The Little Prince is one of those titles that, whether you discover it during childhood or adulthood, stays with you. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Twentieth Century fable is deceptively simple. A pilot, having crash-landed in the Sahara Desert, is visited by a stranger. The little prince has fallen to Earth from a tiny asteroid – his home planet. He is full of strange requests and wonderful tales, which the narrator obligingly recounts.
One of the incredible things about the book is the illustrations by the author, and they are reproduced to a very high standard on the pages, woven into the text as Saint-Exupéry had intended. Intriguingly, the pilot telling the story is entirely absent from the imagery – it’s all about the little prince and the impossible places he visits.
Saint-Exupéry’s viewpoint in the story is that children have a greater appreciation of their experiences because of their richer imaginations, which is slowly excised from them as they mature into adults. “Grown-ups are very strange,” the little prince says to himself after various encounters with adults living alone on tiny planets. The metaphor is that adults can be small-minded and concerned only with their own little worlds. The most famous example is the drunkard, who drinks because he is ashamed and ashamed because he drinks…
The world of child-eyed wonder, unable to understand the egocentric adults certainly has its charms, and the book is short enough to sustain this narrative without raising too many questions or objections. Adults obsessed by or unwilling to let go of their childhoods are generally unhappy, and childish behaviour in adults is usually repulsive – even innocence – but The Little Prince’s conceit is one that it’s possible to go along with for under a hundred pages of brilliant wit, beautiful illustrations and poignant humanity. There is a melancholy and morality at the heart of the story that keeps readers of any age hooked and on side.
Added to the poignancy is the prescience of the tale, that on reflection, sees art imitating life. The Little Prince was published posthumously, following Saint-Exupéry’s death when he lost control of the plane he was piloting.
The Folio Society’s beautifully designed and presented edition of The Little Prince is a definitive package. The hardback edition with full-colour illustrations also has an introduction to the text by Stacy Schiff that traces the development of Saint-Exupéry’s final work – the title that was to be his masterpiece and outshine the rest of his canon put together. Not only that, but there’s also a second book contained within the card slipcase. The commentary volume by Christine Nelson takes quotations from the text, as well as some unpublished passages, and puts them into context, and is bursting with full-page colour illustrations.
The pictures show early attempts at depicting the main characters in the book from the drunkard to the king who demands complete obedience even though he has no subjects, as well as the sinister baobabs taking over the little prince’s tiny planet. The pilot too is depicted – even if it is just his hand. Some of the illustrations were abandoned by Saint-Exupéry, scrunched up and binned – but were later salvaged. Given their condition, the reproduction within these pages is astonishing.
This is a magnificently produced volume, and a true collector’s addition for devotees of the adventures of the little prince. Suitable for children with an active imagination and a joy of stories aged anywhere between 4 and 104. The Little Prince is sure to keep on enthralling generation after generation for some time to come.
Publisher: The Folio Society Release Date: 6th September 2017