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The Little Prince Hardcover – Illustrated, May 15, 2000
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The Little Prince describes his journey from planet to planet, each tiny world populated by a single adult. It's a wonderfully inventive sequence, which evokes not only the great fairy tales but also such monuments of postmodern whimsy as Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. And despite his tone of gentle bemusement, Saint-Exupéry pulls off some fine satiric touches, too. There's the king, for example, who commands the Little Prince to function as a one-man (or one-boy) judiciary:
I have good reason to believe that there is an old rat living somewhere on my planet. I hear him at night. You could judge that old rat. From time to time you will condemn him to death. That way his life will depend on your justice. But you'll pardon him each time for economy's sake. There's only one rat.The author pokes similar fun at a businessman, a geographer, and a lamplighter, all of whom signify some futile aspect of adult existence. Yet his tale is ultimately a tender one--a heartfelt exposition of sadness and solitude, which never turns into Peter Pan-style treacle. Such delicacy of tone can present real headaches for a translator, and in her 1943 translation, Katherine Woods sometimes wandered off the mark, giving the text a slightly wooden or didactic accent. Happily, Richard Howard (who did a fine nip-and-tuck job on Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma in 1999) has streamlined and simplified to wonderful effect. The result is a new and improved version of an indestructible classic, which also restores the original artwork to full color. "Trying to be witty," we're told at one point, "leads to lying, more or less." But Saint-Exupéry's drawings offer a handy rebuttal: they're fresh, funny, and like the book itself, rigorously truthful. --James Marcus
From School Library Journal
Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Many times I have tried to use amazon stars differently with different editions, and to correct the number of stars to match the edition under which this review is posted, but amazon still cannot handle that and gives the wrong number of stars to the wrong editions. So let's counter this right off the bat and move my ratings to the top of the page. The ISBNs, for ease of finding a particular book, are listed here as the publishers have listed them.
Le Petit Prince (Harcourt hardcover; ISBN 0-15-243818-1): 5 stars
English translations to date:
Wakeman/Foreman (Pavilion hardcover; ISBN 9 781857 932881): 4.5 stars
Woods (Harcourt hardcover; ISBN 0 15 246503 0): 4.5 stars
Woods (Egmont hardcover; ISBN 978 1 4052 1634 0): 4.5 stars
Woods (Egmont softcover; ISBN 978 1 4052 8819 4): 4.5 stars
Howard Pop-up version (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hardcover; ISBN 978 0 544 65649 9): 4 stars
Howard (HMH hardcover; ISBN 0 15 202398 4): 2.5 stars
Morpurgo (Penguin hardcover; ISBN 9781784874179): 2.0 stars
Schwartz (Collectors hardcover; ISBN 978 1 907360 37 4): 1 star
Testot-Ferry (Wordsworth): 1 star
Cuffe (Penguin): ?
Amazon Kindle Edition: 1 star: unlisted unknown translator. Very poor English; very poor translation.
In 2000, the Richard Howard translation of The Little Prince was released in the U.S. to supercede the original of Katherine Woods from 1943. When a publisher comes to one to translate such a classic how does one ever turn them down and say the last translation was good enough? One doesn't. Money and ego prevail.
But `good enough' is the debating point. Is it good enough? Howard writes in his preface "...it must be acknowledged that all translations date." Do they? Would one clean up and modernise the language of A.A. Milne in Winnie-the-Pooh? or of Kenneth Grahame in the Wind In The Willows? Of course not. Then Howard modernises Katherine Woods' rendition, ‘cry’ with his ‘weep’ during the departure from the fox. And he thinks this is more `modern?' What self-contradictory nonsense translators write to justify themselves and their publishers.
I grew up on Katherine Woods's translation and far prefer it over the Howard, but I must admit, when I look at my French copy, the Woods too has some elisions in translation. During the farewell from the fox, she translates: ‘It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.’ Howard translates: ‘It's the time you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important.’ The French actually states: "C'est le temps que tu as perdu pour ta rose qui fait ta rose si importante." Literally this translates far more meaningfully than either as ‘It is the time which you have lost for your rose which makes your rose so important.’ So that leaves me thinking both translations have their flaws. I am not sure why both of them would dilute the original like they have, for it has surely been diluted from what Saint-Exupery wrote and intended. The Woods translation is close to Saint-Exupery, but I think he chose "perdu pour" for a reason; he did not write "passé," or any other verb. "Perdu pour" brings a whole other layer of meaning. As one learns, hopefully, as we age, our time is limited. When we do one thing over another, we have ‘lost’ that time, never to be re-gained, to do something else in our time-limited lives. That loss, inherent in any human choice, is what makes those things we choose so special and why yet, they can be so bittersweet, hard to understand, fraught with conflicting feelings or regrets, as well as with happiness.
There is another translation, from Alan Wakeman, 1995, illustrated from Saint-Exupery by Michael Foreman. Foreman is one of my favourite illustrators and I have many of his books. He works in beautiful watercolours. When it arrived, as I read Wakeman’s preface, I realized that I was in for something special. Wakeman started translating in 1979, not under contract to anyone, but simply because he was not satisfied with the Katherine Woods translation. He worked in his favourite retreat by the sea, overlooking the Golfe de Giens, which, it turned out, from the beginning of discoveries of plane wreckage in the sea in the mid 1990s, to overlook the crash area where Saint-Exupery was lost in 1944. It took a decade or so to confirm that this area is where Saint-Exupery went down, but Wakeman was apparently eerily in touch with something from Saint-Exupery through their labours of love.
Wakeman's translation is pretty accurate (see the detailed comparisons further down), but he too has his quirks. He translates "blé," the colour of the Little Prince's hair, as ‘corn.’ Technically correct, but an odd choice usually considered much more a secondary meaning to the more common one of ‘wheat,’ especially in America. To me Wakeman’s quirky translation here, I find rather a clash, or a break, in the lovely flow Saint-Exupery spent so much time and talent composing, and editing, to create his original work and I think this Wakeman version deserves far more widespread availability, circulation, and sales than it has had.
Foreman's illustrations are at least half of what is very special about the Wakeman translation. All of the Saint-Exupery illustrations used, which is most of them (there are illustrations Saint-Exupery too did not include), have been re-worked. The line work and watercolour are far more skilful than Saint-Exupery, but extraordinarily faithful, and retain that childlike naiveté. Also, all drawings have been given color, which brings a satisfaction absent from some, even in the original publication, where for example, I have been sorely tempted to pull out my own paint box for the Little Prince watching the sunset. This drawing is clearly a watercolour originally, but has almost always been published in black and white (why?) except in the pop-up edition. Foreman shows all the drawings in beautiful watercolour.
Where Foreman has really excelled is in introducing 8 exceptional full page or double page paintings of the Little Prince and the pilot: one comforting the Little Prince when he was sad; one walking to find water with the Little Prince in his arms; one sharing his drawings with the Little Prince; one running with his revolver to kill the snake if he could... whole new enhancements to the story, bringing the relationship more forward than it was, not just story-telling about the Little Prince. For it is not just the story of a special individual, but also one of special relationships, and the special place in our lives they have, and the time we lose on them that makes them special.
Another translation, by Ros and Chloe Schwartz, 2011, is from the Collectors Library. First of all, the illustrations are anything but ‘sensitively rendered’ as its publicity blurb asserts. The colors have been filled in by another artist like old cellular film animation, and are just flat, losing Saint-Exupery's delicate drawing and watercolour washes. The hunter has had circles drawn completely around his eyes making him look like a goth caricature. The drawing of the fox in his lair has completely lost all the grass that was so delicately drawn by Saint-Exupery. The beautiful sense of all his drawings, that they flowed, without borders, right off the page, conveying their own meaningful addition to this borderless story, has been lost by the illustrator putting boxes around many drawings that don't originally have any: the boa constrictor; the sheep. The baobab trees and the weeding of Asteroid B-612 are set against the dark background of space, not the daylight of the originals. The tiger no longer looks fearsome, but like a cute questioning pussycat, its line-work tampered with as it has been on most. This illustration tampering is reason alone not to buy this book.
The Schwartz translation has a third perspective on the French, but still, for example, loses the quote from the fox. "Perdu pour" is translated again as ‘spent.’ Then these translators do things so blatantly wrong, like alter his word "mouton" into ‘little lamb.’ If Saint-Exupery had meant ‘little lamb’ he would have written "petit agneau" but he didn't. The Little Prince wanted a sheep. The Schwartz’s edition itself is charming: purse-size, hardcover, with gilt page edges and a ribbon marker. Full marks for book design, but otherwise... I would avoid this edition.
I have also discovered enough of the Irene Testot-Ferry translation (from Wordsworth) on the amazon "read inside" feature to render an opinion on it too. Cumbersome. Archaic, and not in a good way like the Katherine Woods. Also, all the drawings in the Testot-Ferry edition are the most abysmal black and white hack reproductions. I recommend avoiding this translation despite its bargain basement price. In this case, you get what you pay for.
There are a few key phrases and concepts which can be considered to help make one’s choice of translation.
In chapter 1 the pilot explains “J’ai vole un peu, partout dans le monde,” which translates very simply as ‘I have flown a little, around the world. Woods translates: ‘I have flown, a little, over all parts of the world.’ Howard translates: ‘I have flown almost everywhere in the world.’ Wakeman translates: ‘I’ve flown all over the world.’ The Schwartzs translate: ‘I’ve flown all over the world,’ (both leaving out ‘a little’ entirely). This phrase is important to me because I think it establishes (on page 2) the modesty of the pilot. He hasn’t flown everywhere, or ‘all’ over the world (as Saint-Exupery did not either, in a day when flying was very exotic and glamorous and it often went to pilots’ heads). And while translating for the colloquialism is perhaps technically correct, it loses the modesty I think the original intended. Woods and Howard can sort of be read with some modesty here (although it’s a stretch); the others cannot at all.
Also in chapter 1 for "J'ai ainsi eu, au cours de ma vie, des tas de contacts avec des tas de gens serieux." which translates simply as ‘I have had, through the course of my life, lots of contact, with lots of serious people.’ Woods translates: ‘In the course of this life I have had a great many encounters with a great many people who have been concerned with matters of consequence.’ Wakeman translates: ‘In the course of this life I have had lots of contact with lots of serious people.’ Howard translates: ‘So I have had, in the course of my life, lots of encounters with lots of serious people.’ The Schwartzs translate: ‘Over the years I have met lots of sensible people and have spent a lot of time living in the world of grown-ups.’ Testot-Ferry translates: "As a result of which I have been in touch, throughout my life, with all kinds of serious people." The simplicity of Wakeman prevails here for me. Woods is lovely, a bit archaic, and she echoes the false importance of grown-ups ‘matters of consequence’ which comes up throughout the book; a nice touch.
In the geographer chapter, Saint-Exupery explains "ephemeral" as "qui est menace de disparition prochaine," "something threatened to disappear soon." Woods translates this as: ‘which is in danger of speedy disappearance.’ Wakeman: ‘doomed to disappear soon.’ Howard translates as: ‘which is threatened by imminent disappearance.’ The Schwartzs translate this phrase as ‘likely to die very soon.’ None of them quite right I think, and the Schwartzs way off. I prefer the Wakeman, the Woods, or the Howard, in that order, in this case. Wakeman gets the simplicity, where the others in descending order have not really captured Saint-Exupery's subtlety.
I take away from this that Testot-Ferry, the Schwartzs, and Howard don't have the soul of poets or philosophers ideally necessary for translating The Little Prince. They have an odd sense of meaning and a lack of subtlety. They add their own quirky complexities and archaic words as modern updates when they aren’t. They also don’t have just the workman-like craft, to simply translate what is there. I don’t find their approach an improvement of Katherine Woods or a service to The Little Prince. These editions really didn’t need to be done.
Another translation which has come on the scene, 2018, is by Michael Morpurgo, the author of War Horse, and author and translator of many other childrens’ books. His preface about the translation indicates his modesty and respect for the art and difficulty of translation, an excellent beginning in and of itself. However, he has approached phrases putting in words that are not there and leaving out ones that he simply finds too difficult for some reason. "J'ai ainsi eu, au cours de ma vie, des tas de contacts avec des tas de gens serieux.” he renders as “In my lifetime of flying round the world I have met lots of interesting people. Two things wrong here. He has added words that are not there in Saint-Exupery’s French (“flying round the world”) and he has completely missed the meaning, contradicted the meaning actually, of what Saint-Exupery intended. Saint-Exupery, or the pilot, did not find these people interesting; he called them “serious people” and he makes it clear that they are the adults who have lost something of themselves and just don’t really get it. They are not ‘interesting,’ they are ‘serious’ in a not-very-good way. Also he translates Saint Exupery's 'ephemeral' as 'in danger of sooner or later disappearing.' Saint Exupery does not write 'sooner or later;' "prochaine" is 'sooner’ (rather than later). Another reason to avoid this translation is in regard to the ‘lost time’ phrase. Morpurgo translates it as “It is the time you gave to your rose that makes her so important to you.” Yes, but again not the word Saint-Exupery used: "perdu," so there are no real other layers of meaning as Saint-Exupery intended in choosing the words he did. There are other examples of why not to select this version, but simply, Morpurgo is helping the world and The Little Prince dumb down. It deserves better. Also the colour illustrations are not very carefully printed. The colours of many, especially later in the book, are quite flat.
So, the recommendations are, buy the best available: the Woods edition, along with the Wakeman are head and shoulders above the rest. These two are far more evocative than the others of what was intended and are far more layered in meaning which such a classic piece of literature deserves. Each have their merits and only slight shortcomings. The Foreman illustrations with the Wakeman translation I think makes it rather special. The Woods translation Harcourt hardcover can be harder to find in the U.S. The small paperback (1970 or 1971) is quite small-sized, has no colour illustrations and is not worth buying. This is more likely why it slowed in sales in the U.S., not the Woods translation, and Harcourt misinterpreted, and in their poor judgement, commissioned Howard for a new translation. Other Woods editions in the U.S. I would be wary of the printing. In Britain, the Woods translation is readily available. I have a lovely Egmont 2017 trade-size softcover edition. The Egmont hardcover with a blue background looks like the Howard translation so try and contact the bookseller to verify. There is an Egmont Woods hardcover, consequently I have added the ISBNs to this review.
The Wakeman/Foreman collaboration hardcover can still be found, but more and more is an expensive collectors item. I cannot vouch for the paperback version, publications of which often get cheap and sometimes are done with black and white illustrations only and very poorly, like the Katherine Woods U.S. paperback and the Testot-Ferry edition. The illustration quality is good in the hardcover Woods, excellent in the Wakeman/Foreman. The artwork in the pop-up book is exceptional and worth getting as a second copy despite being the Howard translation.
The Howard translation, both hardcover and softcover (blue cover), with colour illustrations and some black and white, is easily available in the U.S. at a quite reasonable price, but I think is a mediocre translation. The Schwartz translation is also very mediocre. The Morpurgo edition is available (although the amazon listing again is full of mistakes: my hardcover edition is 85 pages long not 96) and it is just not an improvement over the Woods and the Wakeman or even the Howard.
As one can tell, I have tried to be somewhat thorough-going in reviewing editions of The Little Prince, so I have looked at the pop-up book too. The details of it take this review over amazon’s 20k word limit (and this is already getting too long) so I have a more detailed review of it under that edition. Briefly its 25-ish pop-ups are exceptional and worth owning, despite it being the not-very-desirable Howard translation.
If your French is alright, get a French version too. It is worth working through Le Petit Prince. You will learn more about life and different cultures and how language relates, than in many weightier, more adult tomes, and our children will too from this timeless story with so many layers and such depth in its simplicity. And the colour of the illustrations in my Harcourt French hardcover edition (1971) are far and away the best colour of all editions.
A comment prompted this post script:
I was informed there is a translation by T.V.F. Cuffe from Penguin, 1995. The Cuffe translation appears to be rather rare. The 2018 Morpurgo translation is from Penguin-Vintage-Random House, and is Penguin’s new edition, so the Cuffe edition seems bound to become ‘ephemeral.’ Perhaps, this says all we need to know about it.
The Wakeman edition is becoming a rarity, sadly. The reason for this is that The Little Prince fell out of copyright in England after fifty years, so Penguin and Pavillion, anticipating this, did the Cuffe version and the Wakeman version respectively. What they didn’t anticipate was that later in 1995 the UK harmonized its copyright law with the EU where copyright is 70 years from the death of the author, not 50 years from the date of publication, and Saint-Exupery is allowed an additional 30 years due to his premature death in exceptional service to his nation during the war. The Little Prince, like a handful of other titles, fell back into copyright in the EU.
Hence The Little Prince will not now fall out of copyright in the EU until 2045. This means, alas, likely no Folio Society edition or any other UK or European edition without the agreement of Saint-Exupery’s surviving family on Consuelo’s side, to whom he bequeathed the copyright, for she is of course the rose whom the Little Prince found impossible to live with and left, but loved nonetheless. In the U.S. of course, they do their own thing, hence the Howard translation in 2000. Additionally, as I understand it, there are some differences among the family. Saint-Exupery’s birth family apparently approved of the Wakeman translation, but Saint-Exupery’s wife Consuelo (and now her family), owning the copyright, would have a pretty strict and exclusive agreement with Harcourt, now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, in North America. Why would they not, for this incredible money-maker that most publishers would love a piece of, apparently the second most-printed book in the world?
The Katherine Woods hardcover and trade paperback versions are still available through amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.uk, or Abe Books, and are thankfully not entirely in HMH’s taste and control. Perhaps, after Brexit, the Wakeman edition may become readily available again too. That would be a treat for all Saint-Exupery and Michael Foreman fans. And maybe an ideal translation (if there is such a thing with living breathing languages) will come out in the future.
Attempt to find the earlier Katherine Woods-1970 translation as it is so much better--true to the story and more literal to the French.
Or read it in the original language of French as I tried to do in my 1969 French 1A...but had to find the English translation by K. Woods-- and then it all made sense to me.
Here is the Woods translation from French to English-very direct and clear:
Woods: “Here is my secret. it is very simple. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eyes”
St. Ex: "Voici mon secret. Il est très simple. On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux"
Howard: Many reviews have said he is a great poet- with a clumsy translation to this book. I AGREE
If I had the opportunity to buy this again, I would not buy the Kindle edition and would instead buy the paperback. The Kindle edition had BADLY jumbled text where two to four lines would overlap on top of each other every few pages making sentences unreadable. This is not acceptable.
Also, you cannot adjust the font size for the Kindle edition.
Otherwise, the book itself was very interesting. I wish I knew what the jumbled sentences said.
The image attached is one small example of many.
Top international reviews
In short: There are many other translations and editions of the "The Little Prince" available. Buy any other one but this.
We often forget to release that in this big big world small tiny things matters too. Actually they matter alot. How important they are. While chasing big things we forget the importance of small things which once had great importance in life. How simple would be our life if we start prioritizing little things in life.
I wish everyone has their own little prince in life. If you haven't read this book.
As described with colorful pictures and translation by Katherene Woods.
It's 2018 and she still didn't touch it . But I personally recommend this book for kids / adults
A5 sized paperback with all of the popular illustrations.
What a beautiful story. I've been reading this since I was 10, but I've bought this one as a gift for my friend who is expecting her first boy and loves reading to all her kids.
Classic book and great service.
The way I see my child and deal with him is different too. I would never say to him "I'm busy with matters of consequence". I don't want to be a mushroom.