I chose to read Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince for the “Children’s Classic” category in the Back to the Classics 2021 challenge. I knew almost nothing about this book before I started reading it, except that it often appears on those lists of classic books “everyone should read”. The novel was originally published in French during the height of WW2, but I read a relatively new translation of the work by Michael Morpurgo (best known as the author of War Horse.)
“Once upon a time there was a little prince who lived on a planet scarcely bigger than he was, and who was longing to have a friend…”*
He meets a pilot who had spent most of his life alone, having always judged people as worthy of his friendship by how they reacted to a series of drawings he made when he was six years old. Together these two navigate an African desert, where the pilot has crash-landed after a mechanical breakdown, while the little prince tells him the story of how he came to earth.
As a child the unnamed pilot, who is also the narrator, was discouraged by adults who were always busy with “more important things”. They crushed his dreams of becoming a painter, so he learned how to talk to them about “bridge, golf, politics and ties” in an effort to fit in. The little prince (never spelled with capital letters!) is the exact opposite. A being from an asteroid called B-612, he never loses his childlike wonder at the world, and never stops asking a question until he is given a satisfactory answer.
Would I have liked this story as a child? Probably not. The illustrations are naive and sweet, but the story is far more philosophical than in the books I enjoyed when I was young. It is about seeing the beauty of the world, and not losing sight of what’s really important. Both of the main characters make commentary in their own ways about the world around them, but other than that, nothing much happens…
Did I like it now? Well… it was okay. I can’t say that it lived up to the hype, but I didn’t find it quite as disappointing as another “must-read” classic A Wrinkle in Time, which I listened to in audio-book form last year and found it just wasn’t for me.
*Quote from chapter 4 of the novel