The Velveteen Rabbit is a story that has been on my radar for a long time – it is in the ‘I really must read that’ list. But I have never quite got around to doing so. The trouble with classics is that, while the stories are fantastic, the language is so often a barrier. I think of The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett and how I tried to read it to the children – and how seeing a film version of it brought it properly to life for them. I was pretty sure I’d have problems with The Velveteen Rabbit, which was first produced in 1922.
I was delighted, therefore, to see this abridged version, recently out:
I have to say, I was really surprised by the story. It starts off with a toy – the rabbit – appearing at Christmas and discovering that a toy can become Real by being loved. I know this came out first but obviously we’ve seen that theme in many other stories, including the Blue Kangaroo series by Emma Chichester Clark (Harper Collins) and the Emily Brown and Stanley stories (Hodder) to name two current ones. But this story goes much farther than I could ever have anticipated.
As you would hope, the velveteen rabbit is loved and becomes Real. He is delighted about this. The wild rabbits don’t see him as Real however and this makes him melancholy, until the Boy whisks him away for another adventure.
Then the little boy – known only ever as Boy – becomes very ill. The rabbit faithfully stays with him throughout. But when he is recovered the doctor insists that all toys and books that he came into contact with must be burnt (I mean – WHAT!?!?!!?).
The rabbit ends up in a sack at the bottom of the garden. As he sadly reminisces on the glory days with his owner he sheds a Real tear and a fairy appears and makes the rabbit real to everyone.
So the rabbit joins the wild rabbits in the wood. And much later the Boy sees him and thinks how familiar this is.
You can tell that this is a classic – it has a nursery, a Nana who presides over it (although you never see her) and I assumed the boy’s illness was something like scarlet fever (which is turns out, it was). The illustrations too show a rather grand garden and it all feels very old fashioned in a good way. But the language doesn’t get in the way and the story comes across beautifully.
Would it be published today? I very much doubt it. Not even with a substantial amount of tinkering. But that’s why classics should be cherished. Because they were stories that touched people and, thankfully, can continue to touch people.
Toby and Jess were quite shocked that the boy didn’t put up much of a fight when the rabbit was taken away (I said he was still weak from his illness). Jess was quite sad that he didn’t remain a toy forever, but Toby loved the idea of him becoming real. He decided that the boy must have ended up playing with him, having real adventures. As his favourite toy, Annabell, is a giraffe we had a great time imagining the sorts of things Toby would get up to if Annabell became truly Real (obviously she is already Real to us).
I think this is a wonderful, accessible version of this story that I shall now track down and read (now that I know it ends well). Well done to Templar. I hope it reaches an audience it may otherwise have remained inaccessible to.