I feel like my life is richer for having read The Velveteen Rabbit. I love it as much now as I did when it was first read to me as a child. The thing I loved most about it then was the notion of toys being alive, and loving their owners as much as their owners love them.
“Real doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
The toys talk to each other and discuss what it might be like to be real. From a modern perspective the toys are old fashioned (the book was published in 1922), but not only did that not matter to me, it also added something to the story (there’s something about old toys that have a mysterious quality to them, I don’t know why). But anyone who has read this book knows there is much more to it than talking toys. The young boy soon regards the rabbit as his favourite, and the rabbit hears tales from the Skin Horse about how a toy might become real. This is something to aspire to as well as something quite frightening.
When the boy catches scarlet fever he learns that all of his toys must be burned as a precaution. This is quite a difficult thing for any child to accept, but the concept for a modern child is even more difficult to grasp, as it’s not something that would happen today. I don’t know who I felt most sorry for, the boy or the toys. But it ‘s the ending of this story that really gets to me, after the toys have gone, after the boy recovers and starts to get on with growing up, almost forgetting what it meant to love a toy so much.
“Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about. He didn’t mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn’t matter.”
The velveteen rabbit was loved so much by his owner that he became real, and was saved from his fiery fate. I will always remember how happy I felt at the end of the book, to see the rabbit playing in the field with the other real animals, but how sad I felt as well when the young boy sees the real rabbit and remarks on how much it looks like his cherished childhood toy.
A book about magic, love, and growing up, which has stayed with me for many years, and is so powerful yet so simple, definitely needed to go on this list.