Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince and Wind, Sand and Stars, disappeared while on a spy mission for the Allies during World War II. The wreckage of his plane was positively identified only last year. Although the cause of the crash remains unknown, there is some suspicion that he committed suicide.
For the Guardian last weekend, Robert Macfarlane returned to some of Saint-Exupéry’s writings about flight, calling them “the finest in aerology — among the finest in all exploration,” and observing that they “are full of moments … when, aloft, one suddenly ‘passes beyond the borders of the real world‘, and into a realm so elemental that it seems otherworldly.” Macfarlane goes on:
In Night Flight (1931), Southern Mail (1929), and Flight to Arras (1942), he writes of crash-landings in the “mineral country” of the desert, of long journeys in darkness over sea and sand, of crossing high mountain passes while “sprays of lightning” illuminate the peaks. He writes, too, of miracles; of how, on a night-flight south, a pilot will move through seasons in a matter of hours, “leaving behind the rains and snows of the North, repudiating winter, he throttles back his engine and begins his descent through a midsummer sky into the dazzling sunlight of Alicante”.
No one has written about air like Saint-Exupéry. Air was a substance whose beauty so astonished him that he often lapsed into dream-like states while at the controls: the aeroplanes he was flying did not have autopilot. “I live”, he once wrote, “in the realm of flight”.