A Digression: The Little Prince

A Digression: The Little Prince April 24, 2015

I’ve got a list of favorite books. F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men. Charles Dickens’ Bleak House.

But if I had to name just one book—my favorite book—it might be Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s haunting The Little Prince. It is a simple, beautiful and profound story, as gauzy and sometimes as perplexing as a dream. I don’t think any movie can ever fully capture the charm of the book, but this trailer gives me hope that it might come close.

Most people discover the book as a child. I found it in high school. The heart of the story opens with the narrator’s plane crashing in the middle of the Sahara Desert, far away from civilization or, for that matter, help. Improbably, he meets a little boy who promptly asks him to draw him a picture of a sheep. The narrator does, and over the course of eight days, the prince recounts his life: His tiny home asteroid, scarcely as big as a house, and its three volcanoes (one extinct); his ongoing effort to keep the asteroid free of baobab trees; his love of a beautiful, vain rose. He tells of his travels, visiting asteroid-bound kings and businessmen, narcissists and drunkards, before finally arriving on earth.

It’s poetic and philosophical, a book where reality and imagine twine together. And for me, it expresses one of my deepest felt-truths: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

I love that. It speaks to the power of story—how it can dig in our souls and express elements of the human experience that transcend the empirical. It speaks to the beautiful secrets all around us. It speaks to love and sorrow and longing and faith.

April is traditionally a fallow time for movies—a lull between the winter’s cavalcade of award-bait flicks and before the summer blockbusters start rolling out. This weekend, I think I might settle in and re-read The Little Prince. As cool and as effective as movies can be in telling a story, there’s still something special about a string of words and some simple, hand-drawn pictures on a printed page.

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