Study Guide

The Gift of the Magi

By O. Henry

The Gift of the Magi Introduction

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.

What is The Gift of the Magi About and 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.

The Gift of the Magi Resources

Movie or TV Productions

Gift of the Magi, 1917
The first movie version of the story, and a silent film.

O. Henry's Full House
A film featuring five different O. Henry short stories, the last of which is "Gift of the Magi."

Gift of the Magi, 1958 Musical
A 1958 TV production of the story as a musical, starring Gordon MacRae and Sally Ann Howes,

Gift of the Magi, 1978 Musical
Another made-for-TV musical production.

The Gift of Love
A non-musical 1978 Christmas TV special that adapted the story, starring Marie Osmond.

"Gift of the Magi," Sesame Street-style
Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, the 1978 holiday special, which features a segment with Bert and Ernie based on "Gift of the Magi."

Gift of the Magi, 1980
A brief, sixteen minute Canadian version of the story.

"Grift of the Magi"
"Gift of the Magi" receives a Simpsons treatment.

Raincoat
A 2004 Indian adaptation of the story, starring Aishwarya Rai.

Websites

"The Gift of the Magi"
A free, online version of the text from Project Gutenberg.

O. Henry Books and Biography
Another collection of online works and a short biography, from Read Print.

O. Henry Portal
Greensboro Public Library's O. Henry website (O. Henry was born in Greensboro, NC), featuring links to articles, various resources, and a short biography.

O. Henry in Austin
The city of Austin's O. Henry website, with a biography, timeline, collection of stories, and resources.

Audios

"Gift of the Magi" by Squirrel Nut Zippers
A musical take on the short story.

"Gift of the Magi" free audio book
Hear the story read aloud for free.

Images

O. Henry
One of the most famous pictures of O. Henry

O. Henry
Another famous O. Henry photo, this one without mustache.

Historical Documents

O. Henry's Only Interview
A 1909 interview from the New York Times.

Letter from O. Henry to Frank Maddox
A scanned letter from the Austin Library's O. Henry archive; check out O. Henry's handwriting.