Often considered the most prized reindeer of Santa Claus for his uniqueness and having an entire song and multiple movies devoted to him, there is still an unavoidable and profound sadness to the woeful tale of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Brought to fruition as “the ninth reindeer” by Robert L. May in 1939, it wasn’t until the song came out in 1949 that the true sorrow of Rudolph’s life became apparent. Written by May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks–the renowned Jewish composer of Christmas classics that also included “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas”–the lyrics to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” immediately paint a bleak portrait.
Delving right into the core of Rudolph’s friendless, lonely existence, the song goes, “All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names/They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.” The dickery of these other eight reindeer–Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen, merely lackeys to Rudolph’s essential-to-the-persistence-of-Christmas power–is, of course, completely unwarranted. To add to the drama of it all, the film version depicts Donner as Rudolph’s own father, teaching him how to live among the other reindeer by helping him to cover his nose–his crowning characteristic–with dirt. It vaguely smacks of a certain plot element to the latest Christmas classic, Elf (you know, because Bob Newhart has to make Will Ferrell think he’s not that anomalous in comparison to the other elves).
A testament to the fact that you’re nobody until somebody (of influence) loves you, Rudolph is not permitted the apparent luxury of social acceptance until Santa asks him to guide his sleigh on Christmas Eve because, suddenly, the very thing that made him deplorable to others is now all at once valuable. Which just goes to further prove the story’s point: that which makes a person or being “weird” is inevitably what makes them indispensable to humanity.
It’s probably not a coincidence that in the 1964 stop motion animated film–arguably the most well-known for being the most classic–Rudolph runs away from home only to make the acquaintance of an equally shunned elf named Hermey. Clearly a nod to Hermey’s nebulous gender, and associated ostracism. When the duo ends up on the Island of Misfit Toys–a timely name for a location considering the transition of the mid-60s from wholesome heternormativess to beatnik serial killing-based orgy fests (Spahn Ranch, and all that jazz)–it becomes fairly evident that the producers of the show took many liberties in extrapolating their own narrative from the song. Yet these extrapolations are, in all likelihood, precisely what would have befallen Rudolph in his journeys and interactions. Including the part where the only girl who can truly love him–Clarice–is forbidden from associating with him by her father so as not to bring shame upon the family name (kind of like Lord Alfred Douglas’ Daddy, the Marquess of Queensberry, forbidding him from seeing “somdomite” Oscar Wilde any further).
So with no love in his life, no “normal” (at that time meaning a clear-cut gender) friends to speak of and a highly conspicuous body part, Rudolph was forced to live his life at the mercy of Santa’s charity and sanction. Do you have any idea how demeaning that would be? To rely always on the endorsement of an old white man to get the approval of others? Well, you most likely do if you’re not living in Obama’s America.
Thus, while most seem to have nothing but fondness for this staple in the proverbial Christmas songbook and its message of promoting the value of being different (surprisingly during a time when the Red Scare was on the rise), it doesn’t exactly fill one with cheer for the holidays when truly delving into the insult-besotted existence of this innocent little deer.
Then again, “in the old days,” it seemed tragedy was taken with a grain of salt by the masses–in contrast to the lily-livered internet trolls (themselves bullies) railing against bullying today. So maybe it just goes to show that: that which doesn’t kill you will immortalize your pain and suffering through annually palatable art. In effect, for your dolor and heartache, you’ll go down in history. And isn’t that preferable to being a normal loved by and inoffensive to most?