The Gift of the Magi Introduction
In A Nutshell
The first time you hear somebody mention O. Henry you might think they're sighing about some guy named Henry (Oh, Henry!), rather than referring to a particular person. But yes, there is an important author named O. Henry. Well, he's not really named O. Henry – that was just a pen name for the man whose real name was William Sydney Porter. And though he might not be quite as crazily popular as he was a hundred years ago, when he was writing, he's still considered one of the great American short story authors. O. Henry's stories are known for the sentimental warmth that shines through many of them, their playful and optimistic sense of humor, and especially for their twist endings. They're also often written in a uniquely oral style, as if the narrator (or O. Henry himself) were telling you the tale in person. They are perfect for reading aloud.
"The Gift of the Magi" was originally published in 1906, in O. Henry's second collection of short stories, The Four Million. "The Gift of the Magi" is probably his greatest hit, and displays all of the major O. Henry traits in abundance. Since it was first published, it's buried itself deep in popular culture. It's been retold and repackaged in countless stories, magazine columns, TV specials, musicals, movies, parodies, you name it. It's also one of those classic "Christmas stories" that people usually read during the holidays. But even if you're familiar with one or more of the many imitations – whether it's the Sesame Street holiday special or The Simpsons – it's worth checking out the original. O. Henry's a master storyteller.
Why Should I Care?
Have you ever loved someone and wanted to find him or her just the perfect present? Our bet is you have. Could be your mom, could be your significant other. And once you're in that gift-giving frame of mind, you're in the situation of Della, the main character from "The Gift of the Magi." That's why whenever the Christmas season rolls around, people (and television networks) go in for this story big time.
You'll probably also face the same questions Della did. What is a perfect gift? And how much (money, time, etc.) are you willing to give up to find something that would really matter to that person? You might even be lead to some surprisingly large questions. What really matters, and what's really valuable? For a short, simple, and delightful way of assuring yourself that "all you need is love," this story's hard to beat. Read it to get a major case of the warm and fuzzies. Though it might also make you think more carefully about just what "love" means.
Besides all that, to be honest, you've probably encountered this story somewhere even if you didn't know it. You might have seen it filtered through Sesame Street (which lodged it forever in your child subconscious), or you might have seen it recently parodied while watching The Simpsons. "The Gift of the Magi" is the original, though, and in our opinion, nothing's really touched it. It's hard not to be charmed by O. Henry's storytelling style.