Walking around the Los Angeles Public Library, one may come across a bilingual quotation in Spanish and English by Alfonso Reyes: “No hay amigo tan complaciente como un libro.” “There is no friend more obliging than a book.” And when entering the library and walking into the International Languages, one may find a little book in different languages – The Little Prince – that may indeed become an obliging friend for many readers – whether one opens the book for the first time or revisits it anew.
First published in New York City seven decades ago, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince – Le Petit Prince in French – is one of the most translated books on our planet. Like our Lady of Liberty that has evolved from a gift statue to a symbol of freedom, The Little Prince is becoming a symbol of friendship for many readers around the world. In some countries, such as in Morocco, Russia and Japan, it has even become a language-learning companion.
The Little Prince is very easy to read. Yet, behind its simplicity, it hides depth and complexity that may unveil new meanings with each reading. And the meanings one may discover may range from personal to universal. The main character of the book does not have a name. He is merely presented as a young Prince who visits our planet to look for friends and to understand what is essential in life.
According to the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the word Prince comes to us from Old French, which in its turn comes from Latin: prin – (from primus first) + -cip-, -ceps (from capere to take), hence, literally, Prince means “one who takes the first part.”
When we apply this meaning to our reading, then Prince is not merely a fictional character or a courtesy title, but rather embodies that principle in each one of us that “takes the first part,” and which Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, calls the “heart’s core,” or the “heart of heart.” And it is here, perhaps, that hides, like a deep buried treasure, one of the secrets of The Little Prince: “On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” “It is only with the heart one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eyes.”
So here it is, and whether one has committed oneself to study a new language or to ponder upon life’s essential questions, The Little Prince is an obliging friend that kindly awaits our visit to International Languages.