Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a stop-motion animated television special based on the 1939 poem of the same name and the song it inspired. First aired in 1964, the Rankin-Bass produced film has been a staple of the holiday season since, entertaining children and adults for decades. The beloved characters have become iconic and synonymous with Christmas and are now the longest continuous-running Christmas show in history. Of those characters, it is perhaps the Abominable Snow Monster who has gained the largest following, its unique story earning more fans with every passing year. But what is it’s significance? Is there a deeper meaning to this creature, and in fact, all the characters Rudolph encounters in his journey? Let’s explore.
The Story Unfolds: Hermey the Elf dreams of being a dentist because what elf doesn’t? But that dream is crushed by the mad Elf foreman who works his elves like the captain of a Roman Galley. Seeing production slowed, he berates Hermey for his ridiculous idea and tells him he had better get back to loving toy-making or be fired. Sounds like exactly what Hermey wants actually, but instead of getting the boot (pointy-toed slipper?), he holds off and then quits on his own, with literally no one around, and in song.
But that’s how Elves roll. So, packing up his over-sized book of dentistry and jumping out the window (1st floor, don’t worry), he escapes the dreaded Elf work camp and heads off toward destiny. And it’s a good choice because if you’re gonna be unemployed with really no discernible skills, trekking into the wilds of the arctic with nothing but a dream and a comprehensive guide to proper dental care is truly the only way to go. Meanwhile, little Rudolph is having a bit of a bad spell. The fake plastic nose papa Donner fitted to his son’s nose popped off, and at the worst possible time. As the young bucks are practicing their take-offs, doe-eyed doe Clarice gives Rudy the come hither eye and tells him he’s cute. Telling a deer he’s cute must be like slipping him ecstasy ’cause he flips out and takes to the sky like he’s wearing a jetpack.
Feeling happy, he starts rough-housing with a pal and gets his nose sock knocked off again. His nose is so hideously not normal, the others practically begin to riot and the reindeer coach tells him he can’t join in anymore reindeer games. Shunned by everyone from his best friend to his father, he runs away, but thankfully the alluring Clarice slinks her way to his side and assures him that no glowing snout’s going to get between her and a good buck (some jokes just write themselves). But alas, it’s not to be as her father puts a stop to it before they can play the best kind of reindeer game. Frustrated, Rudolph moves on and straight into Hermey, who for some reason is buried in a snowbank. The two decide they’re misfits and are better off leaving town.
Meanwhile, Santa is no help. He is constantly shown as a man wholly unhappy with his lot in life. He doesn’t want to eat. He hates the elves and their singing, is tyrannical with his deer, and just plain nasty in his admonishment of Donner, telling him he should be ashamed of himself for having a son unlike the others. That’s harsh. How self-absorbed is this guy? At one point, Donner, Mrs. Donner and Clarice all head out to try and find Rudolph but eventually get captured by the Snow Monster. When Rudolph makes it home months later and discovers his family and girlfriend are missing, what does Santa say? That he’s putting together a search party? No, instead he whines that it’s almost Christmas Eve and without Donner he’ll never get his sleigh off the ground. Rudolph takes it upon himself to find the others and goes at it alone. Santa is brutal.
Before that, when Rudolph and Hermey are braving the north by themselves, they meet Yukon Cornelius, the gold and silver prospector in search of the elusive peppermint mines of the North Pole. A trio is formed but there’s not time to celebrate as Rudy’s shiny sniffer seems to be luring the Bumble Snow Monster of the North, also known as the Abominable Snow Monster, a massive furry creature with big teeth and giant googly eyes. Horrifying indeed. Time for a hasty escape.
The Monster: Just what exactly is this snow monster, and what’s his angle? He’s apparently been around a long time, has no other family, and aimlessly wonders about with no clear objective. It lives in a cave as all such movie creatures must and appears to be the only predator in the great white north. When we first meet the beast, we only his see his feet and legs as it saunters past Donner and Rudolph. If he’s hunting, he’s spectacularly bad at it, as fresh deer meat is literally within, well, bending over distance.
We’re told “he’s mean, he’s nasty and hates everything to do with Christmas,” so he’s Grinch with more teeth and no skill for rhyme. Unlike Grinch, the “hates Christmas” thing is never really explored other than him capturing a few reindeer who stumble into his particular neck of the woods. Even then, he does little more than grip ’em like Kong with Ann Darrow. In the end, he’s defeated by pig noises and an elf dentist with a pair of pliers. But why is he in this story? As mentioned, he’s set up as the villain who hates the holiday, but that isn’t really the case. It’s not like he’s wrecking Whoville with his pet dog. He’s just walking around not really bothering anyone. Sure, he gives (sssloooow) chase to the gang, but that’s because he’s curious about Rudy’s glowy beak.
Defining the Monster: So what’s the Abominable Snow Monster all about? As the antagonist, his role is to create conflict for the hero, who is of course, Rudolph. Rudolph is bullied by well, just about everyone, wherever he goes. He lives in constant derision. In the story, the monster is always “after” Rudolph, with Rudolph even commenting how his nose keeps giving him away. Bumble (Yukon’s nickname for the monster) represents Rudolph’s constant fear of harassment. Rudolph can never find a place where it won’t find him. When Rudolph does finally face him–trying to save his family and the doe of his dreams–the power of this fear is too much and the Snow Monster knocks him out. Enter Yukon and Hermey.
What’s a prospector and a dentist doing in all of this? Very specific things. They are the embodiment of what must come from inside Rudolph to defeat his fear. Yukon is searching for silver and gold, rare commodities that takes time and effort to find, but his true aim is peppermint, a sweet candy that has no value other than personal joy. The gold and silver are the perceived treasures of kindness from those Rudolph hopes will accept him, something he must dig deep for in order to find. Peppermint is the ultimate prize: self love. So where does Hermey fit in? Hermey literally pulls the teeth from the beast, rendering it utterly incapable of causing harm. The monster is in essence, toothless. The bully has no power.
More: How about them misfit toys? On their journey, Yukon, Hermey and Rudolph come upon a strange island populated only by abandoned toys. Each toy has a quirk or design flaw–some psychological (poor Dolly)–that left them unwanted. Charlie in the Box, an Elephant with pink spots, a train caboose with square wheels, a water pistol that shoot jam (how is this a bad thing?) and more all live together under the watchful eye of King Moonracer, a giant flying lion who rescues toys and brings them to the island until they can find a good home. The gang think they found a welcome place to stay but are turned away as they are not toys. Here, Rudolph learns that even among those he thinks are like him misfits, he is still alone. He hasn’t accepted himself yet. It is on the island, while they enjoy the one night’s stay the King agrees to, that Rudolph decides to strike out on his own, to run from the beast as long as he can. This abandonment of his true power (what the miner and the dentist represent) is the innocence and naivety of youth. He doesn’t know better and believes monsters are not only real, but unbeatable. It isn’t until he matures (and grows an impressive set of antlers) that he finds the strength to face his foe and his inner strength arrive and defeat the creature, or more precisely, the efforts of Yukon and Hermey, the two parts of his personality that come together to weaken and the turn the monster around. Until that time, the Bumble Snow Monster of the North rules the land. When we first see him emerge from the icy white mountain tops and pursue the trio, it is a frightening site. As children, full of imagination, the Snow Monster is the stuff of nightmares and gives a face to the beast inside us many of are feeling at that age.
The Take Away: It’s never explicitly explained what’s up with Rudolph’s red nose. How is it red? Why does it glow? Like anything that most feel is their weakness, it can become the very thing that makes them great. We may see our faults or quirks as odd, but we all have them and they all define us. We are all special for who we are. Facing our fears and not letting our differences hold us down is what Rudolph best represents. It’s a great message and one worth sharing year after year. What are your thoughts?