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Timeless, poetic translation captures the essential of Saint Exupéry's story,
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This review is from: The Little Prince (Paperback)
Katherine Woods' simple and beautiful translation is the only one that does justice to The Little Prince. Published by Harcourt in 1943 and 1971, her English translation is the essential --- the translation loved and quoted by English-speaking people around the world, even by members of English- and French-speaking Canadian Parliament! But hers is OUT OF PRINT by Harcourt (who copyrighted her translation in 1943), so snatch up used copies while you may, or be certain you are getting hers in any new or used publication!
Beware of the "new translation" out by Richard Howard, first published in 2000; I accidentally got one. Ouch! His "new" translation purges meaning and is not worth the money. It gives a falseness to one of the most sincere stories ever written. Howard's lacks beauty and is at times unintelligible: It simply does not make sense. Since Howard has no apparent understanding of the truths expressed in The Little Prince, this is not to be wondered at.
Near the end (Chapter XXVI, the Woods translation), the little prince says, "You -- you alone will have the stars as no one else has them"..."In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night...You -- only you -- will have stars that can laugh!" (quoted by actor Robin Williams' daughter Zelda, age 25, in tribute at his passing). Howard's translation cannot match that for meaning, poignancy, or interpretation of de Saint Exupéry's words. Howard's lacks not only meaning but also heart, while Katherine Woods' translation captures both -- a matter of great consequence ("matters of consequence" being one theme that runs through the book) since Le Petit Prince is full of heart.
One example says it all: The fox's "secret" told to the little prince in parting (Chapter XXI) ---
Katherine Woods' translation reads: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." She uses the beautiful rhetorical mode: "What is essential..." In the original French: "...on ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux." In English, "l'essentiel" might be rendered "the essential things" or be put, as Woods does, in the rhetorical form: "What is essential..."
Howard's "new" translation of the same line reads: "One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes." Huh? "Anything essential is invisible to the eyes"? Far from expressing Antoine de Saint Exupéry's meaning, this generalization means, in effect, nothing. And it is obviously not true: Water is essential, and you can see it (more or less).
Katherine Woods' exquisite translation captures the essence of this line: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." Quintessential, no line in the book is more important. It epitomizes her entire translation. (Woods employs the poetic English idiom "eye" for "les yeux", a superior choice of wording.) It is ironic that, in translating The Little Prince, Richard Howard should lose "that which is essential" and that he should be unable to "see with his heart."
Amazon.com's Editorial Review on HOWARD'S translation once said that "Katherine Woods sometimes wandered off the mark, giving the text a slightly wooden or didactic accent. Happily, Richard Howard...has streamlined and simplified to wonderful effect."
This would have been more accurately written thus:
"Katherine Woods uses poetic devices and a didactic accent to wonderful effect, capturing the essence and meaning of Antoine de Saint Exupéry's classic tale in a timeless translation. Unhappily and unfortunately, Richard Howard...has streamlined and simplified in a words-only translation, and he wanders off the mark, obscuring what were otherwise truths both simple and profound, giving the text a wooden effect."
Woods' translation is the one that I read and re-read, and which helped me to understand why I grieved so when my great-grandmother died. We'd spent so much time with her. As the fox says to the little prince in explaining why HIS rose is so significant to him, "It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important." He explains that HIS rose is "unique in all the world" ("unique du monde" which Howard translates, in toto, as "the only rose in the world" -- another bit of nonsense). This passage in Woods' translation also helps me keep in mind what I'm doing with my time, and why. If I watch T.V. the most, then T.V. becomes the most important. If I pass the time with my family, they become the most important.
Another always-to-be-remembered example of a passage from Woods' translation occurs when the little prince must say goodbye to the fox:
The fox says, "Ah, I shall cry."
"It's your own fault," said the little prince. "I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you..."
"Yes, that is so," said the fox.
"But now you are going to cry!" said the little prince.
"Yes, that is so," said the fox.
"Then it has done you no good at all!"
"It has done me good," said the fox, "because of the color of the wheat fields."
Before the little prince tamed the fox, the wheat fields (les champs de blé) had "nothing to say to" the fox. "But," he had said to the little prince, "you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat..."
Once I disliked giant sunflowers. Then I discovered that someone I love liked them very much. So we planted some and cared for them together. Now, when I see giant sunflowers, I remember him and my heart is happy. I understand....because of Katherine Woods' translation of Le Petit Prince. It is as beautiful, profound and timeless today as it was over 70 years ago.
NOTE: There is another publication by Wordsworth Classics: The Little Prince (Wordsworth Children's Classics) (Wordsworth Collection) with a translation by Irene Testot-Ferry which is ALMOST identical to the Woods translation, at least in the places I've checked. The pictures are in grayscale, not color, and the paper is similar to newsprint.
There are downloadable PDFs of the Woods translation online. Find one that includes the translator, though. It's not a bound-book-in-hand, but it's at least Woods' superior translation and it's free.
One way to get the Katherine Woods' translation is to make sure you are buying ISBN: 0-15-246507-3 (0152465073). As for Howard's translation, "NEW" is not better; it's just "new." Sometimes you can tell the difference between the two translations simply by the covers. Woods' shows the little prince on a white background; Howard's is on midnight blue, but check the ISBNs and, most of all, double check the translator and make sure you're getting the Katherine Woods translation. More Howard translations continue to be published in various, different editions and bindings. It is easy to lose track of one's search for the Katherine Woods translation amidst the plethora of "same-Howard-new-wrapping" publications.
Be aware that ISBN 978-547-97884-0 The Little Prince is the Howard translation with a very long forward/introduction by Gregory Maguire (published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), a writer who doesn't speak French, although he says his "husband" does, pokes fun at the author's French name and the French language for a gimmick, hasn't researched the author much at all, and who seems not to know he isn't reading the translation that he (as he says) read in high school, which had to have been Woods' given that Maguire is 60 years old -- this, even though he is about to write a forward requested by the publisher. His at times inappropriate, pages-long forward -- which is more about Maguire by far than about The Little Prince -- is a good reason NOT to by that edition, if Howard's translation isn't reason enough.
Near the top right front corner of this Howard/Maguire edition's brown cover is imprinted the example of Howard's "nonsense" that I quoted above: "One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes." A clue, that. What a difference from Woods' rendering: "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." Quintessential. THIS is what Antoine de Saint Exupéry's original French text means.
Katherine Woods' superior translation: NY: Harvest/HBJ Book, Harcourt, 1971, pp. 83, 86, 87. (Katherine Woods, translator).
Richard Howard's inferior translation: 2 San Diego, CA: A Harvest Book, Harcourt Inc., 2000, p. 63. (Richard Howard, translator).
Howard's Translator's Note, by the way, illustrates why he should NOT have undertaken a re-translation of Le Petit Prince.
The Thorndike Large Print translation is little better than Howard's. I have never, EVER found a decent copy of any translation by Barnes and Noble of a non-English work. A good rule when dealing with translations of The Little Prince: If the translator's name is not given, don't buy it!
[Note: Review revised slightly in August 2014 to include Zelda Williams' quotation of the Woods translation.--Allie J.]
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Showing 1-10 of 72 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 23, 2009, 5:43:33 AM PST
L. Marino says:
This is the most thoughtful book review I have ever read on Amazon, or frankly, maybe anywhere. It is both touching and helpful. Thank you for the time and effort you clearly spent crafting this.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 4, 2009, 8:57:36 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 4, 2009, 8:59:45 PM PST
Agreed. Thank you. I now have to get new copy of Wood's translation my father read to me some 40 odd years ago.
Posted on May 15, 2010, 9:40:14 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on May 15, 2010, 9:51:57 PM PDT]
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 11, 2010, 12:11:00 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 16, 2010, 5:36:04 PM PDT
Allie Jones says:
You made it worth all the effort! I just found your comment today and can't begin to tell you how much it means to me...for so many reasons. Thank you.
In reply to an earlier post on Jul 11, 2010, 12:16:01 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Feb 27, 2012, 1:06:17 PM PST
Allie Jones says:
You can find copies of the Woods using
Make sure you enter Katherine Woods as a keyword search and I suggest you contact the seller to double-check.There is an entry on Amazon but its with the same book cover as the "new" translation, which is blue. The image can switch to show the white cover (a small paperback) which is the Woods. Her translation comes in hardback or hardcover, too. Most are collectors' items, but a hardcover is a much larger book so larger illustrations.
NOTE: http://www.amazon.co.uk/ has the Woods translation for sale. The Howard (new) translation is making its way there, though, so beware!
I hope you get a copy of Woods' translation of Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince)!
Posted on Mar 1, 2011, 8:57:03 AM PST
E.M. Tennessen says:
Thank you for this wonderful and thoughtful review. It is very helpful! And I agree, the more you read Le Petit Prince (I can only think of it with its French title, though I read it in English!) the more wonderful and lovely it becomes.
Posted on Sep 28, 2011, 6:57:30 PM PDT
Christopher T. Dahle says:
Your review is spot on, the problem is that there is no way to tell from the Amazon product description whether this is the Howard translation or the Woods translation.
Readers need to know this. Shame on you Amazon.
Posted on Oct 30, 2011, 10:23:58 AM PDT
D. Gaunt says:
Ali, I love you. Reading this review has fueled in me the respect for Mankind. Thank you.
Posted on Nov 18, 2011, 5:42:48 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 18, 2011, 5:43:55 PM PST
Nancy A. Jones says:
Thank you Ali for your comments on The Little Prince. I have never read this classic but do plan to read it soon. What a beautiful book review and how lucky I was to run across it.
Posted on Dec 18, 2011, 1:14:52 AM PST
Nicky Hajal says:
Thank you for this amazing review and important information!