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Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

the little prince Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery

What do you get when you hold up two hands?

The adults response? Ten.

The childs? A butterfly.

This little snippet was told to my high school writing class by author Cate Kennedy some years ago, and its something that has continued to haunt me. Why does the world seem to get smaller rather than larger as we age? Why is growing up accompanied by a closing up of our minds and our imaginations? Why, despite my efforts to extend my mind through art and literature and music, do I see a box where my little brother sees a rocket ship or a tiger? Why is our time necessarily given over to activities and processes whose ends and purpose we can scarcely elucidate? Why do we concern ourselves with the so readily assessed concrete when we might instead spend our days engaging with the abstract, the unanswerable?

Antoine''de Saint-Exuperys astonishingly erudite and incisive novella'The Little Prince is a plea to those of us who suffer from the degenerative disease of the imagination known as the adult condition to set aside the prescriptive boundaries of our realities and focus instead on those things that are truly real and meaningful despite the cultural narrative that says otherwise. The book whimsically begins with de Saint Exupery, himself the narrator, describing the dashing of his budding art career at the hands of adults who fail to see what he does:

I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups, and asked them whether the drawing frightened them.

But they answered: Frighten? Why should any one be frightened by a hat?

My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant.

However, it is not until many years later that his potential as an artist is once again revived, and by this point de Saint-Exupery'lacks, if youll pardon the pun, the exuberance of his childhood years. He has spent his life travelling the world and participating in the various routines social norms required of Important Adult Life, but these achievements mean little when he finds himself stranded in the vastness of the Sahara desert, a place that gives little weight to social status, economic position, or comport. The Sahara is, like de Saint Exupery was all those years ago, vast, open, endless, and given the lack of boundaries or inhibitive forces presentbeyond, of course, the most base need to surviveit represents a landscape of potential renaissance and transformation.

And this is indeed the case. For into de Saint-Exuperys world comes The Little Prince, a solemn, innocent child who has travelled from planet to planet seeking sense and meaning from those he has encountered. The Little Princes stories, allegorical tales satirising the futility of modern life, are interspersed with questions that, firmly and deliberately, have a foot in both existentialist and absurdist camps. Thus, while de Saint-Exupery seeks desperately to repair his plane or seek water to sate his thirst, The Little Prince assails him with commands to draw a picture of a sheep that he might use to tame the hungry boabab trees on his own world, asks him to consider the nature of rose thorns, and regales him with tales of the fox with whom he has made friends. The apparent strangeness of this situation is contrasted with equally strange situations from our real world that are nevertheless perceived as normative: the merchant who has developed a pill designed to slake thirst indefinitely, thus removing the need for (and pleasure of) drinking; a chilling train station scenario that highlights the meaninglessness and lack of engagement associated with work; the careful tending and creation of reverent things but purely for the sake of ornament.

But in addition to its satirical condemnation of adulthood and the superficial machinations of modern life, The Little Prince is also a poignant examination of love in all its forms. It not only addresses filial and romantic love, but also the source, the manifestation, and the reciprocation of love, not to mention the poignant, richly motivated acts to which love can drive us. There are elements of the book that are truly heart-rending: The Little Princes struggles with an unrequited lovethe object of which would typically be pooh-poohed in our worldand his eventual final act in the name of that love are hugely, deeply moving.

The Little Prince isnt flawless. There are times when its titular character is simply a skilled orator professing arguable truths and perhaps engaging in sophistry. But its difficult not to be rallied by its call to live in a more meaningful, sincere way, and to find beauty and value in those things that are beyond fact, that offer more than superficial engagement.

So perhaps I, as an adult, will one day be able not just to pretend, but to truly believe, that my little brothers cardboard box is not just that, but is infinitely expandable, transformative: perhaps it is a boabab tree, perhaps a sheep, perhaps a planet of its own.'Until then, every time I feel lost within the grim absurdity of adulthood, Ill take to heart de Saint-Exuperys exhortation to look up at the sky and ponder whether somewhere, a sheep that Ive never seen has eaten a rose. And I hope you do the same, too.

Rating: star Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exuperystar Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exuperystar Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exuperystar Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exuperyhalfstar Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery

Purchase The Little Prince.

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  1. Damn, that is one of the finest reviews of this book I have ever read.
    It is also one book which will be in my heart forever.

  2. I also tweeted it to my following :)

  3. You know..this is one of my two books that my boyfriend has actually read and Ive yet to read it! I really need to and your review definitely confirms this for me. It sounds wonderful!

  4. I meant the instead of my Oopsie!

  5. Stephanie /

    Thanks for the retweet, Man of La Book!

    Hi Jamie, yes, Id highly recommend it. Someone told me to read it years ago, so Ive owned a copy for agesIm embarrassed that it took me so long to get to it. Its just beautiful. :)

  6. Ok I really need to get my hands on a copy of this it sounds wonderful!

  7. My favourite book of all time! The Little Prince has a massive sentimental value for me. I read it at least once every year.

    Amazing review!

  8. Stephanie /

    Erin: yes, I wholeheartedly recommend reading this one. :)

    Michelle: I can see why you do a re-read every year. It really does put things into perspective!

  9. I love this review, it just made me want to go back and reread the book. I read it more than three times in less than five months, last year, and I want to read it again. It is so true how ostensibly it is a childrens book with such a wealth of information for the grown ups. Truly, grown ups can be strange, and looking at that opinion from a childs perspective, it really is true. We complicate things for nothing, missing the mark, almost always.

    • Stephanie /

      Hi Halimah,

      Thank you for your lovely comment. Im glad that you enjoyed the review!
      I was deeply moved by this one, too, and I think its one that Ill turn to whenever I feel too much like an adult. Whenever I look at my little sister and brother Im astounded by how curious and innocent they are, and by how utterly genuine and uncynical they are, too. We spend so much time being serious and important that we miss out on so much of the good stuff in life.

  10. Tell me about it important right? We are so cynical, it gets annoying.

    Youre welcome. :-)

  11. Ive never actually read this book, I feel like I need to now though!

    • Stephanie /

      Oh, you must! I dont think its possible to walk away from this book unchanged.