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It is a small book a mere seven inches long by four and a quarter inches wide. It has one hundred and thirteen pages. Eighteen of those pages are taken up with full-length drawings. Twenty-five of the remaining pages have drawings on them. I tell you this because to adults figures like these are matters of consequence. A child would read the book and tell you that a Little Prince magically came from a distant planet in search of a sheep to protect his flower. An adult would want to know what color was the Prince’s hair? What were his clothes like? How did the Little Prince travel from planet to planet? What did his spaceship look like? What kind of government does his planet have? You know matters of consequence.

I first encountered this book in my college bookstore. It was on the shelf in English, Spanish, French, and German. With great curiosity I picked the book up. What could be so important about this little book that it would be translated into so many languages? I bought it and took it back to my dorm room and read it in one sitting. The next day I went back and got the French version since I was taking French and the German version since my minor was in German.

On the surface Antoine de Saint Exupéry has written a simple children's' story. If you allow yourself to put aside the adult in you and let yourself return to the innocence of a child you will realize that this book is as profound as any philosophy or theology devised by man.

The narrator has crash-landed in the Sahara desert. He is in dire straights. He only has one weeks worth of water and no one is available to help him fix his plane. Into his life comes the Little Prince. It is through the child’s eyes of the Little Prince that we learn to recognize the foibles of adults. One of the first eccentricities of man is the Turkish astronomer who discovered the asteroid the Little Prince was from. At first no one pays any attention because he is dressed in native garb. It is only when he changes into Western clothes that anyone pays attention to him.

The importance of protecting the environment comes next. The Little Prince is very careful to pull up the baobabs as soon as he recognizes them. He knows that if they are left to run wild then his planet will be over run and destroyed as the baobabs grow out of control and breakup the planet. He explains that you must take care of your planet in the same way that you take care of yourself.

It is an encounter with a new flower on his world that sends the Little Prince on his search for a way of protecting what he believes to be the only flower like it anywhere in the stars. This flower is so proud of her four thorns and believes she can hold off tigers. She is a thing of beauty and more fragile then she will ever admit.

The Little Prince encounters a king who is so enamored with having a subject that he gleefully gives orders. He also countermands orders he has just given. He goes back and forth changing his mind and trying to be everything to everyone going this way and that. The important thing to him is that he is the King. He has the title and he believes the absolute power.

The next person the Little Prince encounters is the conceited man. This man cares for nothing but praise. He wants applause to celebrate how wonderful he is. Everything is about him. He is the most wonderful man who ever lived just ask him and he will tell you. The conceited man hears nothing but praise. All other sounds just wash over him because they don’t concern his ego at all and therefore are not important.

The tippler is the next man the Little Prince encounters. He drinks to forget because he is ashamed that he is drinking to forget. He is in a closed loop of his own making and sees no way out of it.

The next man the Little Prince meets is the businessman. The businessman owns all the stars since he has counted them. He puts their numbers on a piece of paper and he locks the paper up. He is rich beyond all dreams of avarice because it is all his. That someone else might want to own something does not enter his head because wealth is the be all and end all of his existence. For him the important things are the pieces of paper that he has in the bank.

The lamplighter on the next planet is caught in a time loop. He lights his lamp and minutes later puts it out. He refuses to adapt to the changing rotation of his planet. The Little Prince tries to give him a solution but the lamplighter is so caught up in doing things the way that they have always been done that he cannot comprehend doing anything different.

The scholar on the next planet has impressive books that he thinks makes him wise. He is in his own little ivy tower and relies on others to make the discoveries for him. He is totally ignorant of his own world because he refuses to leave his ivy tower and explore. He is an intellectual snob who has to investigate the people who propose new ideas and places. He is not interested in the discoveries unless he can ascertain that the discoverer is the right sort of person.

The Little Prince finally makes it to our little blue-green planet. It is here that he makes the discovery that his flower is really a rose and is not unique unto the world. He is crushed. He is befriended by a fox and through him learns an important lesson. The fox shows him how to tame. He shows him the importance of taking responsibility for something other then himself. In the process of being tamed the fox gives a new meaning to the word. To tame is not to dominate. To tame is to carefully build trust between the two parties and through that mutual trust a love and caring is born in both. The Little Prince learns the most important lesson in the book.

“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Through the Little Prince our narrator learns the same lesson. He learns that often times love ends in tears. As any caregiver knows you will lose the one you are caring for. While death brings sorrow it also frees the heart to cherish the time you had with your loved ones. The memories are always there. You have memories of the good times as well as the sad times.

The Little Prince was published in 1943. The world was plunged into a deadly war that threatened to destroy this fragile planet of ours. We were working on the atomic bomb. This little book presaged our world of 2012. Sixty-nine years later we can see the politicians who want to rule and will say whatever is expedient to try and convince people that they are “king” material. We see the businessmen who own little pieces of paper locked in banks who believe that they are rich because they have more little pieces of paper then any one else. We see conceited men who are in love with the sound of their own voices and believe that they have the right to say anything they want and be applauded because they are so wonderful. Just ask them and they will tell you how wonderful they are. We see Ivy League “scholars” who are incapable of exploring on their own and new ideas are met with scorn because the “right-sort” of person isn’t putting forth the discoveries. It is the cult of the personality over the importance of the mind. We see people drowning themselves in drink and drugs because they cannot see any other solution to their problems. We see people refusing to change and adapt to new situations. They are caught in the past and cannot cope with the present and are scared of the future.

In this ever-shrill world of advertising pressuring people to buy more and more we fail to see the really important things in life. In becoming responsible for others or our planet we truly become human. The Little Prince and the fox build a mutual trust that benefits them both. You have to get outside yourself and care for someone or something else before you can truly become human. Happiness is not possessions. Happiness comes from within. It was the love and caring that the Little Prince bestowed on his flower that made her unique unto all the world. All the little pieces of paper in the bank cannot buy that.

Little Prince

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Fri May 04, 2012 at 05:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter, Moose On The Loose, Street Prophets , DKOMA, and Community Spotlight.

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