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Having crash-landed in the Sahara Desert, a pilot comes across a young boy who introduces himself as the Little Prince and tells him the story of how he grew up on a tiny asteroid before travelling from planet and coming to Earth. His encounters and discoveries, seen through childlike, innocent eyes, give rise to candid reflections on life and human nature.

First published in 1943 and featuring author’s own watercolour illustrations, The Little Prince has since become a classic philosophical fable for young and old, as well as a global publishing phenomenon, selling tens of millions copies worldwide and being translated into over two hundred and fifty languages.

But how come Antone de Saint-Exupéry wrote and illustrated this small, strange book, written in French, containing an unusual story?

The blond-haired prince may reflect many elements of Antoine’s life: he has travelled through the air to distant places; he is on a quest to understand what life means and what is important; he has a curious mixture of simplicity, wisdom and enigma in how he examines the world. The little prince is probably influenced by other real, blond-haired people too. The eight-year-old son of a colleague who Antoine got to know during a visit to Canada and Francois, author’s brother who died in childhood.

The illustrations in the book are by Antoine himself. He had a casual attitude to his own abilities at drawing, but his studies as an architecture student would have included detailed drawings, and throughout his life it seems he almost had as much compulsion to produce drawings as writings – and as with his writing, he often produced drawings while flying.

The Little Prince is the kind of book in which almost every character and scene may represent not just what it seems to be, but other things that the author is hinting at, and maybe even more things that he didn’t hint at but that the reader might believe. Only a handful of books have become so loved. It is a book that is supposed for children but appeals to adults too. It seems certain that The Little Prince will live on for as long as people read books.

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