"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: ..."
 
~ The Little Prince
Against the sifting dunes of the golden Sahara, beneath a star-glittered night sky, a cherub-faced traveler imparts to a stranded pilot the wisdom he learned from a fox: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

At first glance, the seemingly simple tale of an interplanetary wanderer, spanning barely one hundred illustrated pages, bears every resemblance to a children's fairy story.  Yet the man who penned the immortal adventures of the childlike explorer, French author, poet, aviator, inventor, philosopher and diplomat Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, wove a great many grown-up assessments about human values and interpersonal relationships into the intricate tapestry of
The Little Prince.
The Little Prince Online
Saint-Exupéry: The Official Site
The Little Prince: Official Site
Saint-Exupéry Update 2004
"I come from my childhood as from a homeland. . . ."
~ Flight to Arras
Born to an ancient aristocratic lineage on 29 June 1900 in Lyons, Antoine Jean-Baptiste Marie Roger Pierre de Saint-Exupéry passed what some biographers classify as an "emotionally secure" and "blissfully normal" childhood in a white-shuttered château at Saint-Maurice-de-Rémens in Southern France (6.)  There he played with three sisters and a younger brother in the surrounding park, spent vacations and holidays home from boarding school, and first piloted a plane at age twelve at nearby Ambérieu (1.)

His friends and siblings called him "Tonio" or "le Roi-Soleil" ("the Sun-King") because of his golden curls (
5.)  A bright and curious child, Antoine kept in close contact with nature, taking a pet tortoise for walks around Saint-Maurice on a leash (7.)  He also engineered numerous inventions, like a bicycle with sails which he attempted to launch off a springboard, and composed short stories and poetry while his schoolwork languished nearby (6.)

Sadly, misfortune and irony plagued the Saint-Exupéry name early on.  At age three, Antoine lost his father to a stroke at La Foux railway station (
7.)  He would also outlive a sister, an infant nephew, and his younger brother François, whose death at the age of fifteen from rheumatic fever impressed him deeply and would greatly impact his writings more than twenty years later (7.)  To top off the disappointments of his youth, Antoine's plans to enter the French navy amid the fervor of the First World War dissolved when he reached his nineteenth birthday, the official age of conscription, one day after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (4.)
"The airplane has unveiled for us
the true face of the earth."

 
~ Wind, Sand and Stars
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry finally realized his dream of flying when he obtained his pilot's license in 1921, but the upper-class family of the young, auburn-haired fairy princess to whom he was engaged in 1922, Louise de Vilmorin, frowned upon the uncertain life of an aviator for their daughter's husband.  Their scorn forced him to pursue odd jobs as an office clerk for a Parisian tile-manufacturer, a traveling lorry salesman, and a writer's apprentice until the engagement dissolved in 1923 (7.)

Saint-Exupéry saw his first short story published in 1926, the same year he joined ranks with the pioneering Latécoère mail line (soon-to-be Aéropostale) which connected France, West Africa and South America by air until its collapse in 1932 (
4.)  Saint-Exupéry's adventures involving disorienting desert storms, austere Spanish outposts and ransom-hungry Moors during this period inspired his best-known passages from the five major novels he published between 1929 and 1943, four of which garnered best-seller status and numerous awards in both France and the United States (Wartime Writings.)

As a Latécoère pilot, Saint-Exupéry proved himself to be resourceful and cool-headed in the face of danger, a born diplomat assigned to keep good relations with both the Spanish and Moors in West Africa, and a lifelong friend of legendary aviators such as Jean Mermoz and Henri Guillaumet, who lovingly styled their comrade "Saint-Ex" (
7.)
In 1930 Saint-Exupéry met his wife-to-be, the twenty-eight-year-old widow of a well-established journalist, Señora Gómez Carillo, née Consuelo Suncin, amid demonstrations in the streets of Buenos Aires (4.)  His marriage the following year to the vivacious, ivory-skinned El Salvador native, an eccentric, bohemian painter and sculptor whom he alternately nicknamed his "little tropical bird" or "little girl poet," produced no children but would ultimately lead to the writing of The Little Prince (3.)
"Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction."
~ Wind, Sand and Stars
Saint-Exupéry spent the 1930's writing newspaper correspondence articles, scribbling in notebooks, and acting as publicist for Air France (4.)  He also flew whenever he could, but after a nearly fatal crash and month-long hospital stay in Guatemala in 1938, Consuelo moved back to El Salvador with family, and the couple would remain apart until 1942 (7.)
"I should wait for night, I said to myself; and if I was still alive I would walk alone on the highway that runs through our village.  Alone and safely isolated in my beloved solitude.  So that I might discover why it is I ought to die."
~ Flight to Arras
During World War II, Saint-Exupéry exiled himself in the United States because he supported neither the Vichy regime nor Charles de Gaulle's call to arms against his fellow Frenchmen from Algiers (Wartime Writings.)  Although two decades above the preferred piloting age and in poor health, he begged to be able to fly the state-of-the-art P-38 Lockheed Lightning for the French-American allied forces, and was finally allowed to fly reconnaissance for a limited number of missions (A Sense of Life.)
After technical mishaps attributed to absent-mindedness and age, his friends planned to ground him with secret information which would prevent his ability to fly reconnaissance missions, and arranged for a formal briefing to take place on 1 August 1944 (5.)  On 31 July 1944 at 8:45 am, Major Antoine de Saint-Exupéry embarked from Corsica on a photographic mission over Southern France in a Lockheed P-38 no. 223 and never returned (Wartime Writings.)

N.B. See Saint-Exupéry Update 2004, above.
When Reynal and Hitchcock of New York distributed The Little Prince in French and English in 1943, it was to be the last of Saint-Exupéry's works published during his lifetime (Wartime Writings.)  Today The Little Prince stands as a pinnacle of artistry, the most widely known of Saint-Exupéry's works and the most translated work in French literature with over eighty foreign editions (7.)

In many ways the work's appeal stems from its concise presentation of biographical and philosophical elements which Saint-Exupéry first introduced in earlier writings.  The heart of the work radiates through the poignant water-colored sketches adorning the text, as well as the genuine, straightforward style through which the story is conveyed.

The story, so full of autobiographical references and philosophical implications, fits into a compact ninety-one pages which are further divided into twenty-seven concise chapters.  The brevity and emotional intensity of
The Little Prince works well for the conveyance of its principal themes, making it an artistic and cohesive whole.
"I should have liked to begin this story in the fashion of the fairy-tales.  I should have liked to say: 'Once upon a time there was a little prince who lived on a planet that was scarcely any bigger than himself, and who had need of a friend . . .' "
~ The Little Prince
In 1942, a reunited Saint-Exupéry and Consuelo moved to an isolated historic mansion in New York known as the Bevin House, at Northport on the north shore of Long Island.  At the time the popularity of his recently published Wind, Sand and Stars made him an idol of the American public (1.)

The direct inspiration for
The Little Prince, the story of a traveler who leaves his love to experience life for himself, stemmed from Saint-Exupéry's conflicting feelings between his obligation to his wife and his desire to return to battle "in a spirit of patriotic sacrifice" (7.)  An extended convalescence after two operations in Los Angeles in 1941 also created an intense loneliness which set him to dreaming of the Little Prince's adventures (Wartime Writings.)
Within three months, a very short time for a Saint-Exupérian undertaking, The Little Prince reached completion.  In it we follow the legend of an otherworldly adventurer hailing from an asteroid "no bigger than a house," who leaves his home one day to explore the surrounding planets.  Each planet he visits houses a single inhabitant, including a king, a conceited man, a tippler, a businessman, a lamplighter, and a geographer, and each individual exhibits some flaw of humanity which prevents the Little Prince from staying on his planet for too long.
"But certainly, for those of us who understand life, figures are a matter of indifference."
~ The Little Prince
Finally the Little Prince reaches Earth, landing in the middle of the Sahara, where he learns much about life from a few incognizant humans and a sagacious fox before meeting the crash-landed pilot who narrates the story.

Eventually the pilot comes to learn the real reason behind the Little Prince's leaving, which centers around his tumultuous and "sweetly dissonant" relationship with a Rose who lives on his asteroid (
3.)

Then, as mysteriously as he descended to Earth, the Little Prince returns to his planet through seeming death on the one-year anniversary of his arrival, disappearing without a trace.
"When a mystery is too overpowering, one dare not disobey."
~ The Little Prince
The story of The Little Prince builds upon the age-old framework of an allegorical odyssey, in which the title character journeys far from his home to establish personal truths before returning whence he came.  The idea of traveling to further appreciate one's homeland influenced Saint-Exupéry's earlier works, in which he describes the intimacy between sixteenth-century sailors and their fiancees waiting on land, for "As soon as they had set sail, they began their return" (Wartime Writings.)

Characters and elements within the work also represent facets of Saint-Exupéry's philosophy and his interpretation of the world around him.  The blond waves and rocky crags of the Sahara, Saint-Exupéry's home for three years, mesmerized him from the start.  He drew some fo his most stunning imagery from desert scenes, such as his account of the first stars in the night sky which "tremble as if shimmering in green water" before hardening into the "frozen glitter of diamonds," or populating a sky "streaked with so many trailing sparks that it seemed to me a great gale must be blowing through the outer heavens" (
Airman's Odyssey.)

Thus the desert backdrop in
The Little Prince gives a good representation of the world through Saint-Exupéry's eyes, a place where communion among men occurs rarely and eternal truths lie hidden, but they are definitely there.
"What makes the desert
beautiful
is that
somewhere
it hides
a well . . ."

~ The Little Prince
Saint-Exupéry's characterization of the various planetary inhabitants encountered through the Little Prince's travels largely reflects his condemnation of a society fueled by self-centeredness, commerce and greed.  In an earlier passage he notes that an understanding of man necessitates "never listening to them.  For the nailsmith talks to you of his nails; and the astronomer of his stars.  And both forget utterly the sea" (Wisdom of the Sands.)

The planetary inhabitants also draw from real personalities met in Saint-Exupéry's life.  The businessman represents a composite of various enterprising industrialists whom Saint-Exupéry grew to resent, most notably Pierre-Georges Latécoère, who founded the revolutionary Latécoère line of the author's mail-piloting days (
7.)

The lamplighter hailed from the real-life lamplighter of Saint-Exupéry's boyhood days at Saint-Maurice-de-Rémens (
7.)  The white-bearded authoritarian geographer exactly resembles Saint-Exupéry's grandfather Fernand, and the notion of geography itself stems from his disappointing schoolboy days, when he failed miserably in the subject after studying for the final exam over an entire summer (7.)
"In the course of this life
I have had a great many encounters with a great
many people who have been concerned with matters of consequence."

~ The Little Prince
The plane in Saint-Exupéry's story acts as a vehicle for our introduction to the proceeding events, for the author always viewed his plane as a tool allowing greater access to the earth, much like a farmer's plow (5.)  The plane's crash brings the audience in contact with the Little Prince himself, who symbolizes innocence and embodies Saint-Exupéry's philosophy concerning the wisdom of "sublime infancy" (7.)

In his posthumous work
The Wisdom of the Sands, Saint-Exupéry expands on the theme of understanding through innocence: "If a child's tears move you, they are windows opening on the vastness of the sea; for not those tears only, but the whole world's tears, are quickening your compassion, and that child is but one who takes you by the hand and shows you the sorrows of mankind."

The pilot's desert landing in
The Little Prince mirrors the author's own history of crashes on the Latécoère line, in particular one instance when he grazed a desert plateau covered with fist-sized black pebbles thrown down from the heavens en route to negotiating with a band of kidnappers, and another when he broke down amidst the desolation of the Saharan sand-dunes under a "star-splashed sky" (7.)

The pilot in the story of course represents the author himself, but Saint-Exupéry also identifies somewhat with the personage of the Little Prince.  Acquaintances of Saint-Exupéry noted that he "seemed to consider the book his autobiography and that he gave it to his friends as he might offer a photo" (
5.)  He scrawled images resembling the titled protagonist over scraps of paper throughout his life, and even drew a portrait of the Little Prince once, arms outstretched and mouthing the words "Forgive me," as an apology to a friend after a heated argument (6.)
"So I lived my life alone,
without anyone that I could
really talk to, until I had an
accident with my plane in
the Desert of Sahara,
six years ago."
~ The Little Prince
"If I try to describe him here, it is to make sure that I shall not forget him."
~ The Little Prince
In life the Little Prince resembled Saint-Exupéry as a child, yet his apparent death at the story's end more closely reflects the deaths of those closest to the author in his own existence.  By December of 1940 he had already lost his two best friends, Jean Mermoz and Henri Guillaumet, in the line of duty, and his reconnaissance group, Group 2-33, lost seventeen of its twenty-three flight teams within three weeks (Airman's Odyssey.)

Even so, his brother's death in 1917 remained the most traumatic of his life's experiences, and the Little Prince's assurances to the pilot that his dying body is only an empty shell eerily resemble the last words of François to his vigilant older brother: "Don't worry.  I'm all right.  I can't help it.  It's my body" (
Airman's Odyssey.)

The quiet, dignified death of François de Saint-Exupéry preceded that of the Little Prince by three decades, yet the latter echoes the former with heartrending poignancy.
The fox who shares with the Little Prince the two most important pieces of wisdom in the story, as well as the wheat which he assures the Prince will remind him of their friendship, both represent Saint-Exupéry's belief in the importance of association.  He writes in Flight to Arras that "Bread has more than one meaning.  We have learnt to see in bread the means of communion between men, for men break bread together.

There is no savor like that of bread shared between men."

This fox is also based on an actual fox, or a burrow-dwelling desert fennec, who inspired Saint-Exupéry with the will to survive after a crash in the Libyan desert in 1935, when a slow demise by dehydration threatened to extinguish all hope of staying alive.  He wrote to his sister about the incident, including a sketch of the fox with its "huge ears" who was "particularly wild and roared like a lion" (
7.)  Fittingly, both the fox in the story and the real-life Libyan fennec possess the secret to life, one a secret of survival in the wild and the other a secret of survival among men.
"The thing that is important is the thing that is not seen."
~ The Little Prince
Finally, the Little Prince's Rose symbolizes romantic devotion "in the old, literary tradition of the Roman de la rose, as an allegorical image of the loved one" (5.)

The Rose also finds her roots in Saint-Exupéry's relationship with his wife, Consuelo.  The dialogue between the Little Prince and his Rose echoes real-life conversations between Antoine and Consuelo during the summer and early autumn of 1942 (
7.)  Many of Consuelo's idiosyncrasies translate into the vanity and capriciousness of the beautiful, four-thorned Rose dear to the Little Prince.  At some point after the book's publication, Saint-Exupéry wrote to his wife: "You know, the rose is you.  Perhaps I haven't always known how to look after you well, but I have always found you pretty" (7.)
"Go and look again at the roses.  You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world.  Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret."
~ The Little Prince
Two of the main themes within The Little Prince directly relate to Saint-Exupéry's own life philosophies as progressively honed throughout his other writings.  Both themes are presented to the Little Prince by the fox, who describes the process and importance of taming, as well as the essential which is invisible.  In Wind, Sand and Stars Saint-Exupéry mentions that the pilots would try to "tame" the unpacified Arabs who ventured from dissident zones to barter with the French and Spanish "in order to establish little nuclei of friendship in the desert."

In his first published novel he writes, "The tender friendships one gives up, on parting, leave their bite on the heart, but also a curious feeling of a treasure somewhre buried" (
Southern Mail.)  In later writings he expounds on the theory that "very often the essential is weightless" (Wartime Writings.)  In The Wisdom of the Sands he pronounces that "the virtue of the candle is not in the wax that leaves its trace, but in its light."
"But the eyes are blind.  One must look with the heart . . ."
~ The Little Prince
"One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets himself be tamed . . ."
~ The Little Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry lived and died a pilot, yet his achievements as an artist in prose entrust him to the memory of the world.  He philosophized about life yet always valued action over thought, living as a visionary who became an artist by reproducing his vision onto paper.  For a man who "always thought words were like love among tortoises - something not well attuned as yet," Saint-Exupéry molded that medium to convey passion, emotion, and imagery with incredible artistry and accuracy (Wartime Writings.)

One of his superiors in aviation, Latécoère operations director Didier Daurat, described Saint-Exupéry as an immature young man who discovered a nobility in himself and others through his profession, an invaluable asset "who could express in unforgettable language what all of us felt in our own way, but could not have put into words" (
6.)

The written word so occupied Saint-Exupéry's life that he spent his last night on earth scribing letters to his friends, which were found by colleagues after his disappearance on the table beside his untouched bed (
Wartime Writings.)
"'I wonder,' he said, 'whether the stars are set alight in heaven so that one day each of us may find his own again . . . .' "
~ The Little Prince
"But I know that he did go back to his planet, because I did not find his body at daybreak."
~ The Little Prince
Barring all real-life references and allegorical elements, the story of the Little Prince and his interplanetary odyssey exhibits a collection of delicate illustrations evocative of a child's watercolor drawings tinged with bittersweet emotion by the poignantly elegant style of Saint-Exupéry's textual accompaniment.

Much of the artistry within
The Little Prince stems from its universality, evidenced by its worldwide translation and undying popularity.  The themes within the work transcend cultural boundaries just as the lyrical nature of Saint-Exupéry's words reaches the audience independent of the language in which they are published.

Some of the elements in the story even border on the supernatural in their eerie prophecy, such as the passage in which the Little Prince witnesses forty-four sunsets corresponding to the author's age at death, and the fact that both the Little Prince and his author left the earth without a trace.
In a passage written the Christmas Eve before his disappearance, Saint-Exupéry contemplates the poetic miracle of the Magi, reproduced within the pages of his Wartime Writings.  The same sentiments can be applied to his own intricate arrangement of elements real and imagined in the context of his artistic creation.  In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the characters and themes within The Little Prince, "are they legend or history?  In any case, it's a pretty tale."
~ <> ~
"In one of the stars I shall be living.  In one of them I shall be laughing.  And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night . . . You -- only you -- will have the stars that can laugh!"
~ The Little Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Bibliography

1926 - "L'Aviateur" / "The Aviator"
- His first published work, appearing in "Le Navire d'Argent" ("The Silver Ship.")

1929 - Courrier Sud / Southern Mail - When the plane of mail pilot Jacques Bernis is lost between Toulouse and Dakar, his childhood friend and fellow pilot recounts the tempestuous and tragic affair between Bernis and Geneviève, the girl he has loved since his youth.

1931 - Vol de Nuit / Night Flight - The fates of a mail pilot, Fabien, his young wife, Sabine, and the strict director Rivière are intertwined when Fabien's plane is lost during a night mission from Patagonia.  This book reveals the uncertainties and bittersweet triumphs of nocturnal aviation over ocean-going ships for delivering the mail on the advent of night flight. *Prix Fémina 1931*

1938 - Terre des Hommes / Wind, Sand and Stars
- A poetic collection of anecdotes from Saint-Exupéry's experiences working as a mail pilot for the Latécoère line in West Africa and South America, and as a reporter in Spain, between 1926 and 1936.
*Grand Prix du Roman de l'Académie Française 1939* ; *National Book Award (U.S.) 1940*

1942 - Pilote de Guerre / Flight to Arras - Saint-Exupéry writes of his thoughts on war and flying for Group 2-33 during a fateful reconnaissance mission over occupied France in 1940.

1943 - Lettre à un Otage / Letter to a Hostage - A message to the author's dear friend Léon Werth, a Jewish citizen living in occupied France and the subject of The Little Prince's dedication, later republished in Wartime Writings.

1943 - Le Petit Prince / The Little Prince
- See Above.

Posthumous Works

1948 - Citadelle / The Wisdom of the Sands
- A lengthy philosophical work about humanity set against the backdrop of desert life.

1953 - Carnets - A collection of the entries from six of the author's personal journals, written between 1935 and 1942, at the same time he was writing three of his major publications.

1956 - Un Sens à la Vie / A Sense of Life
- A collection of essays including newspaper articles written during the 1930's.

1982 - Ecrits de Guerre / Wartime Writings
- A chronological collection of poignant essays and personal letters written between 1939 and 1944, up until the night before his disappearance.
Works Cited

1.  Breaux, Adèle. 
Saint-Exupéry in America, 1942-43; a memoir.
     Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1971.

2.  Harris, John R.
Chaos, Cosmos, and Saint-Exupéry's Pilot Hero: A Study in Mythopoeia.
     Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 1999.

3.  Saint-Exupéry, Consuelo de. 
The Tale of the Rose: The Passion that Inspired The Little Prince.
     New York: Random House, 2001.

4.  Schiff, Stacy. 
Saint-Exupéry: A Biography.
     New York: A.A. Knopf, Distributed by Random House, 1994.

5.  Robinson, Joy D. Marie. 
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
     Boston: Twayne, 1984.

6.  Rumbold, Richard and Lady Margaret Stewart. 
The Winged Life; A Portrait of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Poet and Airman.
     New York: D. McKay, 1955.

7.  Webster, Paul. 
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The Life and Death of The Little Prince.
     London: Macmillan, 1993.
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