Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How many reindeer pull Santa's sleigh?

I am starting to get in the Christmas spirit. I have been thinking about Santa Claus and his reindeer.

How many reindeer pull Santa’s sleigh? Is it eight, as in Clement Moore’s poem, or nine as claimed by the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”? It can’t be both. The two accounts contradict each other. At least one of them has to be wrong.

Of course, we don’t worry about such things because we know the authors of this poem and song did not intend us to take them literally. Since their purpose is to relate myth rather than historical accuracy they can both be true – they are both valued because they both serve their intended purpose in the realm of myth and fantasy.

But what if someone in the future only had access to the words of this poem and song in a printed form that did not make clear that they were fiction? What if all they had were the words of the poem and song themselves – no helpful library classification or other context? What internal clues within the text itself should clue the insightful reader how to classify these writings?

If the action was set in some fantasy place like Never-never land where people lived in tree houses or holes in the ground it would be easy to tell that it was fiction, but the action seem to be set in our world where people live in houses like ours, so that is no help. A good clue that should tell any intelligent reader that this is fiction is the supernatural feats Santa and his reindeer perform – flying and visiting every house in the world in a single night. Another clue to their fictional nature is the fact that the later account adds details to the story – an extra reindeer – without any explanation for why the first telling of the story was wrong about this. The author of the song felt free to modify the story told in the poem in a way that would render the first story false if it were viewed as history. That should alert any intelligent reader that the author of the song did not view the original story as history and did not expect her/his audience to view either the poem or song as literally true or historically accurate.

That all probably seems so obvious that you think it was hardly worth my time to type it. But you would be surprised how many people miss obvious points like this when dealing with religious documents from long ago.

1 comment:

Ellen Beth said...

Rudolph was downsized after a busy, but too discounted to be profitable, black Friday and so we get to the real state religion of the United States.