The few fiction titles I enjoyed growing up were Les Miserables, The Last of the Mohicans, Don Quixote and The Old Man and the Sea. In college, an even shorter list, there’s Sophie’s World and some Stephen King classics. I prefer non-fiction—history books–of course.
I picked up Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince” when I was already 29. I saw random people in coffee shops reading it and I got curious. It was too short a read but it leaves a mark in you. “The Little Prince” had been translated to around 300 languages, the most translated book in history.
In 2015, the animated film “The Little Prince” came out. It rekindled my interest in the book that I wished I read as a boy. Jeff Bridges’ character in the film was the wise old retired aviator neighbor. James Franco was the fox. The little girl’s voice was played by Mackenzie Foy. She was the Young Murph in the film Instellar.
Two weeks ago, I visited Singapore’s Philatelic Museum‘s exhibit “The Little Prince: Behind the Story.” I was excited to see it because I’ve read the book. But also because Saint-Exupery is fascinating historical figure. He died relatively young at 44 in July 1944. He published “The Little Prince” April 1943. He was at his creative peak when he went missing.
Saint-Exupery was a poet, writer, aviator and a bad ass adventurer. He was a commercial pilot before he signed up as a reconnaissance pilot during WWII. He was a pioneer of postal flights and had close calls piloting for Aeropostale (not to be confused with the apparel). Saint-Exupery had a rich resource to write from—the man lived an interesting life.
But the origin of his greatest novella was as interesting. Dr. Jeffrey Mirus of CatholicCulture.org & Christendom College, “The Little Prince was Saint-Exupéry himself. He was constantly sketching pictures of children, even on napkins in restaurants. On one occasion the American publisher Curtice Hitchcock asked him what he was drawing: “Nothing much: it is the child in my heart.” Hitchcock recommended he write the story of that child. The book was published in April 1943, about 15 months before Saint-Exupéry disappeared while flying a reconnaissance mission for the Americans over his native France, occupied by the Germans during World War II.”
Not many know that Saint-Exupery went to US to lobby for the North Americans to help against the war with Nazi Germany. During his time as postal pilot he assisted for the released of kidnapped downed pilots in the Sahara. The list of his accomplishments seems endless (“mais il savait tout faire” there’s nothing he could not do).
The mystery behind his death has for many years increased his cult like following. Many speculated that his reconnaissance plane was shut down (there’s a man who even claim he did it). Some suggest that he orchestrated his own death. But coming from a historic French Catholic family this theory is far fetched.
But even when his gourmette (bracelet with engraved identification) was found by a fisherman in Riou Islands speculations around his death persisted. Perhaps, it will never end because his readers clings to the mystery of his death, like family members of planes missing for years believes their love ones are off in some tropical island somewhere.
Beautiful art created by French artist Arnaud Nazare-Aga. Made of lacquer and composite materials sculpture and painted with bright colors, these toy arts perfectly captures the images of what “The Little Prince” has experiences in that journey we all imagine to be in. Nazare-Aga read the book when he was a boy. He later found out that his grandfather who was a pilot, like Saint Exupery, knew each other. This inspired the artist to create his sculpture with the help of Antoine Saint Exupery Youth Foundation.
Like most of us, Saint Exupery loves to draw to pass time. Here’s an example—a letter with illustrations.
Notebook of Andre Prevot. Saint Exupery’s co-pilot when he attempted the Paris-Saigon flight. They crashed in the Libyan desert. Prevot thought of suicide but felt guilty of leaving Saint Exupery behind. “We ought to struggle and stay together.”
The gourmette (bracelet with identification) of Saint Exupery. Its discovery (54 years after his tragic flight) puts an end to speculations that he was shut down. He crashed and died near France. Presumably due to mechanical failure.
A few days ago I posted a blog about a book project. The Chavacano translation of “The Little Prince”. The writer, who I don’t know in person, sent an FB message to promote his book project. I just visited the Saint Exupery exhibit at the Philatelic Museum (Singapore) a week earlier. Now that’s a strange coincidence.
But these things happens all the time. Times when you have something in mind, then you accidentally come across a book, stumble upon a place or meet someone related to whatever was inside your head.
I take this as a sign from Saint Exupery?
““Yo me pregunto si las estrellas están encendidas para que cada cual pueda un día encontrar la suya.”