The Comic Narrative of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer plotted on a Freytag Curve

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer plotted on a Freytag Curve

It is a bit blurry (I’m sorry), but if you squint and take your time, you can see how I plot the narrative of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) on a Freytag Diagram.  Use this to help chart the dramatic structure of this classic holiday program!

Briefly…I have argued that Rudolph’s story follows a classic comic narrative, as you can plainly see.  The comic narrative is one in which our hero — in this case Rudolph — begins in a comfortable existence of balance and security until something comes along to disrupt that balance.  Rudolph isn’t slapstick comedy, it is more subtle.

Compare Rudolph with something like I Love Lucy, For example.  Every episode involves some event that throws events out of sync resulting in chaos, which we laugh at and confuse with the essences of comedy.

But in the classic sense, comedy is about a downward turn in fortunes which bottoms out and — happy days! — fate turns and prospects improve, bringing our hero back on the upswing until he (almost always he) returns to balance and security again.  When you diagram the dramatic structure this way, the chart creates a smiley face.  (Do you see it?)  Downward from one end, upward on the other.  A smile.

In comparison, classic tragedy is just the opposite.  Things seem to be going great for the hero, his fortunes are on the rise, until he does something ridiculous like marries his mother and kills his father — a tragic error, if there ever was one — and he is knocked back down to earth again…and worse.

Travis Bickle, from Taxi Driver (1976), though somewhat flawed, is a classic tragic hero.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer also has other classic dramatic elements like a chorus and eirons, but we don’t have time for that now.

Oh…Rudolph is starting now.  I best let you go so you can watch and follow along on this chart.


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