“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It 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.”
— Margery Williams’ “The Velveteen Rabbit”
Easter, which took place April 4 this year, is a great time for wascally wabbits, as Elmer Fudd would call them — first and foremost chocolate ones, of course, delivered with equally chocolatey, colored-foil or candy-shell eggs and jellybeans by surrogates of the Easter Bunny himself — symbol of the ancient goddess of fertility and spring and of the German-American tradition of an egg-laying hare that gives its colorful creations to good little boys and girls.
Then there are fictional creations like Elmer’s nemesis, Bugs Bunny, now trending as the 3-D star of the upcoming basketball parenting movie “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” in which he teams with LeBron James; and as the inspiration for a Tik Tok challenge in which you lie on your stomach, propping yourself up on your arms and bend your legs so that your feet become rabbit ears. Meanwhile, Peter Rabbit gets his due not only in Beatrix Potter’s illustrated books, eternal in their exquisite daintiness, but in tableware at Pottery Barn and its sister store, Williams-Sonoma.
But perhaps our favorite bunny tale is Margery Williams’ “The Velveteen Rabbit,” illustrated by William Nicholson. (We have the 1983 edition illustrated by Tien Ho.) Williams was an Anglo-American who grew up in rural Pennsylvania with a dual passion for books and nature. She began writing fiction while still in her teens, publishing her first, adult novel, “The Late Returning,” in 1902 at age 21.
But it wasn’t until she married Francisco Bianco, a book department manager from Italy, had two children and discovered the poetry of Walter de la Mare, who was perhaps best-known for his children’s books, that she found her voice. Though she wrote a variety of works, often from the perspective of their animal characters, “The Velveteen Rabbit” (1922) remains perhaps her most resonant. It tells the story of a stuffed rabbit’s journey from a Christmas stocking to a little boy’s heart.
At first the rabbit is, in the tradition of many great protagonists, shy and uncertain. He’s far less shiny and modern than other toys in the nursery. But when he meets with the shabby but wise Skin Horse, who had been beloved by boy’s uncle, he learns that being new and new-fangled isn’t what matters.
The boy and his bunny become inseparable, sharing picnics and tea parties. But then the boy contracts scarlet fever and his germy old toys are discarded for burning. The Velveteen Rabbit despairs of ever truly being real, a tear trickling down his face. It’s from that tear that a miracle is born.
“The Velveteen Rabbit” is about many things, not the least of which is the beauty in growing old and wise. But in an age that’s all about being your authentic self, the book is really about what it means to be real. You’re not real because you are beautiful or new or trendy.
You’re real because you love and are loved in return.