Montag, 16. Januar 2012

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Though ostensibly a children's book, The Little Prince is continuously appealing to children and adults alike.

This is not my personal opinion but a quote from Wikipedia and, honestly, my own verdict could hardly differ more from it. After years of successfully avoiding it, I finally had to get down to reading this well-loved classic.
Was it as horrible as I expected it to be? Not really.
Was my mind blown by this "tender tale of loneliness, friendship, love and loss" because I finally understood its deep wisdom? Definitely not. Really, I was happy when I could put it back on my shelf where it will rest for a long, long time now.

My feelings after finishing the novella were mostly those of conquest since I finished it in the small hours of the morning, just in time for my French test (I was tired all day long, but I suppose I'll get a good mark).
Anyway, since I am sounding exactly like the kind of ignorant high school stundent I hate, I also looked at it from a more serious and literate point of view, and I have to admit that the overwhelming feeling there was sadness.

I am sad because I do see why so many people love this book so much, and also because I feel as if I might have liked this book, had I read it five years ago. 
There is no feeling like the knowledge that one has not liked a book as much as one could have.
There were parts of Saint-Exupéry's story which I enjoyed, I really liked the ending for example, and not only because it was over then.The narrative style is very fluent and very French and it contains a subtle humour which I found quite amusing, sometimes in a bittersweet way. Also, there is a lot of more or less hidden social criticism which I as a Dickens worshipper appreciate highly.

How come, then, that I did not like this "masterpiece" at all?
I think the key to answering this question lies in the comparison beween the little prince and the heroes of books which have impressed me recently: Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities (which I am reading currently and can hardly force myself to put aside) for example, or Hamlet.
There it is: both of these works contain a lot of social criticism, but their heroes, who condemn the rotten ways of human character are human themselves, they make grave mistakes and stand not above their fellow creatures.
The little prince is impeccable, he is absolutely pure and in my opinion that makes him boring.
Also, during his visits of the other planets which each symbolise a different bad trait of human; in fact adult, nature, I get the feeling that Saint-Exupéry looks down on other people in general quite a lot.
People are not flawless, but I think their flaws are exactly what makes them interesting as characters in books, after all the virtue of man is that they can improve.

I wonder if I would like any of Saint-Exupéry's other, lesser known but more mature books?
In my opinion The Little Prince is a nice children's book and a pretty modern fairy tale, but it is a little too corny and naive to be anything else.
On the other hand: Maybe I am just saying this because I wish I could read it like a child again.
Who knows?


  1. I think I know where you are coming from. I have tried reading/re-reading some children's books as an adult and been disappointed. Even those are said to have some deeper meaning that adults and children alike can appreciate. Too often though it does fall short and you do need that child-like imagination to really appreciate the story.

    Having said that, I haven't read this book so my thoughts aren't specific to it in any way.

  2. I read "The Wind and the Stars" (I think it's called) about 10 years ago and I think I liked it better than The Little Prince--IIRC there is a lot about flying in it. I liked Little Prince OK as a kid but have never been a huge fan.