This is one of those books that has sat in the back of my head and at the bottom of my list of books-to-read for many years. It felt like if I took literature seriously and was a truly modern, truly literate person, then I would have to read this one some time. In fact, I should have read it already.
I saw how slim it was. I slid it in my “carry-on” bag for a bus trip down to Orlando and back, along with a couple other books, including the behemoth Little, Big and another shorty, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. The shorter books called to me first (don’t they always?) and I read both of them on the way down. Neither were at all what I expected.
The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran, is not a novel, nor is it a novella. Perhaps you already knew that. It was published in 1923. It has never been out of print, and is one of the most widely translated books in the world (though it was written in English by the Lebanese-American Gibran). It might help to know, before reading, that the book consists of prose-poetry vignettes, sometimes labeled “fables.” It also might help to know that it feels more like quotes and advice: like someone famous’s compiled sayings. Which is sort of what it is, though in a lightly drawn structure of story: a man leaving town for exile and townspeople asking him advice before it’s too late.
Because it is a sort of Muslim-Baha’i amalgam, I don’t relate to it as well as it appears others have. This is a treasured book, after all, filled with what many have labeled wisdom. For me, it had its moments, but it also didn’t feel especially new or special. Shock and awe. I truly apologize to those who reverence this book, but I just don’t need it: I have other wisdom literature to turn to.
As a piece of literature, it is mildly entertaining, but like I said, it reads more like a book of quotes than it does a story. Don’t look here for twist and turns or well-drawn characters. Turn here if you have to read it for a college course. Or you are short on good advice, in your life.
The Prophet will remain famous, likely well after this blog has come and gone, by being quotable and dealing with life’s big moments. Want something to read at your wedding but don’t want to pick the religious standard? The Prophet will do for you. (There were inspirations of Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and Baha’i in Khalil Gibran’s life. Look up his life story if that interests you.) Or at your vow renewal service? The Prophet is readable and short, but it’s not for everyone.
Years after this review (2023), I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It is similar to The Prophet and I ended up revisiting this review and realized I had never watched the animated movie, Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet (2014). Since the movie of The Alchemist had been in the process for a couple decades and was not (will it ever be?) actually out, I watched K. G.’s The Prophet instead. Hmm, hmm, hmm.
It’s different, for sure. They added a lot to the story and centered it around a troublesome, little girl who won’t speak two years after her father’s death and, less so, the clumsy young man who is courting her mother. And obviously the prophet and his advancement from his home-arrest home to his ship to freedom. The townspeople still ask advice and sit in awe as the poet/artist spouts very calm (Liam Neeson), sudden advice to them.
While the movie is attention-grabbing from the beginning because of its story-book yet old-fashioned animation (with some awkward moments but mostly beauty), Mustafa (the prophet)’s advice is where things really start to get interesting. I felt conflicted, because I really didn’t want to be preached to and especially by a book that I didn’t completely jive with, but different animators with different styles take over during the wisdom poems. This is fun to watch and some of them are just really beautiful and/or well-done. All of them are unique. A couple of them are actually sung (not by Liam Neeson, but by other artists including Glen Hansard which, if I’m being honest, is one the real reason I watched this movie last night. Hansard is my all-time favorite). So what I’m saying is that there are short, animated films and short, animated music videos embedded in this cute, little animated movie about an innocent prisoner making friends with a troubled girl and her having to deal with first his leaving and then with the mal-intent that the government actually has for him. Will he make it to freedom?
There were things I wanted for this film. I find The Prophet’s wisdom to sometimes be circular and nonsensical, but there are some things I can really get behind, like the vignette about love and marriage (“On Love”). There were times when people moved in strange ways or awkward animation happened. But it is also a distinctive piece of cinematic art (animation + voice-acting + poetry + song, and even some dancing) and I would definitely recommend it for at least one view. But for whom? It could be a family movie, but it’s one of those weird animations that is meant more for adults on some levels. For kids, it will be a little heavy and yet it feels much more like a kids’ movie. I’m going to save the songs to me Spotify, right now, while I’m thinking about it. Nevermind. There is no way to view the video shorts or to get these songs. That’s stupid.
I’m sure I must have underlined something. Maybe when I get home from where I am, I can update this post…
One thought on “Book Review: The Prophet”
This was a book I read and treasures in my early 20’s. I think if I re-read it now I would respond as you did. Good review!! Makes me want to do a little research on the man, Khalil Gibran, which I never did.