Thursday, 19 March 2009

The Little Prince

The Little Prince (original French: Le Petit Prince), published in 1943, is French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery's most famous novel. Written in the USA, most version contain the author's own drawings. The book has been translated into more than 180 languages and sold more than 80 million copies. It has been adapted into a movie musical, two different operas, and an animated series and often used as a beginner's book for French language students.

Katherine Woods' 1943 classic English version was later followed by other translations and by 2009, four additional translations have been published. Each of these translators do their best to approach the essence of the original, each with their own style and focuses.

Even though it's a children's book, The Little Prince makes several profound and idealistic points about life and human nature. Saint-Exupéry tells of meeting a young prince in the middle of the Sahara. The essence of the book is contained in the famous lines uttered by the fox to the Little Prince: "On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux." (You can see clearly only with your heart. What is truly important is invisible to the eyes). Other key thematic messages are articulated by the fox, such as: "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed" and "It is the time you have spent with your rose that makes your rose so important."

The prince symbolizes the hope, love, innocence, and insight of childhood that lie dormant in all of us. The Little Prince characterizes narrow-mindedness as a trait of adults…. He depicts grown-ups as unimaginative, dull, superficial, and stubbornly sure that their limited perspective is the only one possible; however, children are imaginative, open-minded, and aware of and sensitive to the mystery and beauty of the world. … The wandering child restlessly asks questions and is willing to engage the invisible, secret mysteries of the universe. The novel suggests that such inquisitiveness is the key to understanding and to happiness.

The Little Prince shows that what one gives to another is even more important than what that other gives back in return.

The stars in The Little Prince also symbolize the far-off mystery of the heavens, the immensity of the universe, and at the end, the loneliness of the narrator's life. The narrator's final drawing, which accompanies his lament of his loneliness, is of a single star hovering over the desert landscape in which the prince fell. In this one image, the presence of the star both highlights the prince's absence and suggests his lingering presence. The star is also a reminder of the large and densely populated universe beyond Earth that the prince recounted visiting.

The end of the book, in short:
The narrator is dying of thirst, but then he and the Prince find a well. After some thought, the Prince bids an emotional farewell to the narrator, explaining to him that while it will look as though he has died, he has not, but rather that his body is too heavy to take with him to his planet. He tells the narrator that it was wrong of the narrator to come and watch, as it will make him sad. The Prince allows the snake to bite him and the next morning, when the narrator looks for the Prince, he finds the boy's body has disappeared. The story ends with a portrait of the landscape where the meeting of the Prince and the narrator took place and where the snake took the Prince's life.

Following is an excerpt of the book, part of it was read by Noah during Na’il’s Memorial service at the Ilanot School.

…"I, too, am going back home today..." Then, sadly-- "It is much farther... it is much more difficult..."
I realised clearly that something extraordinary was happening. I was holding him close in my arms as if he were a little child; and yet it seemed to me that he was rushing headlong toward an abyss from which I could do nothing to restrain him... His look was very serious, like some one lost far away.
"I have your sheep. And I have the sheep's box. And I have the muzzle..." And he gave me a sad smile.
I waited a long time. I could see that he was reviving little by little. "Dear little man," I said to him, "you are afraid..."
He was afraid, there was no doubt about that. But he laughed lightly. "I shall be much more afraid this evening..."
Once again I felt myself frozen by the sense of something irreparable. And I knew that I could not bear the thought of never hearing that laughter any more. For me, it was like a spring of fresh water in the desert. "Little man," I said, "I want to hear you laugh again."
But he said to me: "Tonight, it will be a year... my star, then, can be found right above the place where I came to the Earth, a year ago..."
"Little man," I said, "tell me that it is only a bad dream-- this affair of the snake, and the meeting-place, and the star..." But he did not answer my plea. He said to me, instead: "The thing that is important is the thing that is not seen..."
"Yes, I know..."
"And at night you will look up at the stars. Where I live everything is so small that I cannot show you where my star is to be found. It is better, like that. My star will just be one of the stars, for you. And so you will love to watch all the stars in the heavens... they will all be your friends...."
"All men have the stars," he answered, "but they are not the same things for different people. For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems. For my businessman they were wealth. But all these stars are silent. You-- you alone-- will have the stars as no one else has them--"
"What are you trying to say?"
"In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night... you-- only you-- will have stars that can laugh!" And he laughed again. "And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure... and your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, 'Yes, the stars always make me laugh!' And they will think you are crazy...."
And he laughed again. "It will be as if, in place of the stars, I had given you a great number of little bells that knew how to laugh..." And he laughed again. Then he quickly became serious:
"Tonight-- you know... do not come," said the little prince.
"I shall not leave you," I said.
"I shall look as if I were suffering. I shall look a little as if I were dying. It is like that. Do not come to see that. It is not worth the trouble..."
"I shall not leave you."

"It was wrong of you to come. You will suffer. I shall look as if I were dead; and that will not be true..."
I said nothing.
"You understand... it is too far. I cannot carry this body with me. It is too heavy."
I said nothing.
"But it will be like an old abandoned shell. There is nothing sad about old shells..."

"Here it is. Let me go on by myself."
And he sat down, because he was afraid. …

I too sat down, because I was not able to stand up any longer.
"There now-- that is all..."
He still hesitated a little; then he got up. He took one step. I could not move.

There was nothing but a flash of yellow close to his ankle. He remained motionless for an instant. He did not cry out. He fell as gently as a tree falls. There was not even any sound, because of the sand.

This is, to me, the loveliest and saddest landscape in the world.
It is the same as that on the preceding page, but I have drawn it again to impress it on your memory.
It is here that the little prince appeared on Earth, and disappeared....

"One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes."
Na’il had the capacity to sense essential things in people that we most of the time missed. That was because he saw with his heart!
You can read more about this special boy in my “Celebrating a Life” blog. (see blog lists)