"We make still by the law in which we're made." --JRR Tolkien

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Velveteen Rabbit

Of course, in contemplating the realness of toys, I couldn't help but think of The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams.

(I was amazed to rediscover the subtitle . . . )

I ordered it at my local library and eagerly waited to be notified of its arrival. I sat in horrendous traffic at 4:45pm hoping and hoping that the library didn't close at 5:00. I dashed in, only to discover that I couldn't find my name on the pile of reserved books. Luckily, that was only because my reserved book was over-sized and, thus, it was on the over-sized book shelf and not filed alphabetically. With book in hand, I made it quite easily home to read. . .

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, . . . "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. . . . once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."


Is it only children that can make things real? The Skin Horse seems to imply that realness must come from the love of a child. It would seem from my previous post that children certainly have a specific way of making things real. The immediacy of the imaginative relationship clearly makes the toy real to the child in the moment. But even in my own experience the realness imparted to a toy in childhood lingers on into adulthood. Here, I think it is important to introduce my bear, Rar-Ray.

Rar-Ray is not really a bear. He is a wolf in grandma's clothing, although the clothing is long gone. He didn't spend much time wearing those clothes, anyway. Mostly he wore an old diaper cover that my mom didn't need anymore. He wasn't even really my bear. Rar-Ray was given to my younger brother when he was born, but being that my brother was too small to take care of Rar-Ray, I quickly stepped in to take charge. I gave him his name. I decided he was a bear. I loved him until his fur looked like canned tuna fish and his eyes fell out. I don't really remember the games we played, but I certainly did my job, and it is just as the Skin Horse says, "It lasts for always".

It is so interesting to me that even as an adult I can recognize that realness was imparted even though it may be the case that adults cannot impart that realness. I think it is also interesting that in the example of my relationship to Rose, even in the midst of loosing the ability to impart realness it wasn't the toy's realness that was in question, it was only the knowledge of how to interact with that realness that was missing.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rose Is Inspiration II

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

-- 1 Cor. 13:11-12

Perhaps you can tell from the style of toys I shared a few weeks ago that I am very inspired by the Waldorf School tradition. The toys I shared from my senior year are directly inspired by the toys used in Waldorf classrooms. I have taught in a Waldorf school for several years now, becoming more and more familiar with their world view. There is one aspect of that world view that sprang to mind after someone left a comment regarding the realness of toys which, interestingly enough, also relates to Rose.

It is believed in Waldorf schools that between the ages of 6 and 9 the child slowly begins to awaken to their surroundings in a new way. This is a necessary and joyful thing because ultimately it is what allows people to learn to think and comprehend abstract concepts. However, there is a sort of sadness to it as well. Because of the child's awakening they are no longer as enmeshed in their own world of imagination. They are beginning to differentiate between the reality outside of themselves, and the reality of their inner self. Often children of this age find moments when they have forgotten how to play. Toys that once spoke to them and inspired them are now silent.

My Commenter said that of course the toys I shared are real because they are toys and can be played with. The child's interaction with them makes them real. What sprang to mind at that comment was something that I failed to share when I wrote about Rose. I said I remembered wandering around and around the back yard not knowing quite what to do for my sickly doll. I have often wondered since then if that particular memory, of Rose being so sick and not being able to find the right medicine or magic to make her better, was a moment of that in-between stage when I could still remember what it felt like to play, but I was too aware of my actual surroundings to find the right cure.

Thank you Commenter for drawing out this subtle detail.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rose Is Inspiration

I received Rose as a birthday gift many years ago. I don't remember who she is from, nor by whom she was made. She has no identifying tags. I vaguely remember that she came in a box with a window through which you could see her face.

She was always somewhat mysterious. I remember my mom saying that her hair might be real hair. The thought was a bit creepy and bit awe-inspiring. (I am pretty sure now that here hair is not real. It doesn't have the right texture. But I went back and forth on this over the years.) You can even see where I gave her a hair cut.

She was always a sickly girl. I remember wandering around and around our backyard, knowing I had to do something for her, but never quite knowing what.

I have often thought she is the most beautiful doll I have ever owned.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons, 'twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we're made.

I want to share this little bit of Mythopoeia by JRR Tolkien because it so beautifully describes the tension that I feel between what we are able to make and how far it is from perfection. Or rather how far it is from "real" creation. I am very taken with the term "Sub-creator". When we create we simply rearrange the materials that have been given to us. We haven't created any new substances. And yet, our creations have never been seen before. They are one of a kind. They have a special character which is only there because of who we are, which can rarely be truly reproduced. So we have created something new.

I remember when I was a senior in college, I took up toy making again (I had made toys all throughout my childhood, but had not really continued when I got to college because there were other, newer things to attend to). I made a collective of little leaf elves,

a gathering of very serious, gem protecting gnomes,

and a nativity scene which really surpassed anything I had made before in beauty and grace.

I remember admiring them as they sat on my shelf and yet mourning in a way too. In my heart I longed for them to be real. Their beauty deserved to be alive somehow. Or, perhaps, I aspired to make something more than simply objects. I still don't know the answer to this riddle.