The Little Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
translation from French by Katherine Woods
Harcourt Brace & World, 1943
Though it might seem too obvious (as it is one of the most read books in the world), considering the thing has been looping on audio book in this house for a good month (including at this very moment... the boy is curled in his bed... his little imagination hanging on every word), I figured I'd better give 'ole Antoine a shout out today. And cliché as it might be, I am gonna mention the dedication page, as The Little Prince famously features what might well be the all time best EVER dedication in a book. (I actually dare you not to cry over this one.)
TO LEON WERTH
I ask the indulgence of the children who may read this book for dedicating it to a grown-up. I have a serious reason: he is the best friend I have in the world. I have another reason: this grown-up understands everything, even books about children. I have a third reason: he lives in France where he is hungry and cold. He needs cheering up. If all these reasons are not enough, I will dedicate the book to the child from whom this grown-up grew. All grown-ups were once children-- although few of them remember it. And so I correct my dedication:
TO LEON WERTH
WHEN HE WAS A LITTLE BOY
And so begins one of the most timeless and wonderful stories for children ever set down on paper. Inspired partially by a real crash in the Sahara experienced by the pilot Saint-Exupery, the book begins with the narrator explaining why he became a pilot and a geographer instead of an artist.
Once when I was six years old, I saw a magnificent picture in a book, called True Stories from Nature, about the primeval forest. It was a picture of a boa constrictor in the act of swallowing an animal. Here is a copy of the drawing. In the book it said: "Boa constrictors swallow their prey whole, without chewing it. After that they are not able to move, and they sleep through the six months that they need for digestion." I pondered deeply, then, over the adventures of the jungle. And after some work with a colored pencil I succeeded in making my first drawing. My Drawing Number One. It looked like this:I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups, and asked them whether the drawing frightened them. But they answered: "Frightened? Why should any one be frightened by a hat?"
Thus the man's career as an artist is over, his mistrust of adults is born and the tale begins. After crashing in the desert, the man meets a strange little boy, and when he shows the boy the picture, the boy immediately knows that it's a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. From there, the man finds out more and more about the mysterious little prince who fell from an asteroid. The prince tells him of his own world and his love affair with a rose and his travels to other asteroids and the people he meets along the way. Each experience philosophic and telling - hitting all the big themes like death, life, childhood and love. Perhaps the most poignant being the conversation the prince has with a fox he has tamed.
"Goodbye," said the fox. "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."
I wish I could tell you guys the many ways this book is special, but really, it is so unique and honest and beloved by millions, the actual tale can mean many different things depending on who the reader is and at what point in their lives they are reading it. I will tell you this though, at four and a half, my boy always cries at the end when the little prince finally leaves the man. It seems the sadness we know from losing someone we love is an emotion we're born with.
Within a year of the book being published, Saint Exupéry disappeared in his fighter plane over the ocean and was never seen again. Too bad some of us don't get to hang around long enough to see the love we've made.
(Two more things, my husband came home the other day while I was showing the boy the 1974 film version that came out when I was little. I don't know how many of you remember it, but he came in during the Bob Fosse-as-the-snake-in-the-grass dance number and screamed, "What are you doing to my son?!?" Ha! And weheartbooks turned me on to this fabulous pop-up version last week. Isn't it divine!?!)