Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Little Prince: Antoine de Saint Exupéry

Whole book on line

This is a favourite book to read to one’s children and grandchildren; a book that can invigorate, challenge and renew the adult. The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint Exupéry is perhaps the most loved and most widely read book in the West after the Bible. The book was published in 1943 and has been translated into more than 180 languages and sold more than 80 million copies, making it one of the best-selling books ever.

The Little Prince barely stretches to a hundred pages, but what an incredible hundred pages they are. Most bookstores carry this French novel in their children’s section. The book is written in words that are simple with a poetic flow to them; it is also illustrated with more than forty delicate pen-and-ink pictures drawn by the author. It can be read in one or two sessions but takes a lifetime to fully comprehend. This is a voyage of discovery that compares in my experience, to reading Siddhartha by Herman Hesse without the sexual experiences. As with many of the great books of philosophy and religion a proper comprehension of the wisdom contained requires a child’s faith, acceptance and willingness to suspend disbelief. In the words of the author, ‘Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.’

The story begins with a pilot being marooned in the desert, which is in part a reference to real life experiences of the author who was a famous aviator and war hero. He meets a child who is the sole inhabitant of the planet Asteroid B-612, and has lived happily alone in his home-asteroid until the wind plants for him a new seed, from which springs the loveliest flower he has ever seen – a single rose.

This is the story of a boy who falls in love with a rose and lavishes his full attention on the flower. The rose torments him with her vanity and her pride. The Little Prince must leave the only home he has known to set off into the galaxy, in search of a sheep. The sheep will eat the little baobabs before they grow big enough to threaten the rose.

Understanding what is important about life and trying to find a friend becomes the mission of the Prince along the way.

It’s a trail of disappointment really. There’s the absolute monarch, the conceited individual, the drunkard, and the businessman. They are all too wrapped up in their own affairs to consider being the Little Prince’s friend; the drunkard’s tale:

‘What are you doing here?‘ he said to the drunkard whom he found sitting silently in front of a collection of bottles, some empty and some full.
‘I am drinking,‘ answered the drunkard lugubriously.
‘Why are you drinking?‘ the little prince asked.
‘In order to forget,‘ replied the drunkard.
‘To forget what?’ enquired the little prince, who was already feeling sorry for him.
‘To forget that I am ashamed,‘ the drunkard confessed, hanging his head.
‘Ashamed of what?‘ asked the little prince who wanted to help him.
‘Ashamed of drinking!‘ concluded the drunkard, withdrawing into total silence.
And the little prince went away, puzzled.
‘Grown-ups really are very, very odd,‘ he said to himself as he continued his journey.

He meets a snake when he finally lands on planet Earth. Alluding to his poisonous bite, the snake states ‘Whomever I touch I send back to the earth from which they came’ but then he decides that the prince is too “innocent” for him to do so. Right in the middle of the desert is Antoine de Saint- Exupéry who has crash-landed in his aeroplane. They seem to understand each other right away, as much from what isn’t said as from what is said.

The Little Prince tells of all the experiences he has had going from planet to planet until his arrival and 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:

“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.”

“What is essential is invisible to the eye,”
the little prince repeated,
so that he would be sure to remember.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose
that makes your rose so important.

“It is the time I have wasted for my rose–
“said the little prince
so he would be sure to remember.

“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox.
“But you must not forget it.
You become responsible, forever,
for what you have tamed.
You are responsible for your rose. . .”

“I am responsible for my rose,”
the little prince repeated,
so that he would be sure to remember.

With his new level of understanding, the Little Prince is at last ready to meet the snake again, but not before he passes on his new knowledge to the author - knowledge of the healing power of love which makes all things unique, and how the pain of saying goodbye is worth it if it changes how we look at the world.

This is the central lesson of the story–love and responsibility for one another. Almost the last words the Little Prince states: ‘But the eyes are blind. One must look with the heart.’

The relevance of The Little Prince is particularly important in the harsh realities of the Credit Crunch, as the prince ridicules the foundations of the modern era namely power, wealth, fame and despair through his innocence, one begins to realize the hopelessness of hope itself, for our hopes are pinned on those very foundations which, unfortunately, hold little meaning to a naive, vain rose who lies in wait somewhere for her hero to return home. Understanding life is what this story is about. The book is readily available on the Internet, and I urge you to read it. I leave you with a noted quotation from the author:

‘A single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us. To live is to be slowly born.

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