20 August, 2007

Reality in the Velveteen Rabbit

I happened upon The Velveteen Rabbit the other day when rifling through our bookshelves in search of one thing and another. I hadn't read it for years, so I sat down directly and finished it in a matter of minutes. My recollection of anything beyond the basic plot had been scanty, and on reading it I was struck by the straight-forward beauty of the prose. It was delightfully lacking in pretension and preachy-ness and I was enchanted to discover new layers to the tale which (as in all good books) add to the story itself rather than making a "children's book" into a podium.

I love this section:

"What is Real?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?" "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 often happen 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."

Genuine relationships - in this case, friendship - do "hurt" sometimes, as the Skin horse says. Being loved and loving back can be painful and hard and wearing. But in the end, it's the only thing that makes you real.

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