Books

75 facts you might not know about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and The Little Prince

2018 marks the 75th anniversary of The Little Prince's publication.
The Little Prince was Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's only children's story and is one of the most translated works of all time. (Raincoast Books, Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

2018 marks 75 years since the publication of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's classic fable The Little PrinceThe anniversary is being marked by a special edition of the book, which includes archival images and a look at the French aviator's history.

A special panel on the book with biographer Stacy Schiff, filmmaker Mark Osborne and Canadian novelist Eric Dupont will air on CBC Radio's Writers & Company on Dec. 16, followed by an airing of the documentary Invisible Essence: The Little Prince on CBC's documentary channel on Dec. 17.

Brush up on some trivia by checking out these 75 facts you might not know about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and The Little Prince.

1. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was born on June 29, 1900 in Lyon, France to an aristocratic family

2. Saint-Exupéry was an inventive child, conducting bathtub experiments, attaching wings to his bicycle and writing poetry about his home, four siblings and mother.¹

3. Between 1900 and 1940, France was fascinated by aviation. Swept up in the notion of flying, Saint-Exupéry experienced his first flight at age 12.

4. Saint-Exupéry was profoundly shaped by two deaths in his youth: his father Jean in 1904 and his younger brother Francois, with whom he was very close, in 1917.

5. In a 1941 interview with Harper's Bazaar, Saint-Exupéry revealed that the first book he ever loved was a collection of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales.²

6. A new documentary Invisible Essence: The Little Prince explores Saint-Exupéry's global legacy and introduces the world to a blind seven-year-old boy named Sahil, who reads the book for the first time. 

7. After failing his naval exams and dropping out of architecture school, Saint-Exupéry became relentless in his pursuit of becoming a pilot.¹

8. He eventually got a job delivering airmail with Aéropostale in North Africa and South America.¹

9. Reminiscing about his shack in Cape Juby in the western Sahara, now known as Tarfaya in Morocco, Saint-Exupéry wrote, "I have never loved my house more than when I lived in the desert."³

10. The Aéropostale airplanes were not very functional and crashed all the time.¹

11. As a result, Saint-Exupéry became close with his fellow pilots, including French aviators Henri Guillaumet and Jean Mermoz, as they were always rescuing each other.¹

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, circa 1935, was famous as both an aviator and writer. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

12. Saint-Exupéry was a "distracted flier." People said they'd find balled up pieces of paper in the cockpit and there were times Saint-Exupéry refused to land until he finished the novel he was reading.¹

13. During his time at Aéropostale, Saint-Exupéry published his first text, a short story called L'Aviateur, which was published on April 1, 1926

14. This was followed up in 1929 by his first published book, a novel called Southern Mail, inspired by his experiences as a pilot. 

15. Perhaps his breakthrough book was 1931's Night Flight, a novel about the harrowing adventures of brave pilots. It was a bestseller, won the prix Femina, became a film starring Clark Gable and made Saint-Exupéry famous. 

16. Also in 1931, Saint-Exupéry met and married a charismatic, fiery widow named Consuelo Carrillo from El Salvador.¹

File photo dated 1936 of French novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupéry with his wife Consuelo in their Paris home. (AP Photo)

17. In her memoir, Consuelo reveals that Saint-Exupéry proposed the same night they met in Buenos Aires. She fled to France in response and he followed, allegedly bringing a puma as a present.

18. Both the Saint-Exupérys had extramarital affairs and lived separately at times during their marriage. Their relationship was often strained, though passionate.

19. In 1939, Saint-Exupéry released a memoir called Wind Sand and Stars, collecting newspaper articles he'd written about his heroic exploits in the air. The book went on to win the Grand Prix du Roman and the U.S. National Book Award.

20. As the Second World War broke out, Saint-Exupéry began flying "near suicidal" reconnaissance missions until the fall of France.¹

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry pictured on the right with his mechanic Andre Prevot circa 1938. (Keystone/Getty Images)

21. When his unit disbanded, Saint-Exupéry moved to New York City with the intention of leaving after a few weeks. He ended up staying for over two years.³

22. Saint-Exupéry made little to no effort to learn English and relied heavily on his publisher and friends to get by.³

23. During this period, Saint-Exupéry became very depressed and longed to re-join the war effort, saying "I feel like I am watching the war from a theatre seat."¹

24. Saint-Exupéry published Flight to Arras in February 1942, an account of France's fall during the war. It became his publisher Reynal & Hitchcock's fastest publishing title in history.

25. In 1942, Consuelo rented a mansion called Bevin House in Long Island to cheer her husband up. A great deal of The Little Prince was written in this house.

A drawing from an original colour signed copy of Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, is pictured at the Cazo auction house on December 2, 2016 in Paris. (Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

26. It's said that Saint-Exupéry's writing day began at 11 p.m. and went on until daybreak.

27. Friends recall Saint-Exupéry calling them up in the middle of the night and reading them drafts.²

28. There are many obvious sources of inspiration from Saint-Exupéry's life in The Little Prince, such as his crash in the Libyan desert in Dec. 1935 and his tempestuous relationship with his wife for the Little Prince's rose.

29. The Little Prince makes six stops before arriving on earth, meeting a drunkard, an egomaniacal king, a very vain man, a busy businessman, a miserable lamplighter and an armchair geographer.²

30. Original manuscripts show that Saint-Exupéry wrote and cut a scene in which the Little Prince meets a man struggling to finish a crossword puzzle.²

A drawing by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is shown at the Museum of Old Toulouse on May 17, 2017. (Remy Gabalda/AFP/Getty Images)

31. Saint-Exupéry illustrated the book himself and had very specific demands for his publisher: "... it is I who will decide on a) the placement of the illustrations, b) their relative dimensions, c) whether or not they should be in full color, and d) how the captions should read."³

32. Saint-Exupéry had been drawing the same little figure over and over again, on receipts, tablecloths and scraps of paper since he was in his 20s.¹

33. When people asked him where this little character had come from, Saint-Exupéry said: 'I looked down at a blank sheet of paper one day and a figure looked back at me and said 'I am the little prince.'"¹

34. A couple of known literary influences on The Little Prince are The Lamplighter by Maria Cummins and The Country of Thirty-Six Thousand Wishes by André Maurois.²​

35. As an eight-year-old boy, Quebec philosopher Thomas De Koninck met Saint-Exupéry at his parents' home. He remembers peppering Saint-Exupéry with questions about flight and the author very warmly answering all of his questions, making paper planes with the children and showing them drawings.

A spread from the 75th anniversary edition of The Little Prince, which includes scans of Saint-Exupéry's early sketches. (Raincoast Books)

36. Lewis Galantière, translator of Wind Sand and Stars, was slated to do the first English translation of the book, but was injured in a plane accident. Katherine Woods then took over the job.²

37. The Little Prince was published in English and French in the U.S. and Canada on April 6, 1943. It was not published in Saint-Exupéry's native France until after the war.³

38. The same month The Little Prince was released, April 1943, Saint-Exupéry rejoined the French war effort. Biographers disagree on the exact date he shipped off, unclear whether or not it happened before or after The Little Prince's publication.²

39. The Little Prince only spent one or two weeks on the New York Times bestseller list when it was first published.³

40. It nevertheless created a sensation. By the fall of 1943, it had sold 30,000 copies in English and 7,000 in French.³

Early sketches by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from the 75th anniversary edition of The Little Prince. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

41. Most reviewers were confused at first by The Little Prince, unsure if it was a children's story or adult fairy tale.³

42. However, P.L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins, wrote in the New York Herald Tribune that the book would "shine upon children with a sideways gleam" and "strike them in some place that is not the mind." 

43. Saint-Exupéry signed the first 785 printed copies — 525 English books and 260 French — of The Little Prince

44. In 2013, a first edition signed copy was valued at $25,000 to $35,000.²

45. The book is dedicated to "Leon Werth, when he was a boy." Werth was a French Jewish art critic, essayist and a close friend of Saint-Exupéry's.¹

The final illustration in the 75th anniversary edition of The Little Prince, which includes scans of Saint-Exupéry's early sketches. (Raincoast Books)

46. When Saint-Exupéry went to New York after the fall of France during WWII, Werth entrusted his memoirs to his friend in hopes he would write a preface and have it published in the U.S.²

47. Saint-Exupéry wrote a moving preface called called Letter to a Hostage and published it alone in 1943. Werth's memoir, titled 33 days, was released several years after the war and later republished with Saint-Exupéry's preface.²

48. Before leaving the U.S. to rejoin the war, from which he would not return, Saint-Exupéry visited his friend, American journalist Silvia Hamilton Reinhardt. Handing her his manuscript of The Little Prince, he said, "I wish I had something splendid for you to remember me by, but this is all I have."

49. Some believe that Reinhardt inspired the fox in The Little Prince, a wise character that teaches the little prince about relationships.

50. On July 31, 1944, Saint-Exupéry departed the island of Corsica on his 10th reconnaissance mission and never returned. The mystery of his death — whether he was shot down, experienced mechanical failure or died by suicide — carries on today.

51. In September 1998, a bracelet bearing Saint-Exupéry's name and the address of his New York publisher was discovered in the Mediterranean Sea by a fisherman named Jean-Claude Bianco. 

52. The wreckage of Saint-Exupéry's Lockheed P-38 Lightning was later found, but his body was never recovered. 

Debris of the P-38 belonging to Saint-Exupéry is shown during a press conference in April 2004. The French Air Force confirmed that the plane belonged to Saint-Exupery, the famed aviator who took off on a World War II spy mission for the Allies and was never seen again. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

53. In 2008, a former Luftwaffe pilot named Horst Rippert confessed he may have shot Saint-Exupéry's plane down, though he could not be completely certain.

54. When The Little Prince was published in France in 1946, it was an immediate success and its popularity grew throughout the world in the decades that followed.²

55. In Communist Hungary, the book was formally banned in 1957. as officials proclaimed: "Let's preserve our children from the poison of fairy tales like the absurd and morbid nostalgia of The Little Prince which yearns so foolishly for death."²

56. The Little Prince has been translated in over 300 languages, making it one of the most widely translated texts in the world. ​

A teen reads a Bernerdeutsch edition of Le Petit Prince in a bookshop in Bern on May 24, 2006. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

57. Within those 300 translations, there are seven different English-language translations

58. British children's author Michael Morpurgo is the seventh and most recent English translator. In his forward he says: "To be asked to translate one of the greatest stories ever written was an honour I could not refuse."

59. The first film adaptation of The Little Prince was by Lithuanian filmmaker Arünas Zebrünas in 1967.²

60. Several movie adaptations have followed, the most recent being the animated 2015 feature directed by Mark Osborne.

61. In addition to film, The Little Prince has been a television show, musical, opera, a ballet and a theme park

62. Guillaume Côté created a ballet based on The Little Prince for the National Ballet of Canada

63. The Little Snake is a novella by Scottish writer AL Kennedy written in honour of The Little Prince's 75th anniversary.

64. Kennedy said re-reading the book as an adult made her "pretty bloody sad," except for the "funny snake," which is why she decided to focus on that character.

65. The Little Snake is also very sad — Kennedy said when she first started doing readings in Germany, she'd often have to stop because the audience was crying too much.

Art work by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from the 75th anniversary edition of The Little Prince. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

66. One of Saint-Exupéry's nicknames among friends was "Saint-Ex." Another was "Toni."

67. Saint-Exupéry was quite tall, at 6 foot 2.³

68. Saint-Exupéry had no children, but is survived by his nephews, now in their 90s, who can recall stories of their uncle meeting a little prince in the desert.¹

69. According to Saint-Exupéry's nephew, Francois d'​Agay: "The entire book is built on a vision of this little prince who asks questions that are rarely asked by children at that age. Where is he from? Where is he going?"¹

70. The Fox's line "What is essential is invisible to the eye" — a key sentence in the book — was revised and rewritten by Saint-Exupéry 15 times.

An image from the 75th anniversary edition of The Little Prince, which includes scans of Saint-Exupéry's early sketches. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

71. After his death, Saint-Exupéry's mother, to whom he was very close, published a book of poems in tribute to him.³

72. One of his mistresses, Nelly de Vogüé, penned a loving biography of Saint-Exupéry in 1949 under the pen name Pierre Chevrier

73. Consuelo's memoir, The Tale of the Rose, published many years after her death, was less kind, disclosing Saint-Exupéry's womanising ways and childishness. 

74. The airport in Lyon is called Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport in the aviator's honour.

75. The Little Prince is estimated to have sold 200 million copies worldwide


¹From The Invisible Essence, a documentary written and directed by Charles Officer, released in 2018.

²From The Little Prince: 75th Anniversary Edition by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, with an introduction by Alban Cerisier, published in 2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

³From Saint-Exupéry: A Biography by Stacy Schiff ©1994. Published by Knopf.

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