Tattoos: the Little Prince is more than skin-deep

They are all fans of the Little Prince. The book and its message have left their mark on them. Of their own free will, they have opted to have tattoos in the colours of the Little Prince. From a simple quote taken from the text to a reproduction of one of Saint-Exupéry’s watercolours, many have taken the step.

Once seen as a marginal act, the sole preserve of the disreputable, tattoos have gradually become increasingly common and accepted across a growing range of social categories. The explanation may lie in a change of attitudes or in the fact that for some time now a number of celebrities (actors, sportsmen, singers) have been proudly showing off their body ink.  

A time-honoured practice
Looking back to the most ancient civilisations, we realise that tattoos are not simply a form of decoration but also a means of displaying useful information – on the wearer’s exploits, for example, or social standing, or even protective totem.  In the 21st century, too, people who get tattoos do so because they have something to say about themselves, about their identity, their history, a key stage in their lives. 

For some of us, the Little Prince may represent such a key moment. Reading the story perhaps awakened something in us, helped us to grow up, to understand the world, to shed a different light on it. It is an unforgettable experience. It is easy to understand, then, that those with a taste for tattoos might want to mark on their skin the fact that they are guided by the Little Prince’s message, and that we must not forget – and become one of those “grown-ups” who forget what is essential. They step through the door of a tattoo parlour and ask for a quotation from the book to be inked onto their skin. It may serve as a motto, a maxim or simply as a remembrance.

Watercolours rich in meaning
The Little Prince also owes his success to the watercolours painted by the author, who preferred to illustrate his text with these simple yet evocative drawings that remind us of the magical and authentic world of childhood. These images are much more than simple illustrations: they develop and amplify the author’s message, give it visual consistency. Poetic and intelligent, for some they can become emblems of a text that is, for them, sacred.  A tattoo is a way of adopting these images, but also of expressing affection for Saint-Exupéry’ character, or proclaiming attachment to one of his messages.

We could spend a long time exploring the why and the wherefore of such an act. Instead, however, we preferred to let our online visitors speak for themselves and tell us the story of their tattoos.

“I have a Little Prince tattoo on my arm.  It shows a rose under a glass dome that can protect her against the cold or from the sheep that might eat her. The banner reads: “Man sieht nur mit dem Herzen gut”. That means, “It is only with the heart that one sees clearly.” The heart is a real heart. I got it to remind me that we should learn to know people as they truly are, and not trust simply to appearances.” - Alexandra Becker

 

“For me, The Little Prince is not just a story about this pure being who asks questions without ever answering any. It is a philosophical tale that reminds us of what we might forget about ourselves. It was only natural to want it etched on my skin, just as it is engraved on my spirit. I chose the drawing of the Little Prince weeping as he realises that there are thousands of roses just like his, but the fox makes him realise that she is, in fact, unique. My tattoo is an exact reproduction of Saint-Exupéry’s drawing, but I took the liberty of adding a red rose. This completely changes the message of the drawing, I agree, but how can you get a tattoo of the Little Prince without his rose? It would be cruel.

So that’s how the Little Prince has been with me always, for more than ten years…” – Ange Virtuel

 “I had this tattoo done in March 2009. A few months earlier (on 1 November 2008, to be precise), our son Braegan was stillborn. We always spoke of him as our “little prince”. So to keep him close forever, my husband had this tattoo done on his upper chest. There he is, as if sitting there, and never leaves him, just as he will never leave our hearts.” - Delphine Wispelaere

“I decided to get the tattoo of this drawing for a specific reason: you know that Saint-Exupéry used to show his drawings to other people to test them out? I show my tattoo to test people. It works really well; I find out what they think about the book. If they’ve read it, you soon understand what their outlook on life is. It works for me!” - Can

 “The meaning of the tattoo for me is linked to the drawing I chose and where the tattoo is located on my body. I have a tattoo of the Little Prince on my shoulder blade. I chose the drawing where you see him from behind, sitting on a chair, looking into the distance. Since he is on my shoulder blade and seen from the back, he is looking in the same direction as me. So he is a witness to my life.” - Özgue Gülen

 

“The Little Prince has always been one of my favourite stories. Various members of my family used to read it to me in French, Hebrew, English, even in German. It didn’t mean too much to me when I was a child, apart from giving me a sense of connection. Then I grew up and as I got close to my friend Anne-Cath, I came to realise all the different subjects it addresses and I fell in love all over again with him and with the story. When I reached 30, I had this (so far) one and only tattoo done. It was a tribute to a childhood filled with beauty and sadness, and to a world that even now I don’t entirely understand. This illustration I found magnificent because the Little Prince is in a field of beauty, in tears, realising that the flowers have no meaning because they are not his rose. Even if the rose is very selfish, his love is directed towards her and her little world, not the world he currently finds himself in. It is a sad story filled with hope, and I like that.” – Patrick Shearer

 

“When I reached 18, I had the words “For what you have tamed, you become responsible forever” and the drawing of the desert and the star from the last page tattooed on the inside of my left arm. From the moment I finished reading The Little Prince at school, I knew it had changed me, and changed the way I saw the world and how I interacted with people.

I’ve always found it difficult to make friends because we moved around a lot. It’s difficult to create ties to people when you know you’ll be moving on in a few months, so I never had any stable support from friends. But I read The Little Prince in my second-year English class (I was only 15 at the time) and this quote stuck with me and made me look at my life differently. I realised that even though I didn’t have many friends, the ones I had were good friends and liked me for who I was, even though I’m not always the easiest person to be around. To a certain extent, I saw myself as the Rose and, for the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people I liked and who liked me back. Reading The Little Prince made me realise that because I liked them, because I had tamed them, I would be part of their lives forever.  Even if I moved yet again, or even if our friendship died, they would remember me and I would remember them. And I would be happy and feel better because I would have the memory of them to keep me smiling. I see my tattoo every morning when I wake up and it reminds me that I am loved and that I love in return. (In fact, I’m thinking about getting a tattoo of “One runs the risk of weeping if one allows oneself to be tamed” and the fox’s den on the other arm.)- Shelby Bolton