A golden-haired boy—a little prince—unexpectedly appears in the vast Sahara, where a pilot has landed his plane because of engine problems. The pilot is anxiously trying to fix the engine, for he has no food or water to survive for long. The boy politely asks the pilot to draw him a picture of a sheep. The pilot instead draws a picture from his own childhood: a boa constrictor with an elephant in its stomach. The boy, exasperated, concludes that adults cannot understand anything without numerous explanations. Only after the pilot draws a box with air holes in it is the boy happy. Both the pilot and the little prince understand that a sheep is inside the box.
Gradually, the man and the boy “tame” each other. The home from which the little prince has come is an asteroid, hardly larger than a house; it holds one rose, one baobab tree, and three volcanoes. The boy hopes to widen his knowledge by visiting much larger places, such as the planet Earth, and meeting the people, animals, and plants that live in those places. He is inwardly preoccupied, however, with the safety of his dearly loved rose.
The little prince tells the pilot about his visits to other tiny asteroids, where he met one single inhabitant on each: a king claiming to rule the universe, although he has no subjects; a conceited man who sees everyone as his admirer; a drunkard living in a stupor, drinking to forget his shame of being an alcoholic; a businessman greedily counting the stars as his own treasure; and a geographer who does not know the geography of his place and never leaves his office. The smallest planet he has visited, which turns very rapidly (with 1,440 sunsets per day), has no homes or people, yet the planet’s lamplighter has no moment of rest as he constantly lights and puts out the only lamp, following old orders that make no sense. The little prince, who sees grown-ups as odd, respects the lamplighter for his dedicated, selfless work.
In the Sahara, the prince meets the fox, who reveals to him the major secrets of life. These secrets cannot be seen by the eyes, unless the heart is involved. When the prince wants to play, the fox explains that “connecting” takes time and patience; through such connecting, one rose among thousands becomes special. The fox explains also that one is forever responsible where love is involved, that words cause misunderstandings; that rites and rituals are significant but often forgotten, and that crucial matters are often ignored and not appreciated. These lessons help the little prince understand his own mistakes, and he decides to return home to protect his rose.
The boy meets the snake, who talks in riddles, and he understands the creature’s power to send him back where he came from quickly. The little prince and the pilot are now both dying from thirst. In search of water, they walk through the starry night. On the verge of collapse, the pilot carries his little friend, not knowing whether they are even headed in the right direction. At dawn, when it is almost too late to save their lives, they find a deep, old well. The stars shimmer on the surface of the water. They drink, and the water tastes unusually sweet to them. Both the man and the boy sense the value of that moment. The pilot is sad; the prince feels fear mixed with joy, because of his decision to go home. The water feels like an earned gift. The prince comments that the beauty of the desert is in the knowledge that it hides such a well.
The prince tells his friend that he will be leaving the next day. Neither mentions the snake. When the little prince laughs to cheer his friend up, the laughter sounds like the jingle of a million little bells. He offers the pilot a farewell gift: From now on, when the pilot looks up on starry nights, he and only he will hear the little prince’s laughter. It will be comforting for both of them to know that they have each other.
The next day, on the one-year anniversary of the little prince’s arrival on Earth, the pilot comes to the same spot where he met the boy. There he glimpses the yellow flash of the snake as it bites the ankle of his little friend, and the boy falls quietly and gently onto the sand. Later, the little prince’s body is nowhere to be found. The pilot finally fixes his engine and leaves for home, hoping that his friend is safely back at his home, too. In the years afterward, on starry nights the pilot hears the little prince’s laugh and feels warm in his heart: Love is a powerful, invisible thread connecting people no matter how far apart in space and time they may be.
Loved for its childlike simplicity and profound wisdom, The Little Prince is undoubtedly Saint-Exupéry’s most famous work. It has been translated into more than 170 languages and adapted into two operas, a musical film, and an animated television series. Saint-Exupéry wrote the book while he was living in New York City, shortly before he disappeared in flight. Though commonly referred to as a children’s story, the book has also been appreciated by adult audiences for its underlying philosophical nature. The story contains reflections on the themes of friendship, love, imagination, and the significance of an individual in the world. It is often published with the author’s illustrations, a whimsical series of watercolors.
The book begins with the narrator’s reflection on his own childhood and the unimaginative rationality of adults. The story quickly jumps ahead to the narrator’s adult life, to a time when he was stranded in the Sahara Desert after a plane crash. He is awoken one day by a young boy, the Little Prince, who asks him to draw a sheep. The exchange reveals the Prince’s childlike imagination, reminding the narrator of the innocent worldview of his own childhood.
The two characters are drawn together by their common exile—the pilot, who is stranded in the desert, and the Little Prince, who is far from his home on the asteroid B612. Gradually, the narrator learns the Prince’s story. The Prince lived on a small planet, where he spent his days weeding his home of baobab trees, tending to his volcanoes, and most of all, taking care of his rose. This mysterious rose was a delicate but vain creature. She was demanding and pretentious, and despite the Prince’s love for her, he grew disappointed with her capriciousness. When he caught her in a lie one day, he became disenchanted with her and left his planet to go exploring.
The simple clarity of the child’s point of view, exemplified in the Little Prince, is often contrasted with the narrow-mindedness of the adults. On his journeys, the Prince visits six other asteroid-planets, all inhabited by foolish adults. His encounters include that of a king who believes he controls the movement of the stars, a conceited man who craves attention but lives alone in his vanity, and a geographer who draws maps but does not leave his desk to explore the places he must see in order to draw. Such contradictions leave the Prince bewildered and disappointed.
Upon the geographer’s suggestion, the Prince travels to Earth, where he arrives at the desert and meets a snake who forebodingly offers to send the Prince back home with his deadly poison. The Prince declines and continues on his way. He arrives at a rose garden and is shocked to learn that there are millions of other flowers exactly like his rose, whom he thought was unique. Reaching the lowest point of his disenchantment with the world, the Prince lies down in the grass and cries.
It is then that he meets the fox, the sage of the story. The fox was probably inspired by Saint-Exupéry’s encounter with a fennec, a desert sand fox, after his crash in the Libyan desert. In the story, the fox persuades the Prince to tame him, and in so doing, teaches him the value of friendship. It is through friendship that two beings become unique to one another, and through friendship that life gains meaning. The Prince comes to realize that it is the time spent with his rose that has made her unique to him, different from all the other roses in the garden who do not belong to anyone.
Having gained this wisdom, the Prince plans to allow the desert snake to bite him so that he can return to his planet and be reunited with his rose. He shares a final moment with the pilot at a well, where the two find physical and spiritual restoration. They reflect on how the important things in life must be perceived not with the eyes but with the heart. The two part, and when the pilot comes searching for the Little Prince the next day, he has disappeared. The pilot finally finishes repairing his plane. The story ends with the narrator’s request for his readers to look at the skies and to remember the Little Prince.