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Becoming Real: The Velveteen Rabbit and Joel Ansett’s Layers

“‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit,

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once…you become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who has to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’

‘I suppose you are Real?’ said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

‘The Boy’s Uncle made be Real,’ he said. ‘That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.” 

- The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams - 


The Velveteen Rabbit is one of those recurring books in my life, ever-forgotten and then reappearing again in my mind like an old stash of photographs or letters or casserole recipes. Every few years, something returns me to the Rabbit and the Skin Horse and the Boy. Most recently, Joel Ansett’s newest album, Layers, was the culprit.

Always an artful storyteller in his songs, Ansett’s latest release combines his usual narrative with the sort of quieter, wondering perspective gained from life with his own young children. True to the title track, the album depicts “all the layers keeping us apart” when we hide ourselves away (and isn’t that mostly always?). “I wish it was easy to get to the heart,” Ansett sings, and we all know better than to expect that the cost of getting past these layers will be anything short of getting our hair loved off, eyes dropped out, joints loosened. 

From the imagined agony of the first ever sunset (“down on your knees, begging it not to go”) to the innocent lament that “it takes a long time to wait,” Ansett retells in images and stories the journey we’re all on in becoming Real.

What If We Fall” describes the hesitancy and cost of love, while “I’ll Be Here” tells of the offer to be a listening ear and burdened shoulder. “Night Sky” speaks to the dark night of the soul—now that the sun has set—and “If You Really Knew Me” tells the story much like that of the Skin Horse, searching for those who will understand enough to see past our shabbiness all over. We, the listeners, like the Rabbit from the story, wish we could become Real without these uncomfortable things happening to us. 

But of course, anyone who has made it to the end of The Velveteen Rabbit knows that becoming Real is always worth it in the end, or as Ansett writes, what is lost in the becoming  is “only lost for now.” 

“Tell us the end of the story

Show us the glory ahead

See how the loud and self-righteous have fallen

and the broken are lifting their heads.

There’s more life up ahead

than we could imagine;

Our sorrows will turn into laughter again.

We’ll drink wine and break bread

and boast in our weakness,

talk of the ways we were 

raised from the dead.” 

Precious songs like “Pull,” “Plead,” and “Already” tell of the goodness of becoming Real—the life in relationship with God and man. And it’s no wonder that the final song describes not just one sunrise but “an endless day, and it’s already on its way," for once we are Real, we can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always. 

But, if you’re anything like me, skepticism wins out at least half the time. My own shabbiness is the thing I let matter most to me most often. I start wanting to break easily just so I can be neatly categorized as “carefully kept” and left alone. If today isn’t the sort of day when you feel much like believing in the story of The Velveteen Rabbit, Ansett has that base covered too. Like us, he’s 

“looking for something that stays true

 if I believe it or not.

You say you’re making it

brand new

If I believe you or not.”

Someday perhaps, I hope, The Velveteen Rabbit will make its promise known in your life again in some small way. If it’s through Joel Ansett’s album, I’ll be doubly grateful.

Joel Ansett has just released Layers on vinyl - a beautiful gift for a very Real person in your life. His vinyl (along with lyrics and other merch) is available on, and Layers is available for streaming wherever you care to stream. 


Hannah Hubin is a writer, poet, and lyricist. Her projects include All the Wrecked Light: A Lyrical Exposition of Psalm 90 (www.allthewreckedlight.comand the online visual poetry project Brown Brink Eastward. Hubin teaches humanities, writing, and Latin just south of Nashville and is currently pursuing graduate studies in Biblical languages.


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