I know I don’t typically review short stories on this blog, but The Velveteen Rabbit holds a special place in my heart, and it is a Christmas story (kind of), so it makes sense to briefly talk about it this holiday season.
I first read this story when I was probably eight or nine. It was the very last story in a fairy tale collection that my grandmother gave to me and my sisters, and it captivated me from the first read. I loved the story so much that I begged my mom to order me a set that included an illustrated picture book and a real plush Velveteen Rabbit (pictured below). I took that Rabbit everywhere with me for a few years, and I’m sad to say I don’t know where he wound up. But the story has stuck with me through the years and still warms my heart to this day.
One Christmas morning, an unnamed Boy receives a toy velveteen Rabbit in his Christmas stocking. The Rabbit has difficulty fitting in with the rest of the nursery toys, except for the old and wise Skin Horse. The Skin Horse explains the concept of being Real to the Rabbit: when a child loves a toy so much that they think of them as real. The Rabbit is fascinated with this nursery magic and longs for the day when he might become Real too.
I’ve always loved stories about toys coming to life, and this one further cements the whimsical idea that toys have souls: souls that flourish with love. There are so many quiet scenes between the Rabbit and his beloved Boy, whether it’s falling asleep together or playing together somewhere. I remember a specific illustration from my childhood book, where the Boy and the Rabbit lie in bed next to the window, dotted with magical stars, and the Rabbit holds the Boy back with a look of innocent, pure love. I loved that illustration so much that I actually tried to recreate the starry sky with black construction paper. Needless to say, my amateur recreation did not work at all, but the idea of the illustration, of falling asleep safe and warm, held close by something so loving and pure as a toy, was a profound comfort.
As a young wallflower, I also related to the Rabbit’s trouble fitting in with other toys. The Boy’s nursery is full of mechanical toys that turn their noses up at the Rabbit just because he’s a plush animal. Although the Rabbit is clearly the Boy’s favorite, it doesn’t help that the other toys, except for the Skin Horse, snub him for such a silly reason.
I remember another illustration where the Rabbit encounters real-life rabbits. The real rabbit looks both curious and confused at the Velveteen Rabbit, while the Rabbit just wants to be understood and included. He is asked to move and jump around like a real rabbit, but he can’t since he’s a toy, and the real rabbits abandon him when they understand he is not real.
For a child who had trouble finding a crowd in school, this scene resonated with me, because the Rabbit, while looking like a real rabbit, feels different from other rabbits, and he wants so much to change that but is helpless to do so. The illustration is a great visual representation of looking more or less the same as everyone else, but there is something off about you that deters people away from you.
I also love the Rabbit’s pure love of the Boy. When the Boy falls ill with scarlet fever, the Rabbit does his best to comfort him, all while looking forward to the Boy’s recovery. You’re hopeful that both the Rabbit and the Boy will get a happy ending, but you know that good things don’t always happen to the Rabbit. And when the Rabbit finds himself at his lowest point, you just want to scoop him up and rescue him.
It’s because of stories like this that I’ve always had trouble giving up toys or ceasing to be enchanted by them. They are vessels for a child’s love and imagination, and their only purpose is to be loved. Stories like these make me wonder if toys can love us back. What if every time we hugged a toy, it hugged us back? What if they loved us more than we could ever love them? I guess I just hope that wherever my toys wound up, that special nursery magic found them and made them Real, just like the Rabbit.