Saturday, May 16, 2009

54. The Little Prince – Attoine de Saint Exupery

April 2007
History: Published in 1943, it is ostensibly a children's book, but the book makes several profound and idealistic points about life and human nature. On December 30, 1935 Saint-Exupéry, along with his navigator André Prévot, crashed in the Libyan Sahara desert en route to Saigon. Both of them had survived the crash, but they were then faced with rapid dehydration in the Sahara. Lost in the desert with a few grapes, a single orange, and some wine, the duo had only one day's worth of liquids. Both men began to see mirages, which were quickly followed by more vivid hallucinations. Sometime between the second and the third day, the two were so dehydrated that they stopped sweating altogether. Finally, on the fourth day, a Bedouin on a camel discovered them and administered native dehydration treatment that saved Saint-Exupéry and Prévot's lives.
In the desert, Saint-Exupéry had met a fennec (desert sand fox), which had most likely inspired him to create the fox character in the book. In a 1918 letter that he had written to his sister Didi from Cape Juby, he tells her about raising a fennec that he adored.
Plot: The home asteroid or "planet" of the Little Prince is introduced. His asteroid (planet) is house-sized and named, B612, which has three volcanoes (two active, and one dormant) and a rose among various other objects. The Prince spends his days caring for his "planet", pulling out the baobab trees that are constantly trying to take root there. The trees will make his little planet turn to dust if they are not removed. Throughout the book he is taught to be patient and to do hard work to keep his "planet" in order. The prince falls in love with the rose, who returns his love but is unable to express it. He leaves to see what the rest of the universe is like, and visits six other asteroids (numbered from 325 to 330) each of which is inhabited by an adult who is foolish in his own way. "So then the seventh planet was the Earth". On the Earth, he starts out in the desert and meets a snake that claims to have the power to return him to his home planet The Prince meets a desert-flower, who, having seen a caravan pass by, tells him that there are only a handful of men on earth and that they have no roots, which lets the wind blow them around making life hard on them. The little prince climbs the highest mountain he has ever seen. From the top of the mountain, he hopes he will see the whole planet and find people, but he sees only a desolate, craggy landscape. When the prince calls out, his echo answers him, and he mistakes it for the voices of humans. He thinks Earth is unnecessarily sharp and hard, and he finds it odd that the people of Earth only repeat what he says to them.
Eventually, the Prince comes upon a whole row of rosebushes, and is downcast because he thought that his rose was the only one in the whole universe. He begins to feel that he is not a great prince at all, as his planet contains only three tiny volcanoes and a flower he now thinks of as common. He lies down in the grass and weeps. Prince then meets and tames a fox, who explains to the Prince that his rose is unique and special, because she is the one that he loves. He also explains that in a way he has tamed the flower, as it has tamed him, and that this is why he now feels responsible for it. The Prince then meets a railway switchman and a merchant who provide further comments on the ridiculousness and absurdity of much of the human condition The switchman tells the Prince how passengers constantly rush from one place to another aboard trains, never satisfied with where they are and not knowing what they are after, only the children amongst them bothering to look out of the windows. The merchant tells the Prince about his product, a pill which eliminates thirst and is therefore very popular, saving people fifty-one minutes a week; the Prince replies that he would use the time to walk and find fresh water.
The narrator's point of view changes again from third person to first person. The narrator is dying of thirst, but then he and the Prince find a well. After some thought, the Prince bids an emotional farewell to the narrator, explaining to him that while it will look as though he has died, he has not, but rather that his body is too heavy to take with him to his planet. He tells the narrator that it was wrong of the narrator to come and watch, as it will make him sad. The Prince allows the snake to bite him and the next morning, when the narrator looks for the Prince, he finds the boy's body has disappeared. The story ends with a portrait of the landscape where the meeting of the Prince and the narrator took place and where the snake took the Prince's life. The picture is deliberately vague but the narrator also makes a plea that anyone encountering a strange child in that area who refuses to answer questions should contact the narrator immediately.
The Little Prince is represented as having been on Earth for one year, and the narrator ends the story six years after he is rescued from the desert.
Review: Saint Exupery's classic tale can be read on many levels and enjoyed by readers of any age. He tells the story of being stranded in the desert and meeting a tiny blond boy. This Little Prince proceeds to tell of his travels from planet to planet until he arrived on Earth and of what he has learned along the way. The most important thing he reveals is a secret that was taught him by a fox that he tamed. Regardless of whether you read the story as simply a delightful children's fable or read it as an existential or a Christian myth, or read it multiple times and find a different meaning each time, it is endlessly rewarding and quite beautiful.
Opening Line: “Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book, called True Stories from Nature, about the primeval forest.”
Closing Line: “And no grown-up will ever understand that this is a matter of so much importance!”
Quotes: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye."
"It is the time you have spent with your rose that makes your rose so important."
Rating: Okay

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