The influence of The Little Prince in our culture runs deep, my friends. I recently happened across this little gem comparing the dancing style of Michael Jackson with that of the snake, choreographed and performed by stage legend Bob Fosse. Thank you, internet!
In addition to inspiring the King of Pop, The Little Prince happens to be a pretty good read. I have read it with my children probably one hundred times. We’ve slipped a bit recently because with four children bedtime has become a vortex of chaos and despair, but there was a time when every single night I would read a chapter of The Little Prince with them. We need to get back to it.
As a new father eight years ago, I gave a lot of thought to how to educate my then infant daughter. I thought about the books we would read together and the cool hipster music we would listen to together (I bought her a vinyl recording of William Byrd’s Mass for 4 Voices as her 1st communion gift). Perhaps I am odd. I am sure of it, actually. Not that this makes me any different than you. We are all a little odd. It’s the new insider claim to be an outsider. Anyways, one of my peculiarities is that I didn’t just dream about this stuff but I obsessed over it, the sorts of books to read to my children. I would not read random children’s literature from the library. Dr. Seuss? I think not! I ruminated and researched. I took notes from the Johnny Depp character in Neverland. I started using the word “trivium”. I considered the kind of literature that would create a lifelong fascination with fairy tales and myth, how to foster a love affair with reading for my daughter that would last her a lifetime. This is a tremendous responsibility for a parent and I felt it keenly.
John Senior in his book The Restoration of Christian Culture discusses the way in which one does not simply take up the Great Books. It is necessary to prepare by first reading the Good Books. In other words, it wouldn’t do for me to dramatically read to my 2 year old daughter about Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. Children need a steady interaction with Good Books so that they may come to love imagination, fantasy, heroic sacrifice, good prose, and the virtues. I thought and thought about it and finally came up with the best, Good Book. The Little Prince is so good, in fact, that it is perfect.
I would not be able to engage a toddler in a critical discussion of Moby Dick (not that I would want to even discuss this with an adult, but my disapproval is a matter for another time). A young child quite obviously lacks the life experience and prudence to have any context whatsoever for appreciation. So, what is a parent to do? Many, it seems, are at a loss and end up giving young, impressionable minds over to television, children’s songs, and books written specifically for and catered to their supposedly limited abilities. Let us refer to these latter as Bad Books.
I have many flaws as a parent, but exposing my children to Bad Books I have thankfully been able to minimize. These Bad Books ask irrelevant questions and attempt to be cleverly didactic. As Antoine de St. Exupery was quite right to say, most adults ask the wrong sorts of questions and cannot even tell what the simplest line drawings are meant to represent.
This is because adults lack imagination. They have starved their ability to be fascinated by the inner life of the universe, the laughter of the stars, the well of water hidden in the desert that makes it all beautiful. They attempt to tame all things under their control. In short, the sophisticated adult is often not so clever, after all. In a world that is brimming with the eternal virtues of beauty and goodness, they often only see facts. That drawing up there? That is a hat and nothing more.
Pope Benedict XVI challenges us, “You were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.” In other words, do not be content with a world of facts and numbers. You were made to be more. Often I am sadly unable to appreciate how marvelous all of creation is, completely missing the sign value, the slender thread that connects heaven and earth. For me, this is a world become small, in which sacraments and virtue are not really possible. I worry that many of us live as if this is the case. If so, we are lost.
Before we can achieve greatness we must first achieve goodness. In literature, this is where books such as The Little Prince find their place. It is a book that children can appreciate but it is not at all a book for children, and if it is, I hope to remain a child forever because I dearly love reading it. The Little Prince is a story about the good things: loving a single unique rose, the beauty and starkness of the world in which we find ourselves, death and resurrection. When I first read the book to my daughter, I was worried that the snake bite scene at the end would make her cry. My worry was entirely misplaced. She understood immediately that the Little Prince had not, in fact, come to an end. It was a death, yes, but she wasn’t afraid of that because she knew full well that he lived on back on his planet. No problem. God grant me the faith of a child in this regard!
I hope and pray that by exposing my children to these Good Books they will not only survive their childhood with me as a father but continue to grow in discernment and ability to eventually appreciate the Great Books and other great works of art. In this way, perhaps they will never grow old. Life will be a grand adventure and they will know that even in the sin-swept desert that is this world, there is always, always a spring of water hidden out there that makes all of creation sacred.
*It is a boa constrictor that has eaten an elephant