The Little Prince (French: Le Petit Prince) is a children's novella of twenty-seven chapters written and illustrated by the French author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry It was written during the Second World War, whilst Saint-Exupéry was living in the United States, and was first published in 1943. The book has been translated into 250 different languages and dialects and has sold more than 80 million copies.
Although it is a children's story, The Little Prince has enough depth to be interesting for adults too. A major theme in the story is that adults are foolish and fail to understand what is important. This theme begins in the dedication to Saint-Exupéry's friend Leon Werth. Saint-Exupéry apolgizes to his child readers for dedicating the book to an adult, offering excuses including "he can understand everything, even children's books" before finally changing the dedication to read, "To Leon Werth when he was a little boy."
The narrator's introduction
The story begins with the narrator saying that as a child he read a book about jungles from which he learnt about boa constrictors. The book inspired him to draw his first picture, which showed a boa constrictor that had swallowed an elephant. However, all the adults that he showed it to thought it was a picture of a hat. The narrator drew a second picture showing a cross-section of a boa constrictor with an elephant inside it. All of the adults that he showed it to told him to give up drawing. He did, grew up and, like Antoine de Saint-Exupery himself, grew up to be a pilot.
Many years later the narrator's plane crashes in the Sahara desert. One day he is approached by a child, the little prince, who says to him, "Please, draw me a sheep." The narrator says that he can only draw one thing and draws the picture that all adults had mistaken for a hat. The little prince immediately recognizes it as an elephant swallowed by a boa constrictor, and insists on getting a picture of a sheep. The narrator draws several sheep that the little prince is not happy with. Eventually he draws a box with air-holes and says, "The sheep you want is inside". The little prince is delighted with the picture.
The narrator discovers that the little prince is from another planet, a very small planet of which he is the only human inhabitant. The narrator believes that the little prince comes from Asteroid B-612. The little prince's home planet is about the size of a house and has three small volcanoes, one of them active. The little prince spends most of his time uprooting baobab trees, which would quickly take over the planet if he did not get rid of them. One day the little prince finds that a flower has grown on his planet. He falls in love with the flower but the vain flower does not return his love.
The little prince decides to leave his small planet to see the rest of the universe. The narrator believes that he uses migrating birds to fly to different planets.
The little prince's journey to Earth
Before arriving on Earth the little prince visits six small planets each one inhabited by only one man. The people that the little prince encounters are:
- The King who says that he reigns over all of the stars, although he is unable to command them to do anything. He has no human subjects, the only other inhabitant of his planet being an old rat.
- The Conceited Man who wishes for admirers and will not listen to anything which is not a compliment.
- The Drunkard who drinks to forget, wants to forget that he is ashamed and is ashamed because he drinks.
- The Businessman who claims that he owns all of the stars, saying that kings do not own anything, they only reign.
- The Lamplighter his planet revolves very quickly meaning that it quickly changes from night to day and back again. Consequently, the lamplighter is constantly lighting and extinguishing the lamp.
- The Geographer whose planet is larger than those of the other five. The little prince asks him if the planet has rivers or mountains. The Geographer says that he does not know because he is not an explorer. He refuses to leave his desk and explore but says that he would distrust what any explorer told him. The little prince says that his planet has three volcanoes and a flower. He is told that geographers do not consider flowers to be a feature of a planet because they do not last forever. The little prince is shocked to learn that his flower will die.
The little prince on Earth
Arriving on Earth, the first creature that the little prince encounters is a snake. The snake tells the little prince that he could send him back to his home planet. He says that when he bites people they usually return to the dust from which they came but the prince from another world would return there.
The little prince comes across some rosebushes and is dismayed to find out that the flower on his planet is not unique but is in fact very common.
The first friend that the little prince makes on Earth is a fox. However, befriending him is a slow process because the fox says that he is wild and needs to be domesticated before he can become a boy's companion.
The prince eventually learns that the Earth has human inhabitants too but finds them foolish.
In the final chapter, the little prince allows the snake to bite him. He tells the narrator that he will not die, he will just be unable to take his heavy body back to his home world with him. However, when the narrator looks for the little prince's body the next day he can not find it.
Whether the little prince dies or returns to his home world remains ambiguous. The story ends with the narrator pleading to readers to tell him when the little prince returns to Earth.
The British actor Richard Burton recorded a Grammy award-winning audio version of The Little Prince in 1974. The Little Prince provided the inspiration for a three part symphony by the Russian composer Lev Knipper, written between 1962 and 1971. A French language stage musical of The Little Prince by Ricardo Cocciante premiered in 2002.
A British-American film musical of The Little Prince was released in 1974. The film was directed by Stanley Donen with music by Frederick Loewe and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner.
A Japanese anime based on the story The Adventures of the Little Prince (Japanese: Hoshi no Ojisama Puchi Puransu, "Prince of the Stars, Petit Prince") was shown on TV Asahi between July 1978 and March 1979. Thirty-nine episodes were made but only thirty-four were shown. The series was later re-edited and dubbed into English, twenty-six episodes were shown on Nickelodeon in 1985.
An English-language French film adaptation of The Little Prince, which combines stop-motion animation and computer generated animation, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 22, 2015. It was released on Netflix in the United States on August 5, 2016. The film features the voices of Riley Osborne as the Little Prince, Jeff Bridges as the Aviator, Marion Cotillard as the Rose, Benicio del Toro as the Snake and James Franco as the Fox.
- Full illustrated texts of The Little Prince in French and English on Wikilivres. The site is hosted in New Zealand where the book is in the public domain. It is still under copyright in the United States and many other countries.
- Official websites in French and English.
- Quotations from The Little Prince in French and English on Wikiquote.
- The Little Prince on the SparkNotes website.
- The Little Prince (2015) on Moviepedia.