Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Today I will be looking at the first book written by Beatrix Potter. The Tale of Peter Rabbit is a story that I spent much of my childhood time with. Not only did I read and have this book read to me frequently, I also watched the still motion video of it over and over again. In retrospect I think that this story caught my attention because it combines the natural environment of animals with the characteristics of humans (for example, Peter wears a blue jacket). Beatrix Potter molds these two worlds together without even needing a device to explain how this fusion is possible. As a child I loved to see the "cute" bunny going about its bunny life, yet in his Sunday best. I could relate to this animal because Beatrix Potter made Peter into just another friendly child for me to pass the time with.

The simple explanation of this story is that a young rabbit disobeys his mother and goes to Mr. McGregor's garden in order to collect some treats for himself. Mr. McGregor eventually spots Peter and menacingly chases him through the garden. Our good friend Peter barely escapes the farmer, but in his attempts he loses his good clothes and comes home to his mother as any "regular" rabbit might, with no clothes and on all fours. That night Peter is ill and the reader can take from that the moral that all good little children should listen to their parents.

What makes this story stand out to me now though is that Peter is really not a "bad seed". This does not read as a cautionary tale, it is more like an adventure in which Peter is the protagonist and you are always rooting for him. Sure, he is mischievous, but really, it is the farmer that comes off as being the "bad person". In fact the farmer has killed Peter's father and is now seen trying to kill Peter, a small child. Which leads, us to the next reason that I feel this book is so amazing.

Beatrix Potter is introducing a very innocent character in Peter, but he has to contend with some pretty distressing circumstances. His father has been killed and he is really fighting for his life in this book. Beatrix Potter drew this story from a letter she had sent an ill friend, and I think when viewing this book in that context it becomes abundantly clear that this is a story that is meant to be uplifting. This little bunny, who has so many characteristics of a normal child, has to go up against some intensely harrowing obstacles. In fact, one of my favorite parts, is when Peter has gotten caught in a gooseberry net and he starts to cry and wants to give up, but some sparrows come and implore him not to"exert himself". With their insistence he is able to regain hope and escape.

In the end, Peter is punished in a way for not obeying his mother, but really his mishap has allowed him a chance to become a stronger person (or rabbit) and illustrates to the reader how one little creature was able to surpass obstacles that might feel too difficult to get over. This book always gave me comfort as a child and I can now better appreciate why, because in the end this is really the story of getting over the hardships in life.

This story was first published in 1902 and was just the beginning in a long line of wonderful stories by Beatrix Potter, and I would suggest reading them all. Click on the picture bellow to be taken to the official Beatrix Potter website for more information and fun games with Peter.