A short introduction, hmm? Well, I'm Anthony, a French-Kenyan opera conductor, freelance fashion journalist, budding architect, bitcoiner, and polo player. My interests lie in Franco-Japanese literature, fashion and cuisine; Post-modernism; Futurism; Lepidoptery; Impressionism; Plato and Herodotus. I'm new to blogging and write over at I, Contra Mundum about everything from fashion and philosophy, to graphic novels and mental health. Though my writing may make me seem grumpy and serious, I'm actually the laziest, most melodramatic prankster one'll ever know. Want to know more? Just ask.
Voici mon secret. Il set très simple: on ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel set invisible pour les jeux. (Renard, Chapter XII - Le Petit Prince)
As an keen reader, I like slipping away into the admittedly wonderful exercise of dissolving into a narrative - escaping the present, escaping critical eyes, escaping time - as does happen in the case of those rare novels that are convincing, thought provoking and entertaining. Having, rather fortuitously, read many such novels, picking my favourite seemed to be, at first, quite the onerous task. I kept oscillating between Dante, Murakami, di Lampedusa and Saint-Exupéry. But I decided to go with my heart, as one should with choices such as these; and the French aristocrat, writer, poet and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's children's book, The Little Prince, won me over.
Le Petit Prince, as it's known in French, was written during Saint-Exupéry's self-imposed exile to the US after the fall of France to Nazi Germany. He was on a mission to convince the US government to intervene and amidst personal turmoil wrote a delicate story about friendship, love, loneliness and loss. The story, self-illustrated too, tells of a pilot (the narrator, Saint-Exupéry himself) stranded in a desert who happens to meet a Prince - believed to be from asteroid B-612 - who has fallen to Earth. The Prince begins relaying to the pilot his life on the asteroid and travels from planet to planet in search of the meaning of life.
I first encountered The Little Prince when I was twelve, sometime after my parent's messy (read: expensive) divorce, and a few weeks into my new life in Neuilly-sur-Seine with my grandmama. It was in her study that I first found the book. My French wasn't very good back then, I struggled, so grandmama used the book to teach me French, and she'd also read it to me before bed-time. As a child, a lot of the book's more profound observations were lost on me. At that time, what interested me most, were the analogues of human society that the Prince encountered, from the Tippler who drinks because he is ashamed of his drinking problem, to the merchant who sells pills that quench thirst and, therefore, save one 'fifty-three minutes in every week.'
Albeit it's classification as a children's book, The Little Prince is also philosophical in nature. It weaves an endearing message of childhood innocence through the perspective of an adult's analytical mind. The Prince's incredulity at how boring and unimaginative adults are - 'Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.' - mirrored how I felt with the grown-ups around me. It was the first time in my life that I felt a real connection with a fictional protagonist - a feeling that I have rarely encountered since and only matched with Fitzgerald's Amory Blaine. But even in my youth certain scenes struck me with their significance, like when the Prince encounters a group of roses and compares them to his own rose on B-612, and he says to them, 'You are beautiful, but you are empty…No one could die for you.'
As I grew older, I read and re-read The Little Prince a few times with a tear. Reflecting while I read, encouraged me to think of other tales similar in scope; tales whose foundations were built on themes of youth, discovery, and a critical examination of our society. The Prince's words serve to highlight the flaws and the unimaginative reality of being an adult in modern society. The universality of this message can be witnessed in J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. They all, in their own way, play with the notion of saudade (to borrow a Portuguese word), bringing into focus the rites of passage we all go through in our ascent, or descent if you're a cynic like me, into adulthood.
As this story gnaws at the facade of the authoritarian and materialistic universe in which the Little Prince resides, the reader is able to witness the self-indulgent nature of the universe surrounding our protagonist. His asteroid is a reminder, to him and to us, of the simple things that matter and of where youthful delights still exist. In turn, when he hastily leaves this simple existence behind after an argument with his love (a rose flower), his search for meaning leaves him with more questions than answers. To comprehend the quantitative nature of the world around him becomes an arduous task. The Prince’s bewilderment with adult society is what we must all grapple with as we grow up. The road taken to achieve our aspirations and gain maturity is littered with the discarded innocence of our youth. Much in the same way as Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience.
Yet, a few years ago in boarding school, I encountered and was subsequently tasked with defending the Prince from friends who challenged the book's overall optimism. They argued, as Goethe wrote that, 'At the end of their lives, all men look back and think their youth was arcadia.' This was apt considering Saint-Exupéry was very ill when he wrote the book. If, like my friends, you read this book and are similarly pessimistic I guide you to the quote at the start of this review. It comes from Chapter XXI of the book, when the Prince befriends a fox. The tale's essence, it's heart, is contained in the parting lines the fox utters to the little Prince, 'Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.' A message we, like the little Prince, can all live by.
P.S: I hear Hollywood is releasing a film of The Little Prince next year, starring James Franco, Rachel McAdams and Jeff Bridges. I really don't know what to think of that cast but similarly I can't wait to see what they do. Wish it wasn't in 3D though.
Note: For those who can't read French and are thinking of getting an English translation, I highly recommend Katherine Woods' translation. A few errors aside, she really hits the poetic flow of the book. Happy reading!