- Posted by Johanna on June 30, 2011 at 7:22 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Joann Sfar; adapted from the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; translated by Sarah Ardizzone
- PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $19.99 US
Ever since I first read this fable from the wartime 40s, I’ve never been sure I understood it. Joann Sfar’s comic version helped greatly with that, since it’s so effective in capturing the story’s whimsical darkness, and it provides a wonderful introduction to the book’s depth.
A pilot (who looks surprisingly bourgeois, a comforting choice) is working to repair his downed plane in the middle of the desert. Although he seems unworried and easily distractible, it’s made clear early on that if he’s not successful, he’s going to die. One night, he’s awakened by a small blond child, the Little Prince, who asks for a drawing of a sheep.
As the two converse, the prince refuses to answer questions, but the pilot concludes he came to visit Earth from a small asteroid, which he protects from the overgrowth of baobabs. The storytelling has a “and then this happened” flow that mimics telling a child a sprawling tale as new ideas come to the teller. The prince visits other asteroids, populated by adults who’ve made the wrong choices, before learning life lessons from a fox and a snake.
The story is simple and conversational, which at first thought would make a difficult choice for a visual adaptation, since there’s not much different to draw. However, Sfar from the beginning approaches the material in a highly creative fashion. The pilot’s cigarette smoke, for example, as he sites in his plane and remembers a childhood story, is drawn as a kind of lizard/snake creature, coiling from the stick in his mouth. This not only symbolizes how our ideas of smoking have changed, but it also gives the pilot something to talk to, smoothing the presentation of his thoughts.
Sfar’s slightly wiggly style is the perfect choice for such a dreamlike tale, and the huge eyes he gives the prince are a beautiful example of the openness and innocence of a child. There’s a theme of dislike for grown-ups and their activities throughout the prince’s stories of his travels, a disdain the pilot shares and why the two bond so quickly. Early on, the pilot attempts to draw the prince but fails, and the end panel of the sequence, where the prince curls up in the pilot’s arms, is adorable and comforting.
Once we learn about the prince’s rose, his love and what he seeks to protect, Sfar really excels in his images of a flower-being. She’s exotic and lovely and strange and even a little creepy. Meanwhile, the foolish inhabitants of the other asteroids the prince visits are caricatured to such extent that they don’t even look like people. The exception is the drunk, who’s just kind of sad, trapped in his flesh, and the workers, the lamplighter and the geographer, those who do things.
The Little Prince is considered a children’s book, and like the best of that type, there’s plenty here for anyone of any age. In fact, reading it at different times will reveal new insight. I learned a lot more than I grasped when I first read this as a kid. This version is highly recommended. Give it to someone you care for, and ponder the mysteries and pains of love and departure. This New York Times review points out several connections between the book and the author’s life, while USA Today posted sample pages.