Nominated this year for a Best Novella within the 1944 Retrospective Hugo Awards category, The Little Prince is a slight, yet powerfully thought-provoking work. Originally published by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1943, who filled each page of his story with charming watercolor illustrations, it tells the story of a pilot who has crash-landed in the Sahara Desert with “only enough drinking water for eight days” and who, upon his very first night, is visited by an extraordinary child who asks for a drawing of a sheep.
As the pilot says, “In the face of an overpowering mystery, you don’t dare disobey,” and after many failed attempts he manages to come up with a drawing which pleases the child, whom he calls “the little prince.” As they come to know one another, the pilot learns about the little prince’s home planet and the other places he visited before coming to Earth, each of which have their own inhabitants and peculiarities; through the prince’s recounting of his long journey, the pilot comes to critical understandings of himself and the deepest mysteries of the known and unknown universe. But the pilot has not seen his dear friend in six years, and the absence of his companion has left the pilot with a deep, inconsolable sadness. How and why they became separated forms the novella’s painfully beautiful conclusion, and in an unexpectedly sad twist, presages the end of Saint-Exupéry’s own life: while flying a reconnaissance mission in 1944, he was shot down by German pilots over the Mediterranean Sea and was never seen again.
One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.
Despite the sometimes heavy subject matter, Saint-Exupéry wrote for a young audience — he makes repeated references to the follies and foibles of grown-ups, who (for example) refused to take a Turkish astronomer seriously until he wore European clothes, or who care more about how wealthy a new friend’s father might be than what the new friend’s laugh sounds like. Through the gently-told story of the prince’s journey, we see the characteristics Saint-Exupéry wanted to encourage in his readers: kindness, generosity, patience, creativity, and love. The pilot’s life is forever changed by his eight days spent traveling through the Sahara with the little prince, and in turn, Saint-Exupéry changed lives around the world with his deceptively simple story. According to the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation, The Little Prince has been translated into 300 languages around the world, making it one of the most-translated works ever published. I highly recommend Richard Howard’s 2000 English-language translation, which has a lovely flow and is suffused with both joy and sorrow.
Endlessly quotable, accessible to any age group, and relevant to any philosophy, The Little Prince is the easiest possible book to recommend. Simply put, if you’re a human being, I think you’ll find something to connect with and something to learn from the pilot and his dear little friend.