This Day In Literary History
On June 29th, 1900, the famous French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint Exupéry was born in Lyon, France.
He was born into an old aristocratic family, but his father, the Viscount Jean de Saint-Exupéry, was an insurance broker who died when Antoine was four.
The young Saint Exupéry was a below average student and failed his prep school final exams. Nonetheless, he entered the École des Beaux-Arts to study architecture.
In 1921, he joined the military and was assigned to the 2nd Regiment of Chasseurs (calvary) before being sent to Strasbourg to train as a pilot. He received his pilot's license the following year, along with an offer of transfer to the Air Force.
Due to the strenuous objections of his fiancée, Saint Exupéry declined the transfer and moved to Paris, where he took an office job. Over the next few years, the couple broke off their engagement and Saint Exupéry worked at a series of menial jobs.
In 1926, he became a pilot again - and not just any pilot. He flew planes for the Aéropostale as one of the first international mail flight pilots in the world - a dangerous job considering how primitive aircraft were in the 1920s.
That same year, Saint Exupéry published his first work - a short story called The Aviator - in Le Navire d'Argent magazine.
In 1929, he published his first book, Southern Mail. His career as an aviator took off (no pun intended) as well. He became the Latécoère French airline stopover manager at Cape Juby airfield in the Spanish zone of Southern Morocco. He later moved to Argentina and became director of the Aeroposta Argentina Company.
In 1931, Saint Exupéry published his second book, Night Flight, a novel based on his adventures flying for the Aéropostale, which won him the Prix Femina prize and made his name as a writer.
He also married Consuelo Suncin, a Salvadoran writer. It would be a stormy marriage, as Saint Exupéry was always away flying and a notorious womanizer.
After his death, his mistress, Hélène de Vogüé, became his literary executrix and wrote a biography of him under the pseudonym Pierre Chevrier.
On December 30th, 1935, Saint Exupéry and his navigator, André Prévot, crashed in the Sahara desert while en route to Saigon.
They had been attempting to win a 150,000 franc prize by flying from Paris to Saigon faster than any previous aviators. Both men survived the crash, but they didn't know where they were, and had only enough food and drink to sustain them for one day.
They wandered the desert, experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations. By the third day, the men became so dehydrated that they stopped sweating. The next day, they were found by a Bedouin camel rider who saved their lives.
Saint Exupéry wrote a memoir of their experience, Wind, Sand, and Stars (1939), and his most famous book, a children's novella called The Little Prince (1943) opens with a pilot being marooned in the desert.
The Little Prince is a delightful, clever, surreal, and poetic fairytale about a little boy who is the Prince of B612, a small asteroid out in space.
The Prince works hard caring for his asteroid, which will die if he neglects it. He falls in love with the only rose that grows on the asteroid.
One day, the Prince leaves home to see what the rest of the universe is like. He visits other asteroids, each one the home of an eccentric character.
The King tells his subjects that he can control the stars - but only by telling them to do what they already do anyway. He believes that a citizen's duty is to obey the King - but only if the King's demands are reasonable.
The Conceited Man lives alone, but longs to be admired by everyone. He is literally deaf to anything that isn't a compliment. The Drunkard drinks to forget that he's ashamed of being a drunkard.
The Businessman wants to own the stars, but the Prince tells him that because one cannot care for the stars or be useful to them in some way, he cannot own them. The Prince owns the rose because he cares for it.
The Lamplighter lives on an asteroid that rotates once a minute. Before its rotation sped up, he had time to rest. Now, he has no time to rest, but he refuses to turn his back on his work. The Prince feels sorry for the Lamplighter because he's the only person he's met who cares for something other than himself.
The Geographer spends all of his time making maps, but he never leaves his desk. He won't trust anything that he can't see with his own two eyes, but he refuses to leave his desk to explore the world around him.
The Prince comes to Earth as an ambassador at the King's request, and meets a marooned pilot in the desert, telling him about his home asteroid and the aforementioned characters he's met.
As he travels the desert, he tames a desert fox and meets a railway switchman and a merchant who both comment on the absurdity of human nature. He also meets a sly and deadly snake. The story ends on a sad, surreal, and ambiguous note.
The Little Prince has become - and still is - an all time classic work of children's literature that's beloved by readers of all ages.
In the 1940s and 50s, Disney considered making an animated feature film adaptation, but the plans fell through. In 1974, there was a live action, musical feature film adaptation released by Paramount - the last movie musical written and composed by the team of Lerner and Lowe.
The film starred Steven Warner as the Prince, Richard Kiley as the pilot, Gene Wilder as the Fox, and Bob Fosse (who choreographed his own dance routine) as the Snake.
At the time of its release, the movie was roundly panned by critics and a bomb at the box office, but it has since become a cult classic highly sought after by film lovers. It's now available on DVD.
In 1943, after living in America for just over two years, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, then 43 years old, returned to Europe and enlisted to fly in the Free French Forces and fight with the Allies in the Mediterranean.
A year later, after publishing his next book, Letter To A Hostage, Saint Exupéry took off from an airbase in Corsica and was never seen again. His plane was thought to have crashed.
In 1998, a French fisherman found a silver identity bracelet bearing the names of Saint Exupéry, his wife Consuelo, and his publishers, Reynal Hitchcock. The bracelet was fastened to a piece of cloth, most likely from Saint Exupéry's uniform.
Two years later, a diver found the remains of a P-38 Lightning war plane off the coast of Marseille. In 2003, some of the remains were recovered, and investigators from the French Underwater Archaeological Department confirmed that the aircraft was Saint Exupéry's missing plane.
Quote Of The Day
"Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiring for children to be always and forever explaining things to them." - Antoine de Saint Exupéry
Today's video features a complete reading of Antoine de Saint Exupéry's classic novella, The Little Prince. Enjoy!