Robert and Penel: Antoine de Saint Exupery, Wildness, and Discovery

Years ago, my wife gave me a copy of Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince, a book of which I was already a great fan.  Saint Exupery, of course, was a renowned French aviator and author.  He disappeared on July 31, 1944, while flying a reconnaissance mission for the Allies during the Second World War. He published The Little Prince, originally in French, just the year before.

Saint ExuperyAs far as I know, this artist and adventurer, pictured left, was not an angler.  It was a fisherman, however, who found a bracelet of his and, later, the wreckage of his plane, near Marseille in the late 1990’s.  According to a 2008 New York Times article by John Tagliabue, researcher Lino van Gartzen eventually located the aging, former German pilot who may have shot down Saint Exupery’s plane (“Clues  to the mystery of a writer pilot who disappeared”).  For years, this former pilot had supposedly been greatly troubled by the knowledge that he may have caused Saint Exupery’s disappearance.  He was a devoted reader of Saint Exupery’s writings before the war started. This, he claimed, was why he kept his wartime downing of a plane resembling Saint Exupery’s — near the time and location that the French pilot was believed to have disappeared — secret until van Gartzen found him. (There is some doubt that Saint Exupery was actually shot down, and it is possible that the German pilot shot down  different Allied aviator).  

The finding of Saint Exupery’s plane, the location of the man who may have downed that plane, and that man’s own realization that he may have been the cause of Saint Exupery’s disappearance all represent curious discoveries.  When I opened the copy of The Little Prince given to me by my wife, I made another discovery. Inside the cover was the following inscription, dated 7/5/87:

For Robert,

who understands that ‘what is essential is invisible to the eye’…you have tamed me, and I will cry, but it has been worth it–‘Because of the color of the wheat-fields’…

Once in a while, not too often, but now and then, dream of me, curling yourself in a knot around your pillow, or if it should be, around whoever you may be with, and, as you stand on the edge of waking and sleep, pretend that it is

-Penel, who loved you best—

The person who wrote this inscription for Robert, who was clearly a former lover, alludes to several passages in the The Little Prince. In particular, she refers to a passage that occurs when “the little prince” (Saint Exupery’s capitalization), who is an interplanetary traveler recently arrived upon earth, encounters a fox.  The fox warns the boy that he is not tame. The boy then questions the fox:

“What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“You do not live here,” said the fox. “What is it that you are looking for?”

“I am looking for men, said the little prince. “What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“Men,” said the fox. “They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens’?”

“No,” said the little prince. “I am looking for friends. What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”

“‘To establish ties’?”

“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…”

Needless to say, the boy “tames” the fox and they grow to love each other very much.

In my view, an implication of the passage I have quoted is that life is characterized by wildness. For this reason, it is also characterized by constant discovery–the more unusual discoveries that one can find in such places as books–and, of course, the discovery of love. As evidence of the latter I think of the discovery and eventual loss of love between Robert and Penel and the “little prince” and the “fox.”  I think too of the discovery of love between my wife and I, which I already know is much more enduring. A common fact associated with all these discoveries, as different as they are, is that they keep the world an interesting place and make our lives within this world worth living.

3 Responses to “Robert and Penel: Antoine de Saint Exupery, Wildness, and Discovery”

  1. cofisher49 Says:

    This was wonderful to read kenov!


  2. Kenov Says:

    Thanks. A bit of a pick-me-up, hopefully. Between the floods and fires, most of us could use one.


  3. Adventure Books | The Literary Fly Fisher Says:

    […] have written before about Saint-Exupéry, and I’m happy that Outside included one of his books in their list (he is, most famously, […]


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