To Leon Werth
I ask the indulgence of the children who may read this book for dedicating it to a grown-up. I have a serious reason: he is the best friend I have in the world. I have another reason: this grown-up understands everything even books about children. I have a third reason: he lives in France where he is hungry and cold. He needs cheering up. If all these reasons are not enough, I will dedicate the book to the child from whom this grown-up grew. All grown-ups were once children--- although few of them remember it. And so I correct my dedication:
To Leon Werth
when he was a little boy
[ Chapter 1 ]
--- we are introduced to the narrator, a pilot and his ideas about grown-ups
Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book called True Stories from Nature
about the primeval forest. It was a picture of a boa constrictor in the act of swallowing an animal. Here is a copy of the drawing.
In the book it said: "Boa constrictors swallow their prey whole without chewing it. After that they are not able to move and they sleep through the six months that they need for digestion."
I pondered deeply then over the adventures of the jungle. And after some work with a colored pencil I succeeded in making my first drawing. My Drawing Number One. It looked like this:
I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups and asked them whether the drawing frightened them.
But they answered: "Frighten? Why should any one be frightened by a hat?"
My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. But since the grown-ups were not able to understand it, I made another drawing: I drew the inside of the boa constrictor so that the grown-ups could see it clearly. They always need to have things explained. My Drawing Number Two looked like this:
The grown-ups' response this time was to advise me to lay aside my drawings of boa constrictors whether from the inside or the outside and devote myself instead to geography, history, arithmetic and grammar. That is why at the age of six I gave up what might have been a magnificent career as a painter. I had been disheartened by the failure of my Drawing Number One and my Drawing Number Two. Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
So then I chose another profession and learned to pilot airplanes. I have flown a little over all parts of the world; and it is true that geography has been very useful to me. At a glance I can distinguish China from Arizona. If one gets lost in the night such knowledge is valuable.
In the course of this life I have had a great many encounters with a great many people who have been concerned with matters of consequence. I have lived a great deal among grown-ups. I have seen them intimately close at hand. And that hasn't much improved my opinion of them.
Whenever I met one of them who seemed to me at all clear-sighted I tried the experiment of showing him my Drawing Number One which I have always kept. I would try to find out so if this was a person of true understanding. But whoever it was he or she would always say: That is a hat.
Then I would never talk to that person about boa constrictors or primeval forests or stars. I would bring myself down to his level. I would talk to him about bridge and golf and politics and neckties. And the grown-up would be greatly pleased to have met such a sensible man.