This Folio Life: Emma Thompson on the joy of Potter


Published to mark the 120th anniversary of a story that has delighted countless children, Folio’s new limited edition of Beatrix Potter’s inimitable classic, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, brings together perfect reproductions of rare treasures from the archive of Potter’s publisher Frederick Warne and Co.

In this extract from Emma Thompson's foreword written especially for Folio's new edition, the renowned actor, and writer of the authorised Peter Rabbit sequels, celebrates the genius of Potter and the joy of having grown up with her best-loved creation.


Illustrations © Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd., 2017, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter


‘If one described this story to a first-time reader, I wonder in what genre they might place it:

It starts with the hero being told by his mother that his father was killed and eaten by a local worthy. It continues with a spot of highly dangerous thieving and a tense and lengthy chase entailing the loss of all his personal possessions and with mortal consequences should he be apprehended. This is accompanied by an in-depth description of seasonal produce, the habits of rural workers, the efficacy of traditional plant remedies and the immortal phrase:

‘Implored him to exert himself ’.

The jeopardy, the range of emotions, the suspense and the exquisite simplicity of the language suggest Tolstoyan depths and a character with a profound and complex inner life.

Could it be a thriller? A Hardy-esque pastoral morality tale?  A philosophical coming-of-age story?

No. It is, of course, a book written for children by the brilliant mycologist and rare sheep breeder Beatrix Potter.



Perhaps my favourite fact about Potter is that when her beloved rabbit, the very one upon whom Peter was based, died, she boiled its body and made a precise and highly detailed study of its skeletal anatomy. To love an animal is easy. To really know it you must know it to the bone.

I loved Peter Rabbit. He was absolutely real to me, a creature who never wavered in his commitment to mischief of the best kind – the kind driven by disregard for immoral authority, the kind likely only to end in useful lessons learned, a fully realised emotional life and a few snoots cocked.


Illustrations © Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd., 2017, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter


Although she wrote these books for children, Potter’s style and tone indicate nothing but the highest regard for her readers, and respect for their intelligence and perspicacity. Peter is a child himself – a young, often restless, often disobedient, thrill-seeking hero and whilst he has many lessons to learn Potter’s understanding of the child’s inner probity and sense of justice is always present.

She wasn’t writing for children but people. That is why the delight offered by her books never fades, the influence persists, and the colours deepen. I did want to be a good little bunny, but Peter has always had much more fun and so I am not.’

Foreword © Emma Thompson 2021