"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Rabbits of velvet and steel

This isn't my story, it's my son's and it's not even his story, it actually happened. Being interested in all things, he found the story of Yutu, the Chinese lunar rover. "Yutu" means Jade Rabbit in Chinese and it would seem that the little piece of hardware they shot to the moon took on anthropomorphic qualities, especially when it began to fail. You see, it began sending messages back to earth that were heartbreakingly human.

There are several articles about it, here and here (this one has the most information about Yutu's communications, but it was never updated to say that Yutu survived). The articles are good, although I recommend staying away from the comments. There are trolls and then there are trolls, and sooner or later they forget about the topic and just want to mud wrestle.

Now, being a former engineer, I know how very simple it is to program human-like responses to stimulus. So Yutu's stoicism about his situation was just the result of a programmer's choice to be different. And I might hazard a guess, that despite this programmer's rigid belief in science, they formed an attachment to the Jade Rabbit, an attachment that took on human qualities, making their status messages more intimately real.

My son wrote a song about Yutu, which he included in his senior vocal recital.



Yutu wasn't a life form. He didn't think of the messages he sent. He was programmed to send certain words as the result of certain stimuli. And yet...

Marcus spent most of his early childhood with a stuffed lion under his arm. Simba now sits on the top shelf of his closet.

Yes, he sometimes wears doggie sweaters.


Simba is an inanimate object, made of fabric and batting. And yet, when I look at him, I feel he is full of the memories of Marcus' childhood and losing him would be like losing a member of the family. He is our Velveteen Rabbit, and it would not surprise me to see a young lion running across our lawn one day, heading for blue skies and green fields.



Do you have any Velveteen Rabbits in your life?

1 comment:

JennyRedbug said...

Still have my teddy bear, named, funny enough, Teddy. Yep I was original! Love the song. And can't wait to read more about the Jade Rabbit. Thanks...