Friday, November 27, 2015

The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince

When I was a little girl, my father gave me the book. For some reason I did not read it. Or read it half-heartedly. It was only later, when I met my husband and raised my son that I discovered the power and beauty of this little book.

I won't tell you the story in too much detail for most of you must surely have already read it. A pilot is forced to land in the middle of the desert and meets what seems to be a little boy.

The little boy is, at first, a little annoying but his tales soon engross the pilot and us.

The little person is from an asteroid and was forced to leave his home where he could watch several sunsets in one day because a rose he cared for was tormenting him. One might take that as a way of expressing the pains of love. Or why not just enjoy it as a charming little nothing.

There are many other things of far greater worth in this book and some of those, for me, are the characters the Little Prince meets as he travels through space.

In Chapter 4, the pilot, who has a great many things to say about grown-ups (more accurately "The big people"), has the following to say

On making his discovery, the astronomer had presented it to the International Astronomical Congress, in a great demonstration. But he was in Turkish costume, and so nobody would believe what he said.

Grown-ups are like that . . .
Fortunately, however, for the reputation of Asteroid B-612, a Turkish dictator made a law that his subjects, under pain of death, should change to European costume. So in 1920 the astronomer gave his demonstration all over again, dressed with impressive style and elegance. And this time everybody accepted his report.

If I have told you these details about the asteroid, and made a note of its number for you, it is on account of the grown-ups and their ways. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you,
"What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?"
 Instead, they demand: 

"How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?" 

Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.
If you were to say to the grown-ups:
"I saw a beautiful house made of rosy brick, with geraniums in the windows and doves on the roof,"
 they would not be able to get any idea of that house at all. You would have to say to them: 
"I saw a house that cost $20,000." 
Then they would exclaim: 
"Oh, what a pretty house that is!"
Well, I have to confess that a great many people are, sadly, exactly like that and that is, perhaps, why I find people who do not seem to want to read this book.

A lady told me her children did not want to read this book. Perhaps our children have also become grown-ups. A tragedy, indeed!

The character in Chapter 10 is my favourite. He is a King.

"Ah! Here is a subject," exclaimed the king, when he saw the little prince coming.

And the little prince asked himself:"How could he recognize me when he had never seen me before?"He did not know how the world is simplified for kings. To them, all men are subjects."Approach, so that I may see you better," said the king, who felt consumingly proud of being at last a king over somebody.The little prince looked everywhere to find a place to sit down; but the entire planet was crammed and obstructed by the king's magnificent ermine robe. So he remained standing upright, and, since he was tired, he yawned."It is contrary to etiquette to yawn in the presence of a king," the monarch said to him. "I forbid you to do so.""I can't help it. I can't stop myself," replied the little prince, thoroughly embarrassed. "I have come on a long journey, and I have had no sleep . . .""Ah, then," the king said. "I order you to yawn. It is years since I have seen anyone yawning. Yawns, to me, are objects of curiosity. Come, now! Yawn again! It is an order.""That frightens me . . . I cannot, any more . . ." murmured the little prince, now completely abashed."Hum! Hum!" replied the king. "Then I--I order you sometimes to yawn and sometimes to--"He sputtered a little, and seemed vexed.For what the king fundamentally insisted upon was that his authority should be respected. He tolerated no disobedience. He was an absolute monarch. But, because he was a very good man, he made his orders reasonable."If I ordered a general," he would say, by way of example, "if I ordered a general to change himself into a sea bird, and if the general did not obey me, that would not be the fault of the general. It would be my fault.""May I sit down?" came now a timid inquiry from the little prince."I order you to do so," the king answered him, and majestically gathered in a fold of his ermine mantle.But the little prince was wondering . . . The planet was tiny. Over what could this king really rule?"Sire," he said to him, "I beg that you will excuse my asking you a question--""I order you to ask me a question," the king hastened to assure him."Sire--over what do you rule?""Over everything," said the king, with magnificent simplicity."Over everything?"The king made a gesture, which took in his planet, the other planets, and all the stars."Over all that?" asked the little prince."Over all that," the king answered.For his rule was not only absolute: it was also universal."And the stars obey you?""Certainly they do," the king said. "They obey instantly. I do not permit insubordination."Such power was a thing for the little prince to marvel at. If he had been master of such complete authority, he would have been able to watch the sunset, not forty-four times in one day, but seventy-two, or even a hundred, or even two hundred times, without ever having to move his chair. And because he felt a bit sad as he remembered his little planet which he had forsaken, he plucked up his courage to ask the king a favor:"I should like to see a sunset . . . Do me that kindness . . . Order the sun to set . . .""If I ordered a general to fly from one flower to another like a butterfly, or to write a tragic drama, or to change himself into a sea bird, and if the general did not carry out the order that he had received, which one of us would be in the wrong?" the king demanded. "The general, or myself?""You," said the little prince firmly."Exactly. One must require from each one the duty which each one can perform," the king went on. "Accepted authority rests first of all on reason. If you ordered your people to go and throw themselves into the sea, they would rise up in revolution. I have the right to require obedience because my orders are reasonable.""Then my sunset?" the little prince reminded him: for he never forgot a question once he had asked it."You shall have your sunset. I shall command it. But, according to my science of government, I shall wait until conditions are favorable.""When will that be?" inquired the little prince."Hum! Hum!" replied the king; and before saying anything else he consulted a bulky almanac. "Hum! Hum! That will be about--about--that will be this evening about twenty minutes to eight. And you will see how well I am obeyed!"The little prince yawned. He was regretting his lost sunset. And then, too, he was already beginning to be a little bored."I have nothing more to do here," he said to the king. "So I shall set out on my way again.""Do not go," said the king, who was very proud of having a subject. "Do not go. I will make you a Minister!""Minister of what?""Minster of--of Justice!""But there is nobody here to judge!""We do not know that," the king said to him. "I have not yet made a complete tour of my kingdom. I am very old. There is no room here for a carriage. And it tires me to walk.""Oh, but I have looked already!" said the little prince, turning around to give one more glance to the other side of the planet. On that side, as on this, there was nobody at all . . ."Then you shall judge yourself," the king answered. "that is the most difficult thing of all. It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then you are indeed a man of true wisdom.""Yes," said the little prince, "but I can judge myself anywhere. I do not need to live on this planet."Hum! Hum!" said the king. "I have good reason to believe that somewhere on my planet there is an old rat. I hear him at night. You can judge this old rat. From time to time you will condemn him to death. Thus his life will depend on your justice. But you will pardon him on each occasion; for he must be treated thriftily. He is the only one we have.""I," replied the little prince, "do not like to condemn anyone to death. And now I think I will go on my way.""No," said the king.But the little prince, having now completed his preparations for departure, had no wish to grieve the old monarch."If Your Majesty wishes to be promptly obeyed," he said, "he should be able to give me a reasonable order. He should be able, for example, to order me to be gone by the end of one minute. It seems to me that conditions are favorable . . ."As the king made no answer, the little prince hesitated a moment. Then, with a sigh, he took his leave."I make you my Ambassador," the king called out, hastily.He had a magnificent air of authority."The grown-ups are very strange," the little prince said to himself, as he continued on his journey.
Chapter 11 has a conceited man and the Prince tires very easily of him and, who would not?

"Ah! Ah! I am about to receive a visit from an admirer!" he exclaimed from afar, when he first saw the little prince coming.
For, to conceited men, all other men are admirers.
"Good morning," said the little prince. "That is a queer hat you are wearing."
"It is a hat for salutes," the conceited man replied. "It is to raise in salute when people acclaim me. Unfortunately, nobody at all ever passes this way."
"Yes?" said the little prince, who did not understand what the conceited man was talking about.
"Clap your hands, one against the other," the conceited man now directed him.
The little prince clapped his hands. The conceited man raised his hat in a modest salute.
"This is more entertaining than the visit to the king," the little prince said to himself. And he began again to clap his hands, one against the other. The conceited man again raised his hat in salute.
After five minutes of this exercise the little prince grew tired of the game's monotony.

An alcoholic inhabits Chapter 12 and as we all know he drinks to drown the sorrow of his drinking habit.

"Why are you drinking?" demanded the little prince.
"So that I may forget," replied the tippler.
"Forget what?" inquired the little prince, who already was sorry for him.
"Forget that I am ashamed," the tippler confessed, hanging his head.
"Ashamed of what?" insisted the little prince, who wanted to help him.
"Ashamed of drinking!" The tippler brought his speech to an end, and shut himself up in an impregnable silence.

A businessman occupies Chapter 13.

"Three and two make five. Five and seven make twelve. Twelve and three make fifteen. Good morning. FIfteen and seven make twenty-two. Twenty-two and six make twenty-eight. I haven't time to light it again. Twenty-six and five make thirty-one. Phew! Then that makes five-hundred-and-one million, six-hundred-twenty-two-thousand, seven-hundred-thirty-one."
"Five hundred million what?" asked the little prince.
"Eh? Are you still there? Five-hundred-and-one million--I can't stop . . . I have so much to do! I am concerned with matters of consequence. I don't amuse myself with balderdash. Two and five make seven . . ."
"Five-hundred-and-one million what?" repeated the little prince, who never in his life had let go of a question once he had asked it.
The businessman raised his head.
"During the fifty-four years that I have inhabited this planet, I have been disturbed only three times. The first time was twenty-two years ago, when some giddy goose fell from goodness knows where. He made the most frightful noise that resounded all over the place, and I made four mistakes in my addition. The second time, eleven years ago, I was disturbed by an attack of rheumatism. I don't get enough exercise. I have no time for loafing. The third time--well, this is it! I was saying, then, five-hundred-and-one millions--"

In Chapter 14 a lamplighter has no time as he has to light the lamps and put them out and who bemoans his bad luck as his planet makes a complete turn every minute and he is very obedient. How very many of us obey the silliest of routines!

A geographer in Chapter 15 is quite cut and dried and reminds me of all too many of our Science fraternity.

"I am a geographer," said the old gentleman.
"What is a geographer?" asked the little prince.
"A geographer is a scholar who knows the location of all the seas, rivers, towns, mountains, and deserts."
"That is very interesting," said the little prince. "Here at last is a man who has a real profession!" And he cast a look around him at the planet of the geographer. It was the most magnificent and stately planet that he had ever seen.
"Your planet is very beautiful," he said. "Has it any oceans?"
"I couldn't tell you," said the geographer.
"Ah!" The little prince was disappointed. "Has it any mountains?"
"I couldn't tell you," said the geographer.
"And towns, and rivers, and deserts?"
"I couldn't tell you that, either."
"But you are a geographer!"
"Exactly," the geographer said. "But I am not an explorer.
Chapter 23 brings us to a railway switch man.
"I sort out travelers, in bundles of a thousand," said the switchman. "I send off the trains that carry them: now to the right, now to the left."
And a brilliantly lighted express train shook the switchman's cabin as it rushed by with a roar like thunder.
"They are in a great hurry," said the little prince. "What are they looking for?"
"Not even the locomotive engineer knows that," said the switchman.
And a second brilliantly lighted express thundered by, in the opposite direction.
"Are they coming back already?" demanded the little prince.
"These are not the same ones," said the switchman. "It is an exchange."
"Were they not satisfied where they were?" asked the little prince.
"No one is ever satisfied where he is," said the switch man.
And they heard the roaring thunder of a third brilliantly lighted express.
"Are they pursuing the first traversable?" demanded the little prince.
"They are pursuing nothing at all," said the switch man. "They are asleep in there, or if they are not asleep they are yawning. Only the children are flattening their noses against the windowpanes."
"Only the children know what they are looking for," said the little prince. "They waste their time over a rag doll and it becomes very important to them; and if anybody takes it away from them, they cry . . ."
"They are lucky," the switch man said.
And, finally, we have a merchant in Chapter 23.
This was a merchant who sold pills that had been invented to quench thirst. You need only swallow one pill a week, and you would feel no need of anything to drink.
"Why are you selling those?" asked the little prince.
"Because they save a tremendous amount of time," said the merchant. "Computations have been made by experts. With these pills, you save fifty-three minutes in every week."
Dear grown-ups, I rest my case as I observe you looking for and bookmarking all your productivity hacks. You must not let a single minute go to waste!

The Little Prince has many more treasures in it than those I have shared here and this is a book you absolutely must own. If you know some French, it would be brilliant to get it in the original for it is a very easy read.

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