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Literature / The Little Prince

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Once upon a time there was a little prince who lived on a planet that was scarcely bigger than himself, and who had need of a sheep.

"Please, draw me a sheep."

A worldwide literary classic (it's been translated into 190 languages), The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince in French) is a 1943 children's book written and illustrated by French aviator and count Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It is the fictional account of a French aviator whose plane crashes in the Sahara desert, a thousand miles from civilization. While trying to fix his plane and expecting to die of thirst within days, he is approached by a young boy who requests that he draw him a sheep. The rest of the story is mostly about the boy (thereafter referred to as the little prince) relating to the narrator his life on an asteroid and his travels from planet to planet in search of the meaning of life. While the Prince talks, the narrator continues to work on his plane.

While the book was written for children, the philosophical content appeals to any adult reader, as during the prince's adventures he encounters analogues of many of the traits of modern humanity, and learns about love and friendship from the plants and animals he meets.


Adaptations have mostly been for the stage, but there's also a 1974 movie musical and a 1979 Claymation short. It also inspired an anime, a 2010 CGI cartoon airing on French TV, and a full-length animated movie in 2015.

Not in any way a Spear Counterpart to A Little Princess, or Tony Ross' Little Princess books for that matter.

Le Petit Prince provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: The story begins with the narrator telling us a story of his first attempts at drawing — and why he immediately gave up on it, as a big establishing metaphor on how adults lose their creative minds and imagination when they grow up, instead always wanting and expecting to be "reasonable and mature", but actually just being self-absorbed to the point of complete ridiculousness.
    • Spending time with the little prince, the narrator realizes that he himself has lost his imagination and childlike joy just as well.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The theme song for the Japanese release of the film is titled "Kidzukazu Sugita Hatsukoi" by Yumi Matsutoya.
    • The 1970s TV anime adaptation also got a different theme song when it was dubbed into English and shown during the '80s on Nickelodeon.
  • An Aesop:
    • The Fox is almost a walking aesop.
    “It is only with one’s heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
    “One runs the risk of weeping a little if one allows himself to be tamed.”
    “You become responsible forever for what you've tamed.”
    • The Narrator gives one at the end.
    " Here, then, is a great mystery. For you who also love the little prince, and for me, nothing in the universe can be the same if somewhere, we do not know where, a sheep that we never saw has—yes or no?—eaten a rose...And no grown-up will ever understand that this is a matter of so much importance!"
  • Artistic License – Astronomy: Perhaps a bit, um, petty to bring it up, but still...
  • Author Avatar:
    • The Narrator who meets the Little Prince.
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    • The Little Prince himself bears some resemblance to the author as a child.
  • Baby Planet: May be the Trope Codifier.
  • Bittersweet Ending: And how. One of the most in all of children's literature.
  • A Boy and His X: First a Boy and his Rose, later a Boy and his Fox. And don't forget the sheep!
  • Canon Illustrations: Notably the sheep, the author's "drawing number 1" and "2", and the desert landscape in the epilogue.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: Not that he has a lot of subjects...
  • Children Are Innocent: The Prince sees his love for his Rose as the only truly serious matter in his situation. This forces the Narrator to change his perspective.
  • Circular Reasoning: The Prince meets a man with a drinking problem. Why does he drink? To forget. To forget what? His shame. What is he ashamed of? His drinking problem.
  • Comically Small Demand: The Prince meets a king, who has total command and authority, but only gives reasonable orders; many of which are in response to things the Prince says or does.
    King: It is a breach of etiquette to yawn in a king's presence. I forbid you to do it.
    Little Prince: I can't help it, I'm tired.
    King: Then yawn! I have not seen anyone yawn for years. Go on, it is an order.
    Little Prince: May I sit down?
    King: I order you to sit down.
  • Constantly Curious: The Prince is travelling partly to learn more about the world, and naturally he asks questions everywhere he goes.
  • Cunning Like a Fox: Averted. Strangely, although the fox is very worldly-wise, it isn't cunning or even particularly self-interested.
  • Dedication: The book is dedicated to Saint-Exupéry's friend, Léon Werth. The author then apologizes to his child readers for dedicating the book to a grownup and changes it to "Léon Werth - When he was a little boy".
  • Drowning My Sorrows: One planet the Prince visits is inhabited by a Tippler caught in a vicious cycle; he claims he drinks to forget that he's ashamed of his drinking habit.
  • Growing Up Sucks: "The grown-ups are certainly very odd..."
  • Have a Gay Old Time: In Katherine Woods' translation: "What a queer planet!"
  • Historical In-Joke: A reference is made to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his Westernization policies at one point.
  • Honorary Princess: The little prince apparently does not have parents, and as far as we know he may be self-proclaimed. He is, along with a rose, the only inhabitant of his Baby Planet, so it is justified that he is the de facto ruler.
  • Human Aliens: The prince himself hails from a far-away asteroid in the space, but looks otherwise fully human.
  • Love Hurts: Explored. Love makes a flower, a fox, a person — special. But it still hurts, and losing them hurts even more. You are forever responsible for what you've tamed.
  • Ludicrous Precision: Before the invention of electricity, Earth is said to have had 462,511 lamplighters. Lampshaded in that the narrator admits that he made that number up because grown-ups only pay attention to numbers.
  • Moonwalk Dance: The 1974 film version featured Bob Fosse as a snake doing a dance that is also considered a precursor to the Moonwalk. It helps that he is sporting an all black jacket, pants, and hat combo with a white shirt, much like MJ's later signature style.
  • Nameless Narrative: None of the characters in the story have names, including the Narrator,note  the rose, the fox and the title character.
  • Names to Know in Anime: The 1978 TV anime on TV Asahi featured character designs by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, who would shortly become much better known for Mobile Suit Gundam, as well as Eiji Tanaka, who had worked on Speed Racer.
  • Numbered Homeworld: Asteroid B-612. The planets the prince visits are all numbered, as well.
  • Planet of Hats:
    • In fact, every planet the Prince visits is inhabited by a single person (except for Earth).
    • The Geographer's planet is larger than the previous ones, but not much of it is seen, so we never learn if he is the only inhabitant. The King's planet may or may not have a rat on it.
  • Playing Pictionary: The narrator once drew a picture of a snake that had swallowed an elephant. All the adults told him it was a very nice hat. Makes sense if you look at the picture; the only indication that this is a snake is a tiny eye at one end of what otherwise looks like a fedora.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The book can be also seen as a stealth autobiography. It's based on the time Saint-Exupéry was stuck in the desert for months. See his other novel Wind Sand and Stars.
  • Small, Secluded World: Most of the places he visits, played for symbolism.
  • Snakes Are Sinister: Played with. The Snake is seen as evil by the narrator, but not by the Little Prince: "You have good poison? You are sure that it will not make me suffer too long?"
  • Stepford Smiler: The Little Prince loves watching sunsets. Back on his home planet, he would walk around the asteroid with a little chair and sit down and watch as many sunsets as he could.
    "One day," you said to me, "I saw the sunset forty-four times!"
    And a little later you added:
    "You know — one loves the sunset, when one is so sad..."
    "Were you so sad, then?" I asked, "on the day of the forty-four sunsets?"
    But the little prince made no reply.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: The Prince has a precocious kind of innocence but simultaneously seems wiser than his years. Needless to say, he can't stay.
  • The Tragic Rose: Of course, if a single mysterious flower shows up on a remote asteroid far from Earth, it has to be a rose, the very symbol of beauty. The moment the prince learns that the rose is ephemeral is the moment he realizes how precious she is.
  • Tsundere: The Rose is arrogant, boasting, and orders the Prince to tend to her every need, all while pretending she doesn't need him, when in fact, she is completely dependent on him—a fact she can only acknowledge when he is about to leave her. She's even more so in the animated series, where she can be outright mean to him.
  • Walking the Earth: More like traveling through the stars, but the Prince spends a fair amount of his time exploring Earth, all while slowly coming full-circle to the place where he first landed.
  • When Trees Attack: Although not strictly attacking, the baobab trees grow very quickly, and are in danger of engulfing an entire planet if the shoots are not dug up promptly.
  • The Wise Prince: This is an interesting case of this, since the only person under his command is a flower, and while he knows a lot about life in the sky, he's rather inexperienced outside of his kingdom. He does hit the melancholy, kind, honourable, and well-intentioned markers face first, and his inexperience is minimal compared to the various adults.


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