Books / Culture / Illustration

The Little Prince, 70 Years Later

By: Mariko Turk

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (1943) is well-beloved, and for some very good reasons: its dreamy illustrations, charmingly posed philosophical quandaries, and poignant conversations about earthly adult life between a lost pilot and a mysterious little prince who has fallen to Earth from a small asteroid.  To name just a few.

One of my favorite of the pilot’s laments about “grown-ups and their ways” is that, when you tell grown-ups you have met a new friend, they ask boring questions like: “‘How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?” When really, they should be focusing their attention on “essential matters,” such as: “‘What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?”

Clearly!

Despite the pilot’s assessment of grown-ups’ limitations, however, generations of them have been captivated by his story, as is proven by the fact that The Little Prince continues to circulate in our earthly atmosphere in all kinds of weird and wonderful ways.

Here are a few examples of how the Little Prince will be inhabiting our planet in 2014.

The Morgan Library and Museum’s “The Little Prince: A New York Story”

A new exhibit at The Morgan Library and Museum highlights The Little Prince‘s New York City connections.  Saint-Exupéry was born in Lyon, France, went to school in Switzerland, and, as a military pilot and postal pilot, flew over many parts of the world.  But after the 1940 German invasion of France, and the subsequent establishment of the French Vichy Regime, which officially collaborated with the Nazis, Saint-Exupéry exiled himself to North America.  He ended up in New York City, where he wrote and published The Little Prince.

The exhibit, “The Little Prince: A New York Story,” explores how New York City influenced the origins of the now-famous little prince, featuring manuscript pages, photographs, letters, and the earliest versions of the illustrations for The Little Prince. Read the New York Times’ thoughtful review of the exhibit here.

Also, the Morgan has lined up some fascinating gallery talks, concerts, discussions, films, and lectures about The Little Prince to coincide with the exhibit.  These include a lecture by Adam Gopnik, which will explore how Saint-Exupéry’s “haunting children’s masterpiece can be seen as an idiosyncratic piece of war literature,” a concert featuring excerpts from a newly commissioned opera version of The Little Prince that will premiere later this year at Opera de Lausanne, and a discussion with author Peter Sís, who will talk about his forthcoming book about Saint-Exupéry’s adventures as a pilot.

Peter Sís’s The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Coming out in May of this year, Peter Sís’s The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry thinks about other possible creative origins of The Little Prince.

In addition to writing poems and stories, Saint-Exupéry also flew (and sometimes crashed) airplanes.  Sís’s book focuses on these airborne adventures–charting Saint-Exupéry’s journeys over war zones, deserts, and stormy weather, all happening at a time when aviation was new.

Sís’s illustrations of night skies and mountain tops, and birds eye views of cityscapes and glittering oceans prompt us to think about how Saint-Exupéry’s experiences in the air inspired him to create the story of a little prince who falls to Earth from an asteroid, and who looks on with wonder at our world.

Read more about the book here. Read more about Peter Sís here.

Carla Diana’s Leo the Maker Prince

Author/designer Carla Diana is one of the many children-turned-adults who takes creative inspiration from The Little Prince.  The book’s celebration of openness to new ways of seeing things can certainly be found in her new book, Leo the Maker Prince: Journeys in 3D Printing.

Fast Company draws the connections between Saint-Exupéry’s mid-century story and Diana’s 21st-century one: “Like [The Little Prince], LEO The Maker Prince features a prince from space who crash lands on Earth and then befriends the book’s narrator after asking her to draw a sheep. Then the story takes a decidedly 21st-century twist. The prince of this story takes the sheep drawing, scans it into its memory banks, and prints out a three-dimensional model of it, initiating the narrator (and the reader) into the world of 3-D printing.”

Since Saint-Exupéry was fascinated with the cutting edge of aviation technology and the new perspectives it afforded, perhaps he would have been quite taken with the 3D creations found in Diana’s book.

IWC Schaffhausen “Little Prince” Pilot Watches

IWC Pilot Watch

With Saint-Exupéry’s career as an aviator, French aristocratic heritage, and carefully crafted prose, it makes sense that Swiss watch manufacturer IWC Schaffhausen, which prides itself on “precision engineering” and “exclusive design,” would produce two limited edition watches inspired by and in celebration of the anniversary of The Little Prince.

Of course, Saint-Exupéry may have used the existence of a $51,200 watch as more proof of grown-up silliness. Still, IWC’s site has interesting facts about the design and manufacture of the watches, as well as a Little Prince-inspired promotional video to watch.

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