"For more than half a century, generations of children have taken the show, which debuted in 1964, into their hearts, and for just about as long, I’ve been trying to avoid it," says Caitlin Flanagan. "From my earliest days, the special produced in me only a fretful anxiety, leading to an eventual refusal to watch it. I couldn’t really explain the problem. I knew only that the show didn’t make me feel very Christmassy. There’s a lot in Rudolph that people don’t seem to remember. At one point, the Abominable Snowmonster tries to murder Rudolph in front of his parents by smashing a giant stalactite on his head. As our gentle hero lies facedown, concussed and unresponsive, his own girlfriend—the beautiful, long-lashed Clarice—wonders aloud why the snowman won’t put the little reindeer out of his misery: 'Why doesn’t he get it over with?' This was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, not The Third Man. Meanwhile, back at Santa’s workshop—a phrase that should connote only the jolliest of associations—a dark tale is unfolding. Santa, it turns out, presides over a nonunion shop where underproducing elves are deprived of breaks and humiliated; they dream not of Christmas, but of escape. Poorly constructed toys are thrown onto a bare and frozen island, where they cry and wander. How long have they been there? A year? A thousand years? One of the toys, A Dolly for Sue, looks perfectly fine—why has she been stuck with the misfits? Rankin finally admitted the nature of Dolly’s flaw in 2005, when he revealed that she suffered from 'psychiatric problems'” The Island of Misfit Toys, it turns out, is but another atoll in the gulag archipelago." Rudolph, says Flanagan, "is a beautiful show, a bright box full of toys that have come to life," but it's also the work of a grieving man, copywriter Robert May, whose wife died of cancer while he was working on it as a Christmas story for Montgomery Ward. That's why she says it "contains a powerful evocation of loneliness." ALSO: Three things that make Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer so special.