Frosty the snowman is iconic of man’s chronic horror of the animated spiritual. While the typical Frostologist might sight this 1950s pop hit as an example of fun childish nonsense, a closer reading of the Frosty “fairytale” reveal that Frosty is spawn from a line of golems tracing back to the early myths of the Golems in Jewish culture, continuing in more scientific times in the flesh-golem of Frankenstein’s “monster,” committing murder again as the Stone Guest of Don Juan, getting preachy in the tale of Pinocchio, terrorizing us in zombie movies such as Night of the Living Dead, and persisting in Pixar hits such as Toy Story. When we read through the childhood lightheartedness we read that philosophical anxiety necessitated by the animated dead hides even in childhood stories, and the children, with their heightened sensitivity of innocence, cannot miss the implications inherent in the story of the bestowed soul.
“Frosty the Snowman was a jolly happy soul … with two eyes made out of coal” we are informed. This soul-hood precedes his vivification, it seems. The second verse informs us that he “was a fairytale they say … but the children know how he came to life one day.” In fact, he was not a fairytale until this song retrojected a history for him. But this lie isn’t the most troubling. The song directly claims that this story is not a fairytale, but the children know (before or after hearing the song?) that he came to life.
The song continues that “he was alive as he could be”–surely an exaggeration, since he was merely a snow-golem, he had no living cells, but remained a being of snow. In what way is this golem “alive”? For surely, he doesn’t live life, being merely interested in cavorting with children. When faced with his own mortality (“the sun was hot that day … he said let’s run and have some fun now before I melt away”) the audience is presented with a set of questions. How can a man, who strangely spends all his time with children, think of fun in the face of certain extinction? Indeed, the snowman ignores the authority of the traffic cop nearly completely (“he paused only for a moment when [the cop] holler[ed] stop”) making the implicit morality of this snow-golem clear. As they say: “Drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Mock at authority, play, and above all, don’t think. We must ask of this depraved snowman–in what sense was he alive?
For Frosty is given a full grown fully developed soul instantaneously upon the application of an enchanted hat. Where did this personality come from? What a stab at the Western metaphysic to suggest a soul can be bestowed by occult dabbling, without the bother of education, growth, and development. The fun-loving, authority-defying ethos of frosty could only exist in a heart of snow, one that must fake enthusiasm to prove its own vitality, who, like a depressed teenager, must drink and carouse to prove to herself that she is having fun, that she is free. Frosty is a nihilist. And here, Frosty resonates fully with his tradition. Frosty voices the human condition–we too will melt away. When faced with the inexorable sun, he decides to have fun. Is there not strain to this “fun,” a fun meant to defy time? Pinocchio too was subject to fun loving self-abuse. Pinocchio is ironically a puppet, because he is intended to make the children listeners into puppets: the moral “subtlety” of the play is to show that a boy is only real if he listens to his “conscience”–which means, obeying authority. Here again is the problem of the instant personality. Without the trouble of learning, growing, developing, the wooden boy is granted a soul via being carved from a talking pine tree. The original story kills Pinocchio off for his many acts of foolishness. Only in later versions of the story was he revived by a benevolent mother figure of a fairy who gives him a “real body.” But how real is anything that never had a childhood?
Frankenstein’s monster also is given a rudimentary personality. Indeed, the creature was not a monster at all, even when his maker reviled him for looking grotesque (and thus invalidating him as a representative of any actual scientist, who is immune to the ugliness of science), and left him. The creature only becomes a monster when he watches the love within the French family of a blind man, and compares his own plight to them. Through his envy of their love, love makes him into a monster. This, I think, is a beautiful representation of the source of evil, akin to the Satan of Paradise, who falls from being the greatest creation of all time because God’s love was distributed “equally” and he was not given the special favor he deserved.
And this brings us to the original golem, Adam himself, who is given the anxiety of being created by another, not master of himself, and Eve, who is the image of an image, is even more anxious till she cries out that she wants to be God herself. This created/creator disunion leads to a death-wish, acted out when Eve decided she will accept even death, if it means having the eyes of God.
The toys in Toy Story and other toys-to-life stories are, strangely, ensouled upon being made. They too wish to “be real.” Both Buzz Lightyear and the Velveteen rabbit wish to be living beings. The Tinman, a kind of reverse golem, is a man slowly devalued into a heartless tin machine. His desire for a heart is the same desire of all these manmade creatures: to be alive, to be real, to be human.
The Scarecrow of Oz, supposedly representing the American farmer, but also, hung up like a crucifix to scare away the crows, is a sort of “Idiot” figure (in the Dostoevsky sense), or, more directly, the mindless innocence of Christ, in his childlike moments. The straw golem is not given an origin. He appears, again, full grown, and only unaware of his own assets (like all the Oz protagonists). Yet he clearly bears the anxiety of createdness. What anxiety is this masking other than the anxiety of humans themselves to be human? Human beings, who feel alienated from their own nature, from their own birthright, project into lifeless matter the anxiety both of the death of mortality, but even more the life of vitality. How is one fully a human being? How is one alive? In Frosty, this is gaily shrugged off, where he claims “he will be back someday.” We are to wonder if his soul survives in the hat? Will the snow man ever develop a mature soul, let alone flesh? We can only hope not, for the creature is remote from human pathos and human ethos.
Frosty himself, coming in Winter, is in fact a parody of the Christ myth, in which the Divinity enters the “clay” body of an infant human being. The holy spirit is also magically put into human shape. But unlike the man of sorrows, the snowman is meant to laugh and play all the time, and, unlike Christ, he leaves when Christmas is done.
Christ’s well known anxiety voiced itself through the master Tempter, who, reading the doubts of the young man, asked him “If thou art really the son of God … then prove it.” The purpose of the temptation, if indeed it were a temptation, was to question something Jesus was not certain about–his own nature. Whatever the theological conundrums inherent in this narrative (theology is nothing but conundrums, of course), the same exact anxiety comes to fore: are we of the same stuff as our fathers? If we are made by another, how much are we our own?
In the Disney rendition of Pinocchio, the golem persistently aspires to be real. The Tinman wants a human heart, as the Scarecrow wants a human brain. Data, from Star Trek: The Next Generation, regularly contemplates his androidism, and wonders what humans experience. The painful question behind all this nonsense is thus: Am I what I can and should be? For those not troubled by this question, they should be. Only till you have tackled your own place as a living human can you worry about such secondary questions as “will I still be human after I die?” The question of the afterlife is always secondary to the life we are living now.
Frosty, then, the most terrifying of all these creatures precisely because he is inhumanly happy about his condition, decides, in the face of the killer sun, to run around like a fool and amuse children. Thus, we must take the Frosty ethos as one of irresponsibility and utterly, inhuman stupidity. Yet another Christmas hate story.