Certains livres nous apprivoisent. Ils créent des liens avec nous.
Some books tame (befriend) us. They make connections with us.
For me, Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince is one of these. It stands out from a hundred thousand other books. My mother first read it to me as a child in Venezuela. Later, it was among the first I read in English. I remember enjoying the narrative and its charming illustrations. I’m not sure what I made of its ending. I returned to it while learning French (its original language) in high school. That time it taught me to cherish friendship. In college, I was struck by its debt to Pascal’s musings about the heart. In the novitiate, it helped me glimpse what is essential. Later, it inspired a movie which I reviewed for Dominicana. I was happy to see how the book made a deep impression on the filmmakers. I realized that the story continues to shape many minds.
When the brother-editor of this series invited me to contribute, he suggested I could review a favorite spiritual classic. I felt the pull to revisit my old friend and see what it would say this time.
It offered me two new insights. First, the book, like the Little Prince himself, asks questions and insists on them. What’s a geographer? Why does a flower produce thorns? What does it mean to reign or to possess? Do humans know where they’re going? What is a rite? Is there a difference between what’s serious and what’s important? What makes the color of wheat or the radiance of the stars special? The book poses these and others with childlike wonder, prompting us to seek meaning in the most ordinary things. It exhorts us to pursue the questions that point to the heart of things. It warns us lest we forget them, busy about our “serious things.” Sweetly and simply, the story invites us to contemplation.
Second, upon this reading, The Little Prince led me to mull over laughs and tears. At one point in the story the narrator exclaims, “C’est tellement mystérieux, le pays des larmes! It’s truly mysterious, the land of tears!” It’s hard to know what to do to console one who’s crying. Understanding why or when we shed tears can also be difficult. And what is it about children that makes them more prone to these waterworks—might it be innocence? Laughter is no less mysterious. It can arise seemingly out of nowhere. All sorts of odd things might provoke it. It’s also peculiarly contagious. The Little Prince asks us to think on what makes us cry and what makes us laugh. Once more, it teaches that ordinary things inspire reflection. And this simple reflection gestures to the essential mystery that only the heart can see.
All this to say: If you haven’t read The Little Prince, read it. If it’s been a long time, go back to it. It’s short!
And if there’s another book that has walked with you through life that you think might have something new to share, pick that one up as well!
Image: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince