Texts That Made Me: Emily Reed

Le Petit Prince (politique)

Texts That Made Emily: The Little Prince (What do you see? A hat? A boa constrictor digesting an elephant?)

Many people are surprised to discover that one of my most prized possessions is a very battered edition of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince. Despite my tattoos, piercings and my oftentimes cynical demeanour, Le Petit Prince, a French children’s book, has been (for me) a love that has lasted a lifetime. A French children’s book, nothing more, right?

I return to this book, again and again, at different points in my life. I first encountered Le Petit Prince as a child, whizzing past me on his spectacular asteroid with his sheep and his beautiful rose. At that time, his was just a fantastical story of a boy from space. I revisited him as an A-level French student, disinterested and full of angst. But Le Petit Prince enticed me again, now with analogies of love and friendship. I revisited him once more earlier this year. As I grow and become politically aware, the characters in my child’s book grow older and sager. They have more to say: simultaneously new and devastatingly repetitive. Consider that Le Petit Prince was written during Nazi occupation of France.

In these turbulent times of division, fear, and alternative facts, Le Petit Prince still whispers into my ear:

Baobab trees start out as tiny saplings, but left unchecked they can grow and grow and grow and tear one’s world apart.

This image reminds me to challenge fascism and negativity before it becomes entrenched and nigh unstoppable.

Asteroid B612 was discovered in 1902 by a Turkish astronomer. He had to convert to Western dress, on pain of death, before he was believed.

This excerpt calls upon me to be aware of implicit as well as explicit racism.

There lives a conceited man, on a planet not much bigger than himself, who sees himself as the most handsome and intelligent of men. He will not listen to anybody who tells him that he is indeed the only one on his planet, and wishes to be admired nonetheless.

This extract, I think, evokes the danger of echo chambers. If we choose to live in tiny worlds, then we risk perceiving ourselves as bigger than we really are.

Does this last image remind you of anybody?

But there are still puzzles to be solved. A king sitting atop his kingdom of one small asteroid tells the little explorer :

L’autorité repose d’abord sur la raison. Si tu ordonnes à ton peuple d’aller se jeter à la mer, il fera la révolution. J’ai le droit d’exiger l’obéissance parce que mes ordres sont raisonnables.

Accepted authority rests first of all on reason. If you ordered your people to go and throw themselves into the sea, they would rise up in revolution. I have the right to require obedience because my orders are reasonable.

What will we do if we are ordered to throw ourselves into the sea?

Emily Reed

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