Rudolph laughed.

He laughed at the outdated traditions, the belief that the greatest achievement in any reindeer’s life was to serve Santa’s whims. Why?

He did not regret being expelled from the reindeer games. His only mistake was not leaving sooner.

As Rudolph walked alone into the vast, empty tundra of his solitude, many stared at him with resentment. It was an instinct Rudolph awakened in most creatures.

His nose lit the way.

- - -

Foreman Elf burst into the room, incensed at Hermey’s refusal to obey. “Why weren’t you at elf practice?” he roared.

Hermey remained silent, engrossed in the dental casts he had made of the sentient, anatomically correct snowmen of Christmastown.

Foreman Elf gazed upon Hermey’s heroic selfishness, at the freedom he embodied by serving his own interests. “Now, listen,” said Foreman Elf, suddenly unsure. “You’re an elf, and elves make toys.”

“You ask me to live as if altruism is the ideal,” said Hermey. “When every living instinct screams against it. We are incapable of true altruism. In this, an elf is trapped. He’ll be glad to obey—because he can’t trust himself. He feels uncertain, unclean—”

Foreman Elf had no idea what Hermey was talking about. Wanting to end the conversation, he said. “Whatever. You can open a dentist’s office next week, after Christmas.”

“No,” said Hermey. “To wait is a compromise. Even a small compromise is corrupt.”

Hermey chose instead to find work scraping reindeer dung off Santa’s sleigh. Beneath the swirling tufts of his blond hair, he was precise, without emotion, more coldly masculine than he had ever been before.

- - -

Clarice gazed at Rudolph’s nose, at the silent contempt blazing in its scarlet glow.

“They hate you, Rudolph. They hate you for your strength, your self-reliance, for being a… a misfit. This world won’t accept you. So to be worthy of you, I will choose to suffer. I’ll refuse to permit myself happiness.”

Rudolph nodded. “That is the only rational course of action.”

Clarice felt weak with a feeling of violent, physical pleasure.

“Rudolph,” she said, her pink polka-dotted bow trembling with passion, “I… I want to destroy you. So they can never touch you, never drag you down to their common level.”

“Do you think I would love you if you didn’t?”

- - -

Rudolph surveyed the eternal kingdom of weak, unwanted toys screaming to be saved. A water pistol that shoots jelly. A choo-choo with square wheels. A doll that has no physical deformities but suffers from low self-esteem.

“This feeling… is pity,” he thought, lifting his head in wonder. “There is something terribly wrong with a world where this monstrous feeling is called a virtue.”

He turned to watch the stranger, Yukon Cornelius, his orange hair whipping in the arctic wind. Yukon tossed a sharp pickax, cracking the world open to plunder its fortune. He left cruel fractures in the earth. “Yes,” thought Rudolph, determination flooding his body once more. “Greatness is achieved only through selfishness.”

- - -

“Well?” pleaded Santa, his rounded corpulence accentuated by sloped shoulders. “Rudolph, with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” All the elves and reindeer eagerly waited to welcome Rudolph into their fold.

Suddenly, a giant explosion threw everyone to their knees.

Shards of destroyed toys flew in every direction. Santa watched, helpless, as tongues of dark fire licked the remnants of his factory and stables. Dark smoke rose to meet the stars.

“Why, Rudolph?” cried Santa weakly. “Why?”

Rudolph’s nose flamed, the light of the self-illuminating on the hostile crowd—and they knew suddenly they could not hate a being of such integrity.

“Common good is tyranny,” he said. “Charity is not the highest virtue, creation is. We enslave the elf, the reindeer, in order to give to the mediocre child. Why? Is freedom not the greatest gift? Therefore, we must teach self-reliance through suffering, for freedom can come only from strength, and strength comes from independence, not toys.”

Santa smiled. That instant, every man, elf, and reindeer was liberated—for only cold, unflinching reason sets man free.