Two princes with lessons for all

Staying In

Book Review
Bríd Conroy

On days when the world seems like a much more complicated place than it needs to be, I am drawn to the children’s section in the bookshop to indulge. There is joy there, but the power of children’s literature can never be underestimated either.
Through stories, children are allowed to explore their own responses to themes raised in a fun and safe environment. They can gain an appreciation of their own culture and the culture of others. Classics in particular allow themes to be transmitted from one generation to another. Two of my favourite classics do this, ‘The Little Prince’, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and ‘The Happy Prince’, by Oscar Wilde.
‘The Little Prince’, published by Alma Books and newly translated from French by prize-winning novelist Gregory Norminton, includes copies of the author’s artwork from in the original book when it was first published in 1943. The book has sold an estimated 140 million copies, making it one of the top-selling books of all time.
The author himself was an aviator, and he narrates the story as a crashed pilot in the desert with eight days supply of water left to fix his plane. He comes across a little boy who is visiting from his own planet, who introduces himself as the Little Prince. They instantly share a disillusion with ‘grown-ups’ who ‘never enquire into what matters most’. Their conversations lead to candid reflections on life and human nature, creating a classic philosophical fable for all generations.
‘The Happy Prince’ was written 150 years ago this year by Oscar Wilde. The story is said to have been inspired by a statue Wilde could see from his dormitory window while he was at boarding school in Enniskillen.
The book’s statue of a prince stands proud, plated in gold, with sapphires for eyes and a ruby in his sword. Yet from his height, the prince sees clearly the poverty of those beneath him. When he is visited by a swallow from Egypt, he enlists the little bird’s help to send his gold and jewels to the poor.
Each time I read these short children’s stories, I am truly amazed at the power they have, transcending time and the age of reader. They pull us out of the pressures and complications of the everyday, towards what really matters in this life, reminding us that in the end, what matters is all that matters.  

Bríd Conroy and her husband Neil Paul run Tertulia – A Bookshop Like No Other at The Quay, Westport.