I loathe The Little Prince.
I loathe it with passion – so sue me. And I say it because, while discussing with a friend the stories that impressed us most in our lives, it struck me that there is another side to the matter.
Not all stories impress us in a good way.
The story of the Space Brat made a lasting impression – but not a very pleasant one.
I was four, I think, when I was given an illustrated copy of the book. My mother says it had reproductions of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry‘s original drawings, and I believe her. I only remember the hat-like, elephant-eating snake, and the intense boredom of having the story read to me.
As far as I was concerned, that would have been the end of it – but no. In Italy, you see, The Little Prince is regarded as a peerless masterpiece, the deepest and most poetical of children’s books, and the sort of read no life is complete without. So, no matter how many times I repeated I had read it already, I had to read it again in middle-grade, and disliked it again.
At twelve I was a cynical child, and shivered at the soap-box-y tone, at the clichéd views, at the fox desperate to be tamed – not to mention the intense feel of moral blackmail that permeates the story. Perhaps I wouldn’t have put it in these terms, back then, but still.
And, because I was growing up rather lonely – as well as cynical – next summer I was sent to a summer camp, and… can you guess? My mother swears to this day she had no idea the damn whole thing would be Little-Prince-themed, and I rather believe her, but still. Thirteen long days reading, singing, enacting, playing the Little Prince with a huge bunch of enthusiastic children. And woe to the little cynic who dared to question the fathomless beauty and wisdom of the darn story… Mercifully, very heavy rains cut short the camp, and I was spared the final indignity of playing the Fox in the final pantomime, and having to implore the Brat to tame me.
Perhaps, this small mercy was what I was to pay for when, in my first year in high school, I got this French teacher who burst on us beaming: “Mais j’ai de bien bonnes nouvelles pour vous! Savez vous que va-t’on lire?”
You guess it: the Little Prince. Again. One whole school year reading it back and forth, answering questions, improvising dialogues between any two characters, learning chunks by heart…
Can you blame me if I loathe the thing – with a passion? You’d think not, wouldn’t you? But no. I’m definitely an adult, now, and I still get odd looks when I say that no, I don’t like the Little Prince. At times I think it has become more a badge of niceness than a book. If one says that repeated doses of the Little Prince at an early age served to harden one’s heart, there are strong suspicions that either one is joking, or one might not be a very nice person.