Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Book Review: The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint Exupery (1943)

As valuable for children as it is for adults, The Little Prince by French aviator Antoine de Saint Exupery is a delightful fable, a story filled with elegant signposts to help navigate life's obstacle course. Written in 1943, it retains its freshness, with fundamental core messages that are packaged in a time-proof capsule.

The narrator recounts the story, complete with illustrations, of how he had a plane accident in the Sahara Desert. With no help in sight, he attempts to fix his engine while the days pass by and his drinking water starts to run out. Suddenly a young boy, whom he names The Little Prince, appears and requests a drawing of a sheep.The inquisitive Prince asks a lot of questions but does not answer many, although gradually, the narrator pieces together the Prince's amazing story.

The Little Prince lives alone on a tiny planet with three volcanoes and a flower. The flower is a bit pretentious and demands constant attention, eventually driving the Prince to abandon his planet on a journey that takes in several neighbouring tiny planets, each occupied by one person: A King, an arrogant man, a drunk, a businessman, an academic (in the form of a geographer), and a labourer (in the form of a lamplighter). Finally he arrives on Earth, whose population is made up of many men of each type. But it is an encounter with a fox that finally starts to put things in perspective for the Prince, and he carries his learnings into the desert were he encounters the narrator -- and a snake, who will help him return to his tiny planet.

There are themes aplenty in The Little Prince: children's simple but often piercing views of the world; the soulless tasks that occupy self-important men who have long since forgotten their original purpose; the value of investing the time to connect with others (termed "taming") to find truly meaningful relationships; the power of instinct (the heart) over intellect (the eyes) in determining what is essential; the precious enchantment of the unique individual over the common collective; and finally, the eternal bond of a deep friendship that can be called upon for inspiration at any time.

Saint Exupery weaves these thoughts into his simple story with the lightest of sweet touches, providing the freedom of space and time for the reader to dwell as long as desired on each gem. The Little Prince is inspired from his own real-life experience of crash landing and being stranded in the desert, where he got closely acquainted with the likelihood of death and was able to focus sharply on what is important in life. By wrapping his revelations in the innocence of a child-friendly tale, Saint Exupery offers his wisdom with the smile of a person who knows that the best teaching occurs when the act of teaching itself is ingeniously disguised.

Published in soft cover by Harvest / HBJ.
113 pages, including many illustrations.

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