Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I came upon this today on the Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. I’ve long been charmed by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This tells more about the author of The Little Prince, and other best selling books.

It's the birthday of the aviator and author of The Little Prince (1943), Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, born in Lyon, France (1900). He came from an old aristocratic family that had fallen on hard times. Saint-Exupéry was a poor student, but when he was 12, he took a ride in an airplane and fell in love. When he was 21, he was called up for military service in Morocco, where he received his pilot's license.

After his military experience, he signed up to be an airmail carrier. At the time, it was a death-defying job to take, flying mail from France to Africa in frail planes with open cockpits. He flew without instruments except for a compass and an altimeter, navigating by landmarks and the stars. In 1929, the airmail business sent him to South America as well. He turned his experiences as an aviator into two novels: Southern Mail (1929) and Night Flight (1932), both of which were best sellers.

He flew some missions for France at the start of World War II, but when France fell to the Germans, he sailed for the United States and arrived in New York City on the last day of 1940. He planned to stay for four weeks, but he wound up living in New York for two years. It was one of the hardest periods of his life. He'd survived numerous airplane crashes in the previous 20 years, and those crashes had taken a toll on his health. He spoke little English, and he deeply missed his home country and the family and friends he'd left behind. And so, to cheer himself up in his period of exile, he began to write a children's book that became The Little Prince.

The Little Prince is narrated by a pilot who has crashed in the desert, where he meets a strange little boy who claims to have come from an asteroid where he took care of a single rose. The little boy asks the pilot to draw him a sheep, and the two begin a series of conversations, mainly about why it is that grownups are so difficult to get along with.

When The Little Prince came out in 1943, it didn't sell many copies. The following year, Saint-Exupéry was presumed dead when his plane disappeared while he was flying a reconnaissance mission for the Allies, divers didn't find the wreckage until 2000. After Saint-Exupéry's disappearance in 1944, sales of The Little Prince skyrocketed. Today, it still sells more than 100,000 copies a year.


Diane Wald said...

I love The Little Prince too. One of my favorite parts is:

"Men have forgotten this truth," the fox tells the boy. "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

A long, long time ago, humans tamed cats and dogs and other species, and along with that comes an incredible responsibility—--rewarded by the humbling gift of their trust.

Thomas F. Ryan said...


Thank you for your comment. That fox turns out to be a wise little fellow and isn't it just perfect that the most important message of the book is carried by this little creature when he shares his "secret" with the little prince?