Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Little Prince: The Official Haiku Review

I was going to try to read my list of foreign-language classics in chronological order (it seemed to make as much sense as anything else), but my fellow library patrons wouldn't cooperate. So after finishing the dense, poetic Inferno of Dante, I turned to this short little children's novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. I've seen it on bookstore shelves all my life, and with more than 80 million copies in print, it's likely the most famous foreign-language work for children ever published. (If there's another candidate, by all means let me know.) So by reading this 1943 work, I'm getting two birds with one stone, so to speak. (Or at least crossing it off a future Remedial Children's Lit Project list.) In any case, here's the review:

Time spent with others
Tames your heart. Awwwwwwww, that prince is
Too twee* to stay here.

Obviously, many many people are fond of this book, in which the narrator tells of being forced to land his airplane in the desert and then meeting the Little Prince there. The LP, being from another planet (really, an asteroid), tells the narrator of his travels and what he has learned. His lessons mainly have to do with learning to see with the heart, and finding value in things and people you love. There is a single rose on his asteroid, and many on earth, but he realizes "it is the time you have spent with your rose that makes your rose so important." Having imparted his wisdom to the narrator, he leaves, telling his friend not to be sad, "because there is nothing sad about old shells."

Sweet sentiments, yes. But by the time I'd finished the book (and it didn't take long, it is very brief), I was ready to gag on the sweetness. Maybe that's being a bit imprecise; I'll try to explain it better. The first thing I found irritating was the continual references to how grownups don't get it, you can't explain things to grownups, they're beyond help, blah blah blah. I don't think it's because I myself am now a grownup who just doesn't understand things; I've read other books that state this sentiment without getting annoyed. But in those cases, the little asides about how children understand the world better than grownups felt like a secret the author was sharing with me. In this book, after about the fifth or sixth reference, it no longer felt like a secret; it felt more like pandering, or like that really eccentric teacher who thinks she's "with it" but the kids all think she's weird. (In other words, more like how Boy sees me at this point: over-the-hill and uncognizant of the fact. Twerp. But I digress.)

The other thing that I found irritating about the book wasn't the sweet theme itself; the story of the fox about how being tamed involves two creatures changing, that was sweet. Having it repeated about ten times with the subtlety of a sledgehammer? Not so much. For a short book, it didn't take long for me to feel like the author was really saying: "Hey! [WHACK!] Appreciate your friends! [WHACK!] Do I have your attention? [WHACK!] Friends are special! [WHACK!] Treasure your experiences! [WHACK!] Are you sure you're paying attention? [WHACK! WHACK!] Love is what it's all about!"

So maybe I'm just a cynical old grownup who sees a hat instead of a snake eating an elephant ... but I think that had I read this at age nine, I would have been a cynical young reader who wanted more story, less moral. C'est la vie, no?

*twee=a Britishism meaning "affectedly or excessively [ie annoyingly] cute"


  1. Hmm. Haven't read it since tenth grade French. I liked it then, but may not revisit, given your review. Also, it is possible the message failed tohit me over the head because I only understood 1/2 the words.

  2. Well, it's possible if I'd read it in French I would have liked it better, because I would only have understood one word in ten and instead would have focused on the pictures, which are kind of cute.