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With The Little Prince coming to Netflix on Friday, more than 70 years will have passed since TIME, in reviewing the story on which the film is based, called author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry the “most metaphysical of aviators.”

And, though the story of the Little Prince and his voyages among the planets is clearly fiction, Saint-Exupéry’s own experiences as a pilot helped inspire that tale. On the most obvious level, the plane crash that begins the story, through which the narrator meets the title character, mirrors a real mishap that left the author stranded in the Sahara in the mid-1930s, while on his way from Paris to Saigon on an airmail run. As TIME would later describe, “Characteristically, while waiting to be rescued in the desert, he kept himself company with his musings, later spun the incident into his delightful children’s tale, The Little Prince.” He ended up walking many miles in the desert before being rescued by a passing Bedouin.

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