"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'm think of 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.
Well...here 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.
DAMMIT, PEOPLE, YOU'RE RUINING THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT! STOP IT!
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!
Labels: Carl Barks