Thursday, July 22, 2004

This Doesn't Change Anything

Missed me? I didn't post last night because I was with my writers' group. Good excuse, huh?

Okay, back to work. Yesterday I read an article about Antoine de Saint Exupéry in an English publication called The Telegraph. Saint Exupery is the author of The Little Prince, of course, but in France he is much more. He's a combination war hero and cult figure. I'm not sure if we in the U.S. have anyone whom we can compare to him.

Anyway, for 60 years Saint Exupery has been a mysterious figure because while out on a military mission his plane disappeared. It was found recently and, evidently, the mystery deepens because there are no signs of bullet holes in the wreckage. (Those of us who are afraid of flying are well aware that a plane could easily fall from the sky without being shot down. Why any of them stay up in the sky is the big mystery.)

Well, someone is theorizing that Saint Exupery may have committed suicide by flying his plane into the sea. The article reports that he is believed to have been suicidal before his death, that there are explanations for his feeling that way. It is a theory, and I'm not complaining about it. (The French may be getting a little hot under the collar about it, though.)

I've never really understood The Little Prince. However, when I first read it I was in college, working in the summer at this beautiful college campus in the Green Mountains. I associate the book with that wonderful time. I own English and French editions. (Or I think I still have them.) I read the English version to my kids when they were little. Whenever the French came out with a new book on Saint Exupery (which they seem to do with some regularity) I read the reviews. I got all excited when he appeared as a figure in an IMAX movie I saw years ago.

The possibility that this man may have committed suicide doesn't change anything for me. I don't think the suicide theory can ever be anything but a theory. It just adds a certain je ne sais pas quoi to the Saint Exupery cult. The idea that his death may have been misunderstood for half a century only adds to the tragedy of his shortened life. To pass judgment upon him for a decision he may or may not have made in the last moments of his life and to let that judgment change how his work is perceived would be cruel, not just for him but for fans of his work. This is truly a case where the work should be allowed to stand by itself.

I'm getting all choked up here, folks. Must be the French genes passed down to me through my Canadian ancestors. I'm going to have to go find my copy of The Little Prince and read it again.

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