Monday, January 09, 2006

Why Frosty the Snowman Does Not Fit
the Messianic/Heroic Paradigm

In the annals of religious literature, Frosty the Snowman appears in only one major sutra, which says this about him:

Frosty the Snowman
Was a jolly, happy soul
With a corncob pipe and a button nose
And two eyes made out of coal

Frosty the Snowman
Is a fairy tale, they say
He was made of snow,
But the children know
How he came to life one day

There must have been some magic
In that old silk hat they found—
For when they placed it on his head,
He began to dance around

Frosty the Snowman
Was alive as he could be
And the children say
He could laugh and play
Just the same as you and me

Frosty the Snowman
Knew the sun was hot that day
So he said let's run
And we'll have some fun
Now before I melt away

Down to the village
With a broomstick in his hand
Running here and there all around the square
Saying catch me if you can

He led them down the streets of town
Right to the traffic cop,
And he only paused a moment when
He heard him holler, "Stop!"

Frosty the Snowman
Had to hurry on his way,
But he waved goodbye,
Saying don't you cry:
I'll be back again some day

Thumpity thump-thump
Thumpity thump-thump
Look at Frosty go
Thumpity thump-thump
Thumpity thump-thump
Over the hills of snow

This sutra has led certain scholars to conclude—falsely—that the writers of the scripture attributed a sort of benevolent divinity to Frosty, but this is decidedly not the case, and in this essay I propose to examine why.

It is tempting to conclude that Frosty is something of a Christ figure. First, the sutra details his affinity for children, a trait many traditionally associate with Jesus (although with little convincing scriptural evidence aside from "Suffer the little children to come unto me" and "You must become as a child"). Second, Frosty's promise to return sounds suspiciously like the notion of the Second Coming. Third, there's the powerful fourth stanza:

Frosty the Snowman
Was alive as he could be
And the children say
He could laugh and play
Just the same as you and me

This stanza, much like the post-resurrection narratives in the gospels (the ones in which Jesus is portrayed as literally corporeal), would seem to tie Frosty in with some sort of incarnational theology or Hindu avatara—Frosty is a being who becomes enfleshed, in a manner of speaking, dwelling among us, full of grace and truth, and playing with the children.

The very notion of play harks back to the Hindu concept of lila, or divine/cosmic play as epitomized in such episodes as the dice game in the Mahabharata. But a later stanza mentions Frosty's urgency at the prospect of melting, and this would seem to suggest that the anthropomorphic Frosty is a class of being more like the golem of Jewish legend than anything approaching avatara.

The most suspicious thing about the sutra is that it offers us no reason for Frosty's arrival in our midst. In all cases where a great cosmic being appears—Jesus, Krsna, the Buddha—the reason given for the appearance is that the kosmos (Gk. "order") has slid, or begun to slide, into chaos. Dharma has collapsed into adharma. In the Bhagavad Gita, the warrior Arjuna discovers that his charioteer is none other than God (in this case, Krsna), and God has come to restore the cosmic order. Arjuna must play his part in that order, and this is what Krsna argues for about sixteen chapters in the Gita. The Buddha's arrival also has a purpose: the saving of all sentient beings from the adharma of suffering (Skt. dukkha). The Buddha locates the roots of suffering in our ignorance about the nature of reality and offers a therapeutic praxis (the p'al-jeong-do, or Eight Correct Ways—the Fourth Noble Truth) that leads out of suffering. The Christ's mission is nothing less than the redemption of humanity, the saving of us all from sin and death. In each case, then, the savior figure offers succor or guidance out of adharma/chaos and back into dharma/kosmos. The scriptures make clear the purpose of the divinity's presence.

Frosty, by contrast, offers nothing so grand as the redemption of the world. His arrival signals no clear redemptive mission. In fact, the snow-being appears quite selfish. He plays with the children and allows them to forget their everyday cares, even to the point of encouraging them to frolic in traffic—significantly, stopping only when the designated authority loudly reminds Frosty of the established law (dharma).

If anything, Frosty's selfishness, his lack of anything to offer humanity, and his ominous promise to return (viz. "Thumpity thump-thump/Thumpity thump-thump"— a dark reference to the fell drumbeat of the unseen cthonian horrors that inhabit the underworld, snatching the unwary and iniquitous) are more demonic than angelic. Far from being an entity that returns the universe to order, Frosty would appear to be an instrument of the chaotic powers.

And consider this: Frosty the Snowman is white as a bleached bone, or so the sutra implies. White symbolizes many things—purity and joy among them, but it should also be noted that white symbolizes death: the shroud, the winding sheet, the bloodless corpse. The fact that Frosty is visible only to children is also cause for parents to shudder, for this is a trait Frosty shares with other sinister beasts like The Monster in the Closet and The Thing Under the Bed.

I would therefore submit that the sutra devoted to Frosty was originally intended as a magical incantation to make Frosty disappear. We might be looking at an excerpt from an exorcism ritual. If it is true that Frosty's only purpose is to appear in the wintertime to tempt children away from their parents and have them (the children) risk death in traffic, it is highly likely that Frosty's reason for doing so is to gain access to the children's life-essence. How else can one explain Frosty's reappearance, year after year, despite the intervening seasons of spring, summer, and fall? What sustains an entity like Frosty from March to November?

The soundest theory would seem to be that Frosty, who is more vampire than mere snowman, feeds on the children's life-essence and then becomes dormant for most of the year, only to return to prey upon the living each successive winter. The sutra, then, would first serve a social function: it would keep the children together and safe in the winter, singing indoors instead of wandering about outside where Frosty's seductive whisper might hypnotize them, and it would act magically against Frosty by reducing his image to something comical. It would also serve as a ward against Frosty, or possibly even as a means of driving him from a village or valley.

In any event, the sutra offers no evidence that Frosty the Snowman is a heroic or messianic figure of any sort. He fails to follow the Campbellian monomyth paradigm: there is no hero's call to adventure, no threshold guardian, no wisdom figure, no journey into the belly of the beast or into a labyrinth, and Frosty brings no boon back to his people—in fact, it is unclear just who Frosty's "people" might be. Further, Frosty is no messiah, for he also fails to make even the most modest efforts at redeeming humanity; to the contrary, he threatens the lives of children after tempting them away from their parents, very likely with an eye toward dining upon their poor, helpless souls. The Frosty sutra itself, then, should not be read literally, but should be read, rather, as a sort of spell or mantra that performs a warding or exorcistic function against the ravenous snow-creature.

Frosty the Snowman, far from being on a par with the likes of the Buddha or the Christ or Krsna, arises from the depths of hell to eat souls and then sleep for the remainder of the year. While not a major figure in any divine cosmology, Frosty is something of a minor demonic being, and the sutra with which we are all familiar offers us the only true protection against him and his ilk.

NB: Some pop-culture theorists take a completely different stance and claim that Frosty the Snowman is actually a symbol for cocaine. There might still be a demonic tie-in, however.


1 comment:

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Great analysis! I'm convinced.

Jeffery Hodges

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