The classic story of the Velveteen Rabbit and more recent story of Edward Tulane demonstrate the nature of true love.
The Velveteen Rabbit, or How Toys Become Real by Margery Williams. Originally published 1922 (republished in several editions)
*The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Candlewick, 2006, 228 pages.
Reading Level: middle grades, ages 8-10
Recommended for: all ages
NOTE: Both books are available for a limited time in a kindle edition for .99 each. See Amazon link below.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love.” Jeremiah 31:3
One thing toy stories (including Toy Story) teach us about love is that it’s often painful. Two stories about toy rabbits reach their joyful conclusion only by walking the reader through a valley of sadness which, when we look back on it, could not have been eliminated.
The Velveteen Rabbit, almost 100 years old, tells the story of a stuffed bunny who enters his owners life as stocking stuffer: “On Christmas morning, when he sat wedged in the top of the Boy’s stocking, with a sprig of holly between his paws, the effect was charming.” The rabbit enjoys a few hours of the Boy’s full attention before other toys grab the stage, then he’s demoted to a shelf in the nursery. But one night, when the Boy can’t find his usual bed companion, the nanny looks around for a substitute. “Here, take your old Bunny! He’ll do to sleep with you!” Love ensues. Through the following summer, Boy and Bunny are constant companions, while the velveteen fur rubs off and the ears turn grubby and the bunchy body loses what shape it had. None of that matters, because the Boy’s love has made him Real. Then sickness comes to the house, and the stuffed rabbit is deemed a “mass of scarlet fever germs.” He’s headed for the bonfire, until “nursery magic” intervenes.
The Velveteen Rabbit borders on sentimentality but the author’s life experience gives it depth. At the age of seven, Margery Williams’ beloved father died, marking her with a sense of life as essentially tragic, along with its many joys. Though not (as far as I know) a Christian, her theme of love making us Real is a fitting image of God’s love molding us into who we were meant to be.
The china rabbit of Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane follows a similar theme but a different character arc. Edward Tulane—no common “Bunny” title for him!—cuts a splendid figure. Presented as a special gift to a girl named Abilene from her grandmother, Edward comes with his own wardrobe, including hats and shoes and a gold watch. Abilene insists on keeping him nearby at all times, even dinner, and includes him in every conversation. She adores him, and Edward adores himself, gazing endlessly at his reflection in the window. It’s a fine life, until the family takes an ocean voyage on the Queen Mary, and Edward falls prey to a pair of mischievous boys who accidentally toss him overboard. Face-down in the muck on the ocean floor, he has plenty of time to contemplate how pride goes before a fall. But his “miraculous journey” has only begun.
He will pass through many hands and experience emotions that never touched him before: comfort, gratitude, happiness, anxiety, cynicism, wrenching grief, hope. He will endure a kind of death and resurrection and arrive at a happy ending that, however unlikely (or miraculous), is far from gratuitous. Early in the story, Abilene’s grandmother, who was responsible for Edward’s very existence, sizes up his narcissistic character in a bedtime story about a beautiful, self-absorbed princess who is turned into a warthog. Abilene protests about the ending. “How can a story end happily if there is no love?” replies her grandmother.
Good question. I can’t think of any happy stories without love. “If I have not love, I am nothing,” wrote Paul to the squabbling Christians at Corinth. Love is something we grow into as we become Real. It’s something that we can’t do alone. It’s something that scrubs away our self-absorption until we see at last face to face, knowing as we are known. “I have loved you with an everlasting love”: the real secret of the ages, enduring forever.
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Also at Redeemed Reader:
- For older readers, C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces explores similar themes.
- We did a whole symposium on Beauty and the Beast! See the introductory post.
- Speaking of love, how about romance? The whole Redeemed Reader crew got together to talk about “Those Love Stories We Loved” and what we’ve learned since.