Friday, June 09, 2017

Fiction Review: The Little Prince

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Can you believe I have never read the classic The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery? Not in school nor in all my 52 years. I was moved to finally read it after reading a chapter about it in Books for Living by Will Schwalbe, a wonderful book where each chapter features a book and a lesson learned from it (this one was titled, appropriately, Finding Friends). I wasn't sure how to title this review (children's? classic?) and settled on simply “fiction,” for this small but powerful tale of an alien and a pilot that has been inspiring both children and adult readers for decades.

In case you, like me, have somehow missed this ubiquitous classic, it is a unique story of a pilot stranded in the Sahara Desert who encounters a little prince who turns out to be from another planet. The two gradually become friends as they talk and get to know each other over the course of a week. The little prince asks the pilot to draw him pictures and also asks him questions, though he rarely answers questions himself. Gradually, the pilot comes to understand that the little prince is from a tiny planet, that he has planted and nurtured a very special flower there, and that he is interested in bringing a very small sheep back with him, though he is concerned that the sheep may eat the flower.

The little prince made several stops on other planets and asteroids before arriving on Earth. He encountered an authoritative king of a very small planet, a vain man who insisted on constant admiration, a drunkard, a businessman who was so caught up in his daily tasks that he'd lost sight of the bigger picture, and a geographer who had never explored his own planet. The little prince learns something from each of these people, though his overarching lesson seems to be that grownups are strange.

Yes, this is a very bizarre plot for a story! I had no idea at all that The Little Prince was about an alien visitor. Of course, the story is about much more than its plot, and the slim book is filled with insightful quotations that have become well-known since its publication in 1943, accompanied by delightful illustrations. It is about friendship, beauty, the difference between children and adults, and nothing less than the meaning of life.
The little prince meets the fox - original illustration by the author


Here, the little prince tells the pilot about meeting a fox that was looking for a friend:
“The only things you learn are the things you tame,” said the fox. “People haven’t time to learn anything. They buy things ready-made in stores. But since there are no stores where you can buy friends, people no longer have friends. If you want a friend, tame me!”

Of course, taming him requires time and patience, but the little prince follows his instructions, and they become friends. When they part, the fox says:
“Here is my secret. It’s quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”

This little book is filled with astute passages like that. The lessons here are just as applicable to life today as they were in 1943 (perhaps more so, in this new digital world we live in). It took me 50 years to finally read it, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the little prince and learning from him, alongside the pilot narrator. I wish I’d known about this charming little novel sooner so I could have read it aloud to my sons when they were young. I thank Will Schwalbe for introducing me to it now.

83 pages, Harcourt, Inc.
(this was the version translated by Richard Howard, with original art by the author)


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Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint ExuperyTrade Paperback
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4 comments:

  1. It's been so long since I've read this book and I don't think my daughter has ever read it. We should read it together

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    1. Great idea! I can't believe I'd never read it before!

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  2. Like you, I was inspired to read A Little Prince after reading Books for Living--I haven't yet, but your post is reigniting that desire. I really don't like alien-visiting-Earth books, which is probably why I've resisted this for so long--I did know the basic plot outline--but it definitely seems that the writing outstrips the premise. Great review :)

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    1. I would say that this book doesn't fit neatly into ANY category! It's certainly not sci fi, even though it's about a visitor from another planet :) Hope you enjoy it, too!

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