“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart… Now here is my secret, it is very simple: you can only see things clearly with your heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
I was sat on the floor of my friend’s house in London when I found this book lying on the floor. I flicked through as a drawing of a small boy talking to a fox caught my attention. Not knowing what to expect from a book titled The Little Prince filled with child-like doodles of planets inhabited by strange people, I decided to have a quick read. There was such a depth of meaning in the few paragraphs that I read, that I knew this was a book I had to own.
The Little Prince, written by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, is one of my favourite all-time books – partly because I can sit and read it in only an hour and half, but mainly because of the unusual contrast of a child’s tale with realistic observations about life and human nature. It may look like a fairytale from the outside, but this is definitely something meant for an older audience.
Published in 1943, originally in French and titled Le Petit Prince, The Little Prince is narrated by a pilot who, six years previously, crash landed his plane onto The Sahara Desert. Here, he meets The Little Prince, a peculiar character who has crashed onto Earth from an unknown planet. As the narrator attempts to fix his plane, deserted in the desert, The Prince shares with the pilot his stories and adventures, as they both try to find their way back home. Through the characters that we meet through The Prince’s travels, we – and the narrator – are taught many life-lessons and mottos, as The Little Prince looks at life through a child’s eye but through an adult’s analytical mind.
In the first chapter, the narrator explains his dislike towards adults, which becomes a key theme in the book. The Prince believes that adults see things differently – more plainly and boring – to how children do, and the different characters we get to meet hereafter are different stereotypes of said adults.
The first man who The Prince meets is a King, who only orders what is ‘reasonable’ and ‘when the conditions are favourable.’ In other words, he orders intrinsic objects that are independent of anything else so that he can feel an authority on his planet. However, he cannot truly have power over anything because he is the only occupant on his planet, so his isolated life has, therefore, led him to a life of pretence to comfort his loneliness. He says:
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.
The second man is a ‘conceited man’ who believes that everybody admires him because he is the most handsome, best-dressed, richest and most intelligent man on his planet. Since he is the only man on his planet, he is correct.
The third is a ‘tipler’ who constantly drinks alcohol “so I may forget…that I am ashamed…ashamed of drinking”, and the fourth is a businessman who spends all day counting the stars because he believes that he owns them, since he was the first person to claim so.
Through each of these portrayals of adults, we see the different ways that men cope with loneliness, living on their planets alone. The four adults above each have their insecurities, but there is one positive portrayal of an adult. The final man who The Prince meets spends his days lighting and blowing out a lantern on his planet, even though he is the only occupant. The Prince goes on to describe this man’s job as “a beautiful occupation. And since it is beautiful, it is truly useful”, and says that: “He is the only one who does not seem ridiculous to me. Perhaps it is because he is not only concerned with himself.”
The narrator then brings these characters together by saying that:
All men have stars, but they are not the same things for different people. For some, who are travellers, the stars are guides. For others, they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems… But all these stars are silent. You – You alone will have stars as no one else has them.
Whilst these five men open the book with such a powerful meaning behind their personalities and traits, it is through the characters we get to meet next that introduce some of my favourite quotes in literature, of all time.
One of these characters is a flower, who The Prince often refers back to throughout his journey, and it is through her that the book focuses on an even bigger human emotion – love.
People where you live grow five thousand roses in one garden, yet they don’t find what they’re looking for… And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose.
This quote is a personal favourite, making the truthful observation that we go can through life having a number of relationships and loves, but that what we are constantly searching for is the one person that can give us everything we are looking for. Furthermore…
It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.
And another of my favourite quotes said by the flower is:
I must endure the presence of two or three caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.
Both of these quotes hold a great sense of optimism, with the latter implying that you have to go through some bad experiences for a good outcome and that situations can look ‘ugly’ but can end with ‘beautiful’ results. These quotes are so uplifting and compelling, and it’s this warmth that draws you into this book.
One never ought to listen to the flowers. One should simply look at them and breathe their fragrance. Mine perfumed all my planet. But I did not know how to take pleasure in all her grace.
It’s quotes such as these that are the reason as to why I love this book so much, but my favourite character is the fox, who says:
The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart… Now here is my secret, it is very simple: you can only see things clearly with your heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
The Prince links this to the desert being beautiful because somewhere hidden is a well full of clear water, and the narrator links this to a house becoming enchanted because there may be hidden treasure inside of it.
Again, these quotes are simple and almost effortless in prose, but they hold such a great depth to them that it’s hard not to find this book completely captivating. Every chapter leaves you reflecting in some way back to your own life, and that’s what makes this book so engaging and easy to re-read.
I find it completely overwhelming with emotion, and I would recommend that you read it at least once in your life.
It certainly deserves a lot more recognition than it has, even if it is the most read and most translated book in the French language.