- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2000

NEW YORK Antoine de Saint-Exupery's "The Little Prince" is a classic with prose so lyrical and drawings so delicate it could have landed on Earth from its title character's distant planet.

An exhibit of the author's manuscript and preliminary drawings at the Morgan Library, however, shows how hard he worked creating the book.

Saint-Exupery wrote "The Little Prince" at a rented house near Northport, N.Y., on Long Island, in the summer and fall of 1942.

The author and aviator had come to New York after France fell to the Germans in 1940. "The Little Prince" was published in 1943, the same year Saint-Exupery returned to service in World War II as a reconnaissance pilot.

One of the world's most beloved books, it tells the story of a mysterious child from tiny Asteroid B-612 who travels to Earth, where he meets a wise fox and the pilot-narrator.

Before Saint-Exupery left to rejoin his squadron in North Africa, he gave his handwritten manuscript and some preparatory drawings for the book to a friend, Silvia Hamilton Reinhardt. The Morgan acquired them in 1968.

The current exhibit coincides with the centenary of the author, who was born on June 29, 1900. His plane disappeared on July 31, 1944, three weeks before Paris was liberated.

The exhibit, which runs through Aug. 20, includes some 20 drawings as well as manuscript pages, a signed copy of "The Little Prince," the author's typed contract with the publisher and three sketches of Saint-Exupery by the French muralist Jean Pages.

Written in a tiny, barely legible hand on onionskin paper, the manuscript pages are full of line-outs and revisions.

"Even though the book reads as if it was so effortlessly compiled, you can see from the manuscript that he worked very, very hard to get just the right tone in telling his story," says Robert Parks, curator of the exhibit.

Coffee stains the corners of several pages, and one drawing is marred by a cigarette burn.

"We know from reports of his friends that he liked to write late into the night," Mr. Parks says. "He kept himself awake by drinking lots of strong black coffee, and the manuscript has the proof of that."

Some of the pictures differ slightly from ones in the book. There are several drawings of a baobab tree on a tiny planet; in the book, three baobabs strangle the Little Prince's home.

Other drawings in the exhibit apparently were rejected, such as one depicting the narrator, who never is shown in the finished book.

The fox, who tells the Little Prince that "it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye," is not the long-eared sprite from the book, but a larger, fleshier animal.

The drawings and manuscript pages last were displayed in 1993 on the 50th anniversary of the publication of the book. "Because of their fragility, they are not put on view very often," Mr. Parks says.

Saint-Exupery's other books, which deal largely with his experiences in the early days of aviation, include "Wind, Sand and Stars" and "Flight to Arras."

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