Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Real Story of Rudolph...

A friend of mine recently pointed out the real moral of the story to Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.  It is a bit of a hard pill to swallow.  Rudolph is different from the other reindeer so they shun him, won’t let him play with them and call him names.  Even Santa doesn’t set a good example, he doesn’t want Rudolph pulling his sleigh…well not until one foggy Christmas Eve anyway. One year, Santa plans to cancel Christmas due to poor visibility until he sees Rudolph’s nose. Suddenly, the glowing nose that used to be a problem, is now in very popular.  Rudolph can not only pull Santa’s sled, but he is going to “guide” it by being up front as the leader. Is this really the message children should be getting, and at Christmastime no less?  Reject people who are different until you need something from them?

Now, the original story of Rudolph was changed a bit.  I found it interesting that the retail store, Montgomery Ward, had used the story written in 1939 by one of it’s copywriters, Robert L. May, to bring customers into it’s stores. The other names being considered for Rudolph were Rodney, Rollo, Reginald and Romeo.  The company ended up giving away 2 million copies of their book to children because it was so popular. By 1946 they had given away or sold 6 million copies.May wrote the story for his daughter the year his wife passed away. He had no money to buy her a gift so he made her a handwritten book of The Story of Rudolph. After May’s wife died, he was going through financial difficulties and the store turned the copyright of the story over to him in 1947. May made a lot of money on the movie and the song, which his brother in-law wrote for him.  Eventually May turned all his original work over to his alma mater, Dartmouth College, where it was discovered in the archives. May’s story was somewhat different than the one we know today.  In his story Rudolph doesn’t live at the North Pole or even dream about one day pulling Santa’s sleigh.  In the original version he lives in a reindeer village and is discovered by Santa while he is filling his stocking, on a foggy Christmas Eve. Incredibly, the story has become an everlasting part of our Christmas tradition.

So back to my original point, Rudolph: The Story of Intolerance, Bullying and Hypocrisy. In beginning of the modified story, the coach tells Rudolph how “magnificent” he is when he takes his first flight.  However, when he notices there is something different about Rudolph, he tells all the others not to play with Rudolph any more. His father is embarrassed and ashamed of him. And Santa is quite “annoyed at the cover up.” Even Clarice’s father yells at her to get away from Rudolph, “No Doe of mine is going to be seen with a red nosed reindeer!”

In the end of the story, the modified version, when they come to ask Rudolph to pull the sleigh, no one apologizes for mistreating him, they act like they are doing him a favor by giving him this huge honor. Instead, it’s the fact that they need him to pull off Christmas that has humbled them. It is only then that they treat him with respect and dignity. It is then that his father is proud of him. Now that he is a hero and saves Christmas, everyone wants to be his friend.  

There is probably a lot more I could say, but it’s Christmas. I just wish I could get a copy of the original version to compare it to what we have now.  I have to wonder why it was changed and why no one saw or had issues with any of the negative messages being weaved into the storyline. It was a book designed for children after all.  Don’t get me wrong, I always loved the story of Rudolph and still watch it every year. I’m just curious why more care wasn’t taken when revising the story. Maybe it was a sign of the times it was written in?  Back then intolerance may have been the norm and being different was not ok?  But what about now? It’s a sad commentary on our society that it allows stories, about hating someone because they are different, to keep spreading that message to children.

Maybe Rudolph's red nose could shine a light on a better message, a Christmas message, of Love, Peace and Joy for everyone.  Merry Christmas Day!

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