With Christmas fast approaching, I am under pressure once more to buy gifts for members of my tribe. Unlike some, I don’t like buying compulsory presents because I find this task exceedingly stressful.
In order to buy a present for anybody, you need to know the recipient’s tastes pretty well and most of the time we don’t.
The gift giving business is therefore a hit or miss proposition (more miss than hit) and it often leaves the giver mentally exhausted and the recipient politely disappointed.
But as dictated by the powerful Business Lobby we must perpetuate this tradition for fear of incurring a business “fatwa” (like a lifetime ban of popular department stores).
So the show must go on.
My grandniece just started to study French and I thought that it would be a good idea to buy her a French book to familiarize her with this language.
Something more easily said than done. Finding a French book for a five-year old in America is not as easy as you might think.
After visiting a local Barnes & Noble store, I finally settled (among other things) for “Le Petit Prince”, the fabled novella penned more than half a century ago by Antoine de Saint Exupéry.
I first read this book (and promptly forgot about it) a very long time ago, when I was devouring everything in sight without really fully understanding or questioning what I was reading. I must confess that I read hundreds of books simply to sound “cultured” and because critics gushed about them.
Before wrapping my present, I decided to read Le Petit Prince one more time and I found this experience rather unsettling.
I perceived the book to be insipid and unworthy of all the extravagant praise heaped upon it.
First of all, even though it is seemingly written for children, it is definitely not a children’s book.
Second, it is full of obscure allegories that have been bandied about for a long time. Critics will tell you what the author meant when he wrote a certain sentence, but nobody but the author knows for sure what he meant, and since he died shortly after the book was published, he is not talking.
Some researchers for instance, have asserted that the famous baobab trees mentioned in the book were meant to represent Nazism attempting to destroy the planet.
To this, and to many other assertions I say phooey!
I am pretty sure that St Exupéry wrote many things without giving them hidden meanings.
And that’s where I have a bone to pick with “critics”.
Professional critics are a bunch of people who arrogate to themselves the right to decide if something is good or worthless.
If art critics decide that a painting or a book is a masterpiece, we better get along with it for fear of being labeled ignorant or even worse “bourgeois”.
So, many people fearing embarrassment shy away from contradicting those fellows. I don’t.
Here are some of the reasons why I believe Le petit Prince became so famous:
First of all, Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, (count) de Saint Exupéry was a genuine aristocrat, and that always gives a certain cachet to anything the bluebloods do.
Second, his book was published in the middle of World War Two (1943) when the US and its allies were eager to promote true Free French patriots.
Third, he had the support of very influential people.
Fourth, he was a glamorous (if not washed-up) aviator who insisted on flying combat missions despite physical handicaps and his advanced age.
And last, he died young (at the age of 44) and his early demise amplified his fame posthumously.
Everybody knows that to gain everlasting fame an artist must die young.
I do believe that if Saint Ex would have been a peon instead of an aristocrat, if his book would have been published after the war, and lastly if he didn’t disappear so prematurely, his book would never had achieved the ridiculous cult status that it now enjoys.
“Translated into more than 250 languages and dialects, selling over a million copies per year with sales totaling over 200 million copies worldwide”.
So, if you have not done so yet and if you are curious, read the book (only 85 pages), but don’t let anybody tell you that it is a masterpiece because some “critics” said so.
In my “expert” opinion it is a pleasant little walk in fairyland, but a masterpiece it ain’t!
But on second thought maybe I got it wrong… Maybe a five-year old will see in in this book what a jaded old guy like me failed to see.
So I’ll give her the book after all and quiz her later about what she truly thinks of baobab trees and talking snakes.
A five-year old wouldn’t lie to me, would she?