The Little Prince is one of the world’s best-loved books. It has been translated into more than 180 languages (the most translated work in French literature) and has sold more than eighty million copies. It is autobiographical, poetic, and philosophical in nature, and it is charmingly illustrated in watercolors by the author. Novelist and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote the book, which was his last and became his most famous, in three months. The seeds of The Little Prince have since been found scattered in the author’s many notes, sketches on napkins, and details in his other books depicting the contemporary world, which drew on his own flights and missions.
Saint-Exupéry’s writings, which capture magnificent scenes and landscapes, and his actions as an aviator turned him into a hero during his lifetime. His disappearance during a flight—which he seemed to sense and announce in his novel Vol de nuit (1931; Night Flight, 1932)—served to perpetuate his status as a hero. His multifaceted personality (in addition to being a pilot and an author of fiction, he was a mathematician, an inventor, and a diplomat) has been portrayed in his own books and in those of countless other authors, who have written about him and his relations with numerous prominent people of his time, from the artists Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró to the actor Greta Garbo, the poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, and the philosopher Martin Heidegger.
The original English translation of The Little Prince is just over ninety pages long. The book is divided into twenty-seven chapters. The story is told by the pilot, and both the pilot and the little prince voice the author’s messages. The language is simple and symbolic, charged with extraordinary emotional intensity through poetic riddles and thought-provoking metaphors. The tone is factual and devoid of beauty as the author sketches the narrow world of “grown-ups,” who are obsessed with self-importance, power, and money. Saint-Exupéry’s purpose in this work is to teach “matters of consequence,” those things that are crucial but often go unnoticed because the physical eyes are blind to them, preventing complete understanding of the meanings behind things.
The Little Prince is written in a condensed style that is overflowing with symbols, and full understanding of the author’s meaning requires careful reading and pondering. Many scholars have published discussions of the specific meanings of the symbols and metaphors that appear in the work (especially baobabs and roses), which are open to various interpretations. The book has inspired writers of other works of prose fiction as well as dramatists, music composers, and filmmakers. The messages in The Little Prince are still being studied; both children and adults continue to decode Saint-Exupéry’s thoughts and follow his dreams; among the messages they have uncovered is that nature opens its beauty and wisdom to those who search for peace, harmony, and meaning beyond the physical appearance.
In the book’s dedication, Saint-Exupéry sets the tone and offers the reader guidance: He begs to be pardoned for dedicating the work to an adult, Leon Werth, his best friend in the whole world, who is hungry and cold in France. He then corrects himself and dedicates the work to Werth as a little boy, because children live in a better and more beautiful world than do adults, intuitively accepting more than can be seen with the eyes and logic only. Although it is dedicated to children, The Little Prince addresses fundamental ideas about life and human nature; its messages have made it a work of lasting value for all readers in all times.
Some scholars have noted that the story includes scenes that parallel events in the life of Jesus Christ, in particular the Last Supper. The episodes take the form of parables, with dialogue that has multifaceted meanings shrouded by mystery and wonder. The little prince’s statements are often unfinished, trailing off as if his mind is in another world while his body is on Earth. Some of the pilot’s comments hint at the autobiographical background of the work; some of the grown-ups described are real people whom he knew and whose life philosophies he opposed. It has been asserted that the main force that drove Saint-Exupéry’s writing of this book was the love and pain he experienced in his relationship with his wife, not only because of the couple’s own actions but also because of the turbulent times in which they lived.