Friday, February 02, 2007

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

DiCamillo, Kate. 2006. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.
This week you’ve noticed that sometimes I begin reading books with slight traces of prejudice...I can judge a book on its cover...(or by what it says on its cover)...or based on what I’ve heard about it from other sources. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. If a book is being praised by everyone as the best book the world has ever makes me slightly skeptical. It’s like the book-world goes through phrases where certain books and authors are above criticism. They’re considered supreme. To disagree with their pronouncement that the book is perfect...simply shows your ignorance. There were two books this year that everyone seemed to be talking about: one was Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson, the second was the Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Well, for those that might have missed my ongoing scorn of Octavian Nothing, let’s just say that something quite different happened when I read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a book that is about one china rabbit’s adventures in a sometimes harsh world. He is commissioned by the grandmother for her granddaughter, Abilene.
Once, in a house on Egypt street, there lived a rabbit who was made entirely of china. He had china arms and china legs, china paws and a china head, a china torso and a chino nose. His arms and legs were jointed and joined by wire so that his china elbows and china knees could be bent, giving him much freedom of movement. His ears were made of real rabbit fur, and beneath the fur, there were strong, bendable wires, which allowed the ears to be arranged into poses that reflected the rabbit’s mood--jaunty, tired, full of ennui. His tail, too, was made of real rabbit fur and was fluffy and soft and well shaped. The rabbit’s name was Edward Tulane, and he was tall. He measured almost three feet from the tip of his ears to the tip of his feet; his eyes were painted a penetrating and intelligent blue. In all, Edward Tulane felt himself to be an exceptional specimen. (5-6)
He has everything a fine toy could want: fine clothes, a fine pocket watch, a girl who loves him, a nice home, a place of prestige among the other toys, and the love of his owner. Abilene loves him. Dotes on him. Treasures him. Yet Edward who has never known any other kind of life is unappreciative. It’s not that he dislikes his owner. The fact is that he’s disinterested in humans altogether. Preferring one over another has never occured to him. He has no love. He has no hate--unless its for neighboring dogs who try to pee on him or carry him in their mouths--or for thoughless maids who vacuum his ears and have the audicity to place him on the shelf with other dolls. He is not an emotional rabbit.
But that is just his first stop on a long journey. His starting place. When Edward accompanies the family on an ocean voyage, his luck begins to change. In the following days, months, years, even decades...his whole world is turned upside down over and over and over again. What he learns are valuable life lessons. What it means to love. What it means to lose someone you love. What it means to grieve. What it means to hope and despair. What it means to be content. What it means to be compassionate. He learns to be content with whatever his lot is in life. To be happy with the small longer is pride in possessions or appearance of the utmost importance. Gone is his dignity. Gone are the days when he could gloat and brag. Whether he is filling the need of an elderly couple who treat him like a young child...or comforting a dying girl in her last days on earth...or companionship for a hobo and his dog...or joy for a young boy as he dances for crowds. If there is a human emotion, he’s felt it. He’s learned through experience what it is to be alive. Here is his journey: the good, the bad, the ugly. Full of sadness, disappointment, heartbreak, despair, but also full of hope and love and joy.
I must admit that for me this book is all about the ending. Yes, Edward Tulane suffers. He suffers a lot. The moment things begin to look up, the moment that he’s happy and all is right with the world, that’s when his world is turned upside down again. Yet, Edward Tulane NEEDED a happy ending. The world wants a happy ending. In life there are times of suffering that no one can really explain away. No one can take the pain away, but to live life without hope of a better tomorrow seems worse than not living at all. Hope is needed. Love is needed. Edward Tulane illustrates this perfectly.
All that being said is Edward Tulane a book really for children? Or is it a children’s book for adults? I can only say this. I loved it as an adult, but I think its darkness would have frightened me as a child. Would it frighten every child? No! But for some--like me--there were places and feelings that I was not ready to go. The fact that this poor toy rabbit suffers one torture after another...that the book depicts death, loss, hate, and wouldn’t have worked for me then. It would have been disturbing to me. (Heidi was disturbing to me as was Wizard of Oz). But for the right child, this is a great book. Not every children’s book can be loved and appreciated and treasured by adults....this one can.
Does this mean that this book is the most perfectly perfect book in the whole world? No. I still feel no one book is ‘perfect’ for everybody. Everyone is different. Everyone has different needs. Everyone has different tastes. Different life experiences. Different backgrounds. But I can see why some people are putting this one on the top of their ‘best of 2006’ lists.

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