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Literature / Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

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But do you recall the most famous reindeer of all?
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1949)

Rudolph is the most famous of Santa Claus' reindeer. He's a young buck who was born with a striking, luminescent red nose.

The origin of the character dates back to The Great Depression. The Chicago retailer Montgomery Ward would give away coloring books every Christmas, but it was decided that self-publishing their own books would save money. In 1939, Robert L. May created a booklet about a reindeer. While looking out his window into the fog that Chicago is well-known for, he had the idea to write about a reindeer with a glowing red nose. Thus, the story of an ostracized reindeer who gains recognition due to his special nose was born. Robert originally thought of naming the new character "Rollo" or "Reginald", but in the end he decided on "Rudolph".

Originally, the book was declined. Red noses were too associated with drunkards to make for a charming kid's tale. It's only after the illustrator drew adorable-looking deer that the idea was warmed up to. The booklet was a swimming success and sold over 2 million copies its first year.


In 1947, the booklet began mass-production and thus the story started becoming well-known internationally. After an Animated Adaptation in 1948 and a hit song in 1949, Rudolph's popularity was cemented. He's only become more and more recognizable over the decades.

Since the original booklet's release, Rudolph has become the most iconic of Santa's original eight reindeer, eclipsing the ones from 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. As a result, he's been referenced in numerous media. Rudolph is no exception to The Wiki Rule and has his own Wikia.

Robert L. May later wrote a followup to the story called Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Shines Again note . The story focuses on Rudolph feeling unhappy after Santa's reindeer start getting jealous of his fame and acting unfriendly toward him. Rudolph later meets a group of rabbits who are desperately searching for their missing babies. The story wasn't discovered until 1982 by Montgomery Ward, six years after May's death.


Media Starring Rudolph:

  • Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1939): The original 1939 booklet written by Robert L. May and published by the department store "Montgomery Ward".
  • Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (1948): A 8-minute short film by Max Fleischer. It's a near-identical adaptation of the original booklet and actually predates the song. A 1951 reissue added in the song. The short film was produced by the Jam Handy Organization who later created a Christmas card featuring Rudolph.
  • Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1949): The classic song, first sung by Gene Autry.
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1950-1962): Yearly comics about Rudolph published by DC Comics.
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1958): A Little Golden Books picture book based on the song and very similar to the 1948 short. Richard Scarry did the illustrations for this version of the story. In the early 1970s, the Little Golden Book version gained an audio real-along version in the early 1970s by Disneyland Records.
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964): The famous Rankin/Bass Productions special. It's less true-to-the-text than the 1948 short. It's a stop-motion animation where Rudolph runs away from home and meets an equally ostrasized Christmas elf named Heremy who wants to be a dentist. The special has two sequels: Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976) and Christmas in July (1979), the latter which crosses-over with Frosty the Snowman.
  • Rudolph Shines Again (1982): Robert May's followup to the original story that was released posthumously in 1982. The story was first published as a Little Golden Book picture book. It later gained new illustrations in 2015 with more text and dialogue that brought back the rhyming pattern.
  • Rudolph's Lessons For Life (1996): A Direct-to-Video animated adaptation that was exclusively sold at Montgomery Ward Department stores with some edutainment in the mix. The video was produced by Duncan & Hill (a division of HA-LO Industries, Inc) while Joie Scott-Poster and Ted Kay directed this adaptation. This adaptation has two versions, one only focusing on the animated sections and the other has the animated section mixed with live-action actors (a female teacher and a group of children). Both versions are available on the same video.
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie (1998): A feature-length animated film by GoodTimes Entertainment that is heavily based on the 1964 special. It was originally meant to be an adaptation of the special, but due to copyright issues this was axed (resulting in Rudolph's love interest Zoey being an expy of Clarice).
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys (2001): An All-CGI Cartoon film that is made by GoodTimes Entertainment but uses the characters of the 1964 special. It acts as an unofficial sequel to the Rankin/Bass special.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer provides examples of:

  • All of the Other Reindeer: The Trope Namer. Rudolph is ostrasized by others for having a glowing, red nose instead of the normal black.
  • Animated Adaptation: The story currently has a total of 4 animated adaptations, with the first being the 1948 cartoon by Max Fleishcher. The last two were a 1996 direct-to-video adaptation by Montgomery Ward and an animated feature film in 1998 by GoodTimes Entertainment. Out of the four adaptations, the 1948 cartoon and the 1996 direct-to-video adaptation are direct adaptations of the original story by Robert May.
  • Animal Gender-Bender: Male caribou shed their horns in the winter but Rudolph and the rest of Santa's reindeer don't.
  • Civilized Animal: Since the story mainly takes places at the North Pole and an unknown location where Rudolph lives (implied to be miles away from the North Pole), the only animals that are present are the reindeer, who all behave like humans and are able to talk. Santa's reindeer are seen eating while sitting like humans, complete with handkerchiefs, Rudolph is seen standing near his bed, and some are seen walking on both four legs and two legs. Reindeer acting more human-like is also seen in the 1948 Max Fleischer cartoon and the 1996 direct-to-video adaptation Rudolph's Lessons For Life. The original Denver Gillen illustrations show a male reindeer smoking a pipe and Santa passing by Rabbitville, where he is delivering presents to rabbits.
  • Crying Critters: Rudolph is depicted crying in the original illustrations.
  • Kid Hero: Rudolph is just a young buck who has barely grown in his antlers. Despite this, his glowing nose proves an asset to Santa and only he can help Santa fly in the snow. The exception is the Rankin-Bass version, where Rudolph is able to help Santa as a young adult.
  • Luminescent Blush: After Rudolph returns to the North Pole on Christmas morning, the reindeer are seen congratulating him for helping Santa out on his Christmas Eve journey. Rudolph responds by blushing, which causes his entire body to turn red that's as bright as his nose. It's more notable in the original illustrations by Denver Gillen.
  • Posthumous Collaboration: Before Robert L. May passed away in 1976, he wrote a followup story called Rudolph Shines Again that didn't get published until Montgomery Ward discovered it in 1982. Due to Denver Gillen (the original illustrator) no longer being alive, the story was illustrated by Darrell Baker. The story later gained new illustrations by Antonio Caparo in 2015.
  • Remember the New Guy?: At the time of release, Rudolph was an all-new character, but the song implies that he's a well-known character and even calls him "the most famous reindeer of all". Over the years, Rudolph's popularity has led to him becoming the most iconic of Santa's reindeer.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: The entire story and dialogue are told through rhyme, which is carried over to Montgomery Ward's 1996 animated adaptation.
  • Storybook Opening: The 1996 adaptation Rudolph's Lessons For Life has the main animated section set inside a storybook. This adaptation also opens and closes with a storybook before cutting back to a live-action setting with a male host.
  • Tender Tears: In the original 1939 illustrations, Rudolph is seen crying early in the story near a tree after the reindeer make fun of his nose. A close up of Rudolph crying is also seen, complete with Rudolph's tears dropping between the text.
  • This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman: Rudolph's glowing nose turns out to be exactly what's needed to save the day.
  • Through a Face Full of Fur: When Rudolph blushes, his body turns red from his head to his toes, which is brighter than his red nose.

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