Wednesday, December 21, 2016

"Christmas on Bear Mountain"

When ya think about it, we can probably indirectly credit the Disney Company with inspiring this story. In what sense? In the sense that Fantasia brought Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald [or, ha ha, "Bare"] Mountain" into the public consciousness, and it seems eminently plausible that, as he was casting around for a story idea, that's why Barks was able to call the piece to mind and thus where his inspiration came from. Mind you, I do wish the movie had been released a few years later to more neatly dovetail with the story. But: what the hell! I'll say it anyway!

I suppose this is Barks' most famous Christmas story, for obvious reasons, but somehow I always forget about it when I think about seasonal Barks. It was his first full-length attempt at the form (several Firestone shorts preceded it), so it's important for that reason too, but, while it's undeniably a Christmas story, it doesn't quite have the festive spirit that I treasure so. It does a better job than "The Golden Christmas Tree," certainly, but to me, it has the feel more of a regular story that just happens to have Christmas as a backdrop than a Christmas story itself. However, let's have a look and see what we find, shall we?

We open with this scene of suburban ennui. The ducks seem to be living in a tropical or subtropical climate of some sort, if those palm trees (?) out the window are anything to go by. As he was occasionally wont to do, Barks gives his characters odd diction here: the British "you haven't enough money," instead of the American "you don't have..." The fact that he apparently learned English grammar out of a book seems believable. he is. I could make some obvious remarks, like "this story wouldn't be especially remembered if not for this, but the character is hardly 'Scrooge' as we know him," but that would be of use to nobody. So I won't, except inasmuch as I just did.

His motives here are a little murky. "Grr! I hate Christmas! Wait! Here's an idea! I'll make a test for my nephew!"  His train of thought is mysterious.

...why does he have a mountain cabin if he's so anti-fun in any form? I suppose if we want to follow Rosa (...but is that really necessary?), we could posit that this cabin was purchased at some point since his arrival in Duckburg as a failed, last-ditch effort to prevent his own miserly, anhedonic nature coming through. Boy, that's pretty dark. Or, we could just accept it as a narrative convenience, if we're less tedious and annoying!

I also want to call attention to the Duck family's home decor: a painting of a non-anthropomorphic duck in a boat, and one--apparently--of Donald sinking beneath the waves. Please make a note of it.

Well, here we get more motivation from Scrooge, though it raises more questions than answers. Whence this fixation on bravery, specifically? Let alone this conviction that no one has ever been brave, ever? What hidden traumas lie in your past, Scrooge? Granted, this at least vaguely hints at the character's later concern with personal qualities (tougher than...; smarter than...) but it's hard to make head or tails of if you want to pretend that--again--it's there for any reason other than narrative expedience.

I DO like the wish-fulfillment aspect of this whole thing. The idea of being in a cozy, confined space with everything you need is something that's always primally appealed to me. I suppose this is an unconscious back-to-the-womb fantasy (more enticing than ever in these dark times). Anyway, a swell old duck is he!

Scrooge's misanthropy IS pretty entertaining. "Drooling all over the place" is funny. The question, though: WHY IS EVERYONE SO OBSESSED WITH BEARS IN THIS STORY? Bears are not an issue if you're in a cabin! Crikey!

Yeah, like BEARS, I mean! That is always in the forefront of my mind when I'm anywhere outside a city. I suppose the fact that it's called "bear mountain" is where all this comes from, but REALLY, now...

Donald's extreme timidity here--necessary to counter Scrooge's fixation on BRAVERY--goes to humorous but perhaps excessive lengths.

Seriously, this part is SO GOOD. What an utterly perfect Christmas this would be, I am NOT JOKING.


Don't have to be a pahn, now does it? WHO IS GOING TO GET THAT REFERENCE? Not you, probably.  At any rate, I do like the sentiment. You don't need an evergreen for Christmas spirit. Lookin' pretty good, I say!

...but, of course, that's where all the trouble comes from. The cub is cute, but I have to admit, I don't actually find the whole "bear" aspect of this story all that exciting. It's just a bit of slapstick, not that interesting, and certainly not that Christmasy.

Also, Donald's utter, self-centered cowardice in this--while, as noted above, necessary to contrast with Scrooge's bravery obsession--isn't very appealing. Show some more CONCERN if you genuinely think they may have been eaten, you asshole!  "There's enough left of us to ache with" is a good line, though.

Difficult to parse Scrooge's character in this story (I mean, actually, it's easy; it's just difficult if we want to pretend there's more depth here than was ever intended). Scrooge is obsessed with bravery...yet he himself is just as terrified as anyone! Could it be that his hatred of cowardice is because he knows he himself to be a coward and thus externalizes his self-loathing to everyone around him? Only if we look at this story in isolation, acting as if the character had never been used again. So it's not very interesting. But what the hell.

NOTHING is too good for such ducks! That line amuses me, I suppose for reasons having to do with the somewhat creaky diction.  That is all.

Yeah, great. I guess there's nothing wrong with this, but I've gotta say, Christmas in the cabin would've been better. Since Scrooge doesn't ask that HDL be given lemonade, can we assume that it's spiked with vodka or some such? I see no other possible conclusion.

One might also note that supposedly, Rosa's "Richest Duck in the World" takes place in the time between when Scrooge left the cabin convinced of his nephews' bravery and this scene. And there's nothing wrong with that; it's perfectly clever for what it is. But REALLY, now, for anyone really fixated on a strict duck chronology, shouldn't it be a little problematic that that idea is clearly nonsense? I mean, do you REALLY read this story assuming that it takes place in that context? How do you account for the fact that the characters' personalities and motivations are wildly at variance between the two? Or that, apart from one throwaway line, Rosa completely abandons the whole "bravery" thing (as well he might)?

Yeah, well. Endings were a persistent weak spot of Barks', so it's all good, I guess. The story's fine, it's Barks, but in spite of its significance, I wouldn't rank it among his best, and certainly not his best Christmas stories. When you think about it, you realize that, just from this one thing, you wouldn't realize that Scrooge was anything other than a one-off character, after the manner of Cuthbert Coot...well, I don't know, maybe you would.  There is, after all, obviously a lot of potential in the whole "rich uncle" thing, even if it isn't clear how said potential will manifest itself.   WHO KNOWS?!? But Barks clearly either had the idea in mind from the start or (more likely) came up with it in the course of writing the thing, 'cause his next adventure was "The Old Castle's Secret," which provides a whole history and brings you much closer to the character as we know and love him. Hurrah!



Blogger Achille Talon said...

Glad to see you review this story. (Note also the Ducklings who comment on their pillows being made with "real feathers". That can't not have been intended.) Your summary of Scrooge's odd reasoning made me laugh out loud.

December 21, 2016 at 11:37 AM  
Anonymous Review Or Die said...

Speaking as a big Rosa fan prone to long monologues about his work, your question about reconciling the two stories is... you really can't. Chapter 12 cheats, no bones about it, these two stories just don't mesh together. I wish I could say otherwise, but nope.

As to the story itself? I agree with you, it's got some hiccups but is generally a nice, sweet story. Not his best, but pretty good. I like the slapstick a little more than you did, but perhaps that's because I can see it as a Disney short.

If you really, really need some justification on the cabin though, there's nothing that says it couldn't be rented or part of one of his businesses that he borrowed for this. A cabin for people who want to 'rough it' in the woods but have a fridge stocked full of all kinds of decadent food seems very much like a Barksian joke to me. And if it isn't a joke he used, it's a joke I'll use in a story someday.

Merry Christmas, sir! And a happy New Year.

December 21, 2016 at 9:52 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

(Also, I sent you an email…)

December 22, 2016 at 4:21 AM  
Blogger Lugija said...

A story in which the reclused Scrooge of the '40s tries to relive his Klondike days by getting a cabin (trying first to build it on his own but not finding enough strength to do so) and living there for a while, getting traumatized by bears and finally having to admit that he doesn't have "it" anymore... would be incredibly depressing. Just like any other Chapter 11½ idea.

And I have tried sometimes to read this story within the Life and Times, and it doesn't mesh well at all, but chapter XII is better for it.

December 22, 2016 at 7:39 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

GeoX didn't reveiw this story yet?! BUT...?! HOW...?! WHO...?! WHY...?! WHOM...?! WHAAAA--???

To be fair if not the "HEY! IT'S THAT STORY THAT INTRODUCES SCROOGE!" factor I woudn't found this one very interesting. Clearly it could easly been a 10pager. It's not that big of a plot.

If (in some evil "dark twisted apocalyptic universe") this was the ONLY story Barks ever used Scrooge, I think he would still be more remembered then the colorful personality of Cuthbert Cooot. Heck, maybe some Italian writer would used the character once every blue-moon, when he was tired of comming up with stories involving Barks more popular creation's like April, May and June, three-timed used HD&L goofy pig friend Herbert, or John D. Rockerduck (who despite lack of Scrooge was still invented by Barks and is cosider a big character in Italy... that's how the evil "dark twisted apocaliptic universe" rolls)

But what about the theory that Scrooge was inpsired by VERY similar character in 'Spirit of 43" Cartoon?


I like to think so... despite the fact I hate the theory that Gladstone Gander was somewat inspired by the other duck in the cartoon... Gladstone may be a lucky pest but even at his most jerkyest I can't see him go supproting the Natzi party (even his evil "dark twisted apocalyptic universe" counterpart dosen't swing this way, and that guy is trubble to say the least)

December 22, 2016 at 8:25 AM  
Anonymous Drakeborough said...

Great to see this story reviewed. Perhaps not Barks' best Christmas tale in itself,
but I'm so glad he did this story, as the comic book world would be much poorer without Scrooge. Here are some comments by Barks, from a 1975 interview with Edward Summer:

"I had to get a Christmas story going, and somehow a person just automatically goes back to the old Dickens Scrooge story, the old classic, 'cause part of the things that go along with Christmas, like the ringing of bells and singing of carols and so on, is the repetition of the old Scrooge classic. So I got to thinking of an old rich uncle, and gradually the story just kept building. Donald would have to get into a situation where I could use this rich uncle. And the kids naturally wanted Christmas trees, and they wanted snow, and the different things that go along with Christmas. So all the elements were there, and I just started hooking them together automatically. Now, I can't say where these things come from. I have a situation that has to be solved, and somehow all the parts just commence coming into my head from someplace and I just fit them together, and pretty soon I had fitted together a story of the ducks getting permission from their rich uncle to go up on Bear Mountain and use his cabin overnight. Well, that, of course, meant that the rich uncle had to have a reason for doing that, so I brought in this thought that he wanted to know whether Donald was a real brave duck, and that led to the bear, and the situation of testing Donald's courage."

"while it's undeniably a Christmas story, it doesn't quite have the festive spirit that I treasure so": I guess this explain why an old Italian translation could get away with the characters pretending it's Christmas.

"One might also note that supposedly, Rosa's "Richest Duck in the World" takes place in the time between when Scrooge left the cabin convinced of his nephews' bravery and this scene": I've often wondered about that, especially when last year I tried as a mental experiment to figure out how an animated series adapting classing duck comics would turn out if I could write it (my mental adaptation of "The Richest Duck in the World" included "Christmas on Bear Mountain"). A couple of changes would be needed, but I think the transition would be pretty smooth. Rosa's opinion on the issue:

"My story fits in immediately before the last page of that original 1947 story. In other words, it happens after the night on Bear Mountain (which had been Christmas Eve) and before the Ducks attend a Christmas Day dinner at McDuck Manor. In my version, the Ducks had never met their Uncle $crooge before, but naturally knew of him... you'll see nothing in the original 1947 story to suggest otherwise. Still, I won't say my story fits too smoothly inside the original. [...] I don't have him in the same ebullient mood as when he departed Bear Mountain after spying on his nephews -- the logic of my story depended on $crooge being back in the same sour state as at the beginning of that 1947 tale... perhaps he's cranky after not getting any sleep the previous night? Oops!"

As for "The Spirit of '43", I think the character's similarity with Scrooge is merely a coincidence, though we can't know for sure. And if Gladstone has a prototype in animation, that would more likely be Lucky Ducky from Disney's "Chicken Little"(1943).

Incidently, it is strange to me that so many old American stories didn't have the "The End" sign.

December 22, 2016 at 12:24 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

As for duck using British insted of American diction, I can only asume Barks wanted to make this Christmas story feel as dickensian as possible. You can tell he was confident it will put the reader in ta Christmas Caroly spirit by puting palm trees in the background, and we are ever so greatfull for it! :)

December 22, 2016 at 3:51 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Yay, Christmas story posts!

Yeah, this is not one of the dozen Duck stories I re-read every Christmas, as it is not Christmassy enough. Though I'm actually more likely to re-read it now that I have "Another Christmas on Bear Mountain" (Faraci/Cavazzano) to follow it up (maybe you'll be reviewing that, too?). I did enjoy that sequel. Didn't think that much of the earlier sequel, "Return to Bear Mountain" (Bergström & Anderson/Branca), though my quite-young-at-the-time godson liked it a lot back in 1993. Perhaps that's a story that works better for the younger set.

I do, however, *love* the Bear Mountain cover on WDCS 608. One of my very favorite Christmas Duck covers. The starry blue "comics" is somehow a key part of its charm.

December 22, 2016 at 8:38 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Was that the sequel where Scrooge discover that Donald didn't really sleeped with the brave because he was brave but by acident and Scrooge time travel to chance events or something... it was so long ago.

December 22, 2016 at 8:59 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Yup, "Another Christmas on Bear Mountain" does involve time travel. And Grandpa Claus. Kind of silly, but more Christmassy than "Bear Mountain" and I enjoyed it enough to re-read it.

December 22, 2016 at 9:33 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

"Grandpa" Claus? In our French version it was "Uncle" Claus, to emphasize the similarity between him and Scrooge.

As for "The Spirit of '43", I'm dead-convinced that he was the inspiration for Scrooge. After all, Barks worked on that cartoon.

December 23, 2016 at 5:31 AM  
Anonymous Drakeborough said...

It was "Zio Natale" ("Uncle Claus") in the original version too. Of course, the joke is that in Italy Santa Claus is known as "Babbo Natale" ("Father Christmas"), so "Zio Natale" translates into "Uncle Christmas", and I think it must be the same in France, where if I remember correctly Santa is known as "Pere Noel". I guess Uncle Claus or Grandpa Claus don't sound as funny.

Did Barks work on "The Spirit of '43"? I don't recall seeing it in his filmography list.

December 23, 2016 at 6:20 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Well, he's sometimes known as Father Christmas in English, too, though it sounds a little old-fashioned/Victorian. Anyway, "Grandpa Claus" is a play on "grandfather clause," for whatever it's worth. Not the world's GREATEST wordplay, I'll admit, but it'll do.

December 23, 2016 at 7:08 AM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

According to the IMDB (, Carl Bakrs and Joe Grant share story credit for the cartoon.

December 23, 2016 at 7:14 AM  
Anonymous Drakeborough said...

"Well, he's sometimes known as Father Christmas in English, too". I know, as a child studying English many years ago I learnt that Babbo Natale's English name was Father Christmas in British English and Santa Claus in American English (I still see that old English dictionary for children two shelves above me). I tended to use the former, as it was word by word identical to the Italian name I knew, while Santa Claus sounded to me like two random words put together. Nowdays I would use Santa Claus because I see it used more often, and because of its etymology related to Saint Nicholas's name; plus, I think it was about one year ago that I decided to search for the Wikipedia definition of Santa Claus and discovered that the name Father Christmas was first used to indicate a separate and earlier "character", and that their unification was as recent as the late 19th century:

But I'm digressing (as I often find myself doing), so I'll stop here since this is not a discussion on Santa Claus/Father Christmas.
Thanks for expaining the "grandfather clause" joke. I guess it's not the funniest joke ever, but it's not like I could suggest a better one (I imagine callng Santa Claus "Father Christmas" on this occasion just to keep the "Uncle Christmas" joke wasn't an option). If I remember correctly, though, Father Christmas being the nephew of Uncle Christmas was in the original a direct parallel to Donald being the nephew of Scrooge; not sure if any changes were made for this reason or if they were thought to be unnecessary.

Thanks for the link. However, IMDb features user-generated content, so I wonder: is "The Spirit of '43" listed in some scholarly source as a short to which Barks contributed to?

December 23, 2016 at 9:43 AM  

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