Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Cave of Ali Baba"

This story, from 1962, pushes the idea of not being able to trust one's senses pretty hard. Although it appears to be a fairly ordinary historical (or metahistorical) treasure hunt story, it turns out not quite to work out that way. It would appear that the formerly fairly solid basis on which Scrooge had built his wealth had, by this point, been pretty severely undermined by changing cultural perceptions; hence all the Magica stuff to come. This isn't the last treasure-hunt story ("Crown of the Mayas" I want to say, but don't quote me on that), but the idiom was clearly winding down.

Our heroes are somewhere in Iran, where Scrooge is inspecting oil pipelines. The air of mutability is emphasized from the beginning: there used to be a thriving civilization here. What became of it?

Hear that? It is necessary to be skeptical. Nonetheless, HDL can't help imagining the past:

In a previous story, this might have been an actual or only slightly embellished representation of the past, but we are evidently no longer to take such things at face value.

At any rate, some traveling acrobats appear out of nowhere and put on a show:

Then, they are gone. This would seem indicative of the shifting reality of this place: are these guys real people? Djinni? It's not clear. But they DO meet one guy who seems normal--an archeologist bird dude.

Ha! HA HA HA HA HA! Ha. Also.

In any case, Scrooge's skepticism about the veracity of Arabian folklore evaporates after finding an enormous roc feather:

Probably not a good idea--that skepticism was a valuable defense mechanism in this setting.

To cut a short story shorter, they find Ali Baba's cave (or, more accurately, the forty thieves' cave, I suppose), and we get images that LOOK like they should come out of "The Mines of King Solomon" (probably the definitive treasure hunt story):

So, the rich get richer? Not quite. Not at all, in fact:

It seems you can't just find ancient treasure like that anymore. Plus, they steal Scrooge's wallet. Whateryagonnado? It's not what you'd call a particularly satisfying denouement, but it certainly is consistent with the story's thematic concerns, however dispiriting they are.

All the business with rocs and treasures was, apparently, only the result of the ducks' overheated imaginations; still, there's certainly SOMETHING redolent of near eastern romance here: who ARE these acrobats? Are they human or not? That's something that's not exactly resolved. Actually, when you get right down to it, the relevant mysteries are still mysterious; that, indeed, is largely the point. The fact that Scrooge fails to enrich himself may be indicative of a failure of the past to be available in the same way it once was, but is that really a universal dictum? I'm not sure. It's late, and I may not be thinking clearly here; I'm having trouble thoroughly conceptualizing this story. Still, perhaps naïvely, I'd like to believe not.



Anonymous GeoX said...

For what it's worth, I'm not exactly happy with this entry--having just reread the story, I think there's a lot more to be said about it. Perhaps I will have another go at it one of these days.

May 15, 2009 at 6:32 PM  
Blogger Mike Matei said...

I just read this story again about two nights ago. I agree with your statement, you didn't really say enough. Either way, there's other Barks stories I'd rather see you tackle anyway.

September 25, 2010 at 1:23 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Haven't been posting a lot due to trying to teach and dissertate at the same time, but if you have specific suggestions, go right ahead.

September 25, 2010 at 1:37 AM  
Blogger Mike Matei said...

Volcano Valley, Cave of Winds, Firebug are just a few that spring to mind I'd like to see.

September 25, 2010 at 11:30 PM  
Blogger Mike Matei said...

Nevermind, saw you did Volcano Valley. The others though.

September 25, 2010 at 11:31 PM  
Blogger Mike Matei said...

Rip Van Donald WDC&S 112 is another suggestion

September 27, 2010 at 5:37 AM  

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