“The Velveteen Rabbit,” also called “How Toys Become Real,” is a children’s novel written by Margery Williams and illustrated by William Nicholson. First published in 1922, the story actually was Williams’ first and most popular children’s book. If you’ve never read it before, the story is about the journey of a toy velveteen rabbit learning about love and what it means to become real; a story that reflects the human pilgrimage we all take to discover and hold onto our authentic selves.
A Velveteen Rabbit Story Summary
A boy receives a stuffed rabbit toy made of velveteen material for Christmas. The more mechanical and expensive nursery toys looked down on the Velveteen Rabbit and pretended they were real. After a conversation with the Skin Horse, who had lived in the nursery longer than any other toy, the Velveteen Rabbit learned that real is not how they are made, but a toy can become real if a child really loves it for a very long time.
The Velveteen Rabbit became the boy’s constant companion and eventually became shabby with wear. But he didn’t mind because the boy loved him unconditionally.
After the boy recovers from a bout with scarlet fever, during which the Velveteen Rabbit snuggled patiently with him until he was well, the doctor ordered the germ-laden toy to be burned along with all the nursery toys and bedding to disinfect the nursery. As the Velveteen Rabbit waited outside for the bonfire that would destroy him, he cried a real tear that brought out the nursery magic Fairy. The Rabbit thought he was real before, but he was only real to the boy who loved him. The Fairy flew the Velveteen Rabbit to the woods, kissed him and told him to run and play. Her kiss changed him and he was truly real and at home with the other rabbits in the wild.
The following spring, the boy saw the Velveteen Rabbit playing in the woods behind the house, and he thought the bunny looked familiar, like his old Velveteen Rabbit; but he never knew that it actually was his treasured toy that he helped to be real.
“In this story, being real is love, your value and how you see yourself,” said Kristina F. Wolford, MSW, a therapist at Canyon Ridge Hospital in Chino, California. The story confronts some of the most basic questions we ever ask: Who am I? Do I have worth? What is the purpose of life?
“People resonate with this story because it’s like an unconscious life goal of people to become real,” said Jeshana Johnson, PsyD, department chair of counseling psychology for the College of Behavioral Sciences at Argosy University in Ontario, California. “In psychology we sometimes call this holding onto ourselves. We tend to give up our true/real person to avoid pain or rejection, so we become people who need to be validated by others and often lose who that real person is in the process.”
By far, the most quoted passages from the entire story are variations on a poignant conversation between the Velveteen Rabbit and the Skin Horse.
10 Best Velveteen Rabbit Quotes
Below are what I believe to be the most often quoted sections of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” along with some interpretations from either those I interviewed or myself. Some text overlap exists, as longer passages contain parts of other quotes.
Velveteen Rabbit Quote No. 1
“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.”
Here a new and immature Velveteen Rabbit looks to the wise Skin Horse for answers to his big life questions and receives honest, profound responses.
“It’s a story about growing up,” Wolford said. “This bunny is trying to find himself and his worth. This is a lot like when you grow up and you’re trying to figure out about yourself and how and where you fit in; what’s real.”
Similar to real life, maturity does not happen at once, but is the result of a process that can be uncomfortable and leave us physically and emotionally changed and worn. As social creatures, Wolford said we’re always subconsciously thinking about how we can get people to value or validate and accept us. We start to believe we are good and alive because other people love us and see us as real, instead of inherently because we are, she said.
When I protect myself from rejection with sharp edges or become easily broken by allowing the opinions of others to affect how I see myself, I’m blocking my ability to be authentic and real.
Velveteen Rabbit Quote No. 2
“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.”
Dr. Johnson likens this to when people become loved unconditionally and no longer have need for validation from others. This is when people can become “real.”
Velveteen Rabbit Quote No. 3
He didn’t mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn’t matter.
“When people figure out they’re worth it on the inside, it no longer matters if their outside is shabby,” Wolford said. Especially those who have experienced traumas or abuses often believe they are used or messed up. But the inside is what counts, and that’s what others love you for, she said.
Velveteen Rabbit Quote No. 4
“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.”
The horse experienced the process first-hand and discovered that becoming shabby from love is only ugly to people who are more concerned about staying protected and pristine than being real. We can look to mature and authentic people in our lives as examples and mentors on our path.
“The story describes the Skin Horse as being worn out due to love,” Johnson said. “Love isn’t always feel-good or pretty; we can get hurt. The wear and tear of love takes a toll on us, but it’s very needed for us to be real.”
Sometimes the vulnerability or the worn part is what we run from, she added. We don’t want to be vulnerable and we want to be loved, but we can’t have one without the other.
Velveteen Rabbit Quote No. 5
“Once you are real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
This quote makes me think of hope.
“Once we come into our self, our real selves, we’re able to hold onto ourselves, and you cannot go back,” Johnson said. “When you know what it feels like to be unconditionally loved, you can’t undo it or un-experience it.”
Velveteen Rabbit Quote No. 6
“When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
Sometimes others see and love the real us before we do. Johnson said when it comes to being in relationships with other people, from coworkers and friends to spouses and children, it’s important to know who we are so we can give our real selves to them. Otherwise, we really cheat the relationship and we’re not modeling real for other people.
Velveteen Rabbit Quote No. 7
“When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”<
Like the Skin Horse said, “It can hurt.” But we also get to experience genuine intimacy, authentic relationships and beautiful self-transformation. We learn the risk is worth the rewards.
Velveteen Rabbit Quote No. 8
“Weeks passed, and the little Rabbit grew very old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about. He didn’t mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn’t matter.”
I imagine all parents can relate to this strongly.
Velveteen Rabbit Quote No. 9
Of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? And a tear, a real tear, trickled down his little shabby velvet nose and fell to the ground.
When love brings pain and we see the damaged and shabby parts in our lives, it can make us think the pain just isn’t worth it. However, Wolford said we must have faith that there are good things to come.
“Life won’t be perfect, but you have good things coming,” she said.
Velveteen Rabbit Quote No. 10
“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.”<
Out of fear, we learn early on to become false. Fear of pain, rejection, loneliness — all these can make people choose to abandon our real selves and put on a mask or fake self.
“We operate in our false self most of our lives,” Johnson said. “It’s important to be real with ourselves. The worst thing we can do is lie about who we are to our real selves.”
A sign of growth and maturity is to love our true selves and offer our true selves to others so we can discover those who will love us for who we are.