by Margery Williams
There once was a beautiful soft velveteen rabbit who, with his beautiful white and brown spotted coat was the most splendid toy on Christmas morning. When the boy saw him he was delighted, and for two hours they could not be separated; but soon there were other presents to unwrap, and the rabbit got forgotten.
For a long time after Christmas the rabbit lived in a cupboard, or on the floor, and nobody paid much attention to him except the Skin Horse, the oldest toy in the house. The Skin Horse was looking old now, with holes in his coat and a lot of his tail missing, and did not talk about being ‘real’ like some of the new toys. The velveteen rabbit, who thought all rabbits were made of velveteen and sawdust, asked what ‘real’ was.
“Does real mean you make lots of noise, and have flashing lights?”
“No”, said the Skin Horse. “Real isn’t how you are made, but something that happens to you. If a child loves you, and does so for a long time, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Sometimes, but when you are Real it doesn’t matter.”
“Does it happen quickly?”
“No, it takes a long time. Indeed, by the time you become real you have lost most of your hair, or your eyes, and you look shabby. But Real things cannot be ugly.”
“So you are Real?” asked the rabbit.
“The boy’s uncle made me real a long time ago. Once you are Real it never leaves you.”
The rabbit thought that being real sounded wonderful, but that losing his coat or his eyes didn’t sound so good. Maybe there was a way to become Real and still look nice.
One day the boy was going to bed but could not find the toy dog with which he had become used to sleeping. His nanny looked about, and then grabbed the rabbit by the ear.
“Here, take your old bunny.”
The first nights in the bed were very uncomfortable – the boy would roll on to the rabbit, or push him under the pillow, or hug him too tightly, and the velveteen rabbit missed talking with the horse. Soon, however, he began to like staying in the bed. It felt good to be wanted, and sometimes the boy would make tunnels with the blanket and pretend they were in the ground, like real rabbits.
The rabbit was so happy as time passed in the bed that he did not notice how his own fur was disappearing, and his coat becoming shabby. His nose, which had been pink, was now dull brown.
In Spring the boy started to take the rabbit out into the garden during the day. He drove the rabbit around the garden in the wheelbarrow, or hid with him by the raspberries. And one night he accidentally left the rabbit in the garden, and told his nanny he wouldn’t sleep without it. The nanny went and found the velveteen rabbit and brought it inside.
“All that fuss for a toy.”
“It isn’t a toy” said the boy. “It’s real!”
When the rabbit heard this he was so happy. His fur was old, and his eyes no longer shiny, but he was real, and he had the wisdom and beauty that all Real things have.
Summer was as good as Spring, and the boy continued to take the rabbit out into the garden. One day, before he left to play elsewhere for a while, the boy made a nest in the garden for the rabbit to sit in until he came back.
The rabbit sat there for a while, and then something strange happened: from the edge of the garden two animals came near him. These animals looked very like the rabbit, except their fur was not old, and they had no seams where they had been sewn together. They were rabbits, like him, but their noses twitched, which was something the velveteen rabbit could not do.
“Come play with us” the rabbits asked the velveteen rabbit.
“I don’t feel like it” the velveteen rabbit said, not wanting to say that his legs could not move like theirs.
“You look different from us. I don’t think you have any hind legs.”
“I do” said the rabbit, although he knew this was not true. “I’m just sitting on them.”
“Let us see” said one of the rabbits. “Let us see you move like this.” And the rabbit began to dance around.
“I don’t like dancing” said the velveteen rabbit.
“You know” said one of the rabbits to the other, “I don’t think he is a real rabbit.”
“I am real!” the velveteen rabbit said. “I am real! The boy said I was!”
But the rabbits left the velveteen rabbit, and although he called for them to come back and play with him, he could do nothing but wait until the boy returned.
Soon the rabbit was back in the bed, and it felt good to be there again. The boy hugged him, and soon the rabbit lost all his fur and his shape, so he did not look much like a rabbit at all. The velveteen rabbit did not care.
One day, however, the boy became ill. His body got hot, burning the rabbit as he hugged him, and lots of strange people came to the bed to look at the boy. It was not a pleasant time waiting for the boy to get better, but the rabbit loved the boy and was happy to stay there; and, finally, the boy’s health returned.
A man called ‘Doctor’ often came to see the boy. Doctor gave the boy medicines, and took his temperature. Finally, one day he looked at he boy, and seemed happy; but then he turned to nanny and said that for the boy to stay healthy he should take a trip to the seaside, and that all his old clothes and toys should be burnt.
The rabbit thought it would be nice to go to the seaside with the boy – because he was a Real rabbit, not a toy – but then Nanny asked the doctor about him.
“Oh my goodness!” said the doctor. “That thing will be covered in germs! Burn it first!”
That night the boy slept in a different room, and the velveteen rabbit was put in a box with the other old things that were to be burnt. Outside the window the rabbit could see the garden they had played in, and the raspberry bushes under which they had hidden. He remembered what the Skin Horse had said about being real – but this was a terrible way to end. Why be Real at all if you are going to be thrown out and burnt?
A great sadness came over the velveteen rabbit, and then – something only Real things can do – a tear fell from its eyes.
And where the tear fell, a strange thing happened: a flower started to grow out of the ground, and when it opened a fairy stepped out.
“Dear rabbit” she said, and kissed him on his brown nose. “I am the Magic Fairy of the nursery, and I take care of all the toys that have been loved. When the toys are old, and worn, I take them from here and make them Real.”
“Was I not Real before?”
“You were Real to the boy, because he loved you. Now, you shall be Real to everyone.”
The rabbit was confused, but let the fairy pick it up, and she flew him from the nursery out into the wood. The night looked beautiful, with the moon high in the sky, and he could see real rabbits hopping below. The fairy flew down, and the rabbits stopped to look at her.
“I have brought you a new playfellow. Be nice to him, and teach him what he needs to know.”
And, after saying this, she kissed the rabbit once more and then put him on the grass.
“Run and play, little rabbit.”
The rabbit, however, did not move. He remembered how he could not when he saw the two rabbits in the garden. He sat and sat, and perhaps he would have sat there forever if something had not made his nose itch. Suddenly his nose twitched, and without thinking he moved his leg to scratch it.
He was a real rabbit! He looked at his coat, which was now soft and new. He was at home, with the real rabbits.
The next Spring the boy came back from the seaside, and went out into the garden. There, he saw some rabbits. They were all brown, except one, which was brown and white.
“That rabbit looks like my old bunny.”
He did not know it was his rabbit, who had come back to see the boy that had helped him to become Real.