When I was first exposed to the fictionalization of Santa Claus and Co., I didn’t have a hard time accepting that The Man With The Bag was actually just My Folks With A Bank Account. The hardest thing for me to deal with was the death of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Rudolph was my childhood hero at all times of the year. I memorized the read-along storybook (the *beep* turn-the-page kind) before I could even read properly. The big action figure in the picture above is one of my most prized childhood toys – I wish I hadn’t torn the antlers off, but it’s just part of the charm now. The ornament on the far left is the only one I’m adamant (read: slightly anal) about putting on the tree myself.
The very first stories I ever wrote were weird Rudolph fan-fiction of sorts. They didn’t exactly follow the canon of the animated special we’ve all seen a thousand times. No, in my stories, Rudolph could literally fire lasers out of his nose and Dasher was an explosion-obsessed supervillain. Christmas was always saved at the end, obviously, but not without a little bit of destruction.
I was watching the original animated special the other night and I realized, probably for the first time, that Rudolph isn’t exactly a butt-kicking superhero as I once imagined him. For most of the story, he just kind of runs away. He gets knocked down whenever he does fight. And he saves the day by… existing.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s still a great story with legitimate character development and an important message for kids and adults everywhere to accept everyone’s differences and fight adversity – a message that is more and more important these days. So Rudolph is still a hero, he’s just not Rambo.
Meanwhile, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to love his sidekicks as well. Yukon Cornelius is corny and goofy, and though I’ve memorized all of his jokes I still laugh at them – especially the sequence where they get away on the iceberg (“I thought you wanted gold.” “I changed my mind!”). Hermy is the man; he pursues his dream and doesn’t seem to care that Christmas society (and the viewing audience) is constantly laughing at him. Clarice is a top-notch role model for kids – and she’s adorable.
When I sat down and thought about it, Rudolph’s hero-ability kind of pales in comparison to his friends. But maybe you don’t have to be a kick-butt, eccentric character to be cool. So what if Rudolph isn’t a superhero? He was my hero as a kid, and in a more realistic sense, he’s my hero now. I could learn a thing or two from him. Everyone could.