STATS OF THE BOOK
Title: ‘The Little Prince’
Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)
Date of Publishing: 6 April 1943
Apart from being Saint-Exupéry’s most famous book, The Little Prince is one of the best selling books ever, along with being one of the most translated books – EVER! Having been translated into about 300 different languages. While the book successfully captures the imagination of children, it’s pointed social critique seems more aimed towards adults. Consequently, literary critiques even today are unsure of whether to classify this work as a book for children or one for adults. Fun Fact: The Banque de France issued a 50 French Francs banknote in 1993 that had Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and the Little Prince on it. The note was taken out of circulation in 2002.
Why This Book ?
For all of you who have read this wondrous and fantastical book – you know why you love it! For other’s who read it as children, or for some reason have never read it – you must READ IT NOW! The list of reasons are endless for me personally, I feel it’s one of those books that reveals itself to you anew – each time you visit it. A modern book that compares to The Little Prince, is the viral sensation of Charlie Mackesy’s poignant illustrations and characters, of The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse – which too, straddles between the known and unknown parts of ourself.
Both these books – Mackesey’s now and The Prince throughout its multiple translations over time have a profound effect on the reader. They approach all aspects of our fears, our longing through philosophy, psychological investigation, fantasy, myth and magic, wonder and wisdom. For Mackesey the investigation is of the various parts of the self, in an interview with the Guardian UK, he says,
“All four characters represent different parts of the same person,” he explained, “the inquisitive boy, the mole who’s enthusiastic but a bit greedy, the fox who’s been hurt so is withdrawn from life, slow to trust but wants to be part of things, and the horse who’s the wisest bit, the deepest part of you, the soul.”Caharlie Mackesey, in Guardian article ‘A boy, a mole, a fox and a horse: the recipe for a Christmas bestseller’
Where Mackesey investigates the expressions of the self, Saint-Exupéry is on a quest for understanding the self as a whole and its source! Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in his memoir ‘Letter to a Hostage’, writing it in 1940, 3 years before he begins writing The Little Prince – writes about the science of a smile. Looking at the manifestations of our happiness. He says, about a smile,
“Care granted to the sick, welcome offered to the banished, forgiveness itself are worth nothing without a smile enlightening the deed.”Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Letter to a Hostage (1943)
The Little Prince, for me is a further examination of that aspect of ourself that wishes to be free, to be happy, to partake in enlightening deeds.
THE IMPACT & IMPORTANCE OF THE LITTLE PRINCE
Like I said before, for some it’s the best children’s book ever written, engaging and masterfully crafted – taking our imaginations to worlds unknown, through the Universe. It has a dream-like quality that draws you in, page by page, illustration after illustration. As an adult when you read it for the first time, or as a returning fan, there are three qualities most striking. They are Bravery, Curiosity, and the definition of “Tame”. What is “tame”? To find out, you’ll have to read the book.
A brief history of how Antoine de Saint-Exupéry came to write The Little Prince is worth mentioning. Born in 1900, in Lyon, Saint-Exupéry went on to drop out of the École des Beaux-Arts, as well as the Naval Academy. He then went on to find his one true love – flying! He gave in to this passion – mind, body and heart. He enjoyed many successful years as an airmail pilot, flying across the European Continent, all the way up to the beginning of World War II. He stopped only when the Nazi Occupation of France was overwhelming and he fled to the United States of America, where he became a great advocate of the American forces getting involved in the war in Europe.
Saint-Exupéry’s experiences before and during the war left him shaken, his multiple plane-crashes, his forced exile in America – all heightened his sense of helplessness. These in no small measure informed the decisions he made for The Little Prince. Inspired to write the book on the insistence of his Publisher – Eugene Reynal’s wife, Elizabeth. She had noticed his drawing of a figure that later historians would find in the margins of many of Saint-Exupéry’s notebooks, diaries, and manuscripts. Elizabeth inspired him to put his restless energy into creating a world for his “petit Bonhomme”. A world and adventure for children.
And so, we got The Little Prince – a gift from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s heart and mind. Perhaps for him, it was a tool of healing his psychological scars, and perhaps it is no coincidence that this book unites and heals the imaginations of children and adults alike.
A DEDICATION INSTEAD OF AN EXCERPT
To share quotes or excerpts from The Little Prince would be a disservice to the book. The entire journey is what I wish for you to take. But what I will share with you here today is Saint-Exupéry’s dedication. This tells of all the heart, all the healing this book offers and achieves, it is this,
“To Leon Werth
I ask children who may read this book to forgive me for dedicating it to a grown-up. I have a genuine excuse: this grown-up is the best friend I have in the world. I have another excuse: this grown-up understands everything, even books for children. I have a third excuse: this grown-up lives in France, where he is cold and hungry. He needs a lot of consoling. If all these excuses are not enough, I will dedicate the book to the child whom this grown-up used to be, once upon a time. All grown-ups started off as children (though few of them remember). So I hereby correct my dedication:
To Léon WerthDedication by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry for ‘The Little Prince’
when he was a little boy
This has been a pleasure to write and in the end, I’d like to share a personal experience with the book. I was 16, graduating high school, getting ready to enter the ‘real-world’ and there was my Theatre Teacher, Mrs Aziz, smiling, but always keeping it real. There were 8 of us in her class, and as we came together for the last circle of sharing before we all got down to preparing for the finals, she had a gift for us. Being who she was, I wasn’t sure what it was she wanted us to take with us on our onward journey of discovery. Within a second it was revealed. She had for each one of us our individual copy of The Little Prince. I was stunned to see it, the last time the Prince and I met was when I was 8, in my Mother’s lap as she read to me from the french version of the book. I know I wasn’t going to quote, but I must share the line that caught my attention at that age. I didn’t quite know what it meant, deeply – only on the surface, and yet I was captivated. I wanted to know more. And it was this –
“Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”
Translation: “Now look, here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Even though the secret had been revealed, I wanted the how, the tools, to seeing with my heart and not my eyes. For my 8-year old brain was curious. It was the same curiosity with which I opened Mrs Aziz’s gift. To find a powerful note inside, a message from her on how we should approach our life ahead. Be alert to the warnings, and treasure the learnings, was the sum of my message. I loved it, grateful to her for all she had taught us. Realising only then, that at age 9 I got connected to Healing, opening the portal to see with my heart. And in that moment, at age 16, I was reminded that I did indeed possess the best tool-kit to enter the “real-world”, and so, I did – fearlessly. With the healing, flying from one moment to the next, from one continent to another, one planet to another, one galaxy to another.