Friday, 1 January 2016

A meeting with The Little Prince

I travelled to Espace Richaud, at Versailles, to see an exhibition on one of the world's best-loved children's books. The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) is a book for children written for grown-ups, written by author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It can be read on many different levels for readers of all ages and makes comment on the human spirit.

The exhibition centre, located on Boulevard de la Reine, was once an ancient hospital from the seventeenth century. It has been beautifully renovated, with most of the wings sold off as private apartments. Inside, the exhibition was tastefully presented on several levels with a small shop were one could buy memorabilia, mostly for children. I got a mug and a hardcopy edition of the book. Outside the venue you notice one of the utility boxes, scattered around central Versailles, tastefully portraying the fables of La Fontaine.

The book has become a global marketing phenomenon, with roadshows in other countries, films, records and CDs, comics. A shop dedicated to the book is now open in Paris 57 Boulevard Arago, 75013 Paris.  There's also an online store which will handle international sales. Go to  Comics have been created about the story and one touching one features the author talking to le Petit Prince as he, the author, dies in his plane wreck on the bottom of the Mediterranean.

The book's story goes like this..

The author, an aviator, crashes with his aeroplane in the middle of the Sahara desert. While he is trying to repair his aeroplane, a little boy appears and asks him to draw a sheep. The author learns that The Little Prince comes from asteroid B-612 where he has left behind three volcanoes and a rose.

Before reaching Earth, he has visited other planets and met some strange people: a king, a conceited man, a drunkard, a lamplighter, a geographer.  Since arriving on Earth, he has spoken to a fox who has taught him that to know someone or something, you must « tame » them, and that makes them unique. « What is essential is invisible to the eye, says the fox. »   You'll have to read the book if you want to know how it, rather sadly, ends.

I don't remember the first time I met The Little Prince but it was decades ago, maybe at Teachers College where I was studying children's literature. This book is so famous it has been translated into more than two hundred languages.

 Its author disappeared - shot down by a German fighter pilot while on a reconnaissance mission in 1944  and mystery surrounded this for many years. In 1988, off the coast of Marseille, a fisherman picked up in his  nets an identity bracelet bearing Saint-Exupéry’s name. Then, early this century, the wreck of a P-38 Lightning was found in the Mediterranean. The serial number on the plane identified it as the one Saint-Exupéry was flying on his last mission.


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