The Little Prince, a story of an intergalactic traveler in search of meaningful connection, was published in New York seventy-five years ago today—on April 6, 1943. This guest post is by Adrian Arturo Peña, a student in CUNY’s Language Immersion Program (CLIP), whose class recently visited the Morgan with instructor Gretchen Irwin-Harada to view and discuss Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s draft manuscript and watercolor drawings for The Little Prince.
A preliminary watercolor drawing by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry for The Little Prince, . The Morgan Library & Museum. © Estate of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Although many readers describe The Little Prince as a book for children, this majestic work can have an incredible impact and connection for adults as well. I remember the first time I read the book. I was a child, and I had a strong connection with the story. After my mother finished helping me read it, I used my imagination to recreate scenarios from the book in my own room. I would play out the scenes by arranging my pillows as planets, my toys as the different characters, and my bedsheet as my cape. I converted my room into a huge universe where I was the almighty king, and I loved it.
As an adult, I was so surprised when I read The Little Prince for a second time because the connection I used to have with the book when I was a child was totally different. As an immigrant, I had to go through many situations to adapt myself to my new life in the United States. I had to leave my country where I was born and grew up, just as the Little Prince did when he had to leave his planet. I had to leave my girlfriend of four years, whom I loved. I tried to do my best for her to show her that I would be the best man for her. It reminded me of how the Little Prince had to leave his flower. And like the Little Prince when he was visiting new planets, I had to adapt to many new rules, manners, cultures, and people, just as he did when he met a king, a vain man, a drunkard, and a guy who was so busy that he could not spend time with others.
I really connect to the book, but I never really had a connection to the author until recently. A few days ago, I had the great opportunity to be part of an exclusive presentation at the Morgan Library & Museum. My class had the chance to see and learn about some of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s original manuscripts for The Little Prince. That was the first time I had the experience of connecting directly with an author through his actual manuscripts. Even though I could not understand what the manuscript said (because it was in French), I was able to use my imagination to imagine Saint-Exupéry maybe editing those papers with a cup of coffee in his hands, relaxing and trying to draw the perfect reflection of what he had in his mind, or just trying to decide which of his ideas were going to be in the book and which ones were not.
Something that really had an impact on me was to understand that maybe Saint-Exupéry did not even think that those simple papers full of French words and cartoons he had drawn would have such an impact on world literature. I learned that a simple idea is not just a simple idea if you know how to use your imagination. I learned that it is from the worst situation that the best results can be born, and I learned that the imagination is the greatest treasure a person can have.