The profound spiritual gifts hidden within ‘The Little Prince’

The classic children’s book, which is now also a movie on Netflix, helped my children make sense of a world that often seems arid, barren, and full of grief.

The Little Prince, directed by Mark Osborne, premiered on Netflix on August 5, 2016. Netflix

When my wife told me the good news that we were expecting our first daughter, in my new-dad excitement I immediately went out and bought a collector’s edition copy of The Little Prince. Written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince is one of my favorite books, and I couldn’t wait to begin reading it to her. Even though my purchase was several years too early, in the years since we’ve read that book at least twenty times cover to cover. So I was delighted when I heard that Netflix has just released a highly-anticipated animated movie version of The Little Prince, and I’m counting the days until our family can watch it together. In the meantime, the book, with its deeply spiritual message and all its gorgeous original artwork, is still getting plenty of our attention.

The Little Prince is a deeply spiritual book

While The Little Prince is clearly a children’s book, it takes on some seriously adult themes. Nothing is sugar coated: it has a plane crash, the dangers of starvation in the desert, and a venomous snake that, in the end (SPOILER ALERT), causes the death of the Prince. The Prince himself remarks during the story that he’s homesick and that the world “is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.” When I read it to my children, I was prepared for them to struggle to understand some of the emotional moments, especially the death of the Prince, but was surprised that they all took it quite calmly.

The Little Prince

The original edition of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Wikipedia

It isn’t that television and video games have desensitized them to death and violence—I truly believe they were sad at the ending of the book, but in a more contemplative way that I was expecting. So we spent some time talking and thinking about it together, and I realized that the book itself provides the antidote to grief within the text: hidden at the heart of The Little Prince is a profound spiritual insight that helped them make peace with the ending.

No matter what metaphorical desert we may find ourselves in during the course of our lives, there is always a hidden wellspring that waters it and brings it to flower.”

In the story, the narrator crash lands his airplane in the desert and soon meets the Little Prince. The two talk and struggle to fix the plane, but the Prince seems to be unconcerned about dying in the desert. It’s not that he’s suicidal; he has a secret—even a desert has water. “What makes the desert beautiful,” he says, “is that somewhere it hides a well …” No matter what metaphorical desert we may find ourselves in during the course of our lives, there is always a hidden wellspring that waters it and brings it to flower. To find it, we must learn to see beyond material things or our immediate situation, and directly into the heart of life.

The Little Prince

Film still from The Little Prince on Netflix. Netflix

The Little Prince doesn’t ignore the reality that life can be less than perfect at times. Arid deserts are real, and occasionally we must walk through them, often unexpectedly. But the author reminds his readers that what we see with our physical eyes doesn’t reveal the entire picture. The Prince says, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” In other words, there is always more to life if we can only take the time to look with our hearts. What is revealed is often far more important than the distractions of the visible world.

The Little Prince

A scene from Netflix’s The Little Prince. Netflix

If you love a flower that lives on a star, it is sweet to look at the sky at night. All the stars are a-bloom with flowers …”

For the Prince, what he sees with his heart is his beloved rose (and for Saint-Exupéry, the flower stood for his real-life wife). He cannot physically see his rose because it is too far away, growing on his home planet, lost in the vastness of the night sky. But because he knows his rose is out there somewhere, and because of his unwavering love for his rose, every star in the sky seems to be happily laughing. He explains, “If you love a flower that lives on a star, it is sweet to look at the sky at night. All the stars are a-bloom with flowers …”

The Little Prince

Film still from The Little Prince on Netflix. Netflix

As a father, I desperately want to protect my children and shield them from any and all dangers (whether they be snakes, or just plain old bad school days). But at some point they grow up. Maybe their hearts will be broken after a romance, or they’ll face opposition in their careers, or find themselves in emotional turmoil from some unforeseen disaster. I cannot protect them from everything, and it hurts me to admit as much. What I can do, though, is help them to see that hidden in every desert is that well of water and tucked into every blackening sky is a rose, and that the more we love each other the stronger we will be—even if love is invisible to the human eye.

Love is the most precious gift of God to us. With it no hardship, setback, disappointment, or difficulty can rob the beauty and joy of life from us, even if at times we experience sorrow and feel as if we’ve crash-landed in a desert. No matter what, life is beautiful because in the universe there is a love so powerful that it will overcome every evil.

Fr. Michael Rennier
Fr. Michael Rennier

Fr. Michael Rennier graduated from Yale Divinity School and lives in St. Louis, Missouri with his wife and 5 children. He is an ordained Catholic priest through the Pastoral Provision for former Episcopal clergymen that was created by Pope St. John Paul II. He’s also a contributing editor at Dappled Things, a journal dedicated to the written and visual arts.

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