by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“Grown-ups can never understand anything on their own, and it’s exhausting for children always to have to be explaining things to them…”
I was vaguely aware of the children’s book, The Little Prince in early adulthood but unfamiliar with it as a child. The tiny bookshelf in my box bedroom was crammed full of volumes gifted by great aunts, grandparents and elderly neighbours, hence its distinctly Anglo-Victorian bias. Standard bedtime reading was Beatrix Potter, Lewis Carroll and Charles Kingsley – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a name unknown to me in those days.
In more recent years, his novella Le Petit Prince, first published in English in 1943, remained more or less in the middle of my to be read list. I often spotted it there and thought, “It’s about time…”, but the continual arrival of ‘must-read’ titles meant it never quite made it to the top. Only after committing to read a Young Adult/Middle Grade book for The Reading Challenge Group on Goodreads did I finally pull it from the cobwebbed stack leaning on the back wall of my library.
The Little Prince is one of two protagonists in the story, the other being the adult narrator, a character the author based on himself. The prince of the title is a pure and mystical traveller from outer space whom the narrator first encounters in the desert as he attempts to fix his plane. At first, he is unable to comprehend the subtle wisdom imparted by the prince, whereas the prince is wholly perceptive and instantly grasps truths revealed during his explorations.
The narrator is a very human figure who develops and grows in awareness as the tale progresses. He becomes the prince’s confidant and begins to feel protective towards him. The prince makes eloquent observations about life and human nature. He tells stories about his home, of a rose (said to be based on the author’s Salvadoran wife) he believes has spurned his affection and about meeting beings such as The Fox and The Snake. The narrator’s relationship with the prince is bittersweet, yet he learns important lessons, which he passes on to the reader six years after the event.
The story is a fable or allegory, written in 1942 when the author was living on Long Island, New York. It is a charming and deeply philosophical narrative set in a world that is at once unique and recognizable, but is also profoundly solemn in tone. Its descriptions of places, such as the Sahara Desert are vivid and often quite beautiful, and it is rich in symbolism. I regret that I did not read it for the first time as a young person.
My copy of The Little Prince is the 70th Anniversary Edition, translated by the poet, Wirton Arvel, which was published in 2015. It is unabridged with both original and additional illustrations by Saint-Exupéry, but is unfortunately out of print. If you come across a copy in a second-hand book store, my advise would be to snap it up. If, however, you are prepared to read it on an e-reader, it can still be purchased as a digital download. There are also any number alternative versions available.
Saint-Exupéry was, in many ways, an enigmatic character, more so because of the mystery surrounding his death. A French aristocrat, laureate of several of France’s highest literary awards and pioneering aviator, he was born in Lyon in 1900, and became a successful commercial pilot before the Second World War – working airmail routes across Europe, Africa and South America. At the outbreak of war, he joined the Armée de l’Air (French Air Force) and flew reconnaissance missions until his country’s armistice with Germany in 1940.
After being demobbed, he spent just over two years in the USA, which was where he wrote three important early works before joining the Free French Air Force in North Africa. He was, by this point, past the maximum permitted age to continue doing such work, and his physical and mental health had started to decline. In July 1944, preceding the Allied invasion of southern France, he took off from an airbase in Corsica piloting an unarmed P-38 on an assignment to collect intelligence on German troop movements in and around the Rhone Valley. He was never seen again.
“When you’ve attended to your own needs in the morning, you’ve got to attend carefully to the needs of the planet.”
Categories: Translated Literature
It was one of the important books of my childhood. Poetic, wise, melancholy, and treating the young reader as equal – it was definitely a formative reading experience 🙂
Thank you, Ola. It’s a remarkable book – I can appreciate that as an adult – but I wish, like you, I had read it as a child.
Nice post PaulA! I’ve read his adult works but not this – I obviously should, really…
Thank you, Karen. I don’t know why I left it so long!
Lovely review Paula! It’s a book that can follow a reader throughout their life, as it can be read on so many levels.
Thank you. I can imagine it being very special if you first read it as a child. I will certainly hang on to this book and reread it from time to time.
I truly enjoyed this review and the opportunity to revisit Le Petit Prince. I was assigned this novella in a religion class which gave me an interesting perspective. Also, at the Morgan Library in New York I saw an exhibit on the author and this work a few years ago. It was so exciting to see original drawings and to learn more about Saint Exbury’s life. Thanks for this great entry to your blog.
Thank you so much, Joyce. I bet the exhibition was fascinating. I love the illustrations, they are so magical.
A really interesting review, Paula. This is a book I missed reading as a child and I’m pleased to see it’s still got something to offer an adult reader (even if I might end up feeling I missed the boat when I was younger!).
Thank you, Faye. Yes, it is definitely worth reading as an adult. I found it sad but also uplifting. How I would have responded to it as a child, alas, I will never now know.
This was one of the few books my grandparents had in their house when I was a child, and I read over and over. I always enjoyed it, but I definitely need a re-read as an adult. Loved reading your thoughts on it, Paula!
Thank you, Jennifer. I envy you reading it as a child. I would be really interested to know if you fully understood it then or merely accepted the story at face value? I imagine much would depend on your age at the time of reading.
Paula, I bet I didn’t do much analysis, but I read it so many times, I wonder? What I usually remember after I read is the experience- where, when, how I felt, but not necessarily the details (it shows in my reviews, too!). I wonder if I re-read this one now, if some of those memories will come back, and I think they will.
I wonder if it would be as you remembered it?
Love your review. I read this recently, the wife comparison was brilliant right ?
Thank you, Roselyn. Yes, it was very clever.
A lovely review of a very thoughtful story. Like you I missed this book in childhood and read it for the first time recently and was sorry I had waited so long. As a school librarian I stocked a beautifully illustrated children’s biography of the author which is worth a look https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18465525-the-pilot-and-the-little-prince
Thank you so much, Anne. The biography looks lovely – I much appreciate the link.
I’ve never read this one, either, somehow missing it in favour of those Anglo-Victorians, indeed!
They were good though, weren’t they?
They were, and I still read them.
Reading your excellent review has finally helped me to resolve a long-standing confusion in my mind. I have managed to conflate The Little Prince, The Happy Prince and The Selfish Giant into one tale! Whenever I come across one of these I wonder at how the story doesn’t match my recollections… Hardly surprising: I have read both the Wilde stories yet seem to call them both The Little Prince… 🤦♀️
So – good to have cleared that up! 😂 And to confirm that The Little Prince is already on my classics club list so I shall be getting to it before long. I’ll have to try and find that anniversary edition…
Glad to be of service, Sandra. I do that sort of thing all the time! 🤣 The 70th anniversary edition has lots of lovely pictures but there may well be other beautifully illustrated versions available – I haven’t checked. Hope you find it an enjoyable read.
I haven’t read this in years! I can’t remember much about the story, not consciously at least. But I can remember how I felt reading it, the beauty of the language and the illustrations, that wow! sensation – which I guess shows the real impact it had at a much deeper, important level! This makes me want to find it & re-read, thank you!
Thank you, Sarah. It’s not like any other children’s book I can think of from the mid(ish) 20th century. I’m so glad to know it made a positive impression on you as a young person. I would be really interested to discover your thoughts after rereading.
Lovely review! I wonder what it would be like to read this book as a child. I feel like I value the little prince more now that I’m grown and can see what the narrator sees–how easy it is to lose vision for the essentials.
Thank you, Krysta. So true.
What a lovely review Paula. It brought me my all time favourite book back. 🙂
The Little Prince has a very special place in my heart as it was my dad who gave it to my when I was a child and who read it with me and discussed the meaning of those beautiful metaphors.
I love how it can be read at different stages of one’s life. Every time I re-read it, I discover something new in it. 🙂 I’m happy you enjoyed it as well. xx
Thank you so much, Vera. It’s good to hear from people who read and loved The Little Prince as a child. Wish I had, too!
Great review! I never read this as a child either but even as an adult, each reading is wonderful–this book is so full of wisdom–things we see/see happening every day but don;t really think about.
Thank you so much.