The Velveteen Rabbit
Pinocchio wants to be a real boy; the Velveteen Rabbit wants to be real, too. Margery Williams’ first book for children is her best-known, still selling huge and seeing adaptation after adaption almost 100 years after its initial publication.
He’s not the most exciting of toys to appear on Christmas morning, and initially not paid a whole lot of attention. But over time he becomes the constant companion of his young owner, until the boy is diagnosed with scarlet fever and all his toys are marked for burning to eliminate further spread of the disease. Tears for the plush rabbit, a new stuffed friend for the boy, a magic fairy, and… A children’s classic.
Williams had tried her hand at writing before this book, and had some success. But it was her discovery of the poet and children’s author Walter de la Mare that transformed her work. De la Mare, she felt, got children in a way few adults did, understanding how imagination, reality and emotion function in the experience of childhood. It was he that inspired her to write the book that made her famous and launched a successful career. From there, Margery Williams went on to write numerous other books for children and young adults, most of which deal with loss, isolation and alienation from one’s peers. None, though, ever matched the success of The Velveteen Rabbit. Radio plays, films, musicals, and claymation – the story has been told and re-told to generation after generation of kids, the plush rabbit’s move from neglect to love to abandonment coming to serve as an important cultural symbol of life’s transitions, love and loss, and hope after all. It’s hokey, it’s sentimental – as almost all of Williams’ work is; but that is exactly why it resonates, and why it lasts.