The Deeper Meaning of Rudolph

12.22.2011 | HMMH |


Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

I have reached the age where I’m trying to be more reflective and purposeful (aka, midlife crisis).  Or perhaps it’s just that my husband’s deep thinker tendencies are rubbing off on me.  Here’s what he has to say about Rudolph:

  • So.  The family was all together watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer last night (Mama in her ‘kerchief and I in my cap).  Our youngest daughter, the seven year old, asked if any of the reindeer were girls.  If you’ve seen the show recently, you might recall that the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh all are clearly males: the bucks all have antlers and the does don’t.  However, a quick Google search suggests that that this is actually backwards:  male reindeer typically lose their antlers before December, while the females, which do have antlers, retain theirs. But while the show does get a couple of mere prosaic facts wrong, it’s the mythic aspects of Rudolph I find interesting.

BTW, as further proof, David also pointed out that many of the reindeer names in Clement Moore’s original poem (A Visit from St. Nicholas) while conceivably gender neutral in 2011, were probably quite feminine in mid-nineteenth century America (just think about Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, and Cupid for a start).  This launched a long discussion of whether this 1960s portrayal of Rudolph is actually an anti-feminist screed – don’t forget that Coach Comet shoos Clarice and Mrs. Donner (she’s never named) back to the cave because searching for Rudolph is “men’s work”.  But I digress.  There’s more:

  • Mythic, you ask? Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?  Well, Rudolph himself is pretty much your basic Joseph Campbell “hero-with-a-thousand-faces”. You’ve seen him before; he’s Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, all those guys.  However, the other characters are bit more nuanced. Consider King Moonracer.   Who is he and why is he even in RTRNR?  If you don’t recall, King Moonracer is the sovereign of the Island of Misfit Toys.  The misfit toys are in hell and Moonracer is the Lord of the Underworld – he’s the god Hades.  He’s not the Christian devil; he’s not evil.  He presides over those who are unloved and no longer alive.  He also represents the Anti-Santa.  Santa rules Christmastown with mercy and compassion; if you’re good, you get toys (and I’ve noticed, at least in our house, that Santa brings the naughty kids plenty of toys, too).  Hades rules with old-fashioned Old Testament judgment: when Rudolph, Hermey, and Yukon Cornelius ask to stay, Moonracer rejects their request and only allows them to spend a single night on the Island – just enough so they know the taste of being truly forgotten and unloved.

King Moonracer


Yukon Cornelius

But that’s not end of the story, of course. Rudolph and his friends leave the Island to confront and overcome their fears (though Yukon dies and is raised from the dead – but that’s another story).  Santa sees his own errors of judgment and together Santa and Rudolph redeem the Misfit Toys.  And we hear them exclaim, as they fly out of sight — Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Up next:  The Grinch