A friend living in France strongly encouraged me to reread The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupery to appreciate the remarkable insights found in his small novel. Born in Lyon, France in 1900, the author died in a plane crash in 1944 flying alone during the war.
The people of France regard The Little Prince as their favourite book of the 20th century. A phenomenal best-seller, this treasure of 90 pages including the author’s illustrations. The book has sold more 140 million copies and has been translated into 300 languages. Regarded as the best of the translators into English, Katherine Woods captures the depth, the simplicity and timeless wisdom found in the lines of the book. The book appeals equally to children and adults.
My daughter and I received our treasured copy in the early 1990s from a beloved family friend in Geneva, who signed the book to our friendship and to Nshorna as ‘the little flower.’ I recently re-read the book and watched the film (animated) at home.
This sublime story tells of a little boy with golden hair meeting a pilot in the middle of the Sahara, who had to land his small plane due to engine problems. Readers enter into a magical world of precious application of the imagination. The story has the capacity to touch a depth in our being which responds to some of the important questions facing our daily life. We may have to read some passages several times to enable the truth to register that dwells in the conversations of the little prince and the pilot.
The boy asked the pilot to draw him a picture of a sheep, but the pilot opts to draw a boa constrictor snake with an elephant in its stomach. The boy questions the mind set of adults – one of many themes in the story.
Arriving from a small asteroid (asteroid 325) in outer space, the boy gradually ‘tames’ the pilot and the pilot ‘tames’ the boy. In his asteroid home, the boy keeps a rose that matters much to him. The book raises the question of what matters and why does it matter.
The story then continues into an exploration of human attitudes, relationships, the archetypes of role and offers remarkable spiritual depths of insights and realisations. If you have not read this remarkable treatise on human existence, then do get a copy. If you have not read for years, then do read again. You may have fresh eyes to read.
The Little Prince tells the pilot of his meetings with other individuals; each one living in his own planet – a king, a conceited man, an alcoholic, a businessman, a geographer, a railwayman, a merchant and others. Every meeting sheds light on an important aspect of life. For example, the geographer said geographers do not record flowers because they are ‘ephemeral,’ of ‘speedy disappearance.’
‘The thing that matters to us is the mountain. It does not change,” said the geographer.
The Little Prince went away thinking of his flower (the rose). We, the readers are left wondering. What matters? The ephemeral or the everlasting? One is reminded of the words of the Buddha “Having seen impermanence (the ephemeral), one turns one’s attention to the Deathless.”
In the Sahara, the fox reveals to the little prince some of the secrets of life which the eyes cannot see. The boy also contacts a snake with great power.
Both the pilot and the boy walk through the night in search of water. Dying of thirst, the little prince and the pilot finally come to a deep old well just as the dawn arises. In the closing pages, the little prince reminds the pilot: “The thing that is important is the thing that is not seen. If you love a flower that lives on a star, it is sweet to look at the sky at night. All the stars are abloom with flowers.”
We realise that the Stars (the Everlasting) confirm the flower (the ephemeral). The little prince explains that the Stars are different things for different people, but the Stars stay silent.
“All the Stars will pour out fresh water for me to drink,” said the little prince.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery drew upon his experiences of flying in the Sahara where he had a lucky escape when he crashed landed in 1935. He experienced dehydration for three days. He wrote the fable during the two years he spent in New York in the early 1940s.
On July 31, 1944, he flew from Corsica for a reconnaissance mission over occupied France. His plane was probably shot down above the Mediterranean, near Marseilles. A diver found wreckage from the plane in 2000.
20 Quotes from The Little Prince
- “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
- “All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”
- “What makes the desert beautiful,’ said The Little Prince, ‘is that somewhere it hides a well…”
- “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
- If you tame me, then we shall need each other… You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed.
- “It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.”
- “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them”
- “Well, I must endure the presence of a few caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.”
- “People where you live,” The Little Prince said, “grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for…What they’re looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water…”
- “It’s a little lonely in the desert…” It is lonely when you’re among people, too,” said the snake.”
- For some, who are travellers, the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems… But all these stars are silent. In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them.
- “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you . . .”Yes, that is so,” said the fox. It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the colour of the wheat fields.”
- “You’re beautiful, but you’re empty. No one could die for you.”
- “Grown-ups love figures. How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? ” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.”
- One runs the risk of crying a bit if one allows oneself to be tamed.”
- “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”
- “The land of tears is so mysterious.”
- “But if you tame me, then we shall need each other.”
- “I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn’t much improved my opinion of them.”
- “You will see how everything changes.”
Click on word search (Ctrl F) to find above quotes.