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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry dedicated The Little Prince to Léon Werth, a Jewish, leftist, writer friend in hiding in France during WWII.  "I ask children who may read this book to forgive me for dedicating it to a grown-up," writes Saint-Exupéry.  "I have a[n] . . . excuse," he continues.  "This grown-up lives in France, where he is cold and hungry.  He needs a lot of consoling."

Why The Little Prince would console anyone is an interesting question.  It's a book about loneliness, exile and homelessness.  The book is filled with unanswerable questions: why did the Little Prince leave the flower and his home planet?  Why did the Little Prince ask for a drawing of a sheep, when what he needed was an actual sheep?  Why did he need -- want -- to die?  And, although on a strictly rational level, the story isn't fleshed out enough for full comprehension, on a visceral level the book's clarity is searing: the story pulsates with loneliness.

Reading The Little Prince -- for the first time, three days ago -- I ached.  I didn't feel lonely reading it, but rather I remembered my own lonely childhood.  My empathy for the Little Prince was the vehicle through which I could empathize with my own past self without shame, condemnation or the reflexive defensiveness that normally allows me to think of that time with a cold impassiveness.  I wondered why no one had given me the book to read when I'd been a child.

Why would I have wanted to have read it as a child?  Because it would've consoled me.  As counter-intuitive as it might seem, a book that pulsates loneliness is balm to the lonely.  You aren't alone, The Little Prince says to a child.  You aren't as lonely and helpless as you were when you were a child, The Little Prince says to the political subversive in hiding underground.

But the consolations of The Little Prince go deeper than its message.  The book itself is like a ritual of, if not resurrection of the dead, at least restoration of the missing.  Everyone involved in The Little Prince misses someone: the pilot misses the Little Prince, the Little Prince misses the flower, Saint-Exupéry in exile in America misses Werth in hiding in France. 

For Saint-Exupéry, the remedy for this pain of separation was writing.  He wrote to Werth -- not just The Little Prince, but also the elegiac Letter to a Hostage.  Saint-Exupéry's characters also write.  The pilot, of course, "writes" The Little Prince and urges child readers to write in turn.  The last line of the book is "write quickly and tell me that has returned . . ." 

Writing, for Saint-Exupéry, is not merely psychologically soothing, but a means of working a physical return of the lost -- that greatest consolation of all.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the The Little Prince category.

Winter's Tales is the next category.



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