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Essential Petit Prince now invisible to the eye

I had been searching for a certain tiny shop at 6, rue d’Echaude in the Latin Quarter for weeks. The shop features items from the not-just-for-children’s book Le Petit Prince. Sadly, the shop has changed idols. Number 6 is now “Pixi & Cie,” featuring books, cards, and dolls of the Belgian comic character Tin Tin. On my recent visit, I bought some Tin Tin items plus a little two-inch-tall Petit Prince doll (below) from a forlorn bin. With no Parisian shop left to honor him, what is essential is now invisible to the eye.


The Little Prince is the title character from author-aviator Antoine de Saint Exupery’s 1943 book, Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince). Though Saint Exupery wrote other books, Le Petit Prince brought him worldwide fame. My mother used to recite from the book which she had learned in her schoolgirl days in Cleveland.

Born in 1900 in Lyon, France, Antoine Jean-Baptiste Marie Roger de Saint Exupéry (shown below) started training as a pilot in 1921 and pioneered international postal flights. He published his first story, L’Aviateur, in 1926.

All of his works were inspired by his experiences as a pilot. Le Petit Prince was no exception. An illustrated story about a pilot stranded in the desert who meets a young prince from a tiny asteroid, The Little Prince includes criticisms of society and the follies of the adult world.

As fascism closed in on Europe, Saint Exupery’s idealistic faith in progress and extravagant spirit was expressed in his 1939 memoir, Terre des Hommes (also known as Wind, Sand, and Stars). The book was as popular in Germany as it was in France and the United States. In it, Saint Exupery detailed his own 1935 experience of an airplane crash and rescue in the Sahara.

“Saint Ex”and his navigator André Prévot crashed their plane in the Wadi Natrum in the Libyan Sahara. They were attempting to fly from Paris to Saigon in record time. Both survived the crash, but they faced rapid dehydration with only a few grapes, an orange, and some wine between them. On the fourth day, a passing Bedouin on a camel discovered them and administered the native dehydration treatment that saved their lives. During that experience, Saint Exupéry encountered a fennec (a small desert sand fox, shown below), which became the inspiration for the fox character in Le Petit Prince.

This real-life crash story was behind the tale of a young interplanetary traveller who cannot forget the beloved rose he left behind on his asteroid. Le Petit Prince has been translated into 100 languages. The line drawings in the book are also the work of Saint Ex. 

In addition to Terre des Hommes and Le Petit Prince, Saint Exupery’s other works are L’Aviateur, 1926 (The Aviator); Courrier Sud, 1929 (Southern Mail); Vol de Nuit, 1931 (Night Flight); Pilote de Guerre, 1942 (Flight to Arras); Lettre à un Otage, 1943 (Letter to a Hostage); and Citadelle, 1948 (The Wisdom of the Sands), published four years after Saint Ex’s disappearance. Many an old pilot recites lines from Saint Exupery’s works.

In 1940, Saint Ex left German-occupied France for the United States, where he lived in Asharoken (Long Island), New York, with his second wife and his children. While there, he wrote and oversaw the publication of Le Petit Prince just before joining the Free French in Algiers in 1943. Taking off in a Lockheed Lightnight P38 from Corsica on a solo flight in 1944 to collect data on  German troop movements, he was never heard from again. The search for his plane became, in one reporter’s words, “France’s holy grail.”

Saint Ex had not supported Charles de Gaulle, and de Gaulle intimated that Saint Ex was a traitor. Corsican locals reported that Saint Ex had been drinking heavily and hinting at suicide just before his disappearance. Some were not surprised that he did not return to his villa at Erbalunga.

In 1998, 54 years after Saint Exuperay’s last flight, a fisherman found a silver chain bracelet in the ocean to the east of Riou island, south of Marseille. The bracelet, engraved with Saint Exupery’s wife’s name Consuelo and that of his publishers, Reynal & Hitchcock, was found in a fisherman’s net hooked to a piece of fabric from a pilot’s suit.

In the seabed off the coast of Marseille in 2000, diver Luc Vanrell found hundreds of pieces of a crashed reconnaisance aircraft. The plane was brought up from the sea floor in October 2003. A year later, investigators from the French Underwater Archaeological Department confirmed that the plane was Saint Ex’s. The wreckage did not show any traces of shooting or aerial combat, leading to the informed assumption that the crash was caused by a technical failure in the engines or the oxygen supply, or possibly that he committed suicide.

There have been several screen adaptations of The Little Prince. Stanley Donen directed Gene Wilder, Richard Kiley, Bob Fosse, and Steven Warner in the 1974 film (image is below left) of Saint-Exupery’s book with music by Lerner and Lowe. There is also a 1983 animated version divided into adventure episodes, 10-1/2 hours altogether (image below right). A 2004 DVD and CD release of the The Little Prince musical features an operative score by Oscar-winning composer (for Emma) Rachel Portman.

The Little Prince DVD: Standard Edition     Adventures of the Little Prince: The Complete Animated Series Box Set DVD: Standard Edition    

It is indeed the desert fox who utters the most-quoted line of the book: “On ne voit bien qu’avec le cÅ“ur, l’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

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