Please draw me a child’s soul

Origins

The secret of the birth of the “Little Prince”

It would be hard to believe that a work as monumental as

The Little Prince still has the secret of his creation in store for us. Because, yes, even if at 80 years of its discovery of the general public, and on the 75th anniversary of its first edition in French, we all have the impression that this little character with the golden fleece is part of the family , no one really knows where or how it was designed. For a long time, in the circle of biographers and other unconditional supporters of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, it is an official version which traced the origins of the character of the Little Prince: this one would have been created by the author during the year 1942 in United States, where the book was first published, by Reynal & Hitchcock editions. Except that even there, these are two different stories that retrace the birth of the Little Prince. One said that during his hospitalization (following his exile in the United States in 1941), an actress often visited the ex-pilot, bringing him tales of Andersen which, it is said, would have him. gave the desire to write a tale. At the same time, the filmmaker René Clair offers Saint-Exupéry a box of watercolors. This is how the latter conceives, in words and in painting, his Little Prince. The alternative story goes that Eugene Reynal, American publisher of the work, one day discovers a little character that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry had scrawled on a corner of the table. It was there that he proposed to make him the hero of a tale that would be launched for the holidays. If the work did not come out on time, it is because the author would have spent a lot of time on the drawings, designed at the Bevin House on Long Island, and for which the young Thomas De Koninck, son of Canadian philosopher of Belgian origin Charles De Koninck, would have served as his model, Sylvia Reinhardt’s boxer for a tiger and a friend’s poodle for the legendary sheep. The story does not end there. It is a testimony of the publisher Alfred Mame, who had met Saint-Exupéry in 1939, which muddies the waters and confirms that a first version of the tale had been produced in France, before the war, before be replenished in the United States. Mystery.

Movie theater

Mark Osborne finally won the bet

Since its release in 1943, The Little Prince has been a monument of literature that many directors have tried to adapt before giving it up in the face of the difficulty of the task. Because can we really adapt the novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry without betraying it? Orson Welles and Walt Disney had dreamed of it, but to no avail. Before the animated film version of The Little Prince by director Mark Osborne, in 2015, Saint-Exupéry’s work has undergone several adaptations, in different styles, not always very successful. After the radio adaptation of the work of Saint-Exupéry released in 1954 and told by Gérard Philippe, other filmed attempts took place that we can hardly remember.

In 1974, American director Stanley Donen (Singing in the Rain) revisited the work without much success in a musical version performed by Bob Fosse and Gene Wilder. The Little Prince was also entitled to a comic strip adaptation by Joann Sfar in 2008, to plays, operas (by Lev Knipper in 1964, Rachel Portman in 2003 or Michaël Levinas in 2014) and musicals, such as that of Richard Cocciante. The 2015 adaptation, by Mark Osborne, is produced by Dimitri Rassam (the project was initially proposed to Hayao Miyazaki who declined). It took the producers nine years to complete their project. Was it possible to transcribe the magic and poetry of the original novel into a CGI animated film? A risky bet, but it paid off for Mark Osborne.

To avoid the pitfalls, the writers have told several stories in the same film: that of a little girl who lives in a world of adults, that of an aviator who has never really grown up and that of the Little Prince, whom everyone knows. All gathered in a feature film bringing together a cast of choice: André Dussolier, Florence Foresti, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard for the voices, Hans Zimmer for the music.

“The Little Prince” at the cinema.

Symbolic

The boa, the elephant and the planets

Written to destabilize, The Little Prince is a book for adults to read by finding the young child who lives in each of us. To be able to see an elephant inside a boa and not a hat, you have to go to meet the unspeakable, the invisible, this part of mystery hidden in everything. “The essential is invisible to the eyes” (which takes up Plato’s theory on “the world of Ideas” illustrated by the elephant hidden in the boa) and “one can only see well with the heart” (which takes up Pascal’s distinction on truths sensitive to the heart). In the Gospel of Saint Matthew it says: “If you do not change to become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God. »Saint-Exupéry fully reveals himself in a symbolism which is addressed to everyone and in which he delivers the keys to a philosophy of success, of the universal man. The encounter with a fox encourages him to think about friendship, and the link with the rose to rediscover love. The successive visits to the six planets then to the Earth, where each planet constitutes a stage in the formation of its character, thus gives the story a clearly initiatory dimension which roots it in the genre of the philosophical tale, but a practical philosophy. Saint-Exupéry could not stand his life as a spectator of the world. He wanted to be an actor above all. His Little Prince is an unusual hero who carries within him the two contradictory things of life. He is of a mortal condition and of an immortal nature and turns out to be a character always on the move, elusive because standing still is the way of the absurdity of life. The dialogue between the Little Prince and the disabled pilot is a purely Socratic dialogue where it is never a question of earthly and factual things, but simply essential. The Little Prince teaches the pilot the ability to acquire discernment, he offers him this love of clarity. A dialogue that every human being must do within himself. Our life is heroic only if we are able to make the crossing and face loneliness. To become a hero is to be the bearer of a providence and inspired by a destiny. The human for Saint-Exupéry is not a finitude in itself, it is a transition between two worlds and the Earth is our vessel.

Illustration

When Saint-Exupéry almost didn’t draw the Little Prince

This little blond character, so delicate, drawn by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry did not really appear out of nowhere. In a Memoirs book, LIFE photojournalist John Phillips recounts a conversation with the aviator-writer as he drew his portrait: “When I asked Saint-Ex how the Little Prince had entered his life, he confided to me that one day when he despised what he thought was a blank sheet, he saw a small childish figure and asked him who he was. I am the Little Prince, was the answer, he told me. It is undoubtedly from there that Saint-Exupéry started to scribble on the margins of his notebooks, his letters and even on the paper tablecloths of restaurants, a small character with fine hair wearing a bow tie. A character he imagines as the hero of the children’s story that he decides to write in 1942 in his mansion on Long Island, New York. To illustrate his book, he first called on his old friend Bernard Lamotte. But the line of the illustrator of Pilot of war turns out to be too realistic for this naive tale. At the suggestion of his mistress, Silvia Reinhardt, the author ends up making the drawings of his Little Prince himself. On the advice of another of his friends, the explorer Paul-Émile Victor, he uses watercolor pencils to give birth to the famous silhouette of a little boy wearing, this time around his neck a scarf fluttering in the wind. .

Today, the watercolors of The Little Prince are part of the collective unconscious. And if they have given birth to an anthology of variations on various products: cards, stationery objects, figurines etc., they have also inspired designers and cartoonists of the stature of a Moebius or even a Joann Sfar. The first did not resist the urge to pay tribute, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the release of Saint-Exupéry’s book, to the timelessness of the famous little character, by representing him in Le Figaro Littéraire, in “cool” version: hands in pockets, in the middle of the desert, accompanied by a sheep.

As for the author of the famous Rabbi’s Cat, in 2008 he signed his comic book version of the Little Prince because he identified himself as a child with the little hero created by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, he confided during the release of his album.

“The Little Prince” written by Joann Sfar, published by Gallimard. Photo DR

Literary variations

Who killed the Little Prince?

The writer Michel Bussi, third most read author in France in 2020, will publish in October a novel offering a variation around the character of the Little Prince. Code 612. Who killed the Little Prince? to be published on October 14 by Presses de la Cité.

Michel Bussi’s book “reviews hypotheses, culprits and motives to highlight the depth of this work and reveal the secrets of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and his paper duplicate,” explained the editor to the ‘AFP.

“Since his adolescence, Michel Bussi has sought the keys to the mystery that links the death of the Little Prince to that of its author. Childhood, the search for identity, absence, the desire for freedom thwarted by responsibility are all themes of this philosophical tale, ”he added.

Saint-Exupéry, an aviator who died in July 1944 during a mission in the Mediterranean under circumstances which remain unknown, did not have the opportunity to see the planetary success of his tale, originally inspired by an accident in Libya in December 1935.

Michel Bussi will donate his copyright to the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Youth Foundation, which finances projects in education and the environment.

Seven cult phrases

“It’s the time you wasted on your rose that makes your rose important.” ”

“We are never happy where we are. ”

“Straight ahead, we can’t go very far. ”

” One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye. ”

“All grown-ups were first children, but few of them remember it. ”

“Make the dream devour your life so that life does not devour your dream. ”

” Please draw me a sheep. “

In words and in music

He came to earth

And only saw a great desert

Some wild flowers,

A silver fox and a lost poet

He was often bored

From her rose of her volcanoes

He asked the snake for his friend

To take him home

Sung by Gérard Lenorman, these words sum up in a manner as laconic as just this work with a thousand and one ramifications. Among the many musical tales inspired by the Little Prince of Saint-Exupéry, we will retain that of Joann Sfar, set to music by Marc-Olivier Dupin, with the Paris Chamber Orchestra and Benoît Marchand. As well as that, just as refreshing, of Coralie Fayolle, who signs the music and the libretto. Without forgetting the eponymous musical, produced by Richard Cocciante in 2002 at the Casino de Paris. Or the very endearing trailer for the film, directed by Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey.

OriginsThe secret of the birth of the “Little Prince” It would be hard to believe that a work as monumental as The Little Prince still holds the secret of its creation in store for us. Because, yes, even if at 80 years of its discovery of the general public, and on the 75th anniversary of its first edition in French, we all have the impression that this little character with the fleece …

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