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Welcome to The Once Lost Wanderer. The name is derived from two poems: Amazing Grace by reformed slave trader John Newton, and All That is Gold Does Not Glitter by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little PrinceThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The proof of the little prince’s existence is that he was delightful, that he laughed, and that he wanted a sheep.

This is the third time I’ve read The Little Prince. It is the first person narrative of pilot Saint-Exupéry after he makes an emergency landing in the Sahara desert many miles from help or civilization. Saint-Exupéry encounters the peculiar and other-worldly little prince. The two spend days together and many hours of conversation while Saint-Exupéry works on his aircraft. The book is a novella, and indeed a very short novella, and I think you could call it magical realism. The illustrations on the cover and inside were done by Saint-Exupéry. This novella is not part of my 100 Greatest Novels Quest.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



I first read The Little Prince when I was eleven. My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Banks, whom I will always love, introduced me to a wonderful book called The Hobbit. I loved it, and quickly consumed the sequel The Lord of the Rings. Mrs. Banks then recommended The Little Prince. I trusted her judgement, so I obtained a copy and anticipated another thrilling epic.

I was terribly disappointed. I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever read.

I was eleven.

Fast forward 30+ years, a friend whose judgement I also trusted, recommended The Little Prince. I was puzzled. My memory of the book didn’t reconcile to my worthy friend’s opinion.

So, I gave it another try. I was stunned by the power, the poetry, the poignant wisdom – thank you Mary Ann!

I won’t try to synopsize the tale, nor venture much into its meaning – except this – The Little Prince is about what we value, and how what we value when we grow up, grow mature, grow wise – is often less worthy than the things we valued when young.

That might sound like Peter Pan – refuse to grow up, but that isn’t the message. I have no problem with J.M. Barrie’s magical fantasy, but refusing to grow up – well – it can’t be done and if you try, you look rather absurd. The Little Prince is not about not growing up or non-conformity. It’s about value.

It’s really no wonder I didn’t appreciate it when I was eleven. This isn’t really a children’s book, though some children will like it. It has talking flowers, and foxes, and snakes, and space travel, and few adults, but it isn’t a children’s book. You can read about Saint-Exupéry and his extraordinary life and it should become obvious that The Little Prince was a very personal tale and certain characters are undoubtedly mapped to persons in the author’s life. For me, it is simply a poetic tale, and I would mar its beauty should I attempt to be any more analytical than that.

Excerpts:

He couldn’t say another word. All of a sudden he burst out sobbing. Night had fallen. I dropped my tools. What did I care about my hammer, about my bolt, about thirst and death? There was, on one star, on one planet, on mine, the Earth, a little prince to be consoled! I took him in my arms. I rocked him. I told him, “The flower you love is not in danger…I’ll draw you a muzzle for your sheep…I’ll draw you a fence for your flower…I…” I didn’t know what to say. How clumsy I felt! I didn’t know how to reach him, where to find him…It’s so mysterious, the land of tears.

One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes. ~ The Fox

You risk tears if you let yourself be tamed. ~ Saint-Exupéry

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10 comments:

  1. Great review, Joseph! I haven't read this for decades and it's about time. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  2. How lucky it is that you gave this book a second chance! I haven't read however I have heard good things about it and of course the film adaptation comes out this year.

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    1. Read it before the film. It is easily read in under two hours. I have difficulty imagining a film doing it justice.

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  3. I recommend every person to have this book on their shelves. It is a mandatory reading for all people.

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  4. Joseph ~ Your summary and excerpts prompted tears just as the book did every time I read it. Time to read it again! Thank you for the reminder. The fox and the rose, being tamed, loving has stayed with me from my first reading. Here are some favorite lines:
    "The fact is that I did not know how to understand anything! I ought to have judged by deeds and not by words. She cast her fragrance and her radiance over me. I ought never to have run away from her..."
    ""My flower is ephemeral," the little prince said to himself, "and she has only four thorns to defend herself against the world. And I have left her on my planet, all alone!""
    ""I am beginning to understand," said the little prince. "There is a flower... I think that she has tamed me...""
    Mary Ann

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    1. Yes...I could quote charming excerpts for quite a while. I'm glad you caught this post. Thanks again for the recommendation.

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  5. This is lovely. I had the same experience with this book -- trying to read it for the first time as an unappreciative child, and coming back to it as an adult with a better idea of what the author was trying to say. I'm so glad you had the chance to give it another go, too. I'm really looking forward to seeing the new animated movie based on this book, if it ever does come out in the US. Supposedly Netflix has picked it up!

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    1. Thanks Louise. I'm a little dubious about the film, but I'll be happy to be happily surprised.

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