Studying The Little Prince

The Little Prince rarely forms the sole subject of university research. Even so, Laurent de Galembert, now a teacher, wrote his post-graduate dissertation on The grandeur of The Little Prince.
Laurent was not yet 6 and had yet to learn to read when he first encountered The Little Prince. His « first book » was in fact an audio cassette of Gérard Philipe reading Saint-Exupéry’s tale. The bewitching tones of that strange voice took deep root in the child’s memory. Only later did he truly discover Saint-Exupéry when reading « The Wisdom of the Sands ». Almost at the end of his university career, he was anxious to understand the peculiar charm of the book that held him under its spell during his childhood.

Analysing The Little Prince
Is this text, written for children with adults in mind, actually a tale or a myth? Rejecting the biographical approach, which precludes an understanding of how the text works, and the psychoanalytical approach which was, he considered, irrelevant in this instance, Laurent de Galembert preferred to dissect the text using the formal analytical tools provided by Propp and Greimas. He found The Little Prince’s journey to be a « parody » of a philosophical tale, and described the author’s approach as « hybrid »: by hijacking a traditional literary form in order to parody it, the author thereby pares it down to its essentials and thus enters the realm of myth. It is this, in Laurent de Galembert’s estimation, that explains the success and the universality of The Little Prince, whose appeal is based on two aspects: the candidness of the tale and the far deeper resonance of the myth. It speaks to children through the extreme simplicity of the story, and to adults through a vision that gives meaning to the world.

Laurent hopes his work will answer those who criticise the text for a certain « sickly sentimentality »: contrary to the impression that might be gained from a superficial reading, the text of The Little Prince is filled at once with a poetic nostalgia and with a despair that can find relief only in the conviction that the world around us is merely an appearance. By identifying the various possible levels of reading, Laurent de Galembert underscores the extraordinary richness of a text whose simplicity is a means to arrive at other and much more complex significations.

8 years on
Laurent de Galembert was awarded his diploma with honours for his work, which was published by Editions Le Manuscrit. Nowadays, however, he finds it wanting: « I think there are things that need reviewing, » he says. In the meantime, he published his dissertation online. His mailbox immediately started overflowing with messages from all over the world: from university researchers in search of information, from total strangers keen to share their enthusiasm for The Little Prince, from people asking for his opinion of their interpretation of Saint-Exupéry’s philosophical tale.
Literary analysis aside, Laurent de Galembert is still very much attached to The Little Prince, still moved by a text that tells us that our flesh is just the shell « … an old abandoned shell… Not anything to be sad about » – of that which never dies, just like Saint-Exupéry who is still part of our lives thanks to his creation. Laurent de Galembert has a shelf at home entirely given over to reminders of The Little Prince. For him, Saint-Exupéry still serves as a touchstone: no one speaks more tellingly of « fraternity ».

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