10 September 2015


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 125

Intergalactic travel begins in earnest! But I forget that today's chapters are flashbacks . . .

The narrator must have finally learned to communicate with the little prince on the latter's level, to have heard full accounts of the latter's visit to six different asteroids. =) And given what the little prince has had to say about the first six people he has met, I'd be fascinated to learn what he really thought of his companion during their first encounter. Did our three-dimensional narrator also initially come off as a caricature? And if so, does that mean there are depths to all the others that the little prince doesn't give them credit for?

Folge X - Folge XV

The little prince's encounter with the Koenig was the hardest chapter for me to read so far. There were so many words I didn't know--and when several at a time popped up in a single sentence or exchange, I couldn't just let context carry me over. Unsurprisingly, they are all abstract political or judicial concepts. The new verb-gems in my vocabulary include . . .

ausfuehren -- to carry out
befahlen befehlen -- to command *
dulden -- to tolerate
fordern -- to demand
herrschen (ueber) -- to rule (over)
horchen gehorchen -- to obey *
richten -- to judge
verurteilen -- to sentence

* Danke fuer die Korrekturen, Zagorka!

You'd think that a Koenig and a Prinz would get along, wouldn't you? But the king is just too "big" here--one of the grosse Leute--and can't relate to our kleiner Prinz. To Koenige, the text tells us, everyone is an Untertan . . . and so no one is really a Freund.

Bigness and littleness are major themes in Der Kleine Prinz, and they get the most interesting treatment so far in the encounter on Asteroid B-325. The big king seems very little himself, doesn't he? For someone who claims to be the ruler of the whole universe, he's awfully underwhelming! While he is right that all a ruler's commands should be subject to reason, including his own, it's suspicious that he doesn't do anything to prove he is who he says he is. And yet, my less cynical side argues, we must note that: a) he's not the first real king who refused to stoop to signs and wonders just to be impressive; and b) he is also the most benevolent monarch besides the Former whom we may ever meet in real life or in fiction . . . and it doesn't say much about us that we're disappointed he isn't a tad more despotic!

* * * * *

My first rule for myself during this readalong is not to check my understanding of the German against either the English or Filipino translations. My second rule is that the first time I read each chapter, I shouldn't stop to check a dictionary, no matter how many words I don't understand. The latter is a recent development, which I didn't even think about until Folge XI and which made my reading of that chapter so much more interesting.

You see, I didn't remember what word the inhabitant of Asteroid 326 is called in my first two languages. This meant I had no direct analogue for his "name" in German, Eitlen. Nor did I have any words in my still-growing German vocabulary that were related to it. And I found that this put me in the odd position of having to learn a new word entirely through its context--something I don't mind doing during the rare times it happens for me in English or Filipino, but also something I don't think I've ever done in German (or Italian, for that matter . . . or you know, French). That is, I've always either grabbed a dictionary or asked someone else for a definition. It's nice to realise that something that was necessary when I was starting out is now a secondary option. =)

In contrast to the Eitlen, the Saeufer was easy. Though this specific word was also new to me, I was already familiar with the verb "saufen", thanks to discovering Germany's 1979 Eurovision entry Dschinghis Khan earlier this year. ("Auf, Brueder! Sauft, Brueder! Rauft, Brueder! Immer wieder!" Up, brother! Chug, brother! Brawl, brother! On forever! . . . My own humble translation, of course--fit only for singing in the shower when I can't remember the German . . . which happens less and less often these days!) At the time, I didn't think any of the verbs from a story about a Mongol warrior (I mean, how random is that?!?!) would turn out to be useful . . . and they've been popping up unexpectedly ever since!

* * * * *

I've already brought up the little prince's desire for a friend, but I myself didn't recall it until after he meets the Lanternenanzuender, who is the first to touch his heart. Suddenly, our little protagonist is closer than he ever was to finding someone he can open up to! But he is to learn that the person he wants to bond with simply has no room in his life . . . or on his planet (basically a metaphor for the same) . . . for another person.

Heck, the Lanternenanzuender can't even be a good friend to himself!

Here we have another look at bigness and littleness: the bigness of the Lanternenanzuenders dedication to something outside himself and the littleness of the task he is totally dedicated to.

It occurs to me now that although the text valiantly avoids throwing shade on the little prince, it tells us that he was also recently in his own very little world. And had he waited a while longer at home, another intergalactic traveler might have dropped by Asteroid B-612 and been a little disappointed by its sole inhabitant. We never really know how others see us until they tell us. Perhaps we are all caricatures until someone takes the time to know us better.

Another way to look at it, which the text also supports, is that we are all caricatures until we do something to expand ourselves. Maybe the little prince, who is so beloved all over the world, wouldn't be half as interesting to us if he had always stayed home and interacted only with his rose--not because interacting with only a rose makes a boring story (for it doesn't have to), but because interacting with only a rose makes a boring person.

Totally Optional Discussion Questions for Chapters X to XV:

1) Which of the people whom the little prince meets did you find most memorable?
2) Can you think of other ways that people can shrink their worlds without realising it?
3) What is the best way to become "bigger"?
4) Have you set any rules for your reading?

Image Sources: a) Der Koenig, b) Der Eitle, c) Der Anzuender


Brandon said...

All of the asteroid-dwellers are people who have difficulty relating to other people as people in one way or another. For le roi, all men are subjects -- that's all he really knows about them, and he knows it before he meets them. For le vaniteux, all men are admirers, and like the king he knows it before he meets them, and knows nothing else about them. Le buveur is caught in a circle of shame from which he cannot see out. Le businessman is caught up in counting what he owns. (As an aside, I find it somewhat hilarious that the French word here is literally 'businessman'; it conveys a lot about how the French see it that they just used an English word!) And le allumeur de réverbères is, as you say, too busy to spend time knowing someone. Le géographe knows nothing except second-hand. Whereas notre petit prince knows a rose, even though he had to go on a long journey either to know that he knew her or to fully understand the importance of knowing her.

I find it interesting that the little prince sees value in terms of usefulness -- e.g., the king, the businessman, are useless to the stars, whereas the lamplighter does something of use because his occupation is jolie, pretty. (Which makes it all the more ironic that the lamplighter hates his job!)

Terry Nelson said...

I've always thought that when the Little Prince first laid eyes on the narrator, it was love at first sight.

Enbrethiliel said...


Brandon -- When I first read "businessman" in your comment, I thought you had forgotten to use the French word! Yes, it is hilarious that Antoine de Saint-Exupery just went with the English as a matter of course!

The "jolie" line in German: "Es ist auch wirklich nuetzlich, da es huebsch ist." Do you know the Ralph Waldo Emerson poem Rhodora? =) I once had a professor whose wife was named Rhodora, after the poem, and who loved to say, at random moments, "Rhodora, if the sages ask thee why/ They charm is wasted on the earth and sky,/ Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,/ Beauty is its own excuse for being"! Perhaps it was on the Lanternanzuenders planet that the little prince first started to learn how to value his rose, who was definitely huebsch on his own planet.

I made and lost a mental note to write something about being useful to the things that are useful to us. I stole that bit, many years ago, when I had to give an extemporaneous speech about "Our Possessions" in English class. The teacher thought I was this amazing philosophical prodigy! =P

Let's also note that the little prince says of the Geographs job, the first time he hears of it: "Endlich ein richtiger Beruf!" ("Finally, a real job!") Knowing where things are and writing the facts down in a book is to be useful to those things!

Terry -- I had never thought of it that way! That makes me even more curious about how the narrator must have seemed to him when they first met!

Itinérante said...

I was thinking about the usefulness/uselessness idea too.

I remember a part in "The Defendant" by Chesterton (it one of my favourite essay books ever!) he talks a little bit about good use and bad use of something...

"Let me explain a little: Certain things are bad so far as they go, such as pain, and no one, not even a lunatic, calls a tooth-ache good in itself; but a knife which cuts clumsily and with difficulty is called a bad knife, which it certainly is not. It is only not so good as other knives to which men have grown accustomed. A knife is never bad except on such rare occasions as that in which it is neatly and scientifically planted in the middle of one's back. The coarsest and bluntest knife which ever broke a pencil into pieces instead of sharpening it is a good thing in so far as it is a knife. It would have appeared a miracle in the Stone Age. What we call a bad knife is a good knife not good enough for us; what we call a bad hat is a good hat not good enough for us; what we call bad cookery is good cookery not good enough for us; what we call a bad civilization is a good civilization not good enough for us. We choose to call the great mass of the history of mankind bad, not because it is bad, but because we are better. This is palpably an unfair principle. Ivory may not be so white as snow, but the whole Arctic continent does not make ivory black."

I found it interesting combining these thoughts from "Le Petit Prince" and this one...

Enbrethiliel said...


I suppose this is where Bat shows up to remind us that Chesterton was a heretic when he wrote The Defendant. =P

That's an interesting connection. We may even say that the stars are bad-useful to the Geschaeftsmann, because they keep him from getting out more, making meaningful connections, etc.

We may also argue, I think, the Lanternanzuenders job, which is good-useful to the universe the way a star or a flower is, unfortunately is bad-useful to both himself and to his own tiny planet!

Belfry Bat said...

Oi! golly...

Belfry Bat said...

... ;-)

Zagorka said...

It's me again, from Germany :-)
Please, may I correct a little?
to command = befehlen (e, not a)
to obey = gehorchen (horchen = to listen or to hearken or to hark)


Enbrethiliel said...


Danke, Zagorka! I really should have double-checked before publishing. I appreciate your taking the time to point out the mistakes. =)