29 September 2015


"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 127

When we last left the little prince, he was weeping piteously in the grass and I could hardly stand it. If I hadn't already known what was coming next, I would have read on and this readalong would be structured very differently.

"Bitte . . . zaehme mich"

I'd ask if there are three more beautiful words in the German language, but Der Kleine Prinz was originally written in French. And it's possible I'm reacting to the words in ways that native German speakers never would.

Folgen XXI - XXIV

It's fair to say that these chapters are the heart of the novel. Here we find the author's most famous quotation, which in German is:

"Man sieht nur mit dem Herzen gut. Das Wesentliche is fuer die Augen unsichtbar."

It's a diamond in a beautiful setting.

The main theme of Der Kleine Prinz is "How to be a good friend" ("Wie ein guter Freund zu sein") and the answer comes via a wild animal who very much wants to be tamed. Again, although I've been familiar with this story for years, having read it several times in English, it wasn't until this reading in German that I felt the characters giving voice to my own emotions. It turns out that what I've really been wanting to say to all the potential friends I fall in love with at first sight is, "Bitte, zaehme mich."

And because I never say it, that's probably why they never do.

* * * * *

So it turns out that the first real friend the little prince makes on earth is not the narrator, but a fox. I was startled to remember it. And now I don't feel quite right that the little prince and the fox part ways in the end, like those other great friends Cap and Capper. (You know: the German versions of Tod and Copper from the Disney movie The Fox and the Hound!) Why the little prince has to leave isn't explained, but we can guess. An animal can make a comforting companion--and one better suited to teaching the lesson of taming than, say, a plant--but we are like our first father, who looked at all the animals in creation and knew that none of them was like him: the human heart requires more in a friend.

And though I insist that there is no reason why the little prince couldn't have taken the fox along . . . no reason why a tamed fox wouldn't have followed his new master to the ends of the earth . . . no reason why Antoine de Saint Exupery couldn't have let the narrator's dwindling water supply be enough to share with the fox for the same number of days . . . I understand that if the little prince and his first friend didn't say goodbye, we wouldn't learn that other important thing about taming. Which is that bonds of friendship are greater than time and space: these unsichtbar connections, because they are wesentlich, always remain.

Oh, did I ever tell you that I met the novelist Nicholas Sparks once, during his Manila press junket? Someone asked him why all of his love stories are so sad, and he answered, "All love stories, by definition, are sad." There is no happily ever after on earth when someone has to die last. And the same can be said for all stories of friendship: no matter how perfect a friendship, there will be a goodbye on earth.

But now I'm foreshadowing too much.

* * * * *

The story of the fox concludes the sad stories, and the once-reticent little prince is now a chatterbox. I chuckled when he wouldn't shut up about "mein Freund der Fuchs" when the narrator finally wanted some peace and quiet. But what the latter wants the most at that point is water.

And of course water gets to be another meaningful symbol in these chapters: no surprise in a desert-set story! The twist comes in another famous quotation from the author:

"Es macht die Wueste schoen, dass sie irgendwo eine Brunnen birgt."

What makes the desert beautiful is that, somewhere, it contains a well. And if you're one of the really lucky ones, you will tame and be tamed in turn by the desert, and will find that well. Yes, places fit the taming template just as well.

* * * * *

And finally, some fun: just this week, I stumbled upon the world of crafts and merchandise inspired by Der Kleine Prinz . . . and as expected, the fox appears almost as often as his beloved "master." At first I thought it was because we had no illustrations of the narrator and foxes are easier to draw than aviators . . .

. . . but then I realised that Boy and Dog imagery can give us an extra level of sentiment.
(Some identify with the Boy; others, with the Dog.)

By the way, what you see in the middle is Kleiner-Prinz-mit-Fuchs sock yarn. Ah, wouldn't it be great for my first pair of socks to be Kleiner-Prinz-mit-Fuchs Socken?!?! (For my fellow yarn crafters, yes, there is a whole line of variegated yarns representing his encounters with other characters!)

Totally Optional Discussion Questions:

1) Is there some random thing in the world that is special to you because it reminds you of someone you've loved?
2) Aside from people now, can you give an example of something that gets much of its beauty from something invisible?
3) If you could have your own Kleiner-Prinz-mit-Fuchs token, what would you like?
4) Are these questions getting a little too personal?

We will conclude our readalong of Der Kleine Prinz in the next meeting. I hope to see you there!

Image Sources: a) Der kleine Prinz mit Fuchs, b) Schluesselanhaenger, c) Sockenwolle, d) iPhone Huelle


Brandon said...

I liked the fox's brief discussion of rites, and their connection with making links; and also I thought it interesting that one of the things the little prince notes about the flowers in the garden is that, unlike his rose, nobody would die for them.

I think "Bitte . . . zaehme mich" might be a case in which the German is nicer than the French, "S'il te plaƮt...apprivoise-moi", in part because it has fewer syllables and requires less lipwork!

Enbrethiliel said...


I checked the Filipino translation today. The fox's plea is in Tagalog is: "Sige na . . . paamuhin mo ako." If I hadn't known where it was from and had to render it in English, I'd write it as: "Go on . . . make me gentle."

"Sige na" is not quite "Please": it gives permission as much as it makes a request. But it lines up with the informality of "S'il te plait" (as opposed to "S'il vous plait") and lets us keep the structure of the sentence with the ellipses.