"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 123
("Why should we be afraid of a hat?")
In fairness to the grownups who have so greatly disappointed our narrator, his drawing really does look like a hat. Perhaps he should have added some scales to it? =P
Der Kleine Prinz is the first "Two or Three" Book Club reread in a very long time--not just for me, but for everyone who seems to be joining in. So I thought it would be good to compare old memories with new impressions. Today we're discussing Chapters I to IV.
(A picture of a giant snake that has swallowed an elephant)
I know that the very first time I read The Little Prince, the stories of narrator's drawings--both the giant snakes and the sheep--didn't stick at all. I'm sure of it because I recall being surprised by them during my second reading. Since then, they've been one of my favourite metaphors of friendship. I've known a bit of the narrator's aloneness in a world where no one understands what he draws from his heart. On the other hand, I've also experienced connecting very meaningfully with people who took a long time "to get" me (and whom I also took a long time "to get"), and now know that when there is good will, your drawings can be explained, understood, and truly appreciated. And then there's no real difference between the first type of friend and the second . . . unless you idealistically insist on one. But why make the perfect the enemy of the good?
Moreover, in fairness to the narrator, he seems well aware of this blind idealism that lonely people can have. While he is amazed that the Little Prince understands him at once and can speak on his level, he himself is not yet capable of extending the same understanding that he has always longed for. He has spent so much time judging others that he never considered how he himself might tip the scales.
What I didn't like too much about Der Kleine Prinz this time around was the sniping at "grownups." I know what he means by it, of course. But now that I'm one of the grosse Leute, I take it a bit personally. And I think he overlooks something important--the way people who say that a picture is worth a thousand words seem to forget that they couldn't have said made that point without words. That is, Antoine de Saint Exupery needed to grow up before he could have written this book. Perhaps one big problem in the age when he was writing was that people thought maturity meant despising the things of childhood. But one big problem in this age when we are reading is that many great things of adulthood don't get their due. One of these great things is the ability to bear your own fruit (which is not limited to having your own children); but as Mrs. Darwin recently reminded us in her latest foray into fiction, grains have to fall to the ground and die to themselves before they can do something so magnificent.
I also find it curious that in this translation, "grownups" is mostly translated as "big people" rather than Erwachsenen--the proper translation inasmuch as its root, wachsen, means "to grow." As far as I remember, "Erwachsenen" is used a whopping one time (the penultimate paragraph of Chapter I), while "grosse Leute" is all over the place. I have no idea if it is the same case in the original French text; and until I do, I can't form any hypotheses. But since we're looking at language as much as story for this "Two or Three" Book Club pick, I wanted to bring it up anyway.
Totally Optional Discussion Questions for Chapters I to IV:
1) What do you think of Antoine de Saint Exupery's ideas of friendship?
2) Do you think that what The Little Prince has to say about grownups is still an important or relevant message for our times?
3) If you're reading The Little Prince in another language, how do you find the experience?
Image Sources: Die Zeichnungen des Verfaussers