As a novel, “The Little Prince” is quite unexpected. For one, it is a rather short and fanciful story that seems like it is aimed at children. With its varying layers of exploration, it is a story that has captured the hearts of readers across the globe, young and old alike. Today it is a literary classic taught in schools all over the world.
However, this beloved book by French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry has so much more to it than meets the eye. The story of Le Petit Prince involves the author’s personal experiences being lost in the desert, and foreshadows his own mysterious disappearance that remains unsolved.
So let’s get to a few facts about the Little Prince and how the story came about, shall we? Allons-y!
1. Saint-Exupéry was a pilot, just like his lead character.
The lead character in the Little Prince is the pilot and navigator, a profession that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was very familiar with. He worked as a pilot as well as being a famed writer and journalist.
Originally serving in France’s Air Force after World War I in 1922, he would go on to become a commercial pilot, as well as returning to the French Air Force in 1939 as World War II approached.
2. The book is based on Saint-Exupery’s flight crash in 1935.
The Little Prince is based on Saint-Exupéry’s 1935 experience of having been lost for almost a week in the Sahara desert.
On December 29, 1935, accompanied by his mechanic André Prévot, he attempted a Paris- Saigon flight aboard a Caudron-Renault Simoun, to beat the record of André Japy who a few days earlier had flown from Paris to Saigon in 3 days and 15 hours.
Saint-Exupéry and Prévot survived the plane crash, but it took 4 days for a bedouin to find them and rescue them. The book the Little Prince talks about Saint-Exupéry’s memories of loneliness, hallucination, and impending death during this “lost” period.
3. The book might not have been written if France had not been defeated.
Saint-Exupéry was a renowned pilot during WWII. On May 23, 1940, he flew over Arras as German tanks invade the city. His plane was riddled with bullets by the German forces but he managed to return to his base with his crew safe and sound. This feat earned him the Croix de guerre.
He was soon demobilized however as the French Vichy government acquiesced to the demands of the German forces. Saint-Exupéry made his way to the United States as he was famous enough to be a target if he had remained in France.
4. Little Prince was written while Saint-Exupéry was in the United States.
While Antoine de Saint-Exupéry had the idea for several years, he began writing “The Little Prince” while living in New York in the United States during World War II.
He arrived in the U.S. in December 1940, trying to make his voice heard and with the goal of bringing the United States Army into the war. It was during this tumultuous period that The Little Prince was written.
5. It was published in 1942.
The book was published in 1942 during the Occupation of France, when the outlook was quite dire. As a Frenchman and former military man, Saint-Exupéry’s would have been filled with a sense of shame and confusion at what was happening to his homeland, similar to the pilot’s confusion.
He was initially suspicious of French General Charles de Gaulle’s call to fight, before supporting him. Saint-Exupery would return to the French Resistance in April 1943.
6. The book was first published in English.
It is believed that Saint-Exupery wrote the Little Prince in English, even though French was his native language, as it is in English that the book would be published first.
It was published in the United States by Reynal & Hitchcock in April 1943 in English and then French.
7. The book was published in France in 1946 after the war.
In July 1944, Commander Saint-Exupéry took off on a mapping mission on a flight from Bastia (Haute-Corse) to Provence when his plane disappeared.
He was reported missing and presumed dead during the war. The wreckage of his plane was only identified in 2003. However, the circumstances of this death could not be clarified, and it is not clear if his plane was shot down by German forces.
His body was never found, presumed buried in the confusion of war, and various theories of him being captured or shot down exist.
He never saw his book published in his homeland, France where it was published posthumously in 1946 by his mother, following France’s liberation at the end of WWII.
8. The illustrations in the book were painted by Saint-Exupéry.
The watercolor illustrations in the Little Prince were drawn by Saint-Exupéry himself. They were not included in the original publication, but included later when found in his manuscripts and notes.
9. A real asteroid was named after the Little Prince’s asteroid B-612.
In 1998, a small asteroid, officially designated 46610 Bésixdouze, was named after the asteroid B-612 from “The Little Prince.” The name Bésixdouze is a play on words from the French phrase “bête à six douze,” meaning “stupid in a very large way.”
10. The book is still in copyright.
Because of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s fame and his service to France, the copyright of the Little Prince has been extended. His estate received the designation “Mort pour la France” (meaning “Died for France”) by the French government in 1948.
The copyright was extended to 2039 in the United States and 2044 in France, much longer than the standard 70 years. You can buy a copy of the Little Prince here.
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about other famous French books. A bientôt!