Name: The Little Prince
Author: Antoine De Saint-Exupéry
Genre: Children’s, Fantasy
The Little Prince is the 1945 classic children’s book by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry, translated by Katherine Woods and tells the story of a pilot who meets a mysterious boy when he crashes in the Sahara Desert. I have read it as part of the series of short classic books I wanted to read in 2022.
The story starts with the narrator recounting his childhood and the grown-ups inability to perceive important things due to their preoccupation with adult life. To demonstrate he shows a picture of a snake eating an elephant, which they perceive to be a hat, as they cannot see beyond the literal.
The narrator grows up to become an aircraft pilot and he has just crash landed in the middle of the Sahara desert. He has eight days of water and must repair his plane but he meets a mysterious little boy. He asks the pilot a huge amount of questions and will not let a question go unanswered. The pair strike up a friendship and the boy, the titular Little Prince tells him his life story.
He describes his home planet which is a tiny asteroid with three volcanoes and a variety of plants, especially the baobabs which constantly endanger the planets surface. The little boy wants to take a sheep back to the planet so they can eat the unruly plants but not the single rose which grew on the planet. Though the Prince nurtured the plant he began to feel it was taking advantage of him so he decides to go and explore the universe.
The Little Prince lands on six different planets and meets six very different grown ups, each representing a problem with society.
- A king who likes to issue orders, even though there is no one on the planet to listen to him.
- A narcissistic man who can only deal with praise and admiration.
- A drunkard who drinks all the time.
- A business man who categorises the starts and constantly counts them and thinks about how he can get more, instead of appreciating their beauty.
- A lamplighter who spends all day lighting the lamps, however the planet rotates so fast a day lasts only a minute so he is blindly following orders unquestioningly.
- An elderly geographer who hasn’t seen anything he documents, critiquing people with specialisms who don’t actually have that specialism.
Finally the prince lands on Earth, which he initially thinks is uninhabited. Whilst there he meets a snake, then befriends a fox and discovers the rose on his home planet was not unique but a common flower. He eventually meets a railway switchman, who explains that the people on the trains are never satisfied with where they are going and always run to the next place and a merchant who tells him about his product that reduces dehydration so people only need to drink once a week, saving 53 minutes.
The book then flashforwards to the eighth day, with the pilot now desperately seeking to fix his plane and him and the prince are dying of thirst. He tells the pilot that he wants to return to his home planet and after an emotional goodbye asks the snake to bite him. The pilot refuses to leave but the Prince tells him if he leaves his body behind it will be only because it was too heavy to take with him and if he wants to see him, he only needs to look at the stars.
The next day, the prince’s body has disappeared and the pilot manages to fix his plane and fly away. It is left open whether the prince survived and got back to his home planet but the pilot requests the reader to get in touch with him if they see him in the area.
This book is a really beautiful read which I think will enthral children and adults alike. Though the book is actually a very famous piece of children’s literature I hadn’t actually heard of it before starting my challenge so it was actually my first time reading it and I was actually quite moved by the story.
The characters of the Pilot and the Prince have a beautiful relationship and the Prince’s journey is widely imaginative as he explains how he visited all of these planets which will light up many children’s imaginations.
What I did find moving is how the adult characters are presented and largely how disappointing they are for both protagonists. The pilot talks about how when he was growing up most adults dismissed his drawings because they weren’t “good” or they couldn’t see the imaginative intention behind the drawings, just what they could literally see. This does make me think about things like how we educate children and young people to all know the same things instead of allowing them to explore and find their own path which the pilot wasn’t allowed to do so he instead became an aircraft pilot. It is also interesting that by following the adults expectations of him he ends up in the predicament he is at the beginning of the book whereas if he hadn’t followed them he might have ended up in a safer place.
Meanwhile, the Prince meets a range of adult characters who as an adult we can all relate to parts of them which is quite maddening and sad really. We often hear the expression that working life for adults is the “rat race” and sadly many of the characters here display the faults that come from this. From the King who likes to give orders around the Lamplighter who follows them blindly with no questioning or recognition, to the businessman who sees the stars only as business and money-making opportunities.
The books climax is also wonderful in how it leaves it open to interpretation. Though it does ends on a sad note as the pilot says that he wants to hear from someone, anyone who has heard of the little boy (with a beautiful illustration at the end which shows the same landscape with the little prince there and again with him missing), I personally do feel as though he managed to make his own way back to his planet and that his body was a shell.
Speaking of illustrations, I must also compliment the beautiful illustrations in my edition of the book which are recreated from Saint-Exupéry’s originals and they really help to bring the story to life.
In short I would highly recommend this read for children and adults of all ages as it is a wonderful piece of escapism.