This review contains spoilers for the printed version of The Little Prince, but don’t worry; the movie remains unspoiled here. Please read the book if you haven’t already.
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There are children’s books. There are really imaginative children’s books. There are even mind-openingly-imaginative children’s books that you just keep wanting to come back to.
And then there’s The Little Prince.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry somehow managed to tap into a brilliant wellspring of imagination when he wrote Le Petit Prince over 70 years ago. It handles, with depth, themes of love and loss; sacrifice and devotion; help and fear. But one of its most enduring themes is that of importance.
Matters of Consequence
When you get right down to it, we all have very different definitions of what constitutes “important.” The narrator of The Little Prince experienced this problem through a drawing he made as a child.
In the course of this life I have had a great many encounters with a great many people who have been concerned with matters of consequence. I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately, close at hand. And that hasn’t much improved my opinion of them.
Whenever I met one of them who seemed to me at all clear-sighted, I tried the experiment of showing him my Drawing Number One, which I have always kept. I would try to find out, so, if this was a person of true understanding. But, whoever it was, he, or she, would always say:
“That is a hat.”
Then I would never talk to that person about boa constrictors, or primeval forests, or stars. I would bring myself down to his level. I would talk to him about bridge, and golf, and politics, and neckties. And the grown-up would be greatly pleased to have met such a sensible man.
The Little Prince, chapter 1
“Importance” is a really subjective thing, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Importance is, well, important; how can you know someone if you don’t know what is important to them? To really be close to someone, you must really know one another’s “matters of consequence.”
Prince‘s narrator doesn’t hold much stock in the important things of adults. And when you think about it, a lot of the things we hold important are silly; transient, joyless items and concepts that don’t bring us joy or wonder, that don’t give us a greater love.
He’d rather focus on incredible things with anyone he meets: boa constrictors, primeval forests, stars. But in order to live a normal life around normal people and their bizarre, joyless “matters of consequence,” he has to shut out the things he finds truly important and “bring himself down to their level.”
And as a result, no one truly knows him. They know about him—his name, his rank, his profession—but they don’t know him.
To Those who Understand Life
Not knowing someone at their core goes far beyond mere statistics.
But certainly, for us who understand life, figures are a matter of indifference. I should have liked to begin this story in the fashion of the fairy-tales. I should have like to say: “Once upon a time there was a little prince who lived on a planet that was scarcely any bigger than himself, and who had need of a sheep…”
To those who understand life, that would have given a much greater air of truth to my story.
The Little Prince, chapter 4
Of course, on a site like Redeeming Culture, it’s probably not exactly earth-shattering news that we believe that. But it’s still true: the things we imagine, whether individually or as a culture, give “a much greater air of truth to” the stories of our lives. How many times have you explained something in terms of some fictional universe, or identified so closely with a character in a story that you found their mannerisms and syntax slipping into your daily life?
But more importantly, there is a Truth deeper than fact; and that truth runs through each one of us. We are luminous beings, a product of where we’ve come from and the things we find important, and the Truth that makes us up is far more important than any mere information that can describe us.
Oh! You think that is not important!
But the most weighty part of the Truth which runs through us is probably the love that we hold.
“And if I know—I, myself—one flower which is unique in the world, which grows nowhere but on my planet, but which one little sheep can destroy in a single bite some morning, without even noticing what he is doing– Oh! You think that is not important!”
His face turned from white to red as he continued:
“If some one loves a flower, of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars, it is enough to make him happy just to look at the stars. He can say to himself, ‘Somewhere, my flower is there…’ But if the sheep eats the flower, in one moment all his stars will be darkened…And you think that is not important!”
The Little Prince, chapter 7
The things we hold important may be stripped away. All that we are may be taken from us. But as long as we hold on to love for something or someone, we can remain tethered. There is another out there whose presence we can count on.
So what love can we rely on so closely?
Obviously we must answer that question. If we love a fragile flower amidst the sheep, our love will die when the sheep become hungry. If we love a distant, impersonal force, it will never be reciprocated.
But what if we loved a Person instead?
Importance, Truth, and Love
You may have heard of the Woman at the Well. It’s an encounter that Jesus has with a sinful woman in chapter 4 of John. The woman, a Samaritan, discusses living water with Jesus, before He calls her out on her sin and calls her to repent.
With that, she tries to change the subject. And in Jesus’ response, you see her wrestling with what is truly important; what is truly lovely, what is truly true, deeper than any fact.
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father […] God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
She sees His words as unimportant and painful, trying to redirect the subject to something she thinks is truly important. But Jesus sees right through it; and with only a few words he lets her know that the facts of the worship—its statistics—aren’t as important as the truth He embodies. His important things might seem silly to us, but it is really our important things: our worries, our fears, our petty loves and affections, that become of no consequence when seen through the light of His importance.
“Your worries are not as important,” he says to both her and us, “as the Truth of worship that I bring.”
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Redeeming Culture will be waiting with bated breath to see the release of The Little Prince next week, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on the beloved French story. It is rich with loving metaphor for redemption: the fox, the sheep, the prince, and even the asteroid the Prince lives on. If you’d like to give us your take, comment below, or contact us.
Quotations from the English version of The Little Prince are © 1943 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, trans. Katherine Woods.