Since this is Easter week and I’m writing a lot about bunnies, it seems only logical to include a little piece about Peter Rabbit, the bunny to end all bunnies.
I realize this has basically nothing to do with Easter, but honestly, if you haven’t read this book lately then I would strongly advise your reading it again, preferably to a child. Beatrix Potter’s illustrations are so detailed and enchanting — her gift for children’s illustration are pretty much unparalleled. And the writing, such writing. You can’t help but glory in it.
Here are Peter and his mother at the book’s start. Look at his face as his mother buttons up his jacket. Is this not the essence of childhood?
Mother tells Peter he can run in the fields or down the lane, but not to go near Mr. McGregor’s garden. “Your father had an accident there,” she says, almost casually. “He was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.”
You would think that this warning would be enough for any bunny, even if issued in a casual manner. But Peter doesn’t listen.
I love the food details, too: “First he ate some lettuces and some French beans,” Potter writes. “and then he ate some radishes.”
He feels sick after that, and starts to look for some parsley. But he runs into Mr. McGregor, who cries, “Stop thief!”
Peter runs as fast as he can. We are told that he loses one of his shoes “among the cabbages,” and the other shoe “amongst the potatoes.” After that, he gets caught in a gooseberry net. I seem to remember that the birds “implored him to exert himself,” here, but this wonderful quote doesn’t come until a little later, when the sparrows are encouraging him to get out from under Mr. McGregor’s sieve.
He jumps into a watering can eventually, which would have been “a beautiful thing to hide in, if it had not had so much water in it.” Peter manages to get away from Mr. McGregor once again who, tired of chasing after a rabbit, returns to work. Peter looks around for an exit to the garden, but apparently he is disoriented and can’t find his way out. I love this next page. It’s so pitiful and endearing:
An old mouse was running in and out over the stone door-step, carrying peas and beans to her family in the wood. Peter asked her the way to the gate, but she had such a large pea in her mouth that she could not answer. She only shook her head at him. Peter began to cry.
It’s a wonderful story, full of excitement and suspense. It’s reminiscent of childhood in the most powerful and immediate way. Who doesn’t remember ignoring the cautionary words of his mother — and paying for utterly dismissing them? Poor Peter goes home to some camomile tea while his siblings, Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, good little bunnies all, enjoy bread and milk and blackberries for supper. ABZ