It was the kind of writing assignment that magazines are fond of: ask a celebrity or famous author to write a few paragraphs about the most unforgettable person they’ve met.
In 1953 an American magazine asked the acclaimed French author Jean Giono this question, but the editors were baffled by his response. Giono had sent the editors a strange, 4,000 word story about Elzéard Bouffier, a recluse who planted trees.
Was this Bouffier a real man?
The magazine declined to publish Giono’s enigmatic story. It was published the following year by Vogue magazine to wide acclaim. Giono placed the rights to the story in the public domain so it could be freely translated and published around the world.
Giono’s story has been referred to as an allegory, a myth, a parable, or a spiritual guide.
But is it autobiographical? Is it fiction? Is it based on a true encounter?
Is it a children’s book, or a book for adults masquerading as a children’s book? Does the story represent a search for meaning, in the nature of Siddhartha’s quest? Readers have been asking these questions since the book was published in 1954.
Generosity of spirit as a source of happiness
‘The Man Who Planted Trees’ offers hopes for our suffering planet; Christopher Pramuk, America Magazine
Like the parables of Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of the Beloved Community, it is the poetic word, the storyteller’s vision that can break open the human imagination to possibilities not yet realized. The French writer Jean Giono’s timeless short story “The Man Who Planted Trees,” published in 1953, offers a vision of hopefulness that our suffering planet badly needs today, a prescient parable for coming to grips with climate change and the call to “environmental conversion,” as Pope Francis urges in “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.” Can we believe, as Giono’s tale gently affirms, that human beings can be “as effectual as God in tasks other than destruction”?
The collaboration between Jean Giono and the acclaimed filmmaker Frédéric Back, was a match made in heaven.
When Back began his work on “The Man Who Planted Trees” he was already an Oscar winner, and a legend in the world of animation. What is not so well known is that Back himself was a man who planted trees. He was a lifelong environmentalist and conservationist. Back and his wife Ghylaine Paquin-Back planted 100,000 trees on their property near Montreal.
Back was a visionary, both in his work as an animator and in his fight for the planet, with his two short films setting precedents in the world of animation. Winning two Academy Awards for Best Animated Short, the films brought him international renown.
One reviewer wrote “This Oscar winning short film is the perfect cinematic rendition of the Jean Giono story, exceptionally realized and profoundly moving. It’s an amazing artistic expression of the majesty of the natural world and of a human heart filled with a deep love for the sanctity of that world.”
the oscar presentation
Frédéric Back: The Man Who Planted Inspiration; Animation World Network
FRÉDÉRIC BACK, A Passion for the Planet; Exibition at Pointe-à-Callière, Montreal