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'The grown-ups are very strange'
The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
Member Name: frannyfortune
The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
Date: 14/05/01, updated on 14/05/01 (1302 review reads)
Advantages: beautiful timeless story, may move you to tears
Disadvantages: may move you to tears
At the simplest level, The Little Prince is the story of a pilot whose plane has crashed in the Sahara Desert. There he meets an "extraordinary small person", the little prince, who shares stories about his travels in the following days they spend in the desert, as the narrator attempts to repair his plane.
Like all the best children's books (and I would question if this one is actually intended for children at all), the story deals with deep themes and is ultimately an incredibly moving allegory on friendship, love and death.
The narrator begins by explaining how as a child, and later as an adult, he realised that most 'grown-ups' (the scathing term used throughout the book) were too 'concerned with matters of consequence' to understand anything that was beautiful or true. He uses some wonderfully cutting examples to portray the gulf between the day-to-day prosaic matters that adults are focused on, and the magical, spiritual world of the child. The narrator (like all of us?) has learnt to put away childish things and 'bring himself down' to the level of the grown-ups, in order to be accepted by society.
When the mysterious prince appears from nowhere, we learn that he comes from another planet, such a tiny one that he can circumnavigate it in only a few steps. This enables him to enjoy his rather melancholy pleasure - watching the sunset - as many times a day as he wishes. He has only to move his chair back a few paces. His main concern is the care and tending of his flower, a rose - to us a rather scheming if vulnerable creature - to him the most important thing in the universe. The narrator recognises a kindred spirit. The question is, has he spent too long among the grown-ups to be able to truly relate to his new friend?
As the pilot struggles with his life-and-death effort to mend the plane, the little prince describes his journeys on other planets. The author uses his descriptions of t
he characters he meets: a king, a drunk, a businessman etc., and the prince's innocent reactions to them, to further satirise the ultimately pointless preoccupations of humanity. "The grown-ups are certainly very, very odd."
Then the prince comes to Earth. He meets the sinister golden snake who talks in riddles, but also promises to solve them all with it's venom. Most shatteringly for the prince, he finds a garden containing thousands of roses. Having believed his rose to be the only one in existence, this discovery shakes him terribly, until he meets the fox (in probably my favourite part of the novel), who asks the little prince to tame him. The fox is something of a philosopher, who understands what makes a friendship special, and what makes a loved-one unique in all the world. The prince is reassured that his flower, however proud, vain or manipulative we may find her, deserves his devotion and love because of the unseen bonds that tie them together.
I'll leave it for you to find out, if you want to, whether the little prince returns to his planet, and if the pilot escapes from the desert. Before the book ends, both narrator and reader have been reminded of some important truths we often forget - that work makes pleasures sweeter, that it is the time we waste over things that makes them precious, that terrible things grow from tiny seeds if we are not vigilant to root them out, and that life is too short to bother with 'matters of consequence'.
The author's illustrations complement the story perfectly. Very simple and slightly naive, without being mawkish. In a nice piece of self-reference, the little prince pokes fun at them during the book (they are the sketches the narrator has made during their time in the desert). The final illustration consists of only three lines, but manages to have heartbreaking connotations because of the skillful and subtle build-up of feeling the author achieves.
>I hope I have managed to put across some of the emotion and magic that this story contains. Some of the ideas and images may sound sentimental or twee, and in other hands I'm sure they could be, but the author's lightness of touch and sincerity transport a simple story into something that will stay with you for a long time. I must have read this book about twenty times, and each time find myself moved, gripped, and usually in tears by page 89!
This book is now available in the Wordsworth classics series for the sum of **£1**. So no excuses, for the price of a pint you could get this, and a box of tissues too.