Saturday, February 24, 2018

Lit Matters: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s flights of fancy

April 1, 2015 by Keagan Hawthorne, contributing writer


‘‘All grownups were first children, but few of them remember it,’’ wrote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a French novelist and pilot who is best remembered for his moving children’s fable The Little Prince.

Saint-Exupéry was an aviation pioneer in the 1920s and 1930s, flying at a time when being a pilot was a rough and adventurous profession.

He flew mail routes in Africa and South America and once, during a race, crashed in the Sahara desert, where he nearly died of dehydration.

The high-altitude solitude and the dangers he encountered there gave Saint-Exupéry plenty of time and fodder for musings on human nature and how to live one’s life. His literary genius was in translating these experiences into profound yet often humorous and always accessible tales, as in the autobiographical Wind, Sand and Stars.

When France surrendered to the Germans during WWII, Saint-Exupéry went into exile in America.

It was during this time he wrote The Little Prince. Although ostensibly a children’s book about a little boy who lives on an asteroid and travels to Earth, the deep philosophical implications of his adventures lend the story a rich complexity that’s appreciable by readers of all ages.

Like in many children’s books, the boy encounters enchanted flowers and talking animals, but in Saint-Exupéry’s world foxes have such memorable lines as “you become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

Saint-Exupéry rejoined the war and disappeared over the Mediterranean in 1944. He remains a national hero in France, and The Little Prince is one of the best selling books of all time.

Despite his storied life, Saint-Exupéry was able to keep sight of his inner child. One of the most enduring lines from The Little Prince rings with child-like simplicity and truth: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry must-read:
The Little Prince
(Lansdowne library code: PQ 2637 A274 P43713)

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