Postmodern Story Telling: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Parts of this post were included in chapter 5 of Harry Potter’s Bookshelf: The Great Books Behind the Hogwarts Adventures (Berkeley, 2009) so it has been pulled down. Reader comments remain.

Comments

  1. Wow, John. Once again, you’ve given me a lot to think about.

    I haven’t watched Rudolph for a long time. To tell the truth, it’s not one of my favorites (I always manage to watch Charlie Brown, however). So, I wouldn’t have picked up any of that had you not gone through it in detail.

    So, how does this all fit in with the Christian message that so many of us see? I’ve thought since HBP that she is not necessarily intending the books to have a Christian, or even religious, point, but that it is there, nonetheless.

    I understand your point about her being post modern–it makes sense that she is a writer of her times–which is also why it’s always made sense to me that much of the imagery is Christian, because she IS a Christian. I think it would be very difficult for a writer to not let their beliefs or their era influence their writing.

    Well, I can clearly see that I will be buying a book soon. Hmmm, am I like Trewlawey after all? *wink*

    Pat

  2. I’m afraid I’m with the Amish on this one, I’m not familiar with TV Rudolph, and I’m equally clueless about the Disney film! Still I think the argument stands up, even without being familiar with these particular cultural references. It could well explain why Rowling, while writing in the Inkling tradition, is so much better at making us laugh, and making adults laugh at things that probably pass harmlessly over the heads of children.

  3. Wow John, I guess this is where her Pride and Prejudice style comes out. Really enjoyed the article and it makes more sense now that you have put it into simpler terms, post-modernisn that is.

  4. Excellent. Someone else mentioned that the movie Babe is also a good example of post-modern work. Maybe the farmer’s wife in that flick could be compared to some of the anti-Harry zealots who don’t quite get it.

    We’ve got to spread the word that the postmodern style isn’t any more anti-Christian than a telephone. “Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”

  5. Once again my mind has been opened! In the circle I live in “PoMo” is associated with evils such as political correctness. I have not stopped to think there could be a “hallowed” side. Is not the Christmas story itself a great anti-metanarrative? When the agent of creation enters time he does not descend upon mountain tops as an earthquake but comes in the form of a baby, in a manger! Certainly this is not the way I would have introduced the coming of the King of Kings. Plus, His incarnation creates such great disappointment in the beginning. Joseph trusts God’s messenger and takes Mary as his wife regardless of how it will effect his reputation in the community. One can almost hear his peers say, “Right…Joseph. Your betrothed has been unfaithful, yet you take her anyway? Oh! I see (wink,wink).” All through the gospels Jesus is constantly fighting the images and molds that the people try to wrap around Him. Yeah, I think I can get into this “PoMo” anti-metanarrative thing.

    One brief comment about the Quiditch Cup as a horcrux. I recall Hermionne commenting in the HBP that the sport creates discord between the houses. You might have something here.

    Great post John!

    Charlie

  6. Thanks as always for a stimulating essay. I’m wondering why the same kind of analysis you gave to “Rudolph” couldn’t also be given to “Hamlet.” That play seems to meet at least eight of the criteria (Constitutive Otherness; Linguistic Support; Self-Actualizing; Political Subtext; Deconstruction; Genre Blending; Unity is Ignorance, Pluralism is Deliverance; Contradictions and Ironies). Should we conclude then that “Hamlet” is a postmodern work? Or have I missed something about how the analysis is supposed to go?

  7. Hamlet a “postmodern work”? A fascinating idea, but, no, I don’t think so. I probably shouldn’t have just listed the ten points without firther explanation because the point titles by themselves are misleading. “Contradictions and ironies,” for instance is about the contradiction of positing as true the statement that there is no way to know what is true or objectively real – and positing the position as true while aware of the contradiction. There are contradictions and ironies in ‘Hamlet,’ certainly, but not like this. “Political subtext” here means advancing “politically correct” positions, “linguistic support” means identifying language as laden with metanarrative business beyond acting as a signifier, and “pluralism as deliverance” means celebration of diversity and individuality contra a shared idea or common culture – I don’t think any of these understood as postmodern points are qualities you’ll find in ‘Hamlet.’

    Maybe you will find them in postmodern deconstruction of ‘Hamlet,’ but I doubt the text will justify this exercise on its own. My apologies for posting a list of points that could be interpreted in many ways other than as postmodern qualities.

    In as much as postmodernism has Christian elements in it, however, I don’t doubt that deconstruction and constitutive otherness are qualities typical in English literature, regardless of time period. Certainly Austen, a Georgian and pre-modern, as both a Christian and a critic of Hume’s Empiricism wrote books that have many postmodern qualities, hence the great popularity she enjoys today.

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  9. In recent years, watching Rudolph with the kids, I’ve become increasingly annoyed with its “pluaralism as deliverance” message (or, as husband and I like to put it, “diversity crap”. Trust me, after sitting through countless “diversity training” sensitivity programs at work, it’s easy to call it that.) Anyway, I loved this analysis of Rudolph… and am thoroughly enjoying these discussions!

    I’m late to the HP Party… very late, as we only just two weeks ago decided to start reading the books (partly based on Nancy Brown’s book, and partly on other web readings and discussion). The last scene of Chamber of Secrets (the battle, the Phoenix) convinced me that these books are worthy of being called great. The scene with the phoenix was transcendently beautiful.

    John, I just today bought “Looking for God” (while also buying Deathly Hallows). Can’t wait to start reading it (but will have to fight my two teen daughters for it, I’m afraid…!!)

  10. JohnABaptist says:

    John,

    Not being an “English Major” (my degree is in Electrical Engineering) I must confess that I quite often experience “incredulity towards [the] metanarratives” of the literati. In fact, when I experienced the term “Postmodern” in your posting I thought immediately of dear Hermoine back in Philosopher’s Stone.

    As our band of heroes progressed through the series of tests leading into the inner sanctum, they came upon the “seven vials of woe” where upon Hermoine bursts into a smile and proclaims:

    “‘Brilliant,’ said Hermoine. ‘This isn’t magic–it’s logic–a puzzle. A lot of the greatest wizards haven’t got an ounce of logic. They’d be stuck in here forever.'”

    A lot of the greatest literary authorities apparently haven’t got a ounce of logic either.

    Now I know that Postmodern is a literary term blessed by the Interfaith Council of Literary Propriety in the Names Allowable to the Canon of Genres–but it is, in and of itself, so totally illogical as to be mal-logical.

    At face value it means “post” [or following] “modern”. Since modern means “that which is currently in vogue,” one can only presume that a “postmodern” work is one that is either written in the future (which I believe is still beyond mankind’s attainable skills) or else one that was written “before it’s time” which would suggest that it was rejected by the readers of its day and only appreciated by future generations of readers. Much great literature falls into that latter category by the way–Hawthorne and Melville to name two, neither of whom would I believe be classified as “Postmodern” authors.

    Furthermore, in terms of this discussion, an original poem written in 1939 is being presented as “modern”(?) and an interpretation of that poem adapted to another media in 1964 is “Post”(after) modern…I hate to disillusion the reader, but nothing about the style or message of the original poem “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” matches much of anything that is being done in the realm of “modern” poetry.

    I am, of course, engaging in a bit of “narrative misdirection” myself here. The point is not that the characteristics of the genre are inaccurately posited, they are not; or that these characteristics don’t sequentially derive from, or represent a reaction to, the genre immediately preceding it, they do. Nor is my point that these elements do not appear in the Potterverse. Indeed, the elements you list are critical to understanding and appreciating a portion of the genius behind Harry Potter.

    The point is that we tend to label things in too much haste, with very short sighted vision.

    The inherent presumption by the person or persons naming the postmodern genre was that the literary style of the first half of the 20th century would henceforth, always, and forever be the prevalent style of writing; and that the style that arose in the latter half of that century would thereby henceforth, always and forever be new, brash and controversial. This viewpoint is obviously now no longer true.

    In a similar vein, I suspect the term postmodern itself is inadequate to totally encompass the style and techniques found within the Potter saga.

    The Gods of the Literati, would be well-advised to reconvene their councils and come up with a better name. A name more logically based in the assumption that the world may continue for a few more years, or centuries beyond their life span. I would suggest picking an author that is an effective archetype for the period currently so illogically named “modern”–say Hemingway, Faulkner, Kafka or Conrad; renaming the genre after one or more of them, say for instance the Hemingner-Kafrad school. This would allow for the use of logical terms such as Pre-Hemingner-Kafrad, Hemingner-Kafrad and Post-Heminger-Kafrad–similar to the way the art world uses the term Pre-Raphaelite. (The art world is nonetheless not innocent in this court either…”Modern” art is now a century old.)

    Why am I delivering such a pompous, and rambling post? Only to suggest that we tend to be far too quick to label things, that we rarely think deeply enough when we create labels for things, and often end up with totally incongruous groupings when we force fit things into our labels.

    In truth now, isn’t Hemingway far different than Faulkner, are either really similar to Kafka, and does Conrad not write his own uniquely lonely journey into the Heart of Darkness. Have we really accomplished anything of value when we force fit them into the same mold of “modern” author?

    To utilize the characteristics of the misogynous “Postmodern” genre to analyze some (but in my opinion far from all) of Lady Rowling’s literary techniques is very enlightening, but let us not be too quick to hang limiting labels just yet. Rather let us marvel at the breadth and depth to which she use uses the techniques of many genres. If we try to force fit all of them into one label, we may very well be “stuck here forever” and never make it to the real prize that Lady Joanne has so beautifully wrapped up for us.

    In conclusion then, analyze endlessly for years to come I love it! But be careful of the sticky labels–they tend to gum things up.

  11. Actually the Post-Modern world of art is “all over the place, in style”. They mix it up a bit to come up with something new. Pre-Raphaelite was a term the group named themselves and it fits perfect. The term means “before Rahael”, the artist. This means they were concerned with going back in time to what they call beautiful and satisfying art to themselves. Boticelli the medieval artist, was their hero. As was Dante Aligeri. You might want to read John;s article here again, and think more deeply about it and ask him to explaint it in lamens terms to better understand. He explins it well and I had to read it several times to really get and appreiate it’s meaning.

  12. JohnABaptist says:

    Hi Rumor,

    Thanks for the post. You make my point far more succinctly than I did. Pre-Raphaelite is indeed a perfect fit. 500 years from now Raphael will remain a obvious, clearly definable point in both time and technique.

    500 years from now the highest and best use of the term “modern” in referring to either the literature or the art of the 20th century will be to heap scorn on the heads of a generation so egotistical that it thought its, by then severely dated, contributions would always be “modern”.

    Then through that point I was attempting to suggest that John not limit the scope of his vision to just the postmodern aspects but to consider all the possibilities.

    For example I want to read John’s commentaries on Lady Rowling as she speaks in parables. Not only the fairly broad-brush parables like Fleur Delacour who in OOP seems “…neither to toil or to spin, and yet Solomon in all his glory…” or the equally obvious parable of Percy the Prodigal Weasley; but the perhaps more subtile extended parables such as:

    The Parable of the Exegete and the Hermaneutic–Hermoine Granger the girl who must see to believe and Luna Lovegood the girl who must believe to see. It is humorous how Lady Joanne miss-directs you with the names, hermaneutics and Hermoine both being derived from Hermes the Messenger. Yet as Hermione the exegete patiently corrects all the flights of fancy popping out of mouth of Luna the hermaneutic, suddenly in the Forbidden Forest at the end of OOP they need an answer that is not in Hermoine’s canon. Her logic and learning fail her. How are they to get to London? It is only Luna the instinctive hermaneutic who can reach beyond the canon and suggest they ride to London in style on Thestrals, creatures that Hermoine can not see and therefore can not really believe in. I was so eagerly awaiting the look of panic on Hermoine’s face as she sailed through the air on something her beloved logic told her was not there. I was substantially disappointed that they failed to bring that out in the film. It is only in the Deathly Hallows that Hermoine finally grows into her name by going outside the canon (Hogwarts Library) and summoning a book from the Apocrypha (Dumbledore’s Office) that explains how Horcruxes may be destroyed. The exegete finally acknowledges hermaneutics and achieves at last a complete, systematic theology. End of Parable.[pg 101, Scholastic Hardcover edition]

    But what I really want to be sure John catches and comments on are the overarching parables: Harry as the Gospel of Matthew, Ron as the Gospel of Mark, Hermoine as the Gospel of Luke and Neville as the Gospel of John. These, and all the other parables highlighting the many venues God exercises to reveal His Will to us if we only seek Him.

    That’s why I invested so much time carping about labels…it has been my experience that when I begin pinning labels on things prematurely it clouds my vision and I begin to miss too many things that are right beneath my nose. But then the HogwartsProfessor has far more training and experience at this game than I do, so doubtless my fears are in vain.

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