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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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.

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7 Lost and Rediscovered Literary Works by Famous Authors
F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A number of literary works by famous authors that were once thought lost have recently been rediscovered. Some were found in private collections, others within vast archives, and one was even uncovered in an attic. A few of these works have delighted readers and scholars alike, while others may have gone unpublished for a reason—yet all offer fresh insight into the development of the writers who wrote them.

1. “TEMPERATURE” // F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

In July 2015 Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand magazine, was searching through the rare book archive at Princeton University when he uncovered a previously unpublished short story by Princeton alum F. Scott Fitzgerald. Gulli makes something of a habit of searching for lost and unpublished works by famous authors, and in the past has uncovered a story by John Steinbeck, which was also published for the first time in The Strand. Fitzgerald's 8000-word short story, entitled “Temperature” and written in 1939, features a hard-drinking writer with a heart problem. In a sad echo of real life, just a year after he wrote it Fitzgerald himself died of a heart attack.

2. WHAT PET SHALL I GET? // DR. SEUSS

Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) seated at a desk covered with his books
Library of Congress, Wikimedia // Public Domain

In 2013, the widow of Ted Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss) rediscovered a pile of manuscripts and sketches that she had set aside shortly after her husband's death in 1991. The papers contained the words and illustrations for What Pet Shall I Get?, which was published by Random House in July 2015. It is thought the book was likely written between 1958 and 1962, since it features the same brother-and-sister characters found in Seuss’s 1960 bestseller One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.

3. “SHERLOCK HOLMES: DISCOVERING THE BORDER BURGHS AND, BY DEDUCTION, THE BRIG BAZAAR” // ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE

Portrait of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sitting at a table in his garden, Bignell Wood, New Forest, 1927
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A Sherlock Holmes short story supposedly written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was uncovered in the attic of historian Walter Elliot in 2015. The strange little story was written by Conan Doyle to be included in a collection of stories entitled The Book o' the Brig, which aimed to raise funds to rebuild a bridge across Ettrick Water, near Selkirk in Scotland, which had been destroyed during floods in 1902.

No sooner had the story been rediscovered, however, than some were expressing doubts about whether it had been written by Conan Doyle himself, especially since the flowery language doesn't seem in keeping with the renowned author's pared-down style. The full text of the story can be read (and puzzled over) here.

4. "THE FIELD OF HONOR" // EDITH WHARTON

Photo of author Edith Wharton, wearing hat with a feather, coat with fur trim, and a fur muff
Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Alice Kelly, a researcher from Oxford University, was studying Edith Wharton’s papers in the Beinecke Library at Yale University in November 2015 when she discovered a previously unpublished short story. The unfinished nine-page story was stuck to the back of another manuscript, and is entitled "The Field of Honor." It centers on the First World War and is critical of the women who only superficially helped with the war effort, perhaps explaining why it was not published at such a sensitive time.

5. "POETICAL ESSAY ON THE EXISTING STATE OF THINGS" // PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY

Crayon drawing of poet Percy Shelley circa 1820
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Percy Bysshe Shelley was in his first year of university at Oxford in 1810/11, he wrote and published a poem critical of the Napoleonic wars under the pseudonym “a gentlemen of the University of Oxford.” The 172-line poem was printed in a 20-page pamphlet entitled “Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things” and was not attributed to Shelley until 50 years after his death. All copies were thought lost until 2006, when one was found amidst a mysterious private collection and offered for auction. Only scholars had access to the poem until 2015, when it was purchased by the Bodleian Library in Oxford to add to their world-famous collection of Shelley works and papers. The poem became the library’s 12 millionth book to be acquired and is now available online for all to read.

6. EARLY STORIES // TRUMAN CAPOTE

A black-and-white photo of a smiling Truman Capote
Evening Standard/Getty Images

A Swiss publisher poring over Truman Capote’s papers at the New York Public Library several years ago rediscovered a variety of short stories and poems the author had written before the age of 20. While four of the stories had been published in Capote’s school literary magazine, The Green Witch, the majority of the pile was brand-new to the reading public. In October 2015, Penguin books released the stories as The Early Stories of Truman Capote.

7. THE TURNIP PRINCESS

While looking through the archives of the city of Regensberg, Germany, researcher Erika Eichenseer uncovered 30 boxes containing more than 500 German fairy tales, which had lain unnoticed for 150 years. The stories had been collected by historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth, who traveled around the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz recording folktales, myths, and legends in order to preserve them. He published the results of his research in three volumes between 1857 and 1859, but his matter-of-fact accounts of the stories were somewhat overshadowed by the more artful stories of his contemporaries the Brothers Grimm, and his book fell into obscurity. The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales contains 72 of the lost tales and was published by Penguin in February 2015.

A previous version of this story ran in 2015.

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History
The Time the Oxford English Dictionary Forgot a Word
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain

When the complete edition of what would become the Oxford English Dictionary debuted in 1928, it was lauded as a comprehensive collection of the English language, a glossary so vast—and so thorough—that no other reference book could ever exceed its detail or depth. In total, the project took seven decades to catalogue everything from A to Z, defining a total of 414,825 words. But in the eyes of its editor James Murray, the very first volume of the dictionary was something of an embarrassment: It was missing a word.

Looking back, it’s impressive that more words were not lost. Assembling the OED was a nightmare. Before the first volume—an installment consisting of words beginning with the letters A and B—was published in 1888, multiple editors had taken (and abandoned) the helm, and each regime change created new opportunities for mayhem. When James Murray took command in 1879, the Oxford English Dictionary could best be defined by the word disarray.

The irony of making this massive reference book was that it required millions upon millions of tiny, tiny pieces of paper. Every day, volunteers mailed in thousands of small strips of paper called “quotation slips.” On these slips, volunteers would copy a single sentence from a book, in hopes that this sentence could help illuminate a particular word’s meaning. (For example, the previous sentence might be a good example of the word illuminate. Volunteers would copy that sentence and mail it to Oxford’s editors, who would review it and compare the slip to others to highlight the word illuminate.)

The process helped Oxford’s editors study all of the shades of meaning expressed by a single word, but it was also tedious and messy. With thousands of slips pouring into the OED’s offices every day, things could often go wrong.

And they did.

Some papers were stuffed haphazardly into boxes or bags, where they gathered cobwebs and were forgotten. Words beginning with Pa went missing for 12 years, only to be recovered in County Cavan, Ireland, where somebody was using the papers as kindling. Slips for the letter G were nearly burned with somebody’s trash. In 1879, the entire letter H turned up in Italy. At one point, Murray opened a bag only to find a family of live mice chewing on the paperwork.

When Murray took over, he tried to right the ship. To better organize the project, he built a small building of corrugated iron called the “Scriptorium.” It resembled a sunken tool shed, but it was here—with the help of 1029 built-in pigeonholes—that Murray and his subeditors arranged, sorted, and filed more than a thousand incoming slips every day. Millions of quotations would pass through the Scriptorium, and hundreds of thousands of words would be neatly organized by Murray’s trusty team.

One word, however, slipped through the cracks.

Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Media Specialist, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Bondmaid is not the kind of word people drop during conversation anymore, and that’s for the best: It means “a slave girl.” The word was most popular in the 16th century. Murray’s file for bondmaid, however, reached back even further: It included quotations as old as William Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the Bible.

But then bondmaid went missing. “Its slips had fallen down behind some books, and the editors had never noticed that it was gone,” writes Simon Winchester in The Meaning of Everything. When the first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1888, bondmaid wasn’t there. (That volume of the OED does miss other words, but those exclusions were deliberate matters of editorial policy—bondmaid is the only word that the editors are known to have physically lost.)

When the slips were later rediscovered in the Scriptorium, Murray reportedly turned red with embarrassment. By 1901, some 14 years after the exclusion, he was still reeling over the mistake in a draft of a letter addressed to an anonymous contributor: “[N]ot one of the 30 people (at least) who saw the work at various stages between MS. and electrotyped pages noticed the omission. The phenomenon is absolutely inexplicable, and with our minute organization one would have said absolutely impossible; I hope also absolutely unparalleled.”

All was not lost for the lost word, however. In 1933, bondmaid made its Oxford dictionary debut. It had taken nearly five decades to make the correction.

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