At first blush, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane seems an odd choice of book to encourage holy imagination in a child. Newberry-winning author Kate DiCamillo’s tale of a china rabbit who becomes separated from his owner (one Abilene Tulane of Egypt Street) and undergoes numerous misadventures has a distinctly downbeat tone. The trouble, if we want to call it that, begins with the titular protagonist.
Edward Tulane is not a nice china rabbit. Vain, prejudiced, self-absorbed — such adjectives only begin to describe him. He’s not your normal “hero,” that’s for sure. And the book’s speculative premise proves odd, too. In most respects, Edward behaves like any other doll, meaning he doesn’t really behave at all. Yet he possesses a rich thought life, one that turns successively darker as the novel progresses. Make no mistake, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane goes places few children’s books dare. Circumstances constantly conspire to sever Edward from those whose care he comes under. In one instance, Edward even has to listen as a child dies from a terrible consumptive disease.
So why would I recommend such a dour title? Because it deals in profound ways with a superlative virtue — love.
Only one member of the Tulane family understands Edward’s selfish nature, namely Abilene’s grandmother Pellegrina. She knows how he would rather contemplate his fine silk suits and startlingly blue eyes than give a minute’s thought to the little girl who loves him. So Pellegrina shares a tragic fairy tale about “a princess who loved no one and cared nothing for love,” a princess who dies because of her egotism. This tale mirrors Edward’s trials, only he doesn’t perish. When he falls from the side of a cruise liner Abilene is on and plunges into the ocean, he learns fear, a new emotion for him. When a jealous daughter throws him into the town dump, he feels the first twinge of loss. When a railway guard kicks him away from a hobo, he discovers the heartbreak born of true affection.
With every separation, Edward learns more of the value and pain of love, love both velveteen and so sharp it can draw blood. The novel almost seems like a narrative incarnation of those famous lines from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding.”
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
We know of this love, don’t we? A ferocious, irresistible thing, it spoke the universe into being, hung on a tree for its redemption and broke the power of death after three days in the belly of the earth. It draws the dead unto itself and makes them live again. And much like Edward’s ultimate fate, this love won’t stop pursuing its own until it finds them, no matter how long the years may stretch.
(Picture: CC 2009 by allerleirau)