The Little Prince - Still Unique Through Translation

Published on March 05, 2018

By Kali Faulwetter

The Little Prince

Published in 1943, by Reynal & Hitchcock.

“But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world.” - The Little Prince

During the 75+ years since its original publication, translators have attempted to ‘tame’ the original French version of Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince, turning the novella into a literary phenomenon. One of the most translated books in the world, The Little Prince tells the story of a pilot, charmingly reminiscent of Exupery, who had an aviation background himself. Stranded in a desert and on the edge of survival, the pilot meets a young prince who self-identifies as a traveler from his home on a distant asteroid. Being the only occupant of this asteroid, the little prince is neither boy nor man and educates the pilot in ways unimaginable.

  • The original English translation of The Little Prince by Katherine Woods was the most widely read translation while in print from 1943 to 2001. Although copies of the Woods translation can still be purchased, it has since been “replaced” by what is a controversially “more modern” translation by Richard Howard. Woods’s translation is beloved as a more poetic, loyal rendering of the original French, while Howard’s version is considered a more digestible, cerebral reading experience.
     
  • While illustrations require no translation, the charm of Exupery’s words is enhanced by his equally intriguing visuals. However, all of his original illustrations are often not included in every translation of the book; in this case, “a picture is worth a thousand words” takes on new meaning. In 1993, in honor of the fiftieth-anniversary celebration of The Little Prince’s publication, the handwritten pages, and illustrations (on onionskin) were showcased in a special installation at the Morgan Library in New York.

  • With all its popularity, new translations of The Little Prince are in high demand. With English being the common language of business, in countries like China and Taiwan, it is more common to find translators who understand English rather than French. Because of this shortage of French translators, it is not surprising that translators have taken shortcuts. A common practice is translating from Woods’s English version into the target language of choice. The differences that occur from this practice can be glaring. There are at least five examples of these mistakes. For more detail, see “The Little Prince in numbers” section below.

  • The Little Prince has even been translated into Spanglish. Ilan Stavans has acknowledged that Spanglish is not yet technically a language, considering its grammar and spelling are not yet fully developed, but he insists that “This hybrid tongue is spoken by millions across the Americas, more assiduously in the United States, which includes the second-largest concentration of Hispanics around the globe, after Mexico and before Colombia. There are dozens of varieties, not exclusively defined by national background (Chicano, Nuyorican, Cubonics, Dominicanish, etc.).” Read the full article here.

  • The most recent translation of this small but mighty novella is from the original French into Hassanya, a North African dialect of Arabic. This is especially meaningful because, not only does it allow the book to win the “most translated book” title, but also because Hassanya is spoken in Cape Juby; the setting Exupery drew inspiration for his illustrations of The Little Prince.


The international impact of The Little Prince is undeniable. Sitting on the shelf at a humble 100 pages, depending on the version and translation, the story packs into its thin frame all the wonder and philosophy of the original. Because The Little Prince is such a widely distributed book, it is a great choice for translators who want a short, yet meaningful project.

The Little Prince in numbers:


Number of languages The Little Prince has been translated into, including Braille. Find a list of all the known translators and contributors here.


The number of tests that have been developed over the years to gauge the accuracy of a translation of The Little Prince from the original French. The tests are ‘The Sheep Test’, ‘The ‘True Stories Test’, ‘The Look Test’, ‘The “A Very Simple Secret” Test’, and ‘The Secret of Your Sad Little Life Test’.


Number of most popular French to English translations, listed below:


Katherine Woods, 1943 – The original translation, Harcourt Brace
T.V.F. Cuffe, 1995 – Penguin U.K.
Alan Wakeman, 1995 – Pavilion U.K.
Richard Howard, 2000 – The “new” translation, Harcourt Brace
David Wilkinson, 2011 – Omilia Languages (a dual French/English version meant for students)
Rowland Hill, 2016 – Chouette Editions (An interesting take on translating)
John Hinds, 2016 – The Annotated Little Prince (self-published)


To read The Paris Review’s interview with Richard Howard about his career, click here.

For a comprehensive history of The Little Prince, start with its production history.

Enjoy the audiobook in English, here.


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About This Article

Famous Translators is a MotaWord segment showcasing notable professional translated works and famous linguists from history to the present. We will be researching, compiling and sharing stories that matter to every translator on our blog.

You, too can be published right here on the MotaWord blog site. To help us make this segment more tailored to our community, contribute any comments, ideas for articles, or share your story please contact kali@motaword.com.

Citaitons: WSJ, Guardian, WLT, Kinternational, CTV, Bustle