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'The Little Prince' turns 70

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's classic 'The Little Prince,' first published in 1943, is being released in new editions as part of a 70th birthday celebration.

By Staff Writer / April 3, 2013

'The Little Prince,' first released in 1943, has been translated into 250 languages and is today one of the bestselling books in the world.

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This year, the story of a little prince, his rose, and a fox friend, is turning 70.

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“The Little Prince,” a novella by French author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, was first released on April 6, 1943. Last month, to mark the 70th anniversary of the book's printing, new editions were released by publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. One version is a new paperback edition aimed at young adults, while another is a special anniversary edition of the book which includes an audio version of the book read by “Lord of the Rings” actor Viggo Mortensen.

A third edition, which is coming later this month, will be a reissue of the graphic novel version of the book by Joann Sfar.

In 1935, while trying to break the speed record for a Paris-to-Saigon flight, Saint-Exupéry crash-landed in the Sahara desert when his plane suffered problems. This accident was to become the inspiration for “The Little Prince,” in which the protagonist, an unnamed pilot, meets a small boy after landing in the desert. The boy tells the pilot he is from an asteroid and that he lived there until he decided he wanted to explore other planets. He also tells the pilot of a rose with which he fell in love, other planets he explored, and of a fox he met on Earth. 

Finally, the pilot and the prince find a well that saves them from dehydration, but the prince soon tells the pilot that he wants to return home to his asteroid.

“The Little Prince” is one of the bestselling books of all time and was voted the best literary work of the 20th century by a French author in a 2000 poll. According to the Saint-Exupéry Foundation, the novella is the most-translated book ever after the Bible. 

The book has been adapted for the screen, stage, and radio, with a radio adaptation produced by CBS debuting in 1956 and a BBC version airing in 2000. Notable film adaptations include a 1974 musical that featured Gene Wilder as the Fox, Bob Fosse as the Snake, and Richard Kiley as the pilot. The book has been adapted into a stage play, a musical, and an opera.

Author Gregory Maguire, who wrote a foreword for the book’s new paperback version, told Publishers Weekly that he believes the novella has more of an impact than its scant number of pages would suggest.

The Little Prince is a little book, but what a little largeness it contains,” Maguire said. “Not quite fable, nor allegory, nor fantasy, nor farce, though it is all those things, too.... As a writer, I’ve always liked approaching tales read in childhood to see what they reveal to me now. As a reader, I do the same.”

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