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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 by Lerner and Loewe (directed by Stanley Donen) 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. It was also the favourite book of Hollywood icon James Dean, and he was particularly enamored with the Fox's chapter.

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.
  • 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!"
  • Affably Evil: The snake, for an interpretative value of "evil," is extremely polite to the Prince. This is also emphasized in the 1974 movie where he's played by a very soft-spoken, relaxed Bob Fosse who calls the Prince a "smart, sensible sort" in the sort of tone that suggests he means it; he happily encourages the Prince to just leave the miserable planet he's found himself on before deciding he'll bite the Prince, and he convinces the Prince to submit to him via elaborate musical number. A huge point of both book and movie is that the Prince lets the Snake bite him out of his own volition; this is a huge reason why.
  • Alone in a Crowd: When the prince meets the snake in the desert and wonders where the people are, saying that it's lonely in the desert, the snake replies that it is also lonely when you're among people.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song:
  • Artistic License – Space: Perhaps a bit, um, petty to bring it up, but still...
    • The Little Prince being able to travel across space without specific device to provide him oxygen while protecting him against cosmic rays.
    • There's no mention of atmosphere on non-Earth planets.
  • Author Avatar:
    • 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.
    • The Little Prince himself bears some resemblance to the author as a child.
  • Baby Planet: May be the Trope Codifier.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Aviator is able to fix his plane and return home, but the Prince allows the Snake to bite him so he can return home to the asteroid, leaving the Aviator devastated. The Aviator is uncertain whether the Prince died or somehow did go home, since he Never Found the Body, but is hopeful that this means he's still alive somewhere. The story ends with an absolutely devastating plea from the Aviator, begging the reader to let him know if the Prince ever comes back.
  • Book Smart: Zigzaged with the Geographer. His reasoning is as absurd as those of the other adults that the Little Prince has previously visited, and his fetishization of knowledge in geographical books leads him to consider reading them to be more serious than visiting the places they describe. But he is also the only adult who gives useful advice to the Little Prince, suggesting he visit the Earth for its large size and good reputation. This is information the Geographer knows thanks to his research for writing his own geographical book.
  • 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.
    • The Prince meets a businessman who claims to own the stars. What good does that do him? It makes him rich. What good does that do him? It allows him to buy more stars, if any are discovered.
      "This man," the little prince said to himself, "reasons a little like my poor tippler…"
  • Comically Small Demand: The Prince meets a king, who has total command and authority, but only gives reasonable orders; many of them 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.
  • Cryptic Conversation: The conversation with the snake. It starts out straightforward, but as it goes on, the snake starts speaking more cryptically, dressing up words in poetic metaphor. The prince describes it as speaking in riddles.
    The little prince gazed at him for a long time.
    "You are a funny animal," he said at last. "You are no thicker than a finger..."
    "But I am more powerful than the finger of a king," said the snake.
    The little prince smiled.
    "You are not very powerful. You haven't even any feet. You cannot even travel..."
    "I can carry you farther than any ship could take you," said the snake.
    He twined himself around the little prince's ankle, like a golden bracelet.
    "Whomever I touch, I send back to the earth from whence he came," the snake spoke again. "But you are innocent and true, and you come from a star..."
    The little prince made no reply.
    "You move me to pity—you are so weak on this Earth made of granite," the snake said. "I can help you, some day, if you grow too homesick for your own planet. I can—"
    "Oh! I understand you very well," said the little prince. "But why do you always speak in riddles?"
    "I solve them all," said the snake.
    And they were both silent.
  • Cunning Like a Fox: Averted. Strangely, although the fox is very worldly-wise, it isn't cunning or even particularly self-interested.
  • Deadly Euphemism: The snake describes the deadliness of its bite with metaphors.
    "I can carry you farther than any ship could take you."
    "Whomever I touch, I send back to the earth from whence he came."
  • 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".
  • Dimension Lord: Both the King and the businessman consider themselves to be rulers of the universe. Though neither can enforce their rule because they never leave their baby planets.
  • 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.
  • Friendly Enemies: The Fox towards the hunters that chase him. He views it as simply part of life, and treats the day they don't hunt and go dancing with village girls as a holiday.
  • Food Pills: The Prince meets a shopkeeper selling pills that make it so you don't have to drink.
  • 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.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: It's impossible to really know the prince's age, but he's clearly a little boy. He and the adult aviator quickly become very close.
  • It's All About Me: As the narrator states, the Conceited Man believes other people only exist to admire him.
  • 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.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: When the pilot curtly tries to shut the Little Prince's questions about why roses have thorns if sheep will eat them anyway, the Little Prince gets really angry, goes into a tirade about why such a question is so important and finally breaks down in tears. The pilot immediately gets overriden by guilt and tries to find a way to console the kid, saying that at that point it was the only thing that mattered to him.
  • Nameless Narrative: None of the characters in the story have names, including the Narrator,note  the rose, the fox and the title character.
  • Never Found the Body: The Aviator takes some time to collect himself after seeing the Prince get bitten by the snake and fall to the ground. When he goes to retrieve the body, however, it's gone. This gives him some hope that maybe, somehow, the Prince is still alive somewhere.
  • Numbered Homeworld: Asteroid B-612 note . The planets the prince visits are all numbered, as well.
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: The conceited man wants to be admired. He explains to the Prince what 'admire' means, and the Prince points out that he has no competition.
    "To admire means that you regard me as the handsomest, the best-dressed, the richest, and the most intelligent man on this planet."
    "But you are the only man on your planet!"
  • Planet Baron: As the only person on his little planet, the Prince is the de facto ruler. Many of the characters he meets also qualify.
  • 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.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The King, who has total authority and tolerates no insubordination, but only gives reasonable orders, so that he is always obeyed. He even admit his subjects would have a right to revolution had he given them suicidal orders such as throwing themselves in the sea, something which is very rare, both in reality and in fiction.
    King: If I ordered a general to turn himself into a sea bird, and the general disobeyed, that would not be the general's fault. That would be my fault.
  • Small, Secluded World: Most of the places he visits are tiny planets with only a single inhabitant, played for symbolism.
  • The Smurfette Principle: The rose is the only female character in the story. The Little Prince travels through multiple planets but finds only males on them.
  • 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?"
  • Stay with Me Until I Die: Inverted. The Prince doesn't want the Aviator to be there when he dies as he knows it'll hurt him, but the Aviator refuses to let him go alone, and accompanies him until the very end.
  • 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.
  • That's an Order!: Subverted. The Little Prince meets a king who reigns over everything, tolerates no insubordination, but only gives reasonable orders.
    (The Little Prince yawns as he arrives)
    King: It is a breach of etiquette to yawn in a king's presence. I forbid you to do so.
    Little Prince: I can't help it, I'm tired.
    King: Then yawn again, I haven't seen anybody yawn for years. It is an order.
    Little Prince: But I can't do it now. May I sit down?
    King: I order you to sit down.
    Little Prince: May I ask you a question?
    King: I order you to ask me a question.
  • 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.
  • Uncertain Doom: At the end of the book, the Aviator realizes he forgot to add a leather strap to the muzzle he draw for the little prince's sheep, and keeps wondering if that sheep ate or not the rose.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: It seems to be inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry crashing his plane in the Sahara.
  • 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.
  • Watching the Sunset: The Prince enjoys watching the Sun setting on his asteroid especially when he's sad.
  • 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.
  • Wise Serpent: The snake displays worldly knowledge and wisdom despite living in the middle of the desert, and speaks poetically and cryptically.
  • Your Size May Vary: The narrator admits that the Prince's size is inconsistent as he can't draw very well.