stories, plays, rhymes and other things for children and childlike adults

Friday, February 4, 2011

THE LITTLE PRINCE: A BOOK YOU MUST READ


Author: Antoine De Saint-Exupéry
(First published as Le Petit Prince and simultaneously in English translation:
Reynal & Hitchcock: 1943)

An aviator crashes his plane and lands in a desert in Africa. Here, suddenly, he steps directly under a star and has a chance meeting with a child-like alien who has golden hair, an infectious laugh and the habit of asking countless questions but not answering them!

The Little Prince lives all alone on a tiny planet only a little bit bigger than a house. The planet has two active volcanoes that are useful for warmth on cold nights and for cooking the prince’s breakfast and a third, extinct volcano that the prince keeps sweeping lovingly, in the hope that one day it would revive. The planet is so tiny that it is possible to move your chair a few steps and view the sunset 43 times in a single day! The prince knows because he has done so.

On this planet, one day, there appears an alien flower, beautiful and demanding; self-absorbed and vain, who thinks that her four little thorns will protect her from destruction. The prince loves this flower, despite her apparent rudeness and arrogance, because child-like, he can appreciate her inner magnificence and the tenderness that is hidden by her apparent thorns. The prince knows, as only children can, that she is valuable to him simply because she is herself; because she fills his small planet with her fragrance and makes him happy. It is to ensure her life that the prince leaves his planet to roam the universe and ends up, finally, in the middle of a desert in Africa with a crashed pilot who is trying to repair his broken plane so that he can go home.

The author/narrator is sure—how we don’t know—that the prince’s planet is, in fact, the asteroid B612 that was discovered first in 1906 by a Turkish scientist. This scientist’s claim was deemed incredible by his peers because he chose to wear his Turkish clothes while announcing his discovery. He was only believed by his world-colleagues in 1920, when he wore a full western evening dress because that is the way grown-ups think.

This contradiction between the “way grown-ups think” and the way children know their world is what makes the core of this story. On the other hand, it is only when the “grown-up” and the “child” meet and come to understand each other that this story becomes possible. This simple story is not very easily put into any single category. Is it a Fable? Is it an Allegory? Is it Science Fiction? Is it Fantasy? Is it a Fairy Tale? Is it a Bedtime story? It is none of those and all of those and more.

The author is the first-person narrator of the little prince’s story. He recounts for us the little prince’s conversations with him and the prince’s accounts of his journeys around the universe. Many of the creatures the prince meets on his travels are suspiciously like the grown-up minds of our world: self-important, defective, “serious”, and “seriously” involved in—to the prince’s mind—very trivial pursuits while they completely ignore the really important things.

I feel that The Little Prince is a “once-in-a-lifetime” book. This is a book that every child and every grown-up must read more than once.

Every child must read the book and keep reading it once in a while because the book validates her imagination, her innocence and her ability to accept things at face value.

Every grown-up must read the book once in a while because it reminds them that a drawing that looks like a hat could well be a python that has just eaten an elephant!