Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery - also Some Holiday Cheesy Film (Links)!

The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Katherine Woods

Well, Saint Exupery, you've made me cry again. Though I don't think I cried in my first reading of this as a child, which tells you something about how differently you read things as an adult I suppose. I did get misty when I saw the movie years ago. But that has everything to do with the Fox being played by Gene Wilder, and also because that bit uses more of the words of the book. (Youtube links further on. Also quotes from the book, of course.)


And look, here I am again referring to the 1970s film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. (First time today was here.) Because there's a quote from The Little Prince in that film that I'll post now. Though it's the heart of the book, it's not exactly spoilery since you don't know any of the context:


p 87: "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."


I think one reason Willy Wonka fans still refer to the film is that it was full of great quotes, and when you'd bump into them later in other literature (or the original work) you'd think "ah, that's where that was from!" I'm not sure if I recognized the quote when I first read The Little Prince though. But is is particularly fun that Wilder is the one who says the line in both films. (Again, clips further on.)


For those who haven't read the book:

 

Wikipedia: The Little Prince (novella)

Wikipedia: Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 

Saint-Exupery had a fascinating life, so perusing his bio is worth it. Read the wiki on the book for details on possible real life events that inspired it - not that you need to know any of that to enjoy the book.
 

A short version of the plot, that I've written to sound as book blurby as possible: a pilot crash lands in the Sahara desert and is trying to repair his plane. A boy walks up to him out of nowhere, and asks that the man draw him something. Over the next few days the man pieces together the story of where the boy cames from, and his previous life on a tiny planet the size of a house. However mysteriously the boy has traveled to Earth (details are vague), traveling back to his own planet will be much more difficult.

 

The actual blurb on the back of my book, which has a black and white photo from the 1974 film under it (again, more on the film later, I know I keep mentioning it!):

 

"The man can't believe his eyes! A little prince has suddenly appeared in the desert! Where did he come from? Why is he here? Why is he looking for the deadly golden snake? Learn the incredible truth about THE LITTLE PRINCE."


The book is a combination of memoir, pseudo-memoir, fairy tale, surrealism, fantasy, scifi, allegory - and loads of other genres that I'm probably not aware of. As a child it was another fantastic story, only with an author who seemed to be talking to me, and who seemed to understand how children think. I'm not able to put my finger on exactly what I like out of the whole - so as usual I'll just post some quotes that I particularly like and let those speak for themselves. (Except when I feel I must chat about them.)


I think child-me truly fell in love with the book for the first two pages where the author shows how he drew a snake that has swallowed an elephant and all the adults thought it was a picture of a hat. I adored that. But I that bit I can't quote because you need to see the images.


I'm reading this via the same 1975 Scholastic paperback that I used for my first read through. Which is somewhat fun. I didn't realize we still had it - it had been used in my mother's classroom when she taught elementary school, where a lot of the books I wasn't emotionally invested in keeping were loved/read to death. (Not a sad fate.) 

 

[Look out, I'm about to get all quote happy!]

 

What I remember most from my first read of this is the way Saint-Exupery describes adult thinking patterns. It made such a lot of sense then, and frankly it does now as well. It's a pattern I recognize, just as I recognize I never did learn to talk/think this way (which used to bother me a great deal):


p 16:  "If I have told you these details about the asteroid, and made a note of its number for you, it is on account of the grown-ups and their ways. Grown-ups love figures. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, "What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?" Instead they demand: "How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?" Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.


If you were to say to grown-ups: "I saw a beautiful house made of rosy brick, with geraniums in the windows and doves on the roof," they would not be able to get any idea of that house at all. You would have to say to them: "I saw a house that cost $20,000." Then they would exclaim: "Oh what a pretty house that is!" "

 

I never did understand why for some folk it's default to gather a checklist of factoids about people they meet. As a child going through these conversations always felt like a quiz, which was never enjoyable. I hadn't thought much on it til this reread, but even now I shy away from doing this when I meet people. For instance, I never ask people what they do for a living. I've noticed that what most people delight in and enjoy telling you about is often only somewhat tied to their job, if it's related at all. When it comes down to it, I'd rather get to know someone by talking about Fun Thing That Person Is Interested In and Wants To Chat About. So I suppose in this way this book is one of those Books That Changed Me. Everyone has some of those - I'd just never realized this one was so high on the list for me til now.

Thanks to this book I became fascinated by (and learned the word for) the baobab - which has definitely been a life-long thing. (I know a few folk tales about them by heart!) If wikipedia had existed I'd have spent loads of time reading about them - but as it was I had to wait til I found a book. The problem is that in The Little Prince baobabs are discussed for some length conversationally, but not really described beyond this bit (and a drawing):


p 20: "...I pointed out to the prince that baobabs were not little bushes, but on the contrary, trees as big as castles; and even if he took a whole herd of elephants away with him, the herd would not eat up a single baobab."

 

Short version: if you live on a small planet, you must weed out all the baobabs immediately or they'll grow so large they'll take over the entire sphere. But because there wasn't much more information than that, and I found out that baobabs actually exist in reality, I became hooked on baobab information/facts/lore. (There were no baobabs in the midwestern US when I was little. So this was wildly exotic botany.) In the 70s and 80s this took a bit of library work to discover. (Thank goodness for African folktale books.)

And now a few random quotes.


p 70 - the Little Prince talking to the snake. Which I'm putting under spoiler quotes just in case.

"You are a funny animal," he said at last. "You are no thicker than a finger..."
"But I am more powerful than the finger of a king," said the snake.
The little prince smiled.
"You are not very powerful. You haven't even any feet. You cannot even travel..."
"I can carry you farther than any ship could take you," said the snake.
He twined himself around the little prince's ankle, like a golden bracelet.
"Whomever I touch, I send back to the earth from whence he came," the snake spoke again. "But you are innocent and true, and you come from a star..."
The little prince made no reply.
"You move me to pity - you are so weak on this Earth made of granite," the snake said. "I can help you, some day, if you grow too homesick for your own planet. I can-"
"Oh! I understand you very well," said the little prince. "But why do you always speak in riddles?"
"I solve them all," said the snake.
And they were both silent.

(show spoiler)

 

p. 83 - the fox explains to the Little Prince about taming.

"My life is very monotonous," he said. "I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back beneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: do you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to  me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat..."
The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.
"Please - tame me!" he said.

 

Now that I've repeatedly mentioned it, let's discuss the 1974 film The Little Prince. It has deep weirdness going on. Big time! It also contains multiple musical numbers, including Bob Fosse singing and dancing. And a child actor who doesn't enunciate well. This is NOT the best introduction to the story (there's lots of material that's not in the book) but hey, it's available, obscure and weird - so I must share. Mainly because I've never talked to anyone else that's seen it! I'm not exactly recommending this - but it's cheesy and possibly fun if you're in the right mood. Also watching online means you can speed through the musical numbers.

 

The Little Prince explains his planet to the pilot (youtube link)

One of the scenes where you understand this isn't just about a child and a flower. (Er, not terribly subtle?) You can't look at this and not think "ah, that's the 1970s," especially the shots of the actress who plays the flower. And you may want to skip over the song after the 5 min mark. (Most of the musical numbers in this make me cringe. And I do like musicals.)

 

Bob Fosse as the Snake (youtube link)

Skip to the 4:20ish min when he makes his entrance. Also spoilers as to how the Prince will get home. Cuts off and finishes in next video here, where again I cringe (this time at the rattler tail placement, because, eyeroll). Fosse was never known for his singing voice, but if you've never seen Fosse dance, take a peek. Because this is the man Michael Jackson (and loads of other folk) emulated by studying his dance moves - and many refer specifically to this scene in this movie (wiki link, Little Prince scene cited) as the model for those moves. (Fosse was not the sole creator of course - like all dancers he learned and then adapted moves. But he definitely popularized many thanks to the well-known Broadway shows and films he choreographed.) 

 

Gene Wilder as the Fox, once he's been tamed (youtube link)
Which includes the first quote I posted.

 

If you do want to see this entire film, here's a playlist of all of the youtube segments. (And of course knowing youtube, if you come upon this post ages from now, that link may no longer work.)

 

There you go, those clips were your Holiday Cheese Platter! Enjoy! Not that the film is in any way seasonal - that's just the cheese that was handy. And that I could tie to my reading! (Please feel free to rail at me for making you watch any of it. I'll pretend not to giggle.)

 

Meanwhile, here's an upcoming version of the Little Prince. The trailer's in French, but even without a translation you can understand the setting and see what they're going for.

 

Youtube: The Little Prince Trailer (French)

Wikipedia: The Little Prince (film)

 

This one's going to frame the story as told to a neighbor girl of the pilot, but otherwise the glimpses it shows look a lot like the artwork in the book. And the voice actors sound good too, so I'm hopeful. Look for it sometime after October 2015 when it'll be out in France.