Text: Solveig Hansen, 2018
200 million books sold. 300 official translations. 400 million readers. The figures speak for themselves. 2018 marks the 75th anniversary of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “The Little Prince”
Grown-ups always need explanations, the narrator in The Little Prince says. Once, when he was six, he saw a picture of a boa constrictor swallowing a wild animal. With this picture in mind, he made his first drawing:
The grown-ups thought it was a hat, when in fact it was a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. He then made another drawing to simplify things for them:
They advised him to put away his drawings and become something useful instead. He became a pilot but remained unimpressed by grown-ups. He still showed them his first boa restrictor drawing, and they always said it was a hat.
Later, when the little prince asks him to draw a sheep, he draws a box and explains that the sheep is inside it. Obvious, isn’t it? They both think so.
The tone is set in the preamble, where Antoine de Saint-Exupéry dedicates the book to his good friend Léon Werth, but because the book is a children’s book and Werth is a grown-up, he dedicates it “To Léon Werth, when he was a little boy.” This thoughtful dedication must be one of the best ever:
To Leon Werth
I ask children to forgive me for dedicating this book to a grown-up. I have a serious excuse: this grown-up is the best friend I have in the world. I have another excuse: this grown-up can understand everything, even books for children. I have a third excuse: he lives in France where he is hungry and cold. He needs to be comforted. If all these excuses are not enough then I want to dedicate this book to the child whom this grown-up once was. All grown-ups were children first. (But few of them remember it.) So I correct my dedication:
To Léon Werth,
When he was a little boy
Happy 75, The Little Prince!