Rating: 5/5 stars
Originally published in 1922 by the George H. Doran Company with heartwarming illustrations by Jean Chandler (new to this edition, circa 1986,) Margery Williams wrote a magical (albeit long, for Children’s Literature,) story about a tattered and weary stuffed rabbit, on the cusp of losing all hope of discovering how to be, and the true meaning of, Real.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. One might think I’d read this before; that I’d, in fact, be well-versed in such an iconic and timeless tale. The truth is, if not for fully embracing the spirit of Advent this last December for our six year old son, I might not have ever read it. My wife and I didn’t simply read it aloud. It was an experience shared with Carter, and one we hope to never forget, and to cherish “for always.”
The mechanical toys were very superior and looked down upon everyone else; they were full of modern ideas and pretended they were real. The model boat, who lived through two seasons and lost most of his paint, caught the tone from them and never missed an opportunity of referring to his rigging in technical terms..
But as strong and magical as Willians’ tale was, it was much more than your typical Children’s book. Her prose was very clear–the antithesis of ambiguity, in ways which render the cliche “crystal clear,” somehow understated and underwhelming. The plot was exquisitely simple, and spoke of what it meant, even in the Roaring Twenties, to be human; to be remembered; to be loved; to matter. It started off strong, and only intensified as its forty-five pages drew increasingly closer. The seriousness of it impressed me, mostly because such themes are rarely seen in Children’s books.
In complete earnestness, I can’t praise The Velveteen Rabbit enough. Normally I have at least some constructive criticism to give, but aside from longing to see more of the Skin Horse, I wanted nothing more…at all. Williams’ greatest strength inarguably was her ability to make her inanimate objects into actual characters, and wholly believable ones, in fashions exemplifying anthropomorphism. Initially reminiscent of Walt Disney’s Pinocchio (1940; although based on an Italian novel published in 1883,) and Watership Down by Richard Adams (1972,) it became clear that in some ways, Margery Williams was far ahead of them.
Clever, masterful, and ultimately unforgettable. I hope to share this delightful experience with Carter every year.