12 Charming Facts About The Little Prince

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved tale of a pilot and a young alien prince has been delighting readers since it was first published in 1943. Even if you know The Little Prince (or Le Petit Prince in its original French) by heart, there are probably a few things you may not know about the novella.

1. Saint-Exupéry Knew a Thing or Two About Desert Plane Crashes.

When he depicted the novel’s narrator crashing in the Sahara at the opening of the book, Saint-Exupéry was writing what he knew. While today he’s largely remembered for The Little Prince, before World War II Saint-Exupéry was celebrated as an aristocratic aviator and writer who had flown mail routes in Africa and South America and even worked as a test pilot. During an attempt to break the record for the fastest trip between Paris and Saigon, Saint-Exupéry crashed his plane in the desert 125 miles outside of Cairo.

2. "The Little Mermaid" may have inspired Saint-Exupéry to write The Little Prince.

Although the true origin of the story is widely debated, one common theory is that Saint-Exupéry was inspired by this Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. In the early 1940s, Saint-Exupéry was stuck in a hospital while he recovered from various injuries that had piled up from his plane crashes, and he was bored out of his mind. His friend Annabella decided to read him a story—"The Little Mermaid"—that got Saint-Exupéry thinking about writing a fairy tale of his own. 

3. Saint-Exupéry wrote while in a self-imposed exile in the United States during World War II.

Saint-Exupéry had been a pilot in the French Air Force until the armistice between France and Germany in 1940, which resulted in the demobilization of the French forces. Having a poor opinion of Free French leader Charles de Gaulle, Saint-Exupéry refused to join the Royal Air Force and left for the U.S. instead, where he unsuccessfully tried to get the government to enter the war against Germany. 

4. Saint-Exupéry’s wife, Consuelo, likely inspired the Prince’s Rose.

Antoine and Consuelo had a volatile relationship, living apart for most of their lives, but she always remained his muse. Just as Saint-Exupéry held Consuelo close to his heart, the Prince protects his rose, watering her and shielding her from the elements. Although the Prince encounters other roses (in Saint-Exupéry’s case, other women) on his journey, the fox reminds him that his rose is unique to him because "you become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed." This theory is further supported by the title of Consuelo’s autobiography, The Tale of the Rose. 

5. Saint-Exupéry both wrote and illustrated The Little Prince.

Saint-Exupéry himself painted all of the story’s simple watercolor illustrations. He did not consider himself an "artist," but he had been a lifelong doodler and was always sketching little people on scraps of paper. 

6. He had to improvise on some of the illustrations’ models.

Saint-Exupéry didn’t have access to a vast menagerie, so he based the illustrations on what he could find. Pulling inspiration from his own life, he modeled many of the characters from real figures—a friend’s poodle became the sheep, while his own pet boxer became the tiger. 

7. One of the main characters is never actually shown to the reader.

Curiously, the pilot—the narrator and one of the main characters—is never depicted in the book. A 2014 exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York showcased many of Saint-Exupéry’s unpublished drawings, including one depicting the narrator sleeping beside his plane. Christine Nelson, curator of literary and historical manuscripts at the Morgan, shared her thoughts on the piece: "We can only speculate about why [he] decided to remove that image. But he was very good at excising what was not essential to his story." A fitting analysis, considering that the story famously says, "L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux." ("What is essential is invisible to the eyes," a line that itself went through many revisions.) 

8. Orson Welles wanted to adapt the novella into a film, with help from Walt Disney.

Welles was apparently so taken with the story that he purchased the film rights the day after reading it. He wanted to work with Walt Disney and even asked Disney to handle the special effects, but the two brilliant artists did not work brilliantly as collaborators. Disney felt that such a film would upstage his own work, and reportedly stormed out of a meeting shouting, "There is not room on this lot for two geniuses." Welles’s original screenplay was showcased during the Morgan exhibit.

9. Saint-Exupéry dropped his manuscript off at a friend’s before rushing off to rejoin the military.

One of the most famous books of all time had an unassuming trip to its publisher. Saint-Exupéry tossed a "rumpled paper bag" containing his draft manuscript and original illustrations onto a friend’s entryway table and immediately took off for France again. The 140-page handwritten draft was a mess of struck-through prose, illegible handwriting, coffee stains, and even cigarette scorch marks. He left it as a parting gift, saying, "I’d like to give you something splendid, but this is all I have."

10. Saint-Exupéry never saw the book published in his home country.

First published in 1943, The Little Prince was released in French and English, but only in the United States. Due to his controversial political views, Saint-Exupéry‘s works were not easily available under the Vichy regime, so it wasn’t until the liberation of France that the book was made available in the author’s homeland. 

11. Saint-Exupéry mysteriously disappeared after finishing the book.

By the time his work was available in France, Saint-Exupéry had already been presumed dead for a year, and his death was every bit as mysterious and fascinating as his life. After making his way to Algiers and talking his way into the Free French Air Force, he was once more able to fly even though both his physical and mental health were questionable. On a 1944 reconnaissance mission, his plane disappeared, and he was never seen again. Whether he was shot down by an enemy or perhaps crashed the plane in a suicidal maneuver remains unclear. The author’s body was never recovered, and it wasn’t until 1998 that a clue to his fate was found in the form of his silver identity bracelet, which was discovered by a fisherman off the coast of Marseille in the Mediterranean. The remains of his plane were found there by a diver in 2000.

12. The Little Prince has been translated into over 250 languages.

One of the most-read and most-translated books in the world, the story is often used in schools as a teaching tool for learning other languages. The book’s crisp style makes it a particularly good choice for translation into small and endangered languages. In 2005, it was translated into an Amerindian language of northern Argentina called Toba—a real distinction since up to that point the only other book translated into Toba was the Bible.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Dorothy Parker

Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images
Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images

As a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table—a circle of writers that also included Harpo Marx and Robert Benchley—Dorothy Parker was renowned for her scathing wit. Here are 10 fascinating facts about the legendary wordsmith.

1. Dorothy Parker was born in New Jersey.

Dorothy Parker was born at her parents' beach cottage in Long Branch, New Jersey on August 22, 1893. She liked to say they rushed back to Manhattan after Labor Day so she could be a "true" New Yorker.

2. Dorothy Parker's mother died when she was just a child.

Parker's mother died when Dorothy was just four years old. Her father remarried two years later, but Dorothy was not a fan of her stepmother and refused to call her anything but "the housekeeper." Ouch.

3. Dorothy Parker married the same man twice.

Parker and Alan Campbell were great writing partners, but were perhaps no more than that; she often (affectionately) described him as "queer as a billy goat."

4. Dorothy Parker could be sentimental when a job called for it.

You know Parker came up with plenty of sarcastic quips and biting observations, but she also wrote some rather treacly stuff: She was an uncredited screenwriter for It's a Wonderful Life and wrote lyrics for the Bing Crosby song "I Wished on the Moon."

5. Dorothy Parker's uncle was on the Titanic.

Parker's uncle, Martin Rothschild, died in the great Titanic disaster of 1912.

6. Dorothy Parker reviewed books for The New Yorker.

Parker wrote book reviews for The New Yorker under the pseudonym "Constant Reader." She hated Winnie the Pooh and wrote of The House on Pooh Corner, "Tonstant Weader Fwowed up."

7. Dorothy Parker was tiny.

Parker might have been an enormous presence, but she was only 4'11".

8. Dorothy Parker was a staunch civil rights activist.

When Parker died in 1967, she left her entire estate to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Foundation, and then to the NAACP when King was assassinated.

9. Dorothy Parker's ashes went unclaimed for years.

While she left her money to the causes she cared about, Parker left her ashes to playwright Lillian Hellman, who never bothered to collect them. They went unclaimed for years and were passed around rather unceremoniously, spending about 17 years in her lawyer's filing cabinet. The NAACP finally claimed what was left of Ms. Parker and erected a memorial garden in her honor. You can visit her there and read what she suggested for her own epitaph: "Excuse my dust."

10. There is no shortage of great Dorothy Parker quotes.

But as a writer, I think this one might be my favorite: "I'd like to have money. And I'd like to be a good writer. These two can come together, and I hope they will, but if that's too adorable, I'd rather have money."

9 Facts About The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On its surface, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a straightforward story about a boy and a runaway slave floating down the Mississippi River. But underneath, the book—which was published in the U.S. on February 18, 1885—is a subversive confrontation of slavery and racism. It remains one of the most loved, and most banned, books in American history.

1. Huckleberry Finn first appears in Tom Sawyer.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a sequel to Tom Sawyer, Twain’s novel about his childhood in Hannibal, Missouri. Huck is the “juvenile pariah of the village” and “son of the town drunkard,” Pap Finn. He wears cast-off adult clothes and sleeps in doorways and empty barrels. Despite this, the other children “wished they dared to be like him.” Huck also appears in Tom Sawyer, Detective, and Tom Sawyer Abroad.

2. Huckleberry Finn may be based on Mark Twain's childhood friend.

Twain once said that Huck is based on Tom Blankenship, a childhood friend whose father, Woodson Blankenship, was a poor drunkard and the likely model for Pap Finn. “In Huckleberry Finn I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was,” Twain wrote in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1: The Complete and Authoritative Edition. “He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had." However, Twain may be exaggerating here. In 1885, when the Minneapolis Tribune asked who Huck was based on, Twain said it was no single person: “I could not point you out the youngster all in a lump; but still his story is what I call a true story.”

3. It took Mark Twain seven years to write the book.

Huckleberry Finn was written in two short bursts. The first was in 1876, when Twain wrote 400 pages that he told his friend he liked “only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn” the manuscript. He stopped working on it for several years to write The Prince and the Pauper and Life on the Mississippi. In 1882, Twain took a steamboat ride on the Mississippi from New Orleans to Minnesota, with a stop in Hannibal, Missouri. It must have inspired him, because he dove into finishing Huckleberry Finn.

“I have written eight or nine hundred manuscript pages in such a brief space of time that I mustn’t name the number of days,” Twain wrote in August 1883. “I shouldn’t believe it myself, and of course couldn’t expect you to.” The book was published in 1884.

4. Like Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain’s view on slavery changed.

Huck, who grows up in the South before the Civil War, not only accepts slavery, but believes that helping Jim run away is a sin. The moral climax of the novel is when Huck debates whether to send Jim’s owner a letter detailing Jim’s whereabouts. Finally, Huck says, "All right, then, I'll go to hell,” and tears the letter up.

As a child, Twain didn’t question the institution of slavery. Not only was Missouri a slave state, but his uncle owned 20 slaves. In Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, Twain wrote, “I vividly remember seeing a dozen black men and women chained to one another, once, and lying in a group on the pavement, awaiting shipment to the Southern slave market. Those were the saddest faces I have ever seen.” At some point, Twain’s attitudes changed and he married into an abolitionist family. His father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, was a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad and helped Frederick Douglass escape from slavery.

5. Emmeline Grangerford is a parody of a Victorian poetaster.

Huckleberry Finn parodies adventure novels, politics, religion, the Hatfields and the McCoys, and even Hamlet’s soliloquy. But most memorable may be the character of Emmeline Grangerford, the 15-year-old poet. Emmeline is a parody of Julia A. Moore, the “Sweet Singer of Michigan,” who wrote bad poetry about death. So does Emmeline, according to Huck: “Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand with her ‘tribute’ before he was cold. She called them tributes.” Along with bad poetry, Emmeline paints “crayons” of dramatic subjects, such as a girl “crying into a handkerchief” over a dead bird with the caption, "I Shall Never Hear Thy Sweet Chirrup More Alas."

6. Many consider Huckleberry Finn the first American novel.

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn ,” Ernest Hemingway wrote in Green Hills Of Africa. “There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since." While this statement ignores great works like Moby-Dick and The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn was notable because it was the first novel to be written in the American vernacular. Huck speaks in dialect, using phrases like “it ain’t no matter” or "it warn’t no time to be sentimentering.” Since most writers of the time were still imitating European literature, writing the way Americans actually talked seemed revolutionary. It was language that was clear, crisp, and vivid, and it changed how Americans wrote.

7. Many people consider the end of the book to be a bit of a cop-out.

A major criticism of Huckleberry Finn is that the book begins to fail when Tom Sawyer enters the novel. Up until that point, Huck and Jim have developed a friendship bound by their mutual plight as runaways. We believe Huck cares about Jim and has learned to see his humanity. But when Tom Sawyer comes into the novel, Huck changes. He becomes passive and doesn’t even seem to care when Jim is captured. To make matters worse, it turns out that Jim’s owner has already set him free, and that Huck’s abusive dad is dead. Essentially, Huck and Jim have been running away from nothing. Many critics, including American novelist Jane Smiley, believe that by slapping on a happy ending, Twain was ignoring the complex questions his book raises.

8. The book is frequently banned.

Huckleberry Finn was first banned in Concord, Massachusetts in 1885 (“trash and suitable only for the slums”) and continues to be one of the most-challenged books. The objections are usually over the n-word, which occurs over 200 times in the book. Others say that the portrayal of African Americans is stereotypical, racially insensitive, or racist. In 2011, Stephen Railton, a professor at the University of Virginia, published a version of the book that replaced that offending word with slave. Soon after appeared The Hipster Huckleberry Finn, where the word was replaced with hipster. The book's description says, “the adventures of Huckleberry Finn are now neither offensive nor uncool.”

9. Twain had some thoughts about the book's censorship.

In 1905, the Brooklyn Public Library removed Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer from the shelves because, as a librarian wrote to Twain, Huck is “a deceitful boy who said 'sweat' when he should have said 'perspiration.'" Here’s Twain’s reply :

DEAR SIR: I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again this side of the grave. Ask that young lady—she will tell you so. Most honestly do I wish I could say a softening word or two in defense of Huck's character, since you wish it, but really in my opinion it is no better than those of Solomon, David, Satan, and the rest of the sacred brotherhood. If there is an unexpurgated Bible in the Children's Department, won't you please help that young woman remove Huck and Tom from that questionable companionship?

Sincerely yours, S. L. Clemens

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