The Little Prince (Le Petite Prince) is a novella written by Antoine de Saint-Exupery in 1943.
The story begins with the narrator’s speech who complains about the adults that can never understand the way a child perceives the world. When he was a little boy, a story about boa constrictor that swallows his prey in one whole piece fascinated him so much that he had drawn the huge shake that swallowed the elephant. Every adult who saw the picture said that it was a hat. He had drawn another one, showing the same boa constrictor in a section, so everything about the elephant’s destiny would be clear. Adults told him to better quit drawing. He had grown up and became a pilot, and every time when he approaches somebody worthy of conversation, he reproduces his very first drawing and asks about what is shown there, but everyone keeps telling that this is a hat.
One day our lonely narrator who is a man understood by no one has to land in Sahara desert due to an engine failure. He has an amount of water sufficient for a week, so he can try to do some repair. No more options left, he is hundreds and hundreds miles away from anyone and anything. Next morning he is awaken by childish voice demanding to draw a sheep. Instead of checking himself for symptoms of fever or sun stroke, the narrator starts a conversation with a child that appeared literally from nowhere.
The narrator tells the boy that he is not an artist at all and reproduces his very first drawing. The boy immediately interprets this image correctly, stating that he does not need any boa constrictors, because they are dangerous, and no elephants too, because they are too big. The narrator is happy: this is the first person ever who understood his drawing immediately and correctly. Such is a start of strange friendship of the pilot and the little prince.
Three versions of sheep are rejected for different reasons, and the last version is a simple drawing of a box with a sheep inside. This fits perfectly. In a deliberate conversation, the narrator learns that the little prince came from the sky, as he puts it, meaning that he is from another planet. This explains a lot, for example, the presence of a child in the middle of nowhere and his obvious ease about it. His planet or, rather, asteroid, is very small, of size of a big house, so there is no need to worry that the sheep would be lost somewhere. The narrator, wishing to please his adult readers, supposes that this asteroid is B-612, discovered by some Turkish astronomer, who first stated about his discovery wearing his national costume, so no one paid attention. Next time he reported about the asteroid, wearing the European outfit, and that worked perfectly, because now he was taken seriously.
This sarcastic anecdote shows the narrator’s attitude to adults that surrounded him – adults who love facts, numbers and labels, and never care about the beauty and the essence of the things.
During the following days, the narrator learns more about the little prince’s home world. For example, there are baobabs that should be uprooted as soon as they are spotted, on a daily basis. It is a routine but necessary work: first, young baobabs looks exactly like rose bushes, and second, they should not be allowed to grow large, because then it would be impossible to uproot them and their large roots can destroy the planet completely.
On the fourth day, the narrator learns that the little prince loves to watch sunsets. He even urges his new adult friend to watch the sunset right now, so the narrator has to explain that the Earth is large and there is no possibility to watch the sunset anytime. In little prince’s home world one should just move a several steps to watch the sunset again and again. He says that once he watched the sunset forty-four times in a row and drops a remark that one watches the sunset when he is sad.
On the fifth day, the narrator learns about a special flower the little prince cares about. The boy is worried if the sheep would eat any plant, even if it has thorns for protection. The narrator carelessly says that the sheep can eat any plant. The boy becomes angry about his inability to distinguish the things that are important and the things that are not. He even gives an example of a man he once met – a serious man who is very busy all the time and is unable to appreciate the beauty of stars. This and his crying upsets the narrator.
Later the little prince explains everything about his precious flower. He tells how once an unusual plant had appeared on his tiny planet, how long it took this plant to grow up and open its bud. The flower was vain and capricious, it demanded attention and special protection measures. At the same time, this rose boasted that its four thorns are enough to protect it from tigers. The little prince obeyed. He complains that he should know better and pay attention not to the words of the selfish flower, but to its beauty and wonderful fragrance that filled the whole planet. The rose felt unprotected and that was the reason for its words, but the little prince did not understand it then, so he left his precious flower and now regrets it.
The prince leaves the planet with a pack of migrating birds, but not before he puts everything in order: he cleans two active and one sleeping volcano, uproots a fresh bunch of baobabs and says goodbye to his rose. The rose is upset and much less proud now, she even says that she loves the prince, but he leaves anyway.
In course of his journey, the little prince visits six other asteroids and encounters their inhabitants. On the first one, he meets a king, who claims that the entire Universe is his realm, but is unable to order the sun to set. Of course, he is unable to force the little prince to stay on his planet, too.
The next asteroid’s inhabitant is a conceited man who loves admiration. The prince is tricked into applauding him, but soon gets bored and leaves.
The tippler’s asteroid follows. The drunkard tells the prince that he drinks in order to forget that he is ashamed of his drinking: when he is ashamed, he drinks and when he drinks he is ashamed. This vicious circle makes the little prince think that adults are weird – not for the first time: actually, the more adults he meets, the weirder they become.
The businessman follows. This man is completely submerged into his work and pays nearly no attention to his little visitor. He counts stars, thinking that they belong to him. The prince is not much interested in economics, so he leaves.
On the fifth and the smallest planet our little traveler meets the lamplighter. He assumes this man to be the only useful and the less weird of adults he met already, and leaves the planet with a feeling of a great respect to the lamplighter and his beautiful work.
The sixth and the biggest planet is inhabited by the geographer, who mistakes the little prince for an explorer. He proves to be ignorant of an actual geography of his own planet, relying completely on reports of explorers. Then the reliability of explorers should be thoroughly checked and confirmed. The little prince gives a brief description of his planet: two active volcanoes, one sleeping volcano and a rose. The rose proves to be insignificant for geographer, because it’s “ephemeral”. This makes the little prince understand that his precious flower would not live forever, so now he is worried about it. The geographer suggests the travel to Earth, so the little prince is on his way again.
After listening to all this, the narrator states the number of kings, businessmen, tipplers, conceited men and lamplighters on the Earth.
The description of the little prince’s journey goes on. His first encounter on the Earth, in the middle of Sahara desert, is a snake. The sinister reptile proves to be much of a philosopher and a significant creature itself. It listens carefully to prince’s tale about a rose, suggests that one is lonely not only in a desert, but among men too. Later it says creepy words about sending people back to the place they came from. If the little prince would grow homesick, the snake would be glad to help him.
Later the prince meets a small flower and learns that people are scarce and have no roots. After climbing a huge mountain, he tries to speak to his own echo and comes to a conclusion that people can only repeat what they heard. Later he finds a huge garden full of roses (no explanation about a blooming garden in Sahara offered), and understands that his tiny planet with its three knee-high volcanos and one common rose is really insignificant, while he thought himself to be rich.
The sad little traveler meets the fox. At first, the clever animal refuses to play with him, because it is untamed, and taming means to establish some ties. The fox explains the concept of taming and future relations in details, giving aphoristic statements about friendship and responsibility for those whom you tamed.
After the sad and enlightening parting with the fox, the little prince meets the railway switchman. They discuss people who are never satisfied with their place and go somewhere else, yawning and sleeping while they are travelling. Only children are awake and keep looking out the windows; the switchman concludes that they are lucky.
The merchant selling thirst pills follows. His pills save fifty-three minutes a week, but the little prince says that he can spend this time to take a slow walk to a spring.
At this the narrator drinks his last water; eight days in the desert passed. He and the little prince attempt to find a well and walk until the night falls. They have a conversation about beauty around them – even the desert is beautiful, because there is a well hidden in it somewhere. When the little prince falls asleep, the narrator lifts him and goes forth, until, at the daybreak, he finds the well. This well seems to be unreal: looks like it was prepared specially for them, standing in the middle of nowhere, ready to be used and full of sweet water. They drink and the prince muses about the preciousness of only one but special rose or a drink of water. Their conversation switches to more sad themes, because the little prince mentions that the anniversary of his arrival to the Earth will be tomorrow and this is the same place where he landed. This makes the narrator sad and worried. The little prince refuses to give any further explanations, he just tells the narrator to go back to his plane and return to the well tomorrow.
Next day is lucky for the narrator: at last, he manages to repair his plane. He goes to the little prince to share the good news and overhears a sinister conversation of little traveler and a snake. They discuss the quality of a snake’s poison. Terrified, the narrator tries to shoot the snake, but it is too fast, so he misses. The little prince congratulates him with a successful repair (although the narrator had no time to tell about it yet) and says that this night he will be on his way home too. The narrator understands the method that the little prince is going to use and tries to talk him out of this doubtful deal. But the prince is determined to use his way. He even advices the narrator to leave him and not to look at his departure, because it will look like death – he cannot take his body with him. The narrator refuses, so he stays and watches it all – the arrival of the snake, the bite and the little prince’s body collapsing.
So this story ends. The narrator says that the prince did not die, because he was not able to find his body the next day. He successfully got out of the desert and six years had passed since those events. He never told anybody about the little prince before. He still misses his little friend and frequently looks at the stars, remembering his wonderful laugher. He also worries about the relations between the sheep and the rose – what if the sheep had eaten the proud flower with its pathetic four thorns?
In the epilogue he shows the reader his drawing of a Sahara landscape where he met the little prince, so no one would miss this place if he happens to came by it. And if one should meet the little prince here, he should have let the narrator know about him.