Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Little Prince

“People have forgotten this truth," the fox said. "But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.” 

First published in 1943, Antoine de Saint-Exupery's slim novella The Little Prince remains extremely popular throughout the world.  It is the most read and most translated piece of French literature and continues to sell over a million copies each year.  This tale speaks of love, loss, loneliness, and friendship and continues to enchant readers 70 years later.

The Plot:

The narrator of the story is a pilot whose plane has crashed into the Sahara desert, far from civilization.  He must fix his plane before he runs out of supplies and succumbs to the desert heat.  He encounters a young boy who seems to appear from nowhere and whom he refers to as "the little prince".  They strike up a conversation and soon discover that the look at the world in remarkably similar ways.  Over the course of eight days, the little prince recounts his life story to the narrator as he works on his plane.

The prince is from a small asteroid called B-612, where his life consisted of cleaning out tiny volcanoes and pulling up undesirable weeds.  There was also a small rose that had mysteriously appeared on the asteroid.  He cared for it, nurtured it, and protected it from the cold.  But even as he was falling in love with his rose, he felt that she was taking advantage of him and he resolved to travel to other planets to escape her.  As he went from planet to planet, he met several foolish and narrow-minded adults who lived on them.  He then made it to Earth where he encountered various other people/creatures who revealed the state of human life on the planet.  As he recounts his story, his worry and desire for his rose continues to grow, and he must decide whether or not to make the ultimate sacrifice to see her again.

My Review (Caution - Spoilers):

This is another one of those books that was on my radar, but that I knew absolutely nothing about until I actually read it.  And I'm not going to lie, this is a tough book to review because it is almost impossible to pin down.  It is whimsical and illogical, and yet it makes many profound statements about life. 

On it's surface, this novella is one that seems to be meant for children.  It has a sense of magic and a way of story telling that just doesn't seem to make sense (in a pleasant way).  It can be difficult to wrap our adult minds around the almost ethereal tone that the story takes.  And both the narrator and the little prince are characters that children can bot relate to and admire.  It is no wonder that parents all over the world choose to read this book with their family and try to recapture the sense of wonder and enchantment that we all once had.

But at a deeper level, there are a lot of themes and ideas that go above children's heads.  Many of the events and characters in the story are based on de Saint-Exupery's own experiences.  He also explores many other themes throughout the story, most prominently the idea of relationships.  The fox that the little prince meets explains to him that "taming" something, or having a relationship with someone, creates a responsibility that you cannot escape.  That is why, no matter how frustrated he was with the rose, the little prince feels that he must go back and take care of her.  Their relationship created a mutual need.

Again, this is a book that is hard to recommend because it is so hard to pin down.  I think that this is one that adults should definitely read, and use their judgement on how the children in their life would like it.  It is certainly one that deserves being read over and over again as there are so many little gems in it.  Be prepared to have your heart touched, and to never look at the stars the same way again.

The Movies:

This story has been adapted in a variety of forms, but only two have been film adaptations.  One is the 1974 musical version starring Richard Kiley, Steven Warner, Joss Ackland, and Gene Wilder.  It was not very successful when it first came out, but it has gained a bit of a cult following.

There is also a 3D adaptation set to come out next year starring James Franco, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, and Jeff Brides.         

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Never Ban Books...Except That One

Here in the US we recently "celebrated" Banned Books Week.  Readers, bloggers, and news organizations have worked to bring awareness to books that have been banned by schools, libraries, and bookstores throughout the country.  The American Library Association reports that there were 464 incidents of a book being challenged or banned in the US last year.  These books have ranged from children's books like And Tango Makes Three to best-sellers like Fifty Shades of Grey to classics like To Kill A Mockingbird.  Everyone who participated spoke out against censorship and the right to read whatever one chooses.

However, the following week a new story surfaced that changed the tone of the argument and revealed a certain level of hypocrisy that exists in the reading community.  While in a bookstore, an 8 year old girl came across a set of books that she and her mother found to be offensive and sexist (basically two "survival guides", one for boys that focused on outdoor stuff and one for girls that focused on relationships and and fashion).  The girl become visibly upset and when a store clerk found out what was wrong, they decided to remove the books from the shelves.

“After looking through the books, the employee agreed they were offensive and pulled them from the shelves! She said if she had seen them first they wouldn’t have been there to begin with. She was great because she took action and validated my daughter’s feelings.”

Most news organizations and bloggers found the story to be wonderful and praised both the girl and the store for taking action.    Now, no matter what my personal feelings on these particular books may be, I feel this story and the reaction it has gotten to be hypocritical.  We just finished speaking out against censorship and limiting access to books.  We said that books should not be removed from store shelves, libraries, and schools because of the personal feelings of a few people.  And yet, that is exactly what happened here.  A few people removed books that they personally found offensive rather than allow the rest of us to make that decision for ourselves.

If we are going to speak out against banning books, then we need to be against banning ALL books.  That  means even those that we find to be racist, politically incorrect, offensive, and inappropriate.  I am glad that this young girl has been taught to voice her opinion and stand up for her beliefs.  But I am also afraid that this has only served to teach her that her opinion is the only one that matters.