"Donald Duck and the Christmas Carol"
And now, we begin our survey of Disney takes on Charles Dickens' classic Christmas Carol, which has been retold so often that it's one of those uncommon literary works that pretty much everyone knows, at least in outline. I know I do; in addition to reading the original, I've seen a shitload of theatrical adaptations--so many in fact that I was kind of sick of it for a while, but that was some time ago, and now I'm raring to go again. So let's do this thing.
We start with a first (and, presumably, last) for this blog, by covering…this.
That's right: it's a Little Golden Book. From 1960. Featuring ducks! And, of course, illustrated by a slumming Carl Barks! I was extremely keen to check this out, not for the story, of course, but hey--Barks artwork I'd never seen. You gotta be interested in that. It hasn't been reprinted in the US in any easily-accessible form, but I found a copy of the original book on ebay fer cheap, so here we are.
Now, the fact is, Little Golden Books are aimed at very small children. Therefore, there's not much point in attacking them for being overly simplistic; they are what they are (though I would like to note that when I was a very small child, my father read to me the actual Christmas Carol, which probably is indicative of something about me). However, I think there is a very strong argument to be made that there was simply no good way to tell a version of this story that is twenty-two pages long, with fifty words to a page on the outside. I mean, not that someone probably couldn't have done better than Annie North Bedford did, but still…per wikipedia, this is a pseudonym for LGB editor Jane Werner, and frankly, you can see why one would not want to be associated with this.
"Hughie." Yup, things are shaping up quite nicely here. It will also be noted that HDL refer to Donald and Scrooge as "Uncle." Given that the book claims to have been "prepared under the supervision of The Walt Disney Studio," you'd think they could've gotten something that easy right.
And see here's the thing: the necessary compression to fit the story in the allotted space means that Scrooge comes across here as not so much "miserly" as kind of insane: "well, I was going to ask you to participate in my weird Faulknerian fantasy scenario, but now that I see you have presents, screw you! I'm outta here!" Right, then. I'll also note that it would've been super easy to have him trying to get their help in something less wildly out-of-character than burying money at a farm. Given that this was published in 1960, I don't think a passing familiarity with the central character is too much to ask.
The art. Well, it's not Barks' greatest effort--he was clearly at his best in a comic medium; I personally am not all that enamored of his paintings either--but the above image is nothing if not iconic, at least in part for how closely it mimics a well-known comic panel…
The "redemption" bit is also, of course, massively truncated: no Jacob Marley, and all three ghosts are done in seven pages total. I suppose, to some extent, you have to admire the ruthless efficiency. There are not nephew-looking ghosts, either; these are actually the nephews themselves in disguise, which…I dunno. I suppose without the context Marley provides, it would seem a bit arbitrary to have actual ghosts appear, but this is still pretty lacking. Maybe there was some prohibition against supernatural elements in Little Golden Books. Or maybe it was just desired that Donald and the kids play a more active role here. Or, maybe it was just easiest--the path of least resistance. Whee.
Why the Ghost of Christmas Present there seems to be trying to look like some kind of sinister ninja, I don't know. And let me say: this is only one of many ways this whole venture just does not work. Scrooge's redemption in the original isn't psychologically realistic, but it's such that we're willing and able to buy it (I'll have more to say on this in a later entry). But here, it's just farcical.
IS YOUR HEART WARMED? IT IS NOT, AND THAT IS BECAUSE THE STORY HAS NOT LAID SUFFICIENT GROUNDWORK TO MANDATE WARMING. Dammit. If you were going to write a term paper about the meaning of McLuhan's well-known dictum, you could do worse than using this book as an example. Download it here if you want to check out the Barks art, but I don't think you're likely to find the experience in general hugely edifying.
Tomorrow, yer gonna wanna set yer browser to the sadly-neglected Duck Cartoons Revue, where we're gonna take a look at Disney's attempt to tell the story in animated form.