Frosty the Snowman is a perplexing figure in Christmas mythology. Much of modern media has painted Frosty as an innocent martyr to springtime; when winter goes, so does he. The Rankin-Bass special in particular portrays him as a lovable childlike innocent, given life only to have it taken away. Artificially-created intelligence is never a concept to be taken lightly, however. After a close reading of the lyrics, I posit that Frosty is truly more knowledgeable than he lets on.
Firstly, the name of the snowman himself should not be dismissed as a juvenile bastardization of a tangentially wintry word. Not unlike the antagonist Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter, this thermally-themed naming is most likely entirely deliberate and is intended to evoke a frigid personality.
Here begins the deceptively joyful refrain:
Frosty the snowman was a jolly happy soul
With a corncob pipe and a button nose
and two eyes made out of coal
Frosty is established as a character so festive, a third of the syllables in the first line are synonyms for “merry.” Given that the narrator in this situation is potentially unreliable, this description must be taken with a grain of snow-melting salt. As for the components of Frosty’s creation, eyes are often used as symbolism for the personality in fictional literature; to portray them “made of coal” is a strange and jarring image. Holiday-wise, coal has a negative connotation to children who were once threatened by its presence in their stockings on Christmas morning. It’s a symbol of warmth, but also of danger, juxtaposing the “button nose,” a play on the phrase “cute as a button.” Unlit coal is dark and cold and empty, none of which are qualities one would want to use to describe eyes.
It is also in this passage that Frosty is confirmed a smoker.
Frosty the snowman is a fairytale they say
He was made of snow but the children know
how he came to life one day
The syntax of this verse implies that the children intrinsically have knowledge about Frosty that will never be known to adults. Is it because the grown do not understand the secret, or because the young are actively guarding it? Under either interpretation, the secret of granting this group of ice crystals life remains undisclosed in song.
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
It is interesting to note that the source of Frosty’s power is a hat, which in literature often symbolizes hidden intentions. This leads one to consider Frosty’s motives. Even if the handwaving excuse of “magic” is to be accepted, it still raises some troubling implications for the nature of Frosty’s rise to life. Clearly, Frosty was not always alive. This snow had been a part of many a water cycle. When suddenly given the propensity for animation, where are these frozen drops of water getting their sense of reason, their morality? What drives him to dance?
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
Once again, confirmation is received that this is a third-person account based on the retellings of the aforementioned children. By invoking the second-person pronoun in the third line, a false sense of familiarity is forged between the audience and the singer, which creates a divide between man and snowman. The attempt to draw parallels between Frosty and those who are “the same” is shallow at best; he could laugh and play, but that does not necessarily mean that he chose to out of his own free will as humans do. It was merely a skill in his motor capacity.
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”
Up to this point, the only verbs of which Frosty has been the subject have been “dance,” “laugh,” and “play,” presumably because he was learning how to exist from the children around him. In this stanza, Frosty finally does something independent of the youths’ influence: he knows. This is the first time Frosty is performing any action outside of blind imitation, which is a milestone in his growth as a living individual. He becomes aware of his environment and of his own mortality. Nothing is more fearsome than an intelligence which knows its own weaknesses.
He then tries to distract the children with empty promises to “run” and “have some fun.” He deliberately appeals to what to children desire most to do in an attempt to manipulate them. Frosty has learned to lie.
Down to the village with a broomstick in his hand
Running here and there all around the square
Saying “Catch me if you can”
Once Frosty has started acting out of his own volition, he begins testing the limits of his power. The image of a broomstick hearkens back to ancient battlefields, swords aloft and staffs raised in a symbol of leadership and control. The fact that Frosty uses a conditional statement should not go unremarked. The “if” gives children hope that they might catch him, but puts the responsibility exclusively on the children and their own ability.
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 has graduated from a creation of the children to their leader, which is impressive considering the limited timespan of the song. He is shown yielding to another authority figure, but “only for a moment” before he asserts his control in the following line:
For 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”
It is difficult to construe Frosty’s last words as anything but a threat. Just as The Terminator uttered “I’ll be back” and Dr. Claw intoned “I’ll get you next time, Gadget!”, Frosty knows when to give up, which is perhaps the most dangerous knowledge an artificial intelligence can have.
Thumpity thump thump
Thumpity thump thump
Look at Frosty go
Thumpity thump thump
Thumpity thump thump
Over the hills of snow
The repetition indicates a tireless continuous rhythm. As was earlier mentioned, Frosty is a composite of ice crystals. A man of snow, ceaselessly treading over the snow which did not prove itself superior. He has power now. He is establishing dominance. Under the guise of this cheerful onomatopoeic refrain, Frosty is marching over the frigid fractals of his unliving brothers.