'You do understand that the Little Prince died?'
my mother asked as carefully and gently as only adults who know that loss of innocence can be crushing but is brutally necessary can do.'No, he didn't. He went back to his home planet and that stupid rose. It says so right here,
' I replied with the comforting stubbornness of an eight-year-old.
Later that night, I quietly reread the book and the sad truth clicked, and so did the belated thought that for all the gentle berating of adults in it, this strange and beautiful book was written by one of them and definitely for them, and not for me, and by luring me in with the beautiful pictures it pushed me just a bit further on the inevitable road to adulthood.
Or so I see now.
Back then, I decided to read the author's biography instead as a distraction from the thoughts that were trying to be a bit more grown-up than my heart cared for - I was the odd kid of a literature teacher mother, after all - just to learn that just after writing this book, Antoine de Saint Exupéry died when flying his plane in a war to liberate his country, killed by adults who played a game of war, too dangerous and cruel. And that finally made me cry.
And then I went back to the simple security of childhood.Then I grew up, inevitably, like most of us do. I learned to do my fair share of 'matters of consequence'.
I learned the painful understanding of why certain vain but naive roses can hold such sad power over our hearts. I learned the comfort and longing of nostalgia, the fear of the crushing burden of loneliness, the understanding of fragile beauty of the world that can be so easily taken away at any moment. I became a grown-up, and I have to learn to reconcile my inner child with my outer age.
"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."
Now, reading this intensely lyrical and mesmerizing book written by an ailing middle-aged adult far away from the country he loved in the middle of war-torn years, I am confronted with emotions that ruthlessly hurt, hidden in the deceiving simplicity of a (supposedly) children's story just like an elephant was hidden inside a boa constrictor - or was it simply a hat all along? - in the opening paragraphs of this book. I sigh and tear up, and try to resist the urge to pick up the golden-haired child that never stopped until he got answers to his questions and carry him away into safety. But I can't. Because if I do so, there will never be 500 billion bells in the stars, and we will never wonder whether the rose is still alive - and it needs to be, because we are responsible for those we have tamed.
"But I was not reassured. I remembered the fox. One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets himself be tamed."
This is not a book for children. It's for adults who remember being children and feel nostalgia for the simple comfort of childhood innocence but know they can never go back to it. Because they have met their Roses, and Foxes, and drank from a well with a rusty handle in the desert, and learned that a few thorns may not stand against the claws of a tiger.
Unlike the Little Prince, they can no longer go back - but they can look at the night starry sky and laugh, and imagine that they hear an answering clear laughter.
"In certain more important details I shall make mistakes, also. But that is something that will not be my fault. My friend never explained anything to me. He thought, perhaps, that I was like himself. But I, alas, do not know how to see sheep through t he walls of boxes. Perhaps I am a little like the grown-ups. I have had to grow old."
'What makes the desert beautiful,' said the little prince, 'is that somewhere it hides a well.'