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The Little Prince
The Little Prince (French: Le Petit Prince; French pronunciation: [lə pəti pʁɛ̃s]), first published in April 1943, is a novella, the most famous work of French aristocrat, writer, poet, and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
The novella has been voted the best book of the 20th century in France. Translated into 300 languages and dialects, selling nearly two million copies annually, and with year-to-date sales of over 140 million copies worldwide, it has become one of the best-selling and most translated books ever published.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, Saint-Exupéry escaped to North America. Despite personal upheavals and failing health, he produced almost half of the writings for which he would be remembered, including a tender tale of loneliness, friendship, love, and loss, in the form of a young prince visiting Earth. An earlier memoir by the author had recounted his aviation experiences in the Sahara Desert, and he is thought to have drawn on those same experiences in The Little Prince.
Since its first publication, the novella has been adapted to numerous art forms and media, including audio recordings, radio plays, live stage, film, television, ballet, and opera.
Though ostensibly styled as a children's book, The Little Prince makes several observations about life and human nature. For example, Saint-Exupéry tells of a fox meeting the young prince during his travels on Earth. The story's essence is contained in the fox saying that "One sees clearly only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eye." Other key morals articulated by the fox are: "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed," and "It is the time you have lost for your rose that makes your rose so important." The fox's messages are arguably the book's most famous quotations because they deal with human relationships.
The narrator begins with a discussion on the nature of grown-ups and their inability to perceive especially important things. As a test to determine if a grown-up is enlightened and like a child, he shows them a picture he drew at age 6 of a snake which has eaten an elephant. The grown-ups always reply that the picture is of a hat, and so he knows to talk of "reasonable" things to them, rather than fanciful.
The narrator becomes a pilot, and, one day, his plane crashes in the Sahara, far from civilization. He has 8 days of water supply and must fix his airplane to be saved.
In the middle of the desert, the narrator is unexpectedly greeted by a young boy who is nicknamed as "the little prince". The prince has golden hair, a lovable laugh, and will repeat questions until they are answered.
Upon encountering the narrator, the little prince asks him to draw a sheep. The narrator first shows him his old picture of the elephant inside the snake, which, to the narrator's surprise, the prince interprets correctly. After three failed attempts at drawing a sheep, the frustrated narrator simply draws a box(crate), claiming that the sheep the prince wants is inside the box. Again, to the narrator's surprise, the prince exclaims that this was exactly the drawing he wanted.
Over the course of eight days stranded in the desert, while the narrator attempts to repair his plane, the little prince recounts the story of his life.
The prince begins by describing life on his tiny home planet: in effect, a house-sized asteroid known as "B 612" on Earth. The asteroid's most prominent features are three minuscule volcanoes (two active, and one dormant or extinct) as well as a variety of plants.
The prince describes spending his earlier days cleaning the volcanoes and weeding unwanted seeds and sprigs that infest his planet's soil; in particular, pulling out baobab trees that are constantly on the verge of overrunning the surface. If the baobabs are not rooted out the moment they are recognized, it may be put off until it is too late and the tree has grown too large to remove, its roots having a catastrophic effect on the tiny planet.
The prince wants a sheep to eat the undesirable plants, but worries it will also eat plants with thorns.
The prince tells of his love for a vain and silly rose that began growing on the asteroid's surface some time ago. The rose is given to pretension, exaggerating ailments to gain attention and have the prince care for her. The prince says he nourished the rose and attended her, making a screen or glass globe to protect her from the cold wind, watering her, and keeping off the caterpillars.
Although the prince fell in love with the rose, he also began to feel that she was taking advantage of him and he resolved to leave the planet to explore the rest of the universe. Upon their goodbyes, the rose is serious and apologizes that she failed to show she loved him and that they'd both been silly. She wishes him well and turns down his desire to leave her in the glass globe, saying she will protect herself.
The prince laments that he did not understand how to love his rose while he was with her and should have listened to her kind actions, rather than her vain words.
The prince has since visited six other planets, each of which was inhabited by a single, irrational, narrow-minded adult, each meant to critique an element of society. They include:
It is the geographer who tells the prince that his rose is an ephemeral being, which is not recorded, and recommends that the prince next visit the planet Earth.
The visit to Earth begins with a deeply pessimistic appraisal of humanity. The six absurd people the prince encountered earlier comprise, according to the narrator, just about the entire adult world. On earth there were
Since the prince landed in a desert, he believed that Earth was uninhabited. He then met a yellow snake that claimed to have the power to return him to his home, if he ever wished to return. The prince next met a desert flower, who told him that she had only seen a handful of men in this part of the world and that they had no roots, letting the wind blow them around and living hard lives. After climbing the highest mountain he had ever seen, the prince hoped to see the whole of Earth, thus finding the people; however, he saw only the enormous, desolate landscape. When the prince called out, his echo answered him, which he interpreted as the voice of a boring person who only repeats what another says.
The prince encountered a whole row of rosebushes, becoming downcast at having once thought that his own rose was unique and that she had lied. He began to feel that he was not a great prince at all, as his planet contained only three tiny volcanoes and a flower that he now thought of as common. He lay down on the grass and wept, until a fox came along.
The fox desired to be tamed and teaches the prince how to tame him.
By being tamed, something goes from being ordinary and just like all the others, to be special and unique. There are drawbacks since the connection can lead to sadness and longing when apart.
From the fox, the prince learns that his rose was indeed unique and special because she was the object of the prince's love and time; he had "tamed" her, and now she was more precious than all of the roses he had seen in the garden.
Upon their sad departing, the fox imparts a secret: important things can only be seen with the heart, not the eyes.
The prince finally meets two people from Earth:
Back in the present moment, it is the eighth day after the narrator's plane crash and the narrator and the prince are dying of thirst. The prince has become visibly morose and saddened over his recollections and longs to return home and see his flower.
The prince finds a well, saving the pair. The narrator later finds the prince talking to the snake, discussing his return home and his desire to see his rose again, whom he worries has been left to fend for herself. The prince bids an emotional farewell to the narrator and states that if it looks as though he has died, it is only because his body was too heavy to take with him to his planet. The prince warns the narrator not to watch him leave, as it will upset him. The narrator, realizing what will happen, refuses to leave the prince's side. The prince consoles the narrator by saying that he only need look at the stars to think of the prince's lovable laughter, and that it will seem as if all the stars are laughing. The prince then walks away from the narrator and allows the snake to bite him, soundlessly falling down.
The next morning, the narrator is unable to find the prince's body. He finally manages to repair his airplane and leave the desert. It is left up to the reader to determine if the prince returned home, or died.
The story ends with a drawing of the landscape where the prince and the narrator met and where the snake took the prince's corporeal life. The narrator requests to be immediately contacted by anyone in that area encountering a small person with golden curls who refuses to answer any questions.
Tone and writing style
The story of The Little Prince is recalled in a sombre, measured tone by the plot-narrator, in memory of his small friend, "a memorial to the prince—not just to the prince, but also to the time the prince and the narrator had together." The Little Prince was created when Saint-Exupéry was "an expatriate and distraught about what was going on in his country and in the world." According to one analysis, "the story of the Little Prince features a lot of fantastical, unrealistic elements.... You can't ride a flock of birds to another planet... The fantasy of the Little Prince works because the logic of the story is based on the imagination of children, rather than the strict realism of adults."
An exquisite literary perfectionist, akin to the 19th century French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, Saint-Exupéry produced draft pages "covered with fine lines of handwriting, much of it painstakingly crossed out, with one word left standing where there were a hundred words, one sentence substitut[ing] for a page..." He worked "long hours with great concentration." According to the author himself, it was extremely difficult to start his creative writing processes. Biographer Paul Webster wrote of the aviator-author's style: "Behind Saint-Exupéry's quest for perfection was a laborious process of editing and rewriting which reduced original drafts by as much as two-thirds." The French author frequently wrote at night, usually starting about 11 p.m. accompanied by a tray of strong black coffee. In 1942 Saint-Exupéry related to his American English teacher, Adèle Breaux, that at such a time of night he felt "free" and able to concentrate, "writing for hours without feeling tired or sleepy," until he instantaneously dozed off. He would wake up later, in daylight, still at his desk, with his head on his arms. Saint-Exupéry stated it was the only way he could work, as once he started a writing project it became an obsession.
Though the story is more or less understandable, the narrator made almost no connection from when the little prince traveled between planets, he purposefully did that so that the book felt like it was told from a secretive little boy.
Although Saint-Exupéry was a master of the French language, he was never able to achieve anything more than haltingly poor English. Adèle Breaux, his young Northport English tutor to whom he later dedicated a writing ("For Miss Adèle Breaux, who so gently guided me in the mysteries of the English language") related her experiences with her famous student as Saint-Exupéry in America, 1942–1943: A Memoir, published in 1971.
Saint-Exupéry's prodigious writings and studies of literature sometimes gripped him, and on occasion he continued his readings of literary works until moments before takeoff on solitary military reconnaissance flights, as he was adept at both reading and writing while flying. Taking off with an open book balanced on his leg, his ground crew would fear his mission would quickly end after contacting something "very hard." On one flight, to the chagrin of colleagues awaiting his arrival, he circled the Tunis airport for an hour so that he could finish reading a novel. Saint-Exupéry frequently flew with a lined carnet (notebook) during his long, solo flights, and some of his philosophical writings were created during such periods when he could reflect on the world below him, becoming" enmeshed in a search for ideals which he translated into fable and parable."
Events and characters
In The Little Prince, its narrator, the pilot, talks of being stranded in the desert beside his crashed aircraft. The account clearly drew on Saint-Exupéry's own experience in the Sahara, an ordeal described in detail in his 1939 memoir Wind, Sand and Stars (original French: Terre des hommes).
On 30 December 1935, at 02:45 am, after 19 hours and 44 minutes in the air, Saint-Exupéry, along with his copilot-navigator André Prévot, crashed in the Sahara desert. They were attempting to break the speed record for a Paris-to-Saigon flight in a then-popular type of air race called a raid, that had a prize of 150,000 francs. Their plane was a Caudron C-630 Simoun, and the crash site is thought to have been near to the Wadi Natrun valley, close to the Nile Delta.
Both miraculously survived the crash, only to face rapid dehydration in the intense desert heat. Their maps were primitive and ambiguous. Lost among the sand dunes with a few grapes, a thermos of coffee, a single orange, and some wine, the pair had only one day's worth of liquid. They both began to see mirages, which were quickly followed by more vivid hallucinations. By the second and third days, they were so dehydrated that they stopped sweating altogether. Finally, on the fourth day, a Bedouin on a camel discovered them and administered a native rehydration treatment, which saved Saint-Exupéry's and Prévot's lives.
The prince's home, "Asteroid B-612", was likely derived as a progression of one of the planes Saint-Exupéry flew as an airmail pilot, which bore the serial number "A-612". During his service as a mail pilot in the Sahara, Saint-Exupéry had viewed a fennec (desert sand fox), which most likely inspired him to create the fox character in the book. In a letter written to his sister Didi from the Western Sahara's Cape Juby, where he was the manager of an airmail stopover station in 1928, he tells of raising a fennec that he adored.
In the novella, the fox, believed to be modeled after the author's intimate New York City friend, Silvia Hamilton Reinhardt, tells the prince that his rose is unique and special, as she is the one he loves. The novella's iconic phrase, "One sees clearly only with the heart" is believed to have been suggested by Reinhardt.
The fearsome, grasping baobab trees, researchers have contended, were meant to represent Nazism attempting to destroy the planet. The little prince's reassurance to the pilot that the prince's body is only an empty shell resembles the last words of Antoine's dying younger brother François, who told the author, from his deathbed: "Don't worry. I'm all right. I can't help it. It's my body".
Many researchers believe that the prince's kindhearted but petulant and vain rose was inspired by Saint-Exupéry's Salvadoran wife Consuelo de Saint Exupéry, with the small home planet being inspired by her small native country, El Salvador, also known as "The Land of Volcanoes." Despite a tumultuous marriage, Saint-Exupéry kept Consuelo close to his heart and portrayed her as the prince's rose, whom he tenderly protects with a wind screen and places under a glass dome on his tiny planet. Saint-Exupéry's infidelity and the doubts of his marriage are symbolized by the vast field of roses the prince encounters during his visit to Earth.
This interpretation was described by biographer Paul Webster who stated she was "the muse to whom Saint-Exupéry poured out his soul in copious letters..... Consuelo was the rose in The Little Prince. "I should have judged her by her acts and not by her words," says the prince. "She wrapped herself around me and enlightened me. I should never have fled. I should have guessed at the tenderness behind her poor ruses."
Saint-Exupéry may have drawn inspiration for the prince's character and appearance from his own self as a youth, as during his early years friends and family called him le Roi-Soleil ("the Sun King") because of his golden curly hair. The author had also met a precocious eight-year-old with curly blond hair while he was residing with a family in Quebec City in 1942, Thomas De Koninck, the son of philosopher Charles De Koninck. Another possible inspiration for the little prince has been suggested as Land Morrow Lindbergh, the young, golden-haired son of fellow aviator Charles Lindbergh Jr. and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, whom he met during an overnight stay at their Long Island home in 1939.
Some have seen the prince as a Christ figure, as the child is sin-free and "believes in a life after death", subsequently returning to his personal heaven. When Life photojournalist John Phillips questioned the author-aviator on his inspiration for the child character, Saint-Exupéry told him that one day he looked down on what he thought was a blank sheet and saw a small childlike figure: "I asked him who he was," he replied. "I'm the Little Prince" was the reply.
One of Saint-Exupéry's earliest literary references to a small prince is to be found in his second news dispatch from Moscow, dated 14 May 1935. In his writings as a special correspondent for Paris-Soir, the author described traveling from France to the USSR by train. Late at night, during the trip, he ventured from his first-class accommodation into the third-class carriages, where he came upon large groups of Polish families huddled together, returning to their homeland. His commentary not only described a diminutive prince but also touched on several other themes Saint-Exupéry incorporated into various philosophical writings:
Upon the outbreak of the Second World War, a laureate of several of France's highest literary awards and a successful pioneering aviator prior to the war, he initially flew with a reconnaissance squadron as a reserve military pilot in the Armée de l'Air (French Air Force). After France's defeat in 1940 and its armistice with Germany, he and Consuelo fled Occupied France and sojourned in North America, with Saint-Exupéry first arriving by himself at the very end of December 1940. His intention for the visit was to convince the United States to quickly enter the war against Nazi Germany and the Axis forces, and he soon became one of the expatriate voices of the French Resistance. In the midst of personal upheavals and failing health, he produced almost half of the writings for which he would be remembered, including a tender tale of loneliness, friendship, love and loss, in the form of a young prince visiting Earth.
An earlier memoir by the author recounted his aviation experiences in the Sahara, and he is thought to have drawn on the same experiences as plot elements in The Little Prince.
He wrote and illustrated the manuscript during the summer and fall of 1942. Although greeted warmly by French-speaking Americans and by fellow expatriates who had preceded him in New York, his 27-month stay would be marred by health problems and racked with periods of severe stress, martial and marital strife. These included partisan attacks on the author's neutral stance towards supporters of both ardent French Gaullist and Vichy France. Saint-Exupéry's American translator (the author spoke poor English) wrote: "He was restless and unhappy in exile, seeing no way to fight again for his country and refusing to take part in the political quarrels that set Frenchman against Frenchman." However, the period was to be both a "dark but productive time" during which he created three important works.
Between January 1941 and April 1943, the Saint-Exupérys lived in two penthouse apartments on Central Park South, then the Bevin House mansion in Asharoken, New York, and still later at a rented house on Beekman Place in New York City.
The couple also stayed in Quebec for five weeks during the late spring of 1942, where they met a precocious eight-year-old boy with blond curly hair, Thomas, the son of philosopher Charles De Koninck, with whom the Saint-Exupérys resided. During an earlier visit to Long Island in August 1939, Saint-Exupéry had also met Land Morrow Lindbergh, the young, golden-haired son of the pioneering American aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
After returning to the US from his Quebec speaking tour, Saint-Exupéry was pressed to work on a children's book by Elizabeth Reynal, one of the wives of his US publisher, Reynal & Hitchcock. The French wife of Eugene Reynal had closely observed Saint-Exupéry for several months, and noting his ill health and high stress levels, she suggested to him that working on a children's story would help. The author wrote and illustrated The Little Prince at various locations in New York City but principally in the Long Island north-shore community of Asharoken in mid-to-late 1942, with the manuscript being completed in October.
Although the book was started in his Central Park South penthouse, Saint-Exupéry soon found New York City's noise and sweltering summer heat too uncomfortable to work in and so Consuelo was dispatched to find improved accommodations. After spending some time at an unsuitable clapboard country house in Westport, Connecticut, they found Bevin House, a 22-room mansion in Asharoken that overlooked Long Island Sound. The author-aviator initially complained, "I wanted a hut, and it's the Palace of Versailles." As the weeks wore on, the author became invested in his project and the home would became "a haven for writing, the best place I have ever had anywhere in my life." He devoted himself to the book on mostly midnight shifts, usually starting at about 11 pm, fueled by helpings of scrambled eggs on English muffins, gin and tonics, Coca-Colas, cigarettes and numerous visits by friends and expatriates who dropped in to see their famous countryman. One of the visitors was his wife's Swiss writer paramour Denis de Rougemont, who also modeled for a painting of the Little Prince lying on his stomach, feet and arms extended up in the air. De Rougemont would later help Consuelo write her autobiography, The Tale of the Rose, as well as write his own biography of Saint-Exupéry.
While the author's personal life was frequently chaotic, his creative process while writing was disciplined. Christine Nelson, curator of literary and historical manuscripts at the Morgan Library and Museum which had obtained Saint-Exupéry's original manuscript in 1968, stated: "On the one hand, he had a clear vision for the shape, tone, and message of the story. On the other hand, he was ruthless about chopping out entire passages that just weren't quite right", eventually distilling the 30,000 word manuscript, accompanied by small illustrations and sketches, to approximately half its original length. The story, the curator added, was created when he was "an ex-patriate and distraught about what was going on in his country and in the world."
The large white Second French Empire-style mansion, hidden behind tall trees, afforded the writer a multitude of work environments, but he usually wrote at a large dining table. It also allowed him to alternately work on his writings and then on his sketches and watercolours for hours at a time, moving his armchair and paint easel from the library towards the parlor one room at a time in search of sunlight. His meditative view of sunsets at the Bevin House were incorporated in the book, where the prince visits a small planet with 43 daily sunsets, a planet where all that is needed to watch a sunset "is move your chair a few steps."
The original 140-page autograph manuscript of The Little Prince, along with various drafts and trial drawings, were acquired from the author's close friend Silvia Hamilton in 1968 by curator Herbert Cahoon of the Pierpont Morgan Library (now The Morgan Library & Museum) in Manhattan, New York City. It is the only known surviving handwritten draft of the complete work. The manuscript's pages include large amounts of the author's prose that was struck-through and therefore not published as part of the first edition. In addition to the manuscript, several watercolour illustrations by the author are also held by the museum. They were not part of the first edition. The institution has marked both the 50th and 70th anniversaries of the novella's publication, along with the centenary celebration of the author's birth, with major exhibitions of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's literary works. Physically, the manuscript's onion skin media has become brittle and subject to damage. Saint-Exupéry's handwriting is described as being doctor-like, verging on indecipherable.
The story's keynote aphorism, On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux ("One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye") was reworded and rewritten some 15 times before achieving its final phrasing. Saint-Exupéry also used his newly purchased $700 Dictaphone recorder to produce oral drafts for his typist. His initial 30,000-word working manuscript was distilled to less than half its original size through laborious editing sessions. Multiple versions of its many pages were created and its prose then polished over several drafts, with the author occasionally telephoning friends at 2:00 a.m. to solicit opinions on his newly written passages.
Many pages and illustrations were cut from the finished work as he sought to maintain a sense of ambiguity to the story's theme and messages. Included among the deletions in its 17th chapter were references to locales in New York, such as the Rockefeller Center and Long Island. Other deleted pages described the prince's vegetarian diet and the garden on his home asteroid that included beans, radishes, potatoes and tomatoes, but which lacked fruit trees that might have overwhelmed the prince's planetoid. Deleted chapters discussed visits to other asteroids occupied by a retailer brimming with marketing phrases, and an inventor whose creation could produce any object desired at a touch of its controls. Likely the result of the ongoing war in Europe weighing on Saint-Exupéry's shoulders, the author produced a sombre three-page epilogue lamenting "On one star someone has lost a friend, on another someone is ill, on another someone is at war...", with the story's pilot-narrator noting of The Prince: "he sees all that. . . . For him, the night is hopeless. And for me, his friend, the night is also hopeless." The draft epilogue was also omitted from the novella's printing.
In April 2012 a Parisian auction house announced the discovery of two previously unknown draft manuscript pages that included new text. In the newly discovered material the Prince meets his first Earthling after his arrival. The person he meets is an "ambassador of the human spirit". The ambassador is too busy to talk, saying he is searching for a missing six letter word: "I am looking for a six-letter word that starts with G that means 'gargling'," he says. Saint-Exupéry's text does not say what the word is, but experts believe it could be "guerre" (or "war"). The novella thus takes a more politicized tack with an anti-war sentiment, as 'to gargle' in French is an informal reference to 'honour', which the author may have viewed as a key factor in military confrontations between nations.
Saint-Exupéry met Léon Werth (1878–1955), a writer and art critic, in 1931. Werth soon became Saint-Exupery's closest friend outside of his Aeropostale associates. Werth was an anarchist, a leftist Bolshevik supporter of Jewish descent, twenty-two years older than Saint-Exupéry.
Saint-Exupéry dedicated two books to him, Lettre à un otage (Letter to a Hostage) and Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), and referred to Werth in three more of his works. At the beginning of the Second World War while writing The Little Prince, Saint-Exupéry lived in his downtown New York City apartment, thinking of his native France and his friends. Werth spent the war unobtrusively in Saint-Amour, his village in the Jura, a mountainous region near Switzerland where he was "alone, cold and hungry", a place that had few polite words for French refugees. Werth appears in the preamble to the novella, where Saint-Exupéry dedicates the book to him:
Saint-Exupéry's aircraft disappeared over the Mediterranean in July 1944. The following month, Werth learned of his friend's disappearance from a radio broadcast. Without having yet heard of The Little Prince, in November, Werth discovered that Saint-Exupéry had published a fable the previous year in the U.S., which he had illustrated himself, and that it was dedicated to him. At the end of the Second World War, which Antoine de Saint-Exupéry did not live to see, Werth said: "Peace, without Tonio (Saint-Exupéry) isn't entirely peace." Werth did not see the text for which he was so responsible until five months after his friend's death, when Saint-Exupéry's French publisher, Gallimard, sent him a special edition. Werth died in Paris in 1955.
All of the novella's simple but elegant watercolour illustrations, which were integral to the story, were painted by Saint-Exupéry. He had studied architecture as a young adult but nevertheless could not be considered an artist – which he self-mockingly alluded to in the novella's introduction. Several of his illustrations were painted on the wrong side of the delicate onion skin paper that he used, his medium of choice. As with some of his draft manuscripts, he occasionally gave away preliminary sketches to close friends and colleagues; others were even recovered as crumpled balls from the floors in the cockpits he flew. Two or three original Little Prince drawings were reported in the collections of New York artist, sculptor and experimental filmmaker Joseph Cornell. One rare original Little Prince watercolour would be mysteriously sold at a second-hand book fair in Japan in 1994, and subsequently authenticated in 2007.
An unrepentant lifelong doodler and sketcher, Saint-Exupéry had for many years sketched little people on his napkins, tablecloths, letters to paramours and friends, lined notebooks and other scraps of paper. Early figures took on a multitude of appearances, engaged in a variety of tasks. Some appeared as doll-like figures, baby puffins, angels with wings, and even a figure similar to that in Robert Crumb's later famous Keep on Truckin' of 1968. In a 1940 letter to a friend he sketched a character with his own thinning hair, sporting a bow tie, viewed as a boyish alter-ego, and he later gave a similar doodle to Elizabeth Reynal at his New York publisher's office. Most often the diminutive figure was expressed as "...a slip of a boy with a turned up nose, lots of hair, long baggy pants that were too short for him and with a long scarf that whipped in the wind. Usually the boy had a puzzled expression... [T]his boy Saint-Exupéry came to think of as "the little prince," and he was usually found standing on top of a tiny planet. Most of the time he was alone, sometimes walking up a path. Sometimes there was a single flower on the planet." His characters were frequently seen chasing butterflies; when asked why they did so, Saint-Exupéry, who thought of the figures as his alter-egos, replied that they were actually pursuing a "realistic ideal". Saint-Exupéry eventually settled on the image of the young, precocious child with curly blond hair, an image which would become the subject of speculations as to its source. One "most striking" illustration depicted the pilot-narrator asleep beside his stranded plane prior to the prince's arrival. Although images of the narrator were created for the story, none survived Saint-Exupéry's editing process.
To mark both the 50th and 70th anniversaries of The Little Prince's publication, the Morgan Library and Museum mounted major exhibitions of Saint-Exupéry's draft manuscript, preparatory drawings, and similar materials that it had obtained earlier from a variety of sources. One major source was an intimate friend of his in New York City, Silvia Hamilton (later, Reinhardt), to whom the author gave his working manuscript just prior to returning to Algiers to resume his work as a Free French Air Force pilot. Hamilton's black poodle, Mocha, is believed to have been the model for the Little Prince's sheep, with a Raggedy Ann type doll helping as a stand-in for the prince. Additionally, a pet boxer, Hannibal, that Hamilton gave to him as a gift may have been the model for the story's desert fox and its tiger. A museum representative stated that the novella's final drawings were lost.
Seven unpublished drawings for the book were also displayed at the museum's exhibit, including fearsome looking baobab trees ready to destroy the prince's home asteroid, as well as a picture of the story's narrator, the forlorn pilot, sleeping next to his aircraft. That image was likely omitted to avoid giving the story a 'literalness' that would distract its readers, according to one of the Morgan Library's staff. According to Christine Nelson, curator of literary and historical manuscripts at the Morgan, "[t]he image evokes Saint-Exupéry's own experience of awakening in an isolated, mysterious place. You can almost imagine him wandering without much food and water and conjuring up the character of the Little Prince." Another reviewer noted that the author "chose the best illustrations... to maintain the ethereal tone he wanted his story to exude. Choosing between ambiguity and literal text and illustrations, Saint-Exupéry chose in every case to obfuscate." Not a single drawing of the story's narrator–pilot survived the author's editing process; "he was very good at excising what was not essential to his story".
In 2001 Japanese researcher Yoshitsugu Kunugiyama surmised that the cover illustration Saint-Exupéry painted for Le Petit Prince deliberately depicted a stellar arrangement created to celebrate the author's own centennial of birth. According to Kunugiyama, the cover art chosen from one of Saint-Exupéry's watercolour illustrations contained the planets Saturn and Jupiter, plus the star Aldebaran, arranged as an isosceles triangle, a celestial configuration which occurred in the early 1940s, and which he likely knew would next reoccur in the year 2000. Saint-Exupéry possessed superior mathematical skills and was a master celestial navigator, a vocation he had studied at Salon-de-Provence with the Armée de l'Air (French Air Force).
Stacy Schiff, one of Saint-Exupéry's principal biographers, wrote of him and his most famous work, "rarely have an author and a character been so intimately bound together as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his Little Prince", and remarking of their dual fates, "the two remain tangled together, twin innocents who fell from the sky". Another noted that the novella's mystique was "enhanced by the parallel between author and subject: imperious innocents whose lives consist of equal parts flight and failed love, who fall to earth, are little impressed with what they find here and ultimately disappear without a trace."
Only weeks after his novella was first published in April 1943, despite his wife's pleadings and before Saint-Exupéry had received any of its royalties (he never would), the author-aviator joined the Free French Forces. He would remain immensely proud of The Little Prince, and almost always kept a personal copy with him which he often read to others during the war.
As part of a 32 ship military convoy he voyaged to North Africa where he rejoined his old squadron to fight with the Allies, resuming his work as a reconnaissance pilot despite the best efforts of his friends, colleagues and fellow airmen who could not prevent him from flying. He had previously escaped death by the barest of margins a number of times, but was then lost in action during a July 1944 spy mission from the moonscapes of Corsica to the continent in preparation for the Allied invasion of occupied France, only three weeks before the Liberation of Paris.
Many of the book's initial reviewers were flummoxed by the fable's multi-layered story line and its morals, perhaps expecting a significantly more conventional story from one of France's leading writers. Its publisher had anticipated such reactions to a work that fell neither exclusively into a children's nor adult's literature classification. The New York Times wrote shortly before its release "What makes a good children's book?.... ...The Little Prince, which is a fascinating fable for grown-ups [is] of conjectural value for boys and girls of 6, 8 and 10. [It] may very well be a book on the order of Gulliver's Travels, something that exists on two levels"; "Can you clutter up a narrative with paradox and irony and still hold the interest of 8 and 10-year olds?" Notwithstanding the story's duality, the review added that major portions of the story would probably still "capture the imagination of any child." Addressing whether it was written for children or adults, Reynal & Hitchcock promoted it ambiguously, saying that as far as they were concerned "it's the new book by Saint-Exupéry", adding to its dustcover "There are few stories which in some way, in some degree, change the world forever for their readers. This is one."
Others were not shy in offering their praise. Austin Stevens, also of The New York Times, stated that the story possessed "...large portions of the Saint-Exupéry philosophy and poetic spirit. In a way it's a sort of credo." P.L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins series of children books, wrote in a Herald Tribune review: "...The Little Prince will shine upon children with a sidewise gleam. It will strike them in some place that is not the mind and glow there until the time comes for them to comprehend it."
British journalist Neil Clark, in The American Conservative, much later offered an expansive view of Saint-Exupéry's overall work by commenting that it provides a "…bird's eye view of humanity [and] contains some of the most profound observations on the human condition ever written", and that the author's novella "…doesn't merely express his contempt for selfishness and materialism [but] shows how life should be lived."
The book enjoyed modest initial success, residing on The New York Times Best Seller list for only two weeks, as opposed to his earlier 1939 English translation, Wind, Sand and Stars which remained on the same list for nearly five months. As a cultural icon, the novella regularly draws new readers and reviewers, selling almost two million copies annually and also spawning numerous adaptations. Modern-day references to The Little Prince include one from The New York Times that describes it as "abstract" and "fabulistic".
Literary translations and printed editions
As of April 2017, The Little Prince became the world's most translated book (into 300 languages) together with Italian novel The Adventures of Pinocchio, excluding religious works.
Katherine Woods (1886–1968) produced the first English translation of 1943, which was later joined by several other English translations. Her translation contained some errors. Mistranslations aside, one reviewer noted that Wood's almost "poetic" English translation has long been admired by many Little Prince lovers, who have spanned generations (it stayed in print until 2001), as her work maintains Saint-Exupéry's story-telling spirit and charm, if not its literal accuracy. As of 2019 at least seven additional English translations have been published:
Each translation approaches the essence of the original with an individual style and focus.
Le Petit Prince is often used as a beginner's book for French-language students, and several bilingual and trilingual translations have been published. As of 2017, it has been translated into more than 300 languages and dialects, including Sardinian, the constructed international languages of Esperanto and Klingon, and the Congolese language Alur, as well as being printed in Braille for blind readers. It is also often used as an introduction into endangered varieties with very few speakers like Maya (2001), Aromanian (2006) or Banat Bulgarian (2017). It is one of the few modern books to have been translated into Latin, as Regulus, vel Pueri soli sapiunt in 1961 by Auguste Haury (1910–2002) and as Regulus in 2010 by Alexander Winkler. In 2005, the book was also translated into Toba Qom, an indigenous language of northern Argentina, as So Shiyaxauolec Nta'a. It was the first book translated into that language since the New Testament. It was also translated to a northern Italian dialect, Vogherese. Anthropologist Florence Tola, commenting on the suitability of the work for Toban translation, said there is "nothing strange [when] the Little Prince speaks with a snake or a fox and travels among the stars, it fits perfectly into the Toba mythology".
Linguists have compared the many translations and even editions of the same translation for style, composition, titles, wordings and genealogy. As an example: as of 2011 there are approximately 47 translated editions of The Little Prince in Korean, and there are also about 50 different translated editions in Chinese (produced in both mainland China and Taiwan). Many of them are titled Prince From a Star, while others carry the book title that is a direct translation of The Little Prince. By studying the use of word phrasings, nouns, mistranslations and other content in newer editions, linguists can identify the source material for each version: whether it was derived from the original French typescript, or from its first translation into English by Katherine Woods, or from a number of adapted sources.
The first edition to be published in France, Saint-Exupéry's birthplace, was printed by his regular publisher in that country, Gallimard, only after the German occupation of France ended. Prior to France's liberation new printings of Saint-Exupéry's works were made available only by means of secret print runs, such as that of February 1943 when 1,000 copies of an underground version of his best seller Pilote de guerre, describing the German invasion of France, were covertly printed in Lyon.
Commemorating the novella's 70th anniversary of publication, in conjunction with the 2014 Morgan Exhibition, Éditions Gallimard released a complete facsimile edition of Saint-Exupéry's original handwritten manuscript entitled Le Manuscrit du Petit Prince d'Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: Facsimilé et Transcription, edited by Alban Cerisier and Delphine Lacroix. The book in its final form has also been republished in 70th anniversary editions by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (in English) and by Gallimard (in French).
A 2007 Portuguese translation of the novella, edited by Eidouro Gráfica e Editora Ltda and presented at the XIII Biannual Book Fair of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, holds the Guinness World Record for world's largest book published. The impressive tome measures 2.01 m (6 ft 7 in) high and 3.08 m (10 ft 1 in) wide when open, containing 128 pages.
After being translated by Bonifacio del Carril, The Little Prince was first published in Spanish as El principito in September 1951 by the Argentine publisher Emecé Editores. Other Spanish editions have also been created; in 1956 the Mexican publisher Diana released its first edition of the book, El pequeño príncipe, a Spanish translation by José María Francés. Another edition of the work was produced in Spain in 1964 and, four years later, in 1968, editions were also produced in Colombia and Cuba, with translation by Luis Fernández in 1961. Chile had its first translation in 1981; Peru in February 1985; Venezuela in 1986, and Uruguay in 1990.
The Argentine writers Julia Bucci and Malena Gagliesi rewrote the story with gender neutrality and switched many characters to the female gender, including the protagonist. The book is titled La Principesa ("The little princess"), and it was published by Espejos Literarios in 2018. The snake eats a volcano instead of an elephant, to avoid violence against animals, and the rose is replaced by a carnation. Despite the major changes, the book is still credited to Saint-Exupéry.
The Little Prince is one of the most popular and beloved foreign works of literature in China. It is reported that there are more than 70 Chinese translations of the novella. According to the official website of the Succession Antoine de Saint-Exupéry-d'Agay, the version translated by Li Jihong, which was published in January 2013, sold two million copies in less than four years.
Extension of copyrights in France
Due to Saint-Exupéry's wartime death, his estate received the civil code designation Mort pour la France (English: Died for France), which was applied by the French government in 1948. Amongst the law's provisions is an increase of 30 years in the duration of copyright; thus most of Saint-Exupéry's creative works will not fall out of copyright status in France for an extra 30 years. So the original French text was in copyright almost everywhere in the world except in the USA until 1 January 2015 and will remain in copyright in France until 2032.
Adaptations and sequels
The wide appeal of Saint-Exupéry's novella has led to it being adapted into numerous forms over the decades. Additionally, the title character himself has been adapted in a number of promotional roles, including as a symbol of environmental protection, by the Toshiba Group. He has also been portrayed as a "virtual ambassador" in a campaign against smoking, employed by the Veolia Energy Services Group, and his name was used as an episode title in the TV series Lost.
The multi-layered fable, styled as a children's story with its philosophical elements of irony and paradox directed towards adults, allowed The Little Prince to be transferred into various other art forms and media, including:
In 1997, Jean-Pierre Davidts wrote what could be considered a sequel to The Little Prince, entitled Le petit prince retrouvé (The Little Prince Returns). In this version, the shipwrecked narrator encounters the little prince on a lone island; the prince has returned to seek help against a tiger who threatens his sheep. Another sequel titled The Return of the Little Prince was written by former actress Ysatis de Saint-Simone, niece of Consuelo de Saint Exupery.
Honours and legacy
Museums and exhibits
New York City's Morgan Library & Museum mounted three showings of the original manuscript, with its first showing in 1994, on the occasion of the story's 50th anniversary of publication, followed by one celebrating the author's centennial of birth in 2000, with its last and largest exhibition in 2014 honouring the novella's 70th anniversary.
The 1994 exhibition displayed the original manuscript, translated by the museum's art historian Ruth Kraemer, as well as a number of the story's watercolours drawn from the Morgan's permanent collection. Also included with the exhibits was a 20-minute video it produced, My Grown-Up Friend, Saint-Exupéry, narrated by actor Macaulay Culkin, along with photos of the author, correspondence to Consuelo, a signed first edition of The Little Prince, and several international editions in other languages.
In January 2014, the museum mounted a third, significantly larger, exhibition centered on the novella's creative origins and its history. The major showing of The Little Prince: A New York Story celebrated the story's 70th anniversary. It examined both the novella's New York origins and Saint-Exupéry's creative processes, looking at his story and paintings as they evolved from conceptual germ form into progressively more refined versions and finally into the book's highly polished first edition. It was if visitors were able to look over his shoulder as he worked, according to curator Christine Nelson. Funding for the 2014 exhibition was provided by several benefactors, including The Florence Gould Foundation, The Caroline Macomber Fund, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Air France and the New York State Council on the Arts.
The new, more comprehensive exhibits included 35 watercolor paintings and 25 of the work's original 140 handwritten manuscript pages, with his almost illegible handwriting penciled onto 'Fidelity' watermarked onion skin paper. The autograph manuscript pages included struck-through content that was not published in the novella's first edition. As well, some 43 preparatory pencil drawings that evolved into the story's illustrations accompanied the manuscript, many of them dampened by moisture that rippled its onion skin media. One painting depicted the prince floating above Earth wearing a yellow scarf was wrinkled, having been crumpled up and thrown away before being retrieved for preservation. Another drawing loaned from Silvia Hamilton's grandson depicted the diminutive prince observing a sunset on his home asteroid; two other versions of the same drawing were also displayed alongside it allowing visitors to observe the drawing's progressive refinement. The initial working manuscript and sketches, displayed side-by-side with pages from the novella's first edition, allowed viewers to observe the evolution of Saint-Exupéry's work.
Shortly before departing the United States to rejoin his reconnaissance squadron in North Africa in its struggle against Nazi Germany, Saint-Exupéry appeared unexpectedly in military uniform at the door of his intimate friend, Silvia Hamilton. He presented his working manuscript and its preliminary drawings in a "rumpled paper bag", placed onto her home's entryway table, offering, "I'd like to give you something splendid, but this is all I have". Several of the manuscript pages bore accidental coffee stains and cigarette scorch marks. The Morgan later acquired the 30,000-word manuscript from Hamilton in 1968, with its pages becoming the centrepieces of its exhibitions on Saint-Exupéry's work. The 2014 exhibition also borrowed artifacts and the author's personal letters from the Saint Exupéry-d'Gay Estate, as well as materials from other private collections, libraries and museums in the United States and France. Running concurrent with its 2014 exhibition, the Morgan held a series of lectures, concerts and film showings, including talks by Saint-Exupéry biographer Stacy Schiff, writer Adam Gopnik, and author Peter Sis on his new work The Pilot and The Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,
Additional exhibits included photos of Saint-Exupéry by Life photojournalist John Phillips, other photos of the author's New York area homes, an Orson Welles screenplay of the novella the filmmaker attempted to produce as a movie in collaboration with Walt Disney, as well as one of the few signed copies extant of The Little Prince, gifted to Hamilton's 12-year-old son.
Numismatics and philatelic
Insignia and awards
One of the "story playgrounds" – a series of playgrounds themed after famous children's stories in Holon, Israel – is themed after The Little Prince. It features sculptures and play structures depicting scenes and characters from the book.