Sunday, August 03, 2008

On reality and toys

"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."

Stories like this featured heavily in my early childhood. I didn't have the Velveteen Rabbit but I did have Pinnochio's travaills as he tried to become a real boy, and I was bombarded with Enid Blyton's many stories about toys in the nursery who became real when the children went to bed. There was one series about an unruly doll called Amelia Jane who was the toybox bitch and made the lives of all the toys hell for three whole books, until they finally decided to get revenge. There's something very sentimental about the idea that your toys come to life if you love them enough. I still have my own childhood teddy bear - a very betraggled looking thing from the early 1970s. Embarrassing I know, but I think the world could do with more sentimentality - especially in these cruel times of suicide bombers and selfish capitalism. I defy even the most stony heart to read The Velveteen Rabbit all the way through without crying.

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