Orphaned Prose: The Little Prince's Extra Planet
The Little Prince. I've never been able to look at baobabs in the same way, ever completely trust roses, or leave the volcanoes in my garden uncleaned. I've also been practising drawing sheep for a while now, just in case I am asked.
I wrote this back in 2004 for inclusion in one of the Thursday Next books, but never found a place to put it. The idea was to have extra sections of familiar books, and this short extract suppose that there was another planet the Little Prince visited before arriving on earth - a planet made entirely of books. It appears here for the first time.
"...Before he reached the sixth planet, The Little Prince observed what appeared to be a roughly shaped asteroid orbiting ahead of him, but upon closer examination revealed itself to be stacked high with hundreds and hundreds of books.
"Come! this will interest me," said The Prince and diverted his course to intercept it. It had not been visible from his home planet, and the Little Prince mused on why this might have been so.
"Perhaps," he reasoned, "It was occluded from my sight by the continually synchronous orbit of the planet that was inhabited by the conceited man." For, as you see, The Little Prince was as educated of planetary motion as you or I might be of the tree we climb on in our back garden.
As he came closer he could see that the asteroid was inhabited; sitting on the books was a young man in well-worn clothes and pince-nez, totally lost in the abstraction of a novel. The Little Prince alighted and sat upon a large volume that was nearby. He coughed politely, and the young man looked up. He regarded the Little Prince with interest for quite some time, and then said:
"You are the first person to visit me in three hundred and twenty years. will you allow me to finish my chapter?" The Little Prince nodded and he returned to his book. A few minutes passed in which the Little Prince was able to get a good look at the strange asteroid he was on.
'How very curious' he said half to himself as he found out from examination that the asteroid was, in fact, of no solid base at all; it was constructed purely of books of every kind of sort, style, and subject, stacked up to fifty high and kept in place by the gravitational power of their combined creativity. After a moment the Librarian finished his chapter, carefully marked his place and laid it to one side.
"Do you wish to borrow a book? he asked.
"Alas, I cannot read," replied The Little Prince sorrowfully "I have no need, for on the planet where I live I possess no books, only a Rose who is consumed by vanity, and two volcanoes, one of them extinct. I have no-one to teach me, and as I am sure you will understand, A vain Rose, like a vain person, has no time for books or learning."
"Then I must give you this Primer." said he, handing over a large volume of brightly coloured letters, "For to read is to live beyond your own world. Look at me. I am alone on this asteroid, and have had no visitors for three hundred and twenty years, yet when I pick up a volume I can be anywhere and be anyone and do anything I wish."
The little Prince looked at him thoughtfully.
"Truly, you have more wealth here than the King who rules and the businessman who says he owns the stars" replied the Prince, "but do you not crave companionship of others?"
"Once, when I first came here, I was lonely," began the Librarian, looking down, "but after a year or two I fell to reading my books, and the joy that they give to me are everything. I can read romance when I'm happy, and comedy when I'm sad, history when I wish, and the classics in between. Unlike real people who lack constancy, my friends in my books are utterly reliable. they never get older and they are always the same, no matter when you read them. Who could ask for better associates?"
"And when you have read all your books?"
"Then I read them again"
"And when they are committed to memory? and you have lost the excitement of what-happens-next?"
"Then I empathise with the familiar."
"And what happens when you die? is not that reading lost? all that learning in vain?"
The Librarian smiled.
"No. the greatest thing about books is that as long as mankind has senses to read them, and some way to record them, and imagination to make them real, they are for all time. My grand daughters, and her great-grand-daughters can read about the same people, in the same situations, and be touched and inspired as I was, even though I am long since dust."
The Little Prince came away from the asteroid with his primer under his arm and a heavy heart; for of all the planets he had visited so far, this man was altogether the wealthiest and the poorest. His life was fulfilled, yet somehow pointless; He was saddened that the librarian should be alone in his fictional world, yet heartened by the man's good company, for even though his small asteroid was barely six yards across, it had the knowledge, experience, and passions of a planet ten million times its senior...."
C Jasper Fforde 2003/2020