11 October 2010

Book of the Week (76): "The Little Prince" (a graphic novel), by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Joann Sfar, translated by Sarah Ardizzone

A key tension in literature written for children and Young Adults is the nature of the relationship between adult author and child reader. The dangers of imposing adult authority on the child in fiction is so great that Jaqueline Rose in her book on Peter Pan famously argued that children’s literature itself is “impossible”. Fortunately, Joann Sfar disagrees. His moving and delicately nuanced rendering of this classic work puts the relationship between adult pilot and the mysterious prince at the heart of the story.

The haunting landscape of the desert, presented in glowing bars of colour, frame the crashed pilot's increasingly desperate plight, and provide a poignant context for the tender relationship with the Prince. Sfar has utilised material and visual metaphors from Exupery’s autobiographical Sand and Stars, his memoir of the crash that led to the creation of the Little Prince, to create a complex, layered work of great poetic beauty, not so much an adaptation but a transformation of The Little Prince. The suggestive power of Sfar's combination of vulnerability and strength, wisdom and naïveté, overturn the adult-child hierarchy in the book, as the Pilot and the reader come under the Prince's spell. Sfar’s fluid and adaptable style allow us to see the Prince’s precious flower in a visually complex way; as the Prince’s understanding of his relationship, and his experience of love change, so does the way Sfar represents the flower. The caricatured grotesque adults that the Prince meets are very wittily evoked. Peter Pan claims that “to die would be an awfully big adventure.” Sfar’s book allows us to go on that adventure with the Prince, and to celebrate the numinous wonder of great storytelling. You’ll fall in love with the Prince all over again in this lushly presented book.

Recommended by Ariel Kahn

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