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Rudolph and I

Long ago, when I was a small child in Mesa, Arizona, we would sing "Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer" in school.

(I can only imagine what a horror this was for our teachers, now that I think of it--while we had the usual sort of school set-up, we were handed off to other teachers for Music and P. E., so you gotta imagine they heard different groups of small children singing Rudolph six to eight times a day.

...I have no idea why we were singing Rudolph in P.E., now that I think of it, but we were.)

Anyway, because of the way the verses are enunciated, the last line was always pronounced as "You'll go down in his story!"

Since nobody of my acquaintance prounounced "history" as "his story," it did not occur to me that this might refer to history rather than "his story." His, obviously, being Rudolph.

So being quite young--third and fourth grade, and I had skipped second, so around seven or eight--I figured that the song was, at this point, addressing the listener.  Earlier in the song, "you" would even say it glowed, addressing the listener, and it would be nonsensical to say that Rudolph would go down in his own story, because of course he would. Everybody is in their own story. They're the main character.

Obviously, therefore, this song was promising that the listener would go down in Rudolph's story, just for having listened to (or perhaps sung) the song.

In my defense, it's not like the idea was totally without precedent. I mean, the shepherds didn't do jack in the Christmas story except have an angel show up and tell them a thing. Much of the Bible accessible to seven-year-olds with disturbingly high reading skills seemed to consist of people minding their own business and winding up immortalized in text because an angel showed up trumpeting "FEAR NOT!" or wheels of fire appeared or whatever.

I believe I pictured a list of names or something, or perhaps an enormous crowd of people. (Again, there was precedent! Santa had lists of names! The weird evangelical church my stepfather was dragging us to was big about names being writ and so forth and everybody else being banished to the pit, circa Revelations or so, and Christmas as a holiday was very muddled up between the sacred and secular for a seven-year-old.)

However, I was also as cynical as only a small child can be (anyone who thinks children are fountains of joyous innocence does not spend much time around them or has forgotten a LOT) and I figured that TONS of people had sung the Rudolph song over the years. And if every single one of us was going down in the story of Rudolph, that would be a long list of names. Too many to have any relevance. We would be a vast, faceless host. Lots of us would be dead, except historical people didn't exactly die, they just became fixtures of books, so I think I figured that we'd all be standing around in some weird historical not-dead fashion.

(I had no idea how old the song was, but since carols were all like super-old, presumably Benjamin Franklin and other personages would also be there. I remember Franklin specifically, because I was fond of the book about Amos the rat at the time. It would be okay to be in the crowd next to Franklin, but really, what were the odds?)

So Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer was promising that we would go down in Rudolph's story, but so would millions of other people, and at that point, why would you even bother? It was a stupid thing to promise, and nobody would ever read all those names or care about all the people who were supposedly going down in this story.

This bred an intense resentment of Rudolph and the song, which I have still not entirely shaken.

Everybody have a fabulous holiday, and please, if you go caroling, enunciate carefully. Think of the small cynical children!

(Deleted comment)
I think so! I read it a zillion times, since it was one of the early talking animal books I had, before finally discovering Watership Down and having my brain melt...

(no subject) (Anonymous) Expand
You are not alone in your miss-hearing and subsequent interpretation! (Although the exceedingly cynical lengths you go to are all yours. I realised there would be a lot of people, but thought that sounded quite nice. It was something everyone could share and have in common.) I'm from the black country, in the UK, so clearly all kinds of accents can take part.


This is weird to me, because possibly thanks to growing up in the South, I--and everyone else around here--pronounce 'his' with a Z on the end. But 'history' gets a proper S.

So the last bit of Rudolph became "you'll go down in HISS-TORE-EEEE."

So. Huh.

I loved the illustrations to Ben and Me, as well as the story.
Mondegreens are always fun.

Have a very Merry!

I had similar thoughts about the Frosty The Snowman song; if I had written it, he would've been gigantic and smiting carolers and seriously wanting to KILL KILL KILL the owner of the magical top hat for bringing him into existence, only to die. And the police! They ARRESTED HIM! Why? What did he do? He was persecuted for merely existing! Yeah, I had a real Frankenstein's Snowman thought process going on and hated to sing the song. I tried to explain it to my mom once but she just sort of looked at me and told me to go play with my little sister (fortunately as we lived in Florida, it wasn't "Go play in the snow with your little sister" or we would've been building demonic snowmen.)

I think the song could do with being rewritten a la Iron Man by Black Sabbath.

I am Frosty.....
Has he lost his cool?
Is he bright or just a fool?
Can he walk or roll,
Or does he just sort of bowl?
Is he alive as can be?
Will the Hat set him free?
Skulking in shadows white
Fear in low Fahrenheit.....

I just want to say this is an AMAZING idea, and that I believe a great many Christmas carols need to be sung as Black Sabbath tunes.

I was thinking this year about the beginning of the song Rudolph, and realized I found it a little insulting. Allow me to explain.

"You know Dasher (...) Blitzen."

Okay, we are establishing that we know all these eight reindeer. Some people might not have known them, but for sake of argument, let's assume passing acquaintance.

"But do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?"

Wait. We just established that I know eight reindeer of lesser fame! You assumed I would know all of these reindeer, without question, and then you dare to ask if I remember the most famous reindeer? That's like asking someone who has acknowledged that they are fluent in Presidential trivia if they might possibly be able to tell you who George Washington is!

And then I went caroling at a senior care home that caters to folks with Alzheimer's and tried not to laugh through the whole song.

I may be a horrible person.


Also: Broken, broken moral. The moral is supposed to be "Don't be a bully, everybody can play their part" but instead it's "Be as mean to people as you like, because they'll be so eager to fit in, however slightly, that they'll jump to do your bidding".

I never got over the childhood resentment stemming from the fact that Santa and Mrs. Claus and the elves and whatnot didn't even TRY to stop the other reindeer from bullying and ostracizing Rudolph, until they found him useful. I guess there's a sort of Randian inspirational message there — produce something worthy in society and bask in the love of your peers, or be condemned to a deserved life under another's hoof! — but man, as a kid, I wanted the version of the song where Rudolph said "Seriously? Let's have a whole verse where you apologize for being jerks, and maybe I'll think about being your stupid headlight."

My issues, they may be obvious.

And you just know they continued to ignore him starting on Dec. 26

I -still- cannot watch that Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer special.

... Course, I'm the kid who almost caused a riot at her elementary school by pointing out that Santa wouldn't treat Rudolph like that just cause he was different, he's accepting enough to deliver toys all around the world, that whoever that fat man on screen was, it was NOT SANTA. I also brought up several other salient points, but that was the main thrust. Needless to say, parents were called.

Bonus points? My mother backed me up. ^_^

Yay for your mom!!!

And yeah, Rudolph is absolutely about glorifying the Culture of Bullying.

I would never blame Rudolph because somebody who wrote a song about him mangled the lyrics! He was my Christmas buddy up through my early teens.

Anecdote: The lady who provided his voice in the TV special would call up her grandkids every Christmas, they'd get a personal call from Rudolph that would make everybody else jealous. She passed away last year. :(

In the vein of "small children are strangely cynical," I figured out that Santa was not real sometime around 7 or 8, when I was put on Santa's lap at my dad's company Christmas party and asked him for Moon Shoes (those trampoline-like things you strapped to your feet so you could jump like crazy!), and he looked at me blankly and asked "Moon boots?" Which were snow boots and not at all the same thing. No, I said. Moon shoes! And then he asked me what color, when they only came in one color.

This began a rapid-fire logic chain. Santa clearly didn't know what toy I was asking for. The REAL Santa would know all the toys in the world. Therefore, this was not the real Santa. This person in the red suit was being presented as the real Santa by my parents and all the rest of the grownups at the party. I was being lied to, and it was very likely that Santa wasn't real at all, because if I was being told that fake Santa was real Santa, there was no real reason to believe that Santa was not a big stinkin' lie in general.

However, I then reasoned, the rest of the kids waiting their turn in line to see Santa didn't know that. And apparently it was very important to the grownups that we think that this was really Santa, for whatever reason. The correct course of action was to play along and not let anyone know that I had figured out the truth. So I said "Blue," thanked Santa nicely, got my miniature candy cane, and spent the rest of the party pretending I wasn't disappointed and mildly upset about this whole giant deception.

Good for you for not ruining it for the other kids.

I guess I would never have pronounced it "his story"; for me it was always "Hi-sto-ry". I always remember the best part of the song being drawing out the last line so that it was pronounced: "HIIIIIII-STOOOOOO-RYYYYYYY!" (Best for us. I don't think our teachers enjoyed the inevitably discordant drawing out of that line.)

With that said, I'm extremely entertained at the idea of there being a huge record of everyone who would have ever sung a particular song. Imagine that for, like, the Star Spangled Banner!

There is nothing in the world like child logic and this is a lovely example of it.

I had never thought it as anything else but history, but that is a wonderful idea. It was only later that I realised history = his story and that it is sadly true that we are largely taught it from a male perspective. I mean apart from Joan of Arc, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, Florence Nightingale and Marie Antoinette (awful role model - classic clueless bimbo) there are few females that are recorded in history books.

I used to think Ave Maria was saying Have A Maria.... like women named Maria were given out free down at the Woolworth's. I honestly thought it was about slavery and wanted no part of it.

That's brilliant. I love how thoroughly you thought it all through: someone after my own heart!

I had my own take on "do you recall the most famous reindeer of all" and "you'll go down in history" nine years ago, when I was in my first semester of grad school and studying Indo-European mythology. I wrote a parody of textual exegesis, as though it were a poem from an ancient body of myth.


You know Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen,
Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen.
But do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer had a very shiny nose,
And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows.
All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.
Then one foggy Christmas eve, Santa came to say,
"Rudolph with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"
Then how the reindeer loved him, as they shouted out with glee:
"Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, you'll go down in history."

The lyrics of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" reflect an ancient tradition dating back to the Indo-European migrations. The theme of the song is nothing other than "imperishable fame", and this provides the resolution of the seeming oxymoron in the second line: "But do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?" If he is indeed the most famous reindeer, surely it is idle to ask if he is recalled. But the purpose of the question, only partly rhetorical, is to determine if his fame has perished, and the purpose of the song is to ensure that it does not. The first element of the hero's name--hruod, a Germanic word for fame--underscores this.

The Indo-Europeans' search for imperishable fame is linked inextricably with their migrations from the homeland, for it and mythopoetic language in general cannot be reconstructed for the earliest periods, sometimes called "Proto-Indo-Hittite" (lecture, Ivanov). Santa's full name is Saint Nikolaus, and "victory to the people" is a name appropriate to the period of expansionism. Furthermore, as the saint, he is fulfilling the first function of Indo-European society, priest (actually something like a priest-king), while Rudolph, the one who stands alone and saves the day, fulfills the second, and of course the eight other reindeer, the commoners who perform most of the day-to-day work, fulfill the third.

In "Rudolph" we find indications of the spread northward in the parallels to horse and chariot: reindeer and sleigh. The names of most of the reindeer, e.g. "Dasher", "Dancer", "Prancer", "Comet", fit well another Indo-European theme, that of "swift horses". The name "Vixen" is obviously chosen to rhyme with "Blitzen", though the semantic link to the second element of the hero's name--wolf--may be more than a happy coincidence; likewise "Cupid" alliterates with "Comet". The remaining two reindeer, Donner and Blitzen, the former of which may also be a reflection of the thunder god, point to the pairing of divine twins and horses throughout Indo-European mythology. The pairing is natural, as horses and other such animals are generally yoked side by side, and traditionally, though not explicitly in this text, these reindeer are no ordinary creatures, for they can fly.

Rudolph alone has no twin, and his name fits his role in the epic: the wolf is often the stranger internal to society, who plays an ambivalent role. Like the berserkr's fury, his very strength that makes him so valued in a crisis causes him to be an outcast in everyday life, or, equally valid, his defect becomes acceptable when normal rules do not apply. In many traditions, the outcast aspect was emphasized at the cost of the other, so that the wolf, or the warg, became merely the criminal punished with ostracism and with no redeeming value to society. For more on this topic, see Mizuno (1989) and Campanile (1979). Rudolph's predicament as the misfit who could save his people but never belong would have been sadly common among a newly expanding people.

Campanile, Enrico (1979). Meaning and Prehistory of Old Irish Cú Glas. JIES Volume 7, p. 237
Mizuno, Tomaki (1989). Beowulf as a Terrible Stranger. JIES Volume 17, p. 1