In France, every French person reads The Little Prince (at least) twice - once as a child and once as an adult. And chances are that you’ll interpret it very differently those two times. It is an intellectual, philosophical tale as much as it is a funny, touching and innocent one.
The Little Prince is the second most translated book in the world after the Bible. So, when I found out that the master storyteller Michael Morpurgo had risen to the challenge too, I was eager to read his translation - after all, he wrote some of my favourite books as a child. I was so pleased to see that his translation of de Saint-Exupéry’s masterpiece captured both the author’s and the translator’s voices in equal measure. Morpurgo decided to keep Saint-Exupéry’s brilliant illustrations in his version, too.
The story is about The Little Prince, a little boy from a distant planet, who has landed in the middle of the Sahara on Earth. He meets our narrator, a pilot whose plane has crashed in the same area, and throughout the book The Little Prince recounts his adventures meeting creatures from far away planets as well as Earth - some of which he calls ‘grown-ups’.
Having read the French version first years ago, I was touched to read Morpurgo’s version of the tale. The key rule of translation is that it should not sound like a translation, but like an original text. Morpurgo achieves this masterfully; I was surprised and impressed that this was his first ever official translation from French to English.
The only hints that the story was originally written in the French language were in its frequent philosophical morals, peppered throughout the plot, that Morpurgo translated extremely well. France has its long history of great philosophers, and it is not surprising that this text resonates so well with both French children and adults. As Morpurgo says in his foreword, ‘I can think of no single book of ours [The English] that appeals so widely across the generations, that remains so relevant, whose glow does not fade with the passing of time’.
It is heartwarming in its exploration of youthful curiosity, friendships and simple pleasures, and heartbreaking in its honest presentation of adult greed and vanity, but also its acknowledgement of loneliness and grief as normal, inevitable parts of life for children and adults alike. Just like The Little Prince and the narrator, we as the reader embark on a journey of realisation - of realising that happiness is found in life’s simplest pleasures: flowers, sunsets and laughter. Here are my favourite quotations from the book - stop and read them, contemplate them. I think they encapsulate what really matters in life so well.
If there is a book that cannot be encapsulated in a single review, it’s The Little Prince. I would urge everyone to read it - and with Michael Morpurgo’s translation, I would hope that it has now become accessible and readable by many more people. It’s simply a beautiful story.
Have you read The Little Prince? Are you an Antoine de Saint-Exupéry or Michael Morpurgo fan? What should we review next? We are always eager to hear your thoughts - tag #CSCVintage to join the conversation, and find out more about our collaboration with Vintage here.
You can find out more about The Little Prince here.If you’re in Cambridge on 24 April 2022, treat yourself to an hour of storytelling, music and poetry with Michael Morpurgo. Book here.