Edward Tulane and the Soft, Sharp Heart of Love by Loren Eaton

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[Howdy, Rabbits. Allow me to introduce you to Loren Eaton, another of Story Warren’s fine contributors. Loren blogs about genre fiction and is an accomplished short story writer. He’s also a dad and “has discovered that love covers a multitude of Richard Scarry.” Enjoy! –S.D. “Sam” Smith]


 

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)


9 Comments

  1. Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Me, too. Not only is the story great, the actual hardback book with its illustrations is a thing of beauty. Three cheers for Kate DiCamillo. Thanks for writing this, Loren!

  2. Loren Eaton

    PP: You know, I think Tulane edges Desperaux for me — but just barely!

    AP: Aren’t those illustrations gorgeous? They’re so old-timey and detailed. And thank you for reading, sir!

  3. Teresa Jenkins

    This book holds a special place in my heart. I “stumbled” upon it shortly after the stillborn death of my Grandson, Felix. Somehow I could relate to Edward. Love is both frighteningly beautiful and excruciating in its pain. God spoke to me through this book. Thanks for your thoughts on it, Loren.

  4. Loren Eaton

    Teresa: I remember reading this book while my father (who was ill at the time with a brain tumor) was stuck on the rehab floor of a local hospital. “Stuck” is an intentional word choice, because he’d been there almost a month and it felt like he’d never leave. He was napping when I got to the ending, and the final lines went through me like a knife. So much hope despite so much suffering, just like life itself. I’m thankful we have a sovereign God who never stops pursuing us.

  5. Karen Buck

    My kids (9, 10 & 13) and I were so moved by this book and we actually reference it quite a bit when we discuss matters of loving well. There’s something so genuine about it because Edward goes places the reader doesn’t want to go and there’s a lot of waiting, but the transformation is real. Just like love!

  6. Loren Eaton

    Karen: I’m so glad your kids enjoyed it. You know, my children are far too young for it (i.e. still in diapers). Guess the Eaton household will just have to be patient.

  7. Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    Kate diCamillo is one of my very favorites. I don’t know of any children’s author who writes about hurt as well as she does. And Edward Tulane is high on my list of KD books. My favorite moment comes when the grandmother finishes that terrible story about the princess and the granddaughter complains that it wasn’t a happy story. I’m paraphrasing here, but the grandmother says something like, “Where there’s no love, you can’t expect a happy ending.” That’s huge wisdom right there.

  8. Loren Eaton

    Jonathan: I think that scene with the grandmother is the thematic locus for the whole story. Edward has to transition from being the princess into someone who actually loves in order to survive his many decades of being lost.

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