Children’s playrooms can be fun filled places. They can also be fearsome rooms. They are often filled with elements of joy and delight, but they can also be places where monsters lurk and anxieties burble. In the world of Margery Williams, in her book the Velveteen Rabbit, on this day, the playroom is a place of sadness because The Girl is terribly ill and has not been allowed out of bed and into the playroom in a very, very long time. Here is a section from the book where we listen in on a conversation among the toys as they discuss becoming real.
The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it. “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 happen often 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.” “I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled. “The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.
And of course we all want to be real. How can we respect the dignity of others if we cannot respect our own dignity? And how can we respect our own dignity if we are not Real? Yet, like the Rabbit, we want to become real without all those painful things happening to us. But becoming real, to others and to ourselves, well it seems to me that that’s just what a life well lived is all about, and getting our sharp edges worn smooth, and having our hair loved off, and becoming a bit shabby, well that’s part of the process too.
So, listen, the rest of the book is quite wonderful, and finishes the story of the Rabbit becoming Real. Go have a read … You can find the full text of the book at Project Guttenberg, http://archive.org/stream/thevelveteenrabb11757gut/11757.txt wherethe eBook is reproduced courtesy of the Celebration of Women Writers, online at http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/.