Monday, April 7, 2008

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Recommended Age: 12+

After I read this classic, translated from French, I spoke to my mother about it. When she was studying French in high school, she read it in the original language. In different languages, in different decades, we came to about the same conclusion: this is a very strange book with a streak of Existentialist philosophy, and we're not sure we like it.

However, it is a fantasy, and it is aimed at children, and it has an intriguing background (its author, like the narrator in his story, was a combat pilot who, later, was killed in action). One suspects that in his crash-landing, Saint-Exupéry's narrator suffered the sort of head injury and hallucinations that Roald Dahl described in his first published story (see The Story of Henry Sugar and Six Others). What follows is a somewhat abstract or surreal encounter with a little prince from another planet, who walks up out of the baking desert and asks the downed pilot to draw him a sheep. Joined with the pilot's feverish race with time to fix his plane before he runs out of water is the little Prince's whimsical story of all the silly worlds he visited and the silly sorts of people he met, none of whom really know the secret of being happy. And finally, in a heart-wrenching passage of innocence and self-sacrifice, the pilot says goodbye to his little prince.

If you can stomach the strangeness of this book, and a sense of it being a preachy little parable for a philosophical movement that has run its course [EDIT: ???], you may find it funny, touching, and even (perhaps) magical. With that, I give The Little Prince my guarded recommendation.

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