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The little prince is, paradoxically, an extremely famous book which many people reading this will not have heard of. It is a delightful story, which was originally written by Antoine de Saint-Exupery in 1943. He did not live to see it translated into English and published here the following year, for he died in 1944. Yet despite this, he is a national figure in France. He wrote many other books and essays, and during the occupation of France he was exiled to America, where he wrote this book, but he flew as a reconnaissance pilot, winning three 'Croix de Guerre'. He also had successes as an inventor, and made long distance flight record attempts amongst other things: yet he is most famous for the Little Prince.
You may have seen a picture of the little prince himself already, as he also resides upon the 50 franc note, alongside his author. (The sleeve notes of one version of this story say that the 50 franc note is known as the 'Saint-Ex' apparently!) Those of you who studied French to a higher level than I did may have been introduced to the story in its native language, but for those who haven't, I want you to be able to do so now.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery was, as his sleeve notes will tell you, a 'novelist and professional air pilot'. It adds to the closeness of the story then, to find that the narrator and co-star of the story is himself an 'air pilot' who crash lands in the middle of the Sahara desert. At sunrise on the first morning of his time in the desert, he is surprisingly woken from his sleep by the voice of a boy who demands that the pilot should draw him a sheep! This is the Little Prince, and he fascinates the pilot with his curiosity and his tales of the planet he came from (Asteroid B-612 we are told, for the sake of the grown ups who find such details important). He tells stories that show his innocence and his character, particularly those of his love for a flower which he strives to protect, despite its vanity and haughtiness towards him, which eventually lead to his journey away that ended in the desert. However, as time passes, he longs to return to his home and his flower, just as the pilot longs to return home. Yet how can the Little Prince make such a journey..? The ending is very moving, and is guaranteed to stir something in the heart of every reader. I would like to describe it in further detail here, but for the sake of those who do not yet know the story, I can not spoil it.
The book does not start with the story itself however. It begins with a tale from the narrator of Boa Constrictors. This may seem odd, but if I were to tell you all about it, it would spoil the surprise for you. Suffice to say, it tells you a lot about the power of imagination that children have, but is gradually extinguished by the time most reach adulthood. That, fundamentally, is one of the most important ideas contained within this book. It is covered again at the end in a different manner, perhaps for us adults, because, as the book says, "grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be forever explaining things to them" This is a book of imagination, joy and delight, with so many poignant and touching stories and ideas in it that it becomes difficult not to quote them all. "It is only with the heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye." Oops- see what I mean?
I own two different versions of this book- the original translation by Katherine Woods (Piper, 1945) and the more recent translation by Alan Wakeman (Pavilion, 1995) with additional illustrations by Michael Foreman. The latter claims to be a better and more definitive version- the language is obviously different, but I didn't feel that the language in the original translation caused a problem. While it may have been harder to read for younger children, part of this seems also due to its age too. I thought the newer version was just as good, though I enjoyed the extra illustrations by Foreman. Thankfully, the beautiful, simplistic original artwork by Exupery is still retained, as the simplicity is part of the appeal of the book, in the writing and the illustrations.
This is a book for children, but also for adults. Younger children may like to hear the story, finding the Prince funny and odd, though they may miss the finer points of his messages. Older children will begin to appreciate the story at new levels; as with many great stories, it operates on varied levels simultaneously. Grown up children will probably love it best for the reasons I have described here. The wonderful closeness of the two characters is portrayed beautifully, and the helpless dismay I felt as the portents of the end of the story suddenly became apparent was crafted so well, you really felt for the Prince and the pilot. I have read it to children I have taught, and for many of them it became their favourite book, many others loved it, very few have ever missed the point it was making: but even some of those few still liked it.
There was a film made of this book too. It was made in the mid 1970's, and featured Gene Wilder, Joss Ackland and Victor Spinetti. I saw it a while ago, and it was quite good, but I felt a little disappointed, because it wasn't anything like as good as it was in my imagination when I read the book. But then, I believe that could be just proving something of the point made by the Little Prince at the start of the book......
Get this book. Read it. Tell me you liked it.I have no doubt you will .
Go on then . One more quote.. A very poignant one...
" 'You are a funny animal', he said at last.'You are no thicker than a finger..' 'But I am more powerful than the finger of a king' said the snake........'I can carry you further than any ship could take you...' "