The Tale of Peter Rabbit is a beloved classic with a global audience. Written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter to amuse the 5-year old son of her former governess, this charming story was rejected by several publishers. Undaunted, the enterprising Beatrix believed enough in herself and her work to publish the book on her own in 1901. A year later, it was released commercially by Frederick Warne & Co. — and became one of the best-selling stories of all time. Along with five other titles in the series, it has sold more than 150 million copies in 36 languages.
Seeing she had a hit on her hands, Beatrix went on to become the first author to leverage a literary creation through licensing and merchandising by commissioning Peter-inspired dolls, wallpaper, and tea sets. Smart cookie, that Beatrix!
Enterprising as she was, Beatrix would surely be happy to know that Peter is going through a new surge in popularity. So much so, that he has inspired a Nickolodeon series. Not surprisingly, the story has been massaged a bit: Peter and his siblings are being brought up by a single mom, for example. But most of the story’s core elements remain intact.
This made me think a bit about some of the ingredients that have kept Peter Rabbit alive and adventuring for more than a hundred years. Why does this story continue to delight? Here are a few ideas:
Beatrix creates an enchanting little world, but it’s not without danger: Even little children know that the world isn’t totally safe, that there are Mr. McGregors somewhere out there.
Beatrix gave Peter personality plus: Yes, he wears that adorable blue coat and he has a cute fuzzy tail, but Peter is a feisty little scamp who gets into scrapes. He’s no angel!
Beatrix used wit and humor: Instead of writing a treacly tale about a cutesy bunny, she gave her story legs by using ironic twists and turns to keep both adults and kids engaged.
Beatrix had fun!: After relishing her clever stories and artwork, a reader can’t help but feel that Beatrix thoroughly enjoyed creating them. This pleasure shines through every page.
How wonderful that even in today’s bustling, high tech world, a wonderful story well told and enchantingly illustrated can still find life and new fans.
And here’s something I just adore: In the premiere show of the Nickolodeon series, Peter’s mother passes down his father’s journal to him, filled with stories of his dad’s adventures. At the end of the journal, there are several empty pages for Peter to write his own tale. What a lovely idea! Write on.