If anyone should ask me what my favorite book is, my answer wouldn’t be Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or Rowling’s Harry Potter series. It won’t even be anything by James Clavell, Amy Tan or F. Sionil Jose, my favorite authors. My choice would be Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince. Why? Because it has all the ingredients that every good book should have. It is a story that I have read and reread more than a dozen times. My 12-year-old daughter was asked to do a book report and she chose The Little Prince. And because she asked me to help her, I thought it a good opportunity to reread the book again this morning. I did in twenty minutes flat while breakfast was cooking in the oven. And now I’m feeling nostalgic, introspective, inspired and altogether wonderful. It has that effect on me.
Written in a format that is somewhere between an allegory and a fable, The Little Prince is narrated by a pilot who gave up a career as an artist when, at six years old, he couldn’t make any adult understand the significance of his two drawings of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. When his drawing of the boa from the outside elicited comments that it was a hat, he would produce his second drawing showing the elephant inside the boa. Adults would tell him to set aside his drawings and attend to matters of consequence. It was the beginning of the narrator’s comprehension that adults weren’t really all that smart.
When the narrator-pilot’s plane crashed in the middle of the Sahara desert, he was surprised to make the acquaintance of a young boy who seemed neither lost nor sick. The boy wanted him to draw a sheep. It was the beginning of a friendship that would forever change the narrator’s life and perspectives in life.
The little prince came from a planet so small that he could watch the sunset forty-four times in a day by just moving his chair. He had three volcanoes–two active and one extinct–and a beautiful flower that he thought was unique in the whole universe. But the flower was coquettish, difficult to understand and even more difficult to please. The little prince thought she did not want him and he decided to go on a journey. The journey was a journey through life. Every planet he visited, every character he met, was a symbol of various human characteristics–a king who exercised his authority with reason, a businessman who claimed he owned all the stars in the sky because no one owned them and he was the first to think of owning them, a lamplighter who did his job by following orders, a conceited man whose singular obsession was to hear praises from everyone he met…
When he arrived on Earth, the little prince met the fox who taught him the value of friendship. When he chanced upon a garden where thousands of roses, like the one in his planet, bloomed, he felt disheartened that the flower he loved was not unique after all. But the fox told him: a rose may just be one of hundreds of roses but if you loved one rose then that rose was unique and special. The fox asked the little prince to tame him, to be his friend, so that he would no longer be just a fox among hundreds of foxes. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye, he told the little prince.
That lesson that the little prince learned from the fox became the theme of the last part of the story. A desert was lovely because it hid a well. The stars are special because in one of those stars was the rose he left behind. When the hour of his departure arrived, the little prince found it burdensome to take his body on the trip back to his planet. With the help of a poisonous snake, he departed. But not before consoling the pilot who was pained with the thought of not seeing him again. There is nothing sad about old shells, said the little prince. He told the pilot that when he has gone, he (the pilot) should look up at the stars because in one of those stars he would be laughing.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince is a story of a man’s journey through life, from birth until death. Even with apparent perfection of his planet (Christian heaven?) where he was his own man, so to speak, he felt discontent with the lack of wisdom to deal with a character as complex as a coquettish rose. He wanted to understand. He wanted to know more than what his little planet offered him. And so began his journey.
The little prince arrived on Earth via a flock of birds which draws some parallelism with the symbolism of the stork as the one who delivers babies to couples.
All the characters he met represented the good, the bad, the excellent and the mediocre in the human character. His seemingly innocent questions were laced with sarcastic criticisms about man’s obsession with inconsequential things. Why do men rush about? Aren’t they content where they are?
The Little Prince is likewise a great commentary on the values of a pure untainted heart. While most adults bacome jaded and attached with material wealth and status symbols, children can see the more important things in life with more clarity. Of course, the child is also symbolic of innocence.
Clearly, de Saint-Exupery was raised as a Christian as evidenced by his Christian beliefs in heaven, the afterlife, and even the association of the snake (serpent) with death. The disappearance of the little prince’s body after his death is reminiscent of the resurrection and acension to heaven of Jesus. His biases, however, do not detract from the wisdom of the story itself. It is a beautiful story. And the best thing about it is that as one rereads it, one finds new meanings in the story and depths in the characters. It was a charming story when I first read it as a child. It was inspiring when I was a teenager. As an adult, I find it teeming with the simplest and most honest form of wisdom.
The Little Prince is my favorite story. I doubt if any can replace it.