The Little Prince: A thoughtful and timeless classic

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Nominated this year for a Best Novella within the 1944 Retrospective Hugo Awards category, The Little Prince is a slight, yet powerfully thought-provoking work. Originally published by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1943, who filled each page of his story with charming watercolor illustrations, it tells the story of a pilot who has crash-landed in the Sahara Desert with “only enough drinking water for eight days” and who, upon his very first night, is visited by an extraordinary child who asks for a drawing of a sheep.

As the pilot says, “In the face of an overpowering mystery, you don’t dare disobey,” and after many failed attempts he manages to come up with a drawing which pleases the child, whom he calls “the little prince.” As they come to know one another, the pilot learns about the little prince’s home planet and the other places he visited before coming to Earth, each of which have their own inhabitants and peculiarities; through the prince’s recounting of his long journey, the pilot comes to critical understandings of himself and the deepest mysteries of the known and unknown universe. But the pilot has not seen his dear friend in six years, and the absence of his companion has left the pilot with a deep, inconsolable sadness. How and why they became separated forms the novella’s painfully beautiful conclusion, and in an unexpectedly sad twist, presages the end of Saint-Exupéry’s own life: while flying a reconnaissance mission in 1944, he was shot down by German pilots over the Mediterranean Sea and was never seen again.

One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.

Despite the sometimes heavy subject matter, Saint-Exupéry wrote for a young audience — he makes repeated references to the follies and foibles of grown-ups, who (for example) refused to take a Turkish astronomer seriously until he wore European clothes, or who care more about how wealthy a new friend’s father might be than what the new friend’s laugh sounds like. Through the gently-told story of the prince’s journey, we see the characteristics Saint-Exupéry wanted to encourage in his readers: kindness, generosity, patience, creativity, and love. The pilot’s life is forever changed by his eight days spent traveling through the Sahara with the little prince, and in turn, Saint-Exupéry changed lives around the world with his deceptively simple story. According to the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation, The Little Prince has been translated into 300 languages around the world, making it one of the most-translated works ever published. I highly recommend Richard Howard’s 2000 English-language translation, which has a lovely flow and is suffused with both joy and sorrow.

Endlessly quotable, accessible to any age group, and relevant to any philosophy, The Little Prince is the easiest possible book to recommend. Simply put, if you’re a human being, I think you’ll find something to connect with and something to learn from the pilot and his dear little friend.

Published in 1943. Few stories are as widely read and as universally cherished by children and adults alike as The Little Prince. Richard Howard’s translation of the beloved classic beautifully reflects Saint-Exupéry’s unique and gifted style. Howard, an acclaimed poet and one of the preeminent translators of our time, has excelled in bringing the English text as close as possible to the French, in language, style, and most important, spirit. The artwork in this edition has been restored to match in detail and in color Saint-Exupéry’s original artwork. Combining Richard Howard’s translation with restored original art, this definitive English-language edition of The Little Prince will capture the hearts of readers of all ages.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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6 comments

  1. Victoria Hannah /

    If you love dance, though, I would suggest watching the 1970s adaptation film too. The Great Bob Fosse dances as the Snake in the Grass in the 1970s version. Watching one of the masters of dance at the height of his choreographic glory dance something that is so utterly his style, is a beauty to behold.

    • Oh, certainly! Watching Bob Fosse dance as anything in anything is a transformative experience, but as the Snake in the Grass, I can imagine it being so powerful. Thank you for the recommendation!

    • I had to go watch that scene on YouTube after you mentioned it. It was great! But now I can’t remember how that snake scene plays out in the book. D:

  2. Bryan Wigmore /

    I know it’s probably because I grew up with it, but I love and much prefer the original translation by Katherine Woods. Those by Richard Howard and Michael Morpurgo just jar. They just don’t move me like Wood’s words do.

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