At the time this post is published, I’ll be at the Writer Unboxed UnCon in Salem, MA, where I’ll be leading a discussion on the impact of language on storytelling. So it seems appropriate to post something along the same lines, particularly given the interesting experience I had just prior to drafting this piece.
My daughter’s 30th birthday was several days ago, and as I prepared to shop for birthday presents, I asked a couple of female friends for book recommendations. One of those recommendations surprised me: The Velveteen Rabbit, the classic children’s book by Margery Williams.
The friend who recommended it – an educated and extremely intelligent woman who’s probably in her late thirties – said that she re-reads the book several times a year. I told her I had read it (or had it read to me) as a child, but couldn’t remember reading it as an adult. (Crap. This means I probably never read it to my daughter. Bad parenting, Keith. Bad parenting.)
My friend remarked that she had never read it as a child, but had discovered the book as an adult, and it remained one of her favorites. Intrigued, I bought an inexpensive ebook version of it, and read it in probably 15-20 minutes. It was a fascinating experience.
Getting reacquainted with a classic
First of all, I totally did not remember the story. I mean, I remember liking it as a kid, and had some vague recollection about it revolving around a toy that becomes shabby and worn, but I couldn’t recall any more details than that. So I was surprised multiple times by where the story went, including its conclusion (fear not – no spoilers).
Next, I was surprised that for a short book intended for children, the language is actually very adult, with a hint of subtly satirical humor that would have sailed right over my head as a child.
For a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him. He was naturally shy, and being only made of velveteen, some of the more expensive toys quite snubbed him. The mechanical toys were very superior, and looked down upon every one else; they were full of modern ideas, and pretended they were real. The model boat, who had lived through two seasons and lost most of his paint, caught the tone from them and never missed an opportunity of referring to his rigging in technical terms. The Rabbit could not claim to be a model of anything, for he didn’t know that real rabbits existed; he thought they were all stuffed with sawdust like himself, and he understood that sawdust was quite out-of-date and should never be mentioned in modern circles. Even Timothy, the jointed wooden lion, who was made by the disabled soldiers, and should have had broader views, put on airs and pretended he was connected with Government.
I’m sure his kind of sophistication in a children’s book made it much more easy for parents to endure when being asked to read the story aloud for the umpteenth time. In that respect, I think Ms. Williams’ book set an example that we see widely adopted today in the CGI-animated movies we see from Pixar and Disney. [Read more…]