About my edition: Published by Macmillan Collector’s Library in 2010. Translated by Ros and Chloe Schwartz, with an afterword by David Stuart Davies. ISBN no. 9781907360015.
A cosy Sunday afternoon, sat by the fire, seemed the perfect time to re-visit this delightful little classic, The Little Prince.
“All grown ups were children once (but most of them have forgotten).”
I never read it as a child but, like all the best children’s stories, it is just as appealing to the grown up me as I am sure it would have been to little me.
The story opens with a pilot stranded in the Sahara Desert; he is trying to fix a mechanical problem with his plane before his food and drink supplies run out. He wakes one morning at daybreak to a little voice asking him to …”Please, will you draw me a little lamb!” It is the Little Prince.
The Little Prince comes from a planet a long way away; a star, or more specifically Asteroid B 612. It is a very small planet, no bigger than a house, and he looks after it all by himself. He sweeps the chimneys of his three little volcanoes every day and weeds the ground from invasive baobab plants. One day, a new seed comes up through the soil and he watches it grow and develop and get bigger, looking more and more unusual, until it finally blooms into a beautiful, yet thorny flower. The Little Prince gets talking to the flower and it becomes quite a bossy, vain, demanding and opinionated little flower; demanding water and wind shields and a glass dome to protect it from the cold. The Little Prince loves this precious flower but he doesn’t know how to handle her over-sized ego, so he makes his escape from his beloved planet and sets off an adventure.
“It is sad to forget a friend. Not everybody has had a friend.”
The plant becomes very sad as The Little Prince says goodbye; she knows she has driven him away with her unkind words and she becomes remorseful and sorry for what she has said:
“‘I’ve been stupid,’ she said at last. ‘Please forgive me. Try to be happy.'”
The Little Prince sets off to visit different planets. He encounters a king, a show-off, a drunkard, a businessman (who owns all the stars but does not have the time to appreciate them), a geographer, and a lamplighter. He finds all of these adults very strange and quite tedious; he can’t understand why they do what they do. The only one he has any affinity with is the lamplighter, because …”he’s the only person I don’t find ridiculous. Maybe it’s because he’s looking after something other than himself.” The final planet in his journey is Earth but this planet is much, much bigger than any planet he has encountered before and to begin with he can’t find any people… He meets a snake, a fox and a rose, from each of which he learns some pearls of wisdom. From the fox, he learns:
“People no longer have the time to understand anything. They buy things that are ready-made from the shops. But as there are no shops selling friends, people no longer have any friends.”
The fox tells him his secret:
“You only see clearly with your heart. The most important things are invisible to the eyes. You mustn’t forget this simple truth. You are responsible for ever for those you have tamed.”
The Little Prince shares all he has learned with his new friend, the pilot, and when the pilot carries the Little Prince through the desert on a search to find water, looking down at the handsome prince the pilot comes to the realisation that ...”What I see here is only his shell. The most important part is invisible.”
It is a beautiful story, simply told and illustrated, and with a gentle philosophy in the tradition of the best moral tales such as Aesop’s Fables and the Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Each of the people the Little Prince encounters on his travels highlights a different human vice or weakness; that each of them has a different failing serves to highlight that failing all the more. The Little Prince is soon longing to go back to the planet he loves and the sad little flower he left behind. The author gently attacks the stupidity or short-sightedness of adults throughout the book, leaving us to wonder how we lose the inquisitiveness and unrestricted views of childhood.
About the Author
Antoine de Saint-Exupery was born in 1900 in Lyon, France, and The Little Prince was first published in 1943 (Le Petit Prince). Saint-Exupery began military training in 1921 and later became a pilot, becoming an international postal pilot in the very earliest days of air mail. In the Second World War he joined the French Air Force and went missing on a mission over Germany on 31 July, 1944. He sadly didn’t live to see his little book become an international publishing success. To date, it has been translated into over 180 languages and has sold over 80 million copies worldwide. Saint-Exupery’s other books include Night Flight and Wind, Sand and Stars (published in 1931 and 1939, respectively).
Where to Buy
You can buy The Little Prince from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. For collectable editions, try biblio.co.uk. My edition, the Collector’s Library edition, is currently available new as a pocket-sized hardback (with black and white illustrations) at the RRP of £7.99. It is my favourite translation of the book, though you might also like to try the editions published by Egmont with colour illustrations.