BOOK TITLE: The Little Prince
AUTHOR: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
GENRE: Fiction / Moral Allegory
NUMBER OF PAGES: 96
SERIES / STANDALONE: Standalone
Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.
This book came to me highly recommended and I loved the summary. I have never had much patience with allegories and have not had much experience with them. I prefer to have an actual story in the book that made me reflect and think, instead of a series of well-phrased words that were directed at eliciting an inner epiphany about everything in life. With this thought in mind, I took this book up, because it came backed with a great recommendation.
The cover and the summary looked promising enough and I was immediately drawn to the book because of its heavy credentials. There was one particular line in the summary that caught my attention. 'learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters', or, as I would call it, a normal human day in my language when I am expected to socialise.
The mark of a good bookworm is to praise the classics, often taking the safe route that everyone else had already done. It is far easier to praise the book and 'love' all the things it is supposed to mean, all those profound meanings and life lessons that one is supposed to have while reading. It makes much more sense to wait for the meaning of it all to sink in and enlighten the mind with a sudden bright light than to accept that the book didn't quite strike the chord. Because, to refuse a classic's impact would mean that the reader has not quite developed the taste yet, or worse, has not understood the deeper meaning and has perused the book only on it surface level, which is often considered a capital crime.
But in some cases, there are simple instances where the reader could have read the book, understood the allegory, loved the quotes and scenarios but still not be totally, unshakeably impressed by the complete product. This book is one such. The Little Prince was written during the second World War by a war pilot whose profession and the yearning have both been infused into his work. The book is a series of allegorical words and uses the story of a little prince who comes from another planet to meet the narrator, a pilot who is stranded in the Sahara Desert. Throughout the book, the narrator talks with the little prince and hears of his fascinating encounters from other planets he has visited. He has seen a King, a vain man, a geographer, a lamplighter and other such people who give him the idea that humans are weird.
The pilot befriends The Little Prince who relates all the tales. The narrator listens in awe as he tries to repair his plane so he could return home. Each tale the prince tells has a hidden lesson about human emotions and how we think simple issues as matters of consequence and forget to stop and smell the roses. Be it in the Rose, the Fox, the Snake or the three-petaled flower, every object that the prince sees teaches him something about life, something that he would reflect upon. The book was obviously meant to be something that little kids would enjoy as fantasy and older people would consider as something deep and profound, mainly because the words were so.
The style would probably have worked for me if I were a bit more attuned to this genre. This book has a strange distinction of being something I loved very much in bits and felt ambivalent towards as a whole. It was not because I did not understand the underlying allegory or confused about what the Rose, Fox and Snake actually meant. But the book tested my patience because there was nothing else. It was a series of encounters, each of which had a lot of lessons to take back and ponder upon. It was a series of stereotypes so kids will understand how a Businessman or a King or a conceited person would behave. But it did not work for me because there was nothing more to it. My appreciation of this classic extends to the beautiful quotes it had, quotes I will remember for a long time to come, some of them so beautifully worded that I will remember them by heart in the twilight hours of reflection.
The quotes were part of a narrative that did not hold anything else of interest for me. I understood the concept of allegories and I understood what it meant to have a base of a story to get a message across. The author's urgency in spreading the message of love and human compassion is very evident, especially seeing as the book was written during a trying time. But the more I read, and the more I loved the individual sentences and phrases, something about the whole package failed to make the cut for me. But I shall remember this book for a long time to come, in parts and as a whole because it was achingly beautiful for me, and some quotes hit right home. I will read it over and over again because some parts of it mean so much to me and were written with such profound sense that I would need to read this book when I want to reflect on something deep.
The translation (as this book is) has probably captured the essence of the original in a great way because the individual words and sentences are great. But somehow, there is nothing about the book as a whole or a premise it took to explain the different situations in life excited me. This book is a great classic, and I respect the things it tried to convey. I understand the beauty of the allegory and I am fascinated about how it took me back to my childhood but this did not work for me as a whole. I will, however, read it in bits again, revisit the pages where I have highlighted some beautiful lines that I need to read when times are testing. The overall package left me wanting and this book is a curious package that made me reconsider my tastes as a bookworm. I also wondered about expectations and mental conditioning, not quite the effect I expected to get from a mere children's' book, as I should no longer call this.
MY FAVORITE QUOTES
On friends, (this is my most favorite quote, because a friend sent it to me, and I love it all the more because of it)
When you tell them [grownups] that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, "What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?" Instead, they demand: "How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?" Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.
On comforting someone who is sad
It is such a secret place, the land of tears.
Accepted authority rests first of all on reason.
On judging oneself
"It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then you are indeed a man of true wisdom."
This conversation of a businessman and The Little Prince
"And what good does it do you to own the stars?"
"It does me the good of making me rich."
"And what good does it do you to be rich?"
"It makes it possible for me to buy more stars, if any are discovered."
On ownership of material things
"When you find a diamond that belongs to nobody, it is yours. When you discover an island that belongs to nobody, it is yours. When you get an idea before any one else, you take out a patent on it: it is yours. So with me: I own the stars, because nobody else before me ever thought of owning them."
The most famous quote from the book, and my personal favorite
"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
On showing how things become special based on circumstances
It [water] was as sweet as some special festival treat. This water was indeed a different thing from ordinary nourishment. Its sweetness was born of the walk under the stars, the song of the pulley, the effort of my arms. It was good for the heart, like a present. When I was a little boy, the lights of the Christmas tree, the music of the Midnight Mass, the tenderness of smiling faces, used to make up, so, the radiance of the gifts I received.
On hiding behind masks, in reality
I was sad, but I told them: "I am tired."
WHAT I LIKED:
- The illustrations were perfect and warmed my heart.
- The words are individual gems and together give me some beautiful quotes I will not forget in a hurry
- The allegory and the message came through clearly and for that, I love the book
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER:
- It did not work for me as a package, as a whole book.
- The story could have worked in any other setting, with any other characters and that is not how I expected this praised classic to be.
- The book did not live up to the expectations I had of it, despite giving me something to ponder about and take back.
A book I will read and revisit in parts many times over for its deep beauty in language
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPÉRY, the "Winged Poet," was born in Lyon, France, in 1900. A pilot at twenty-six, he was a pioneer of commercial aviation and flew in the Spanish Civil War and World War II. His writings include The Little Prince, Wind, Sand and Stars, Night Flight, Southern Mail, and Airman's Odyssey. In 1944, while flying a reconnaissance mission for his French air squadron, he disappeared over the Mediterranean
EDITIONS AVAILABLE: Kindle, Paperback, Hardcover
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BOOK LINKS: Amazon