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Le Petit Prince

When I was a kid, we had a claymation video of The Little Prince which scared and bored me in turns. My mother threw it away years ago, in a pre-move purge of nonessential objects, and I never missed it. I couldn’t find any footage online, so I can’t reevaluate it. Maybe it wasn’t as creepy or as dull as I remember, but, justified or not, my opinion of the video stopped me from reading The Little Prince until now. Not good.

Le Petit Prince, as the book is called in its original French, is a classic on the order of Pilgrim’s Progress and Das Kapital; it’s timeless and heartbreakingly beautiful. The author, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, used his experience, as a pilot who crashed in the desert and a witness to the general melancholy of midwar Europe, as fodder. The narrator is also a pilot who has crashed in the desert and despairs of being rescued. The way he describes the desert is particularly apt, and gave me the sense he wasn’t talking about the desert. Lines like:

“What makes the desert beautiful,” said the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well”

show the little prince’s wisdom. This scene with the fox particularly resonates with me. The fox begins:

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

“It is the time I have wasted for my rose—” said the little prince so he would be sure to remember.

“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose…”

Exupéry was a thoughtful, quiet man. I’m looking forward to reading his autobiography, Wind, Sand and Stars, which I found in a thrift store for 50 cents. It’s waiting on my shelf for me to finish the other stacks.

His pen and ink illustrations are excellent as well, and add to the journal-ish feel, as well as contributing to the characterization of both the narrator and the prince. The scene in which we meet the prince uses the drawings brilliantly; it even uses their self-admittedly poor quality. All of the comments on imagination and faith the narrator has been making focus down on the prince in that moment, though he is completely unaware of his heightened state of enlightenment.

The best sections of the book were the cumulative expressions of the love the narrator had for the prince, and Exupéry’s explication of loneliness, loss, and innocence. Passages like this one foreshadow heavily:

“Whomever I touch, I send back to the earth from whence he came,” the snake spoke again. “But you are innocent and true, and you come from a star . . .”

The little prince made no reply.

“You move me to pity—you are so weak on this Earth made of granite,” the snake said. “I can help you, some day, if you grow too homesick for your own planet. I can—”

“Oh! I understand you very well,” said the little prince. “But why do you always speak in riddles?”

“I solve them all,” said the snake.

And they were both silent.

The bittersweetness of friendship and loss runs through the book—the prince and his tamed fox, for instance, and of course the narrator and the prince. The little prince’s grave and chidish wisdom made me love him as much as the narrator does. It’s a touching book, profoundly sad and pure. You can read it for free online.

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