A charming but also deeply philosophical novella for children, The Little Prince was first published in the United States in April 1943, and published in France only in 1946, two years after its author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry died. Today a publishing phenomenon, one can safely say The Little Prince is the one of the most beloved and most often read French works of literature.
The skilled aviator Saint-Exupéry started writing The Little Prince in 1940 after fleeing France in the first years of the Second World War. He drew on his own experience and creative ability to narrate a very unique and universal story. Indeed, he and a copilot/navigator had crash-landed in the Sahara in 1935 while attempting to set a speed record. They survived, but just barely - they were starving, dehydrated, and having hallucinations before a Bedouin found them and gave them a native rehydration treatment. Saint-Exupéry also noted seeing a desert fox, had an airmail plane labeled A-612, and may have based the rose off of his beautiful but complicated wife Consuelo. Several young boys may have been the inspiration for the prince himself, and once Saint-Exupéry told a Life photojournalist that he was looking down at a blank page of paper, saw a child and asked his identity, and was told he was the “Little Prince.”
Saint-Exupéry worked on his novella throughout 1942, primarily in the Long Island community of Asharoken. The work was initially over 30,000 words but, through laborious effort, was trimmed down. When it was time to illustrate his book, he decided to do the drawings himself with a very simple portrait of his character and he thus created a world that is both unique and recognizable by all. Many of his initial drawings were on scattered napkins, pages of his notes, etc.
The work was moderately successful initially, but its fame grew exponentially in later years. The Little Prince is now the most translated work in history exempting religious texts; there are currently over 300 languages and dialects offered. About two million copies are sold annually and to date 140 million copies have been sold. It has been adapted into radio broadcasts, for the stage, in film and television, in graphic novel form, and as opera and ballet. The book is so famous that the original manuscript is kept in New York’s Pierpont Morgan Library.