Friday, April 22, 2011

Mr. Rabbit, Mr. Rabbit

Rabbits have been much on my mind of late, starting with the Chinese New Year last month. According to that system we are in the Year of the Rabbit; more specifically, the Year of the Golden (Metal) Rabbit, for not only does their horoscope cycle through twelve signs every twelve years, but each sign cycles through the five Chinese alchemical elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. So it takes a larger cycle of sixty years before each specific sign (like Golden Rabbit) comes around. I myself was born in a Water Rabbit Year, and I find that the traits ascribed to such a person fit me more that the aggressive, outgoing character of a Leo which I am strapped with under the Western system: as a Water Rabbit I am creative, compassionate, home-loving, avoiding of confrontation, conservative, outwardly calm with a passionate core, and easily taken advantage of. The sign of the Rabbit is one of the luckiest ones, though this is a bad year for Rabbits, apparently.

Anyway, last month, on the Chinese New Year, when rabbits were prominent in my consideration, I decided to once again look for George, a book I've always remembered from when I was ten. It's about a rabbit named George, who wears glasses and helps a brother and sister with their life. It was an obscure little volume, and I'd been searching the Internet for it for ten years, at least, without a clue to author or publisher. Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that the world-wide web had finally been spun fine enough to catch my memories, and George, by Agne Sligh Turnbull, turned up on the radar.

Within a week I had a nice, inexpensive ex-library copy in my hands, and could see that all the details that I could remember were accurate. I read it in less than a hour (it is only ninety-four pages long, and that is with many good line drawings by Trina Hyman). When I put it down I was pleased but puzzled. It was a nice book, but there seemed nothing particularly excellent or special about it. Why had it teased and hung onto my memory over all these years?

George H., a talking rabbit who wears glasses (he doesn't need them, but inherited them from his grandfather, a Belgian hare), turns up at the Weaver household. He helps the mother calm her migraines by letting her pet him (without revealing his unusual talents); but he talks to the children Milly and Tommy, helping them with their manners, their homework, and their vocabulary; the common-sense, working father never sees George and remains sceptical till the end, when he finds George's glasses. George leaves, in best Mary Poppins fashion, when he has solved many of the family's problems.

Perhaps that's why it impressed itself so on me at the time. Perhaps I wanted a secret mentor and friend to help me with my life (and anyone who thinks a ten-year-old doesn't have problems isn't remembering things correctly or was just extraordinarily lucky). The family was just enough like mine that I could squeeze us into their situation. And the odd thing is, looking back, that even pretending at the time to have an imaginary friend helped. Asking myself what would someone like George do, and then doing it myself, helped me get through. I suppose, in a more rarified and advanced way, I still do the same thing.

As anyone who has regularly read this blog knows, I have been gathering many of the old books I read when I was a child. This has been not only an exercise in nostalgia and delight, but in an odd way one of retroactive self-analysis. When I started this entry I had no idea it would lead me where it has. But there it is.


Babel said...

And so George ended up being an imaginary helper friend for you as well. Rabbits are always fun from a design standpoint. Bigger and more cuddly than mice or rats, wilder and cannier than dogs or cats. And they look great in human clothing or glasses.

Brer said...

Of course Bunny Rabbit on "Captain Kangaroo" was a rabbit with glasses; the most famous imaginary friend was Harvey the six-foot invisible rabbit; and just when I finished this post I turned on the TV and quite by coincidence found "Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends' which has a six-foot rabbit with a monocle.

In an odd way, humanity, and to a certain extant especially Americans, have identified with rabbits and mice. They are plentiful, common, humble, wily, and fertile; we are Br'er Rabbit and Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. They are small folk up against a big world.

On a tangential note, "Bunny" used to be a nickname for a squirrel, because of their tails; it got transferred to rabbits when they became more popular as pets.

Jules said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you so much. I have been searching for this book. I loved it as a kid and recalled that it made me cry, but couldn't find it anywhere! I was beginning to give up hope!