A Treatise on Science Fiction and Children’s Books
September 17, 2012 § 1 Comment
My favorite children’s story is The Giving Tree. For those of you who have never experienced the true joy that is The Giving Tree, it is a beautiful story written by Shel Silverstein about a young boy who is friends with a tree. This book is, hands down, my favorite children’s book of all time, and I cry every time I read it. Unfortunately, this blog is not about my favorite children’s book. It’s about my second favorite, Le Petit Prince.
Le Petit Prince is a French children’s book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. In the book the main character meets a prince who has apparently fallen from the sky. The narrator, a jaded, middle-aged man, befriends the prince and listens to the stories he tells of his adventures. Which brings me to why I’m allowed to rave about my second-favorite children’s book on a science fiction blog: the prince’s adventures take place on different planets.
That’s right. This young boy has the unique ability to traverse entire planets. After he leaves his home planet to see the world, er–universe, he visits six different planets, each inhabited by a foolish adult. He meets a king, a vain man, a drunkard, a businessman, a lamplighter, and a geographer. These six adults all puzzle him, because they are all so consumed by their work or their egotism. On earth, the prince meets a fox. The two become friends, and the fox teaches the prince that the most precious things in life can only be felt by the heart.
Like other notable science fiction writers, Saint-Exupéry wrote Le Petit Prince as a sort of social commentary. He was pointing out adults’ need to order people around, to own everything, to be admired, and to drown bad memories in drink. Just as Robert Heinlein commented on people’s need to exploit others for their own gain in “By His Bootstraps,” Saint-Exupéry wrote of selfish, vain men as well as men who felt the need to order others around. Just as “Mimsy were the Borogoves” by Lewis Padgett centered on the inability of adults to fully understand the magic that is found in children, Saint-Exupéry portrayed children as misunderstood geniuses, full of wisdom that the average, jaded adult cannot completely comprehend.
So what’s the point of this post, you ask? To force my opinion of various children’s books upon hapless readers seeking fantastical stories of time travel, gene splicing, and aliens? No, it’s this: to conclude that science fiction, like my second-favorite sort-of-science-fiction-y children’s book, is meant to serve a purpose other than to entertain. It’s to provide social commentary. And with that, I end my post.
And, if you’re interested, Le Petit Prince makes a very nice bedtime story…