he wants nothing to do with the woman and mocks her for her ugliness. As punishment for his cruelty, he becomes monstrously ugly himself. He remains so until he shows kindness to others, even at the risk of his own life.
Films based on "The Star-Child" were produced in the Soviet Union in 1958 and 1983.
One winter night, two Woodcutters see a shooting star fall to the ground. They go to the place in the forest where the star landed, expecting to find a pot of gold. Instead, they find a child wrapped in a gold cloak embroidered with stars and wearing an amber necklace. Although he is very poor and already has several children of his own, one of the Woodcutters decides to take the child home with him. He has difficulty persuading his wife to take in the child but he tells her that the boy is a Star-Child. The Woodcutter and his wife treat the Star-Child as one of their own children for the next ten years.
The Star-Child grows up to be a handsome boy but he is also very vain. As the son of a star, he believes himself to be superior to everyone else in the village. He cannot bear people from the lowest levels of society and throws stones at beggars whenever he sees them. He also tortures and kills small animals. A gang of similarly-minded children gather around the Star-Child and accept him as their leader.
One day, the Star-Child and his friends throw stones at an ugly beggar woman. The Woodcutter, who is nearby, chastises the Star-Child, saying that he cannot understand why the boy behaves that way, given that he treated the Star-Child kindly ever since he found him in the forest. At these words, the beggar woman faints. When the beggar woman comes round in the Woodcutter's house, she says that her child, who was wrapped in a gold cloak embroidered with stars and wearing an amber necklace, was stolen from her by robbers in the forest ten years ago. The Star-Child is told that the woman is his mother but he wants nothing to do with her. When she asks for a kiss before she leaves, he says, "rather would I kiss the adder or the toad than thee".
The Star-Child goes to rejoin his friends but they shun him and call him ugly. He finds that he now has a face like a toad and skin like an adder. He realizes that he is being punished for his mistreatment of his mother. In the hope that he might regain his former appearance if his mother forgave him, he goes off in search of her.
After three years, the Star-Child arrives at a city. The soldiers who guard the city gates sell him as a slave to a Magician. The Magician tells the Star-Child that in a forest near the city there are three pieces of gold. They are a piece of white gold, a piece of yellow gold and a piece of red gold. He tells the Star-Child to fetch the piece of white gold the next day, telling him that he will be punished if he does not bring it back. The Star-Child spends all day looking for the piece of white gold but cannot find it. As he is about to leave the forest empty-handed, he notices a Hare which is caught in a trap and frees the animal. Out of gratitude, the Hare leads the boy to the piece of white gold. Outside the city gates, a leper begs a coin from the Star-Child. The boy gives him the piece of white gold. When he returns to the Magician's house empty-handed, he is beaten.
The following day, the Star-Child is sent to find the piece of yellow gold. Again, the Hare leads the Star-Child to the golden piece, again he gives the piece of gold to the begging leper and the Magician gives him a worse beating when he returns empty-handed once more. The Magician tells the Star-Child that he will kill him if he does not return with the piece of red gold the following day. However, after having been led to it by the Hare, the Star-Child gives the piece of red gold to the leper, whom he believes needs it more than he does.
As soon as the Star-Child gives the piece of red gold to the beggar, the same soldiers who had sold him into slavery call him their lord and compliment him on his good looks. When the Star-Child protests that he is ugly, one of the soldiers shows him his reflection in a shield. The boy finds that he has become handsome once again. A crowd of people proclaim the Star-Child to be the king who, according to a prophecy, was to come to them that day. The Star-Child says that he cannot become king until he has earned his mother's forgiveness. He sees the beggar woman seated next to the leper. The Star-Child cries at the beggar woman's feet, washing them with his tears. As a result of the kindness the Star-Child has shown them, the beggar woman and the leper magically take on the appearance of a King and Queen. The leper is revealed to be the Star-Child's father.
For a short while, the people of the city live happily under the rule of the Star-Child. Unfortunately, he dies after only three years and a cruel king succeeds him.