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What's the opposite of velveteen?

9.20.2007

When I was a small child, my parents (like all good parents) read to/with us all the time. Eventually, they made us start reading by ourselves, and they would give us books with which to do so. This is not really the point of this post.

The point is that I hate The Velveteen Rabbit. Not hate in the conventional anger-driven-rage sense, just in the I-can't-stand-the-thought-of-it sense. And I'm trying to remember why. I remember being given the book to read...after that I only remember feeling very sad about it. SO sad that I have since then avoided the book at all costs. I remember something about scarlet fever, something about toys "acquiring" germs when their owners are sick, something about a toy (an animate toy, mind you) being thrown out with the trash. Who knows whether or not these things are actually contained within the aforementioned book, but my adverse association(s) are quite strong. THEN, when I began this post, I found some of the original illustrations from the book.


Does anyone else find this picture horrifying?? The intense warm colors do not soothe a young child's mind, and the red in this particular one makes it look like the rabbit has died a grisly death. This is not to say that the artist isn't talented, but rather it is to say that they evoke a myriad of objectionable emotions in my heart. Very objectionable. Could it have been the illustrations which caused my fear? Perhaps.

Then, I found this quote from the book:
"Does it hurt?" asked 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 time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or 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 Velveteen Rabbit
by Margery Williams
copyright 1984, Running Press
That wasn't so terrible, but when I read it I just hated it! True story. THEN I looked on Wikipedia to find a little synopsis, and I found the following plot summary:

A boy receives a Velveteen Rabbit for Christmas. The Velveteen Rabbit is snubbed by other more expensive or mechanical toys; the latter of which fancy themselves real. One day while talking with the Skin Horse, the Rabbit learns that real is not how you are made, rather a toy becomes real if its owner really and truly loves it.

When the boy's china dog is misplaced, the Velveteen Rabbit takes the place as the boy's constant companion. The Rabbit becomes shabbier, but the boy loves him no matter what.

The Velveteen Rabbit meets very well-made toys with no seams (they are actual rabbits), and the Velveteen Rabbit learns about the differences between himself and the real rabbits.

This companionship lasts through the winter and the next summer, until the boy falls ill with scarlet fever. The boy becomes too ill to play for a very long time; upon his recovery, he is sent to the seaside on doctor's orders. The boy wishes to take the Rabbit with him, but his doctor forbids him to take the diseased toy. Not only can he not take the Rabbit, but the doctor says it must be burned along with all the nursery toys in order to disinfect the house from the germs.

The boy is given a new plush rabbit with glass eyes and is so excited about the trip to the seaside that he forgets his old Velveteen Rabbit. While awaiting the bonfire, in which the Velveteen Rabbit will be burned, the Rabbit cries a real tear. This tear brings forth the Nursery Magic Fairy. The Rabbit thinks he was real before, but the fairy tells him he was only real to the boy. She flies him to the woods, where he realizes that he is a real rabbit at last and runs to join the other rabbits in the wild.

The following spring, the boy sees the Rabbit hopping in the wild and thinks he looks like his old Velveteen Rabbit, but he never knows that it actually was.

First of all, my recollections were fairly accurate. Second of all, does anyone else think this might be a terrifying storyline for young children? BURNED IN A BONFIRE?! I know that's not supposed to be the focal point, but, come on. By now I've convinced myself that the reason I found this so terrifying was because I thought the rabbit DID turn real and DID get burned (even if in reverse order). This "Nursery Magic Fairy" does not console me. (By the way, Katie, your posts on fear of fire as a young child did not fall on unsympathetic ears. I, too, had a serious fear of fires as a kid. Fortunately, my mom did map out a route with me...but I still thought I would have to jump out my second story window onto some sort of blanket. That's a whole other post.) I shall never read the book again, nor shall my children know of it's existence. I guess I'm one of the people who 'doesn't understand'.

Isn't it amazing what the mind can do with memories it doesn't like?

  1. Blogger Katie said:

    I fully sympathize with your recollections of childhood fears. I, however, happen to remember loving The Velveteen Rabbit, but after reading your post I don't really remember why. It sounds incredibly terrifying...Which book was it that you hid in your window seat and never wanted to see again? Was it The Velveteen Rabbit? (If it wasn't you who hid the scary book then forgive me, I probably made that up). On a side note, I'm glad you had parents who helped you map out a fire escape route. I will most definately be doing that for my own children some day. Then maybe they won't grow up to blog about their irrational childhood fear of house fires...

  1. Blogger Pam Pensiero said:

    wow...I didn't know this about you. The Velveteen rabbit is a big favorite in your in-law family. That is the book Mary wants read every Christmas. I think you are not seeing the tender point of the story, which is anyone who is truly loved gets a little beat up. Could this be our first family rift? On another note, I learned today that there is an "alice in wonderland" syndrome. It is a true thing where your mind makes you think you are smaller or things grow bigger. It happens usually before a migraine headache. Love you, M

  1. Anonymous Luke said:

    Weird... after reading your post, Velveteen quotes have invaded my life. Here's the latest: http://www.ragamuffinsoul.com/?p=2833

    Shudder.

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