Monday, April 6, 2009

"No Such Varmint"

Uncharacteristically, 1951's "No Such Varmint" finds HDL in what I would consider the role of villains. As the story opens, we see them commenting on a parade of famous people going by--doctors, lawyers, scientists, writers, &c. This as compared to Donald, who is just...well, who he is. He hasn't "accomplished" anything in the same way that these other people have. Oh, but he does have a new raison d'être, now: he's a SNAKE CHARMER! OH YEAH BABY. And it seems he's really quite good at this. But HDL react poorly:

This seems quite odd to me. Even if HDL perhaps hadn't quite been fully defined as natureboys at this early date, STILL--maybe I'm just extrapolating from my own predilections, but what kid--what boy, certainly--wouldn't think having a snake charmer for a parent/legal guardian was the coolest thing ever? Seriously. The answer, whether it's consistent with their character or not, is that in this instance, HDL don't want this because they represent the voice of modernity, while Donald comes from an older cultural mode--as we often see, he doesn't generally react particularly well to the modernity of which the kids are here proponents. So what this story sets up is a conflict between HDL's single-minded insistence that Don modernize and his absolute refusal to make even a token effort in this direction. One's sympathies, in this case, have to lie with him.

HDL see an ad in the paper about a professor who can determine what job you're best suited for:

The process isn't as rudimentary as the above implies, but there's gotta be at least some irony inherent in the fact that the process by which they are trying to modernize their uncle appears to be a kind of high-tech phrenology. Anyway, he agrees reluctantly to take this test--and then, the results!

Sure, why not? I'm not sure if "human fly" counts as a "job," per se, but it's certainly a specialized category, and you wouldn't want the wrong sort of person to get involved.

Thanks to a fly on the number readout, the professor thinks that Donald has scored an 11.5 instead of the actual 115, which turns out to be the score for a detective, about which the ducklings are overjoyed:

Methinks that HDL are a little confused here--if they think "Sherlock Holmes" when they think "detective," their heads really aren't any less in the clouds than Donald's is. That's probably at least part of the reason why--as one could easily have predicted--their efforts are doomed to come to naught.

How does Donald react to this new intelligence? Heroically, in my estimation:

I'm not saying that modernity is necessarily toxic, but Donald's obstinate refusal to march to a prescribed drummer is still kind of inspiring. One could even argue that, from one perspective, this willful attitude is more modern than what the kids are proposing.

But in spite of his protests, they wrangle him an assignment--one of Scrooge's ships has disappeared somewhere in the northern Pacific Northwest, and someone is needed to figure out WTF. So they take the job on his behalf, although his interest gauge remains firmly in the "zero" position. I wouldn't think there would actually be all that many snakes in such a northerly clime, but I may be mistaken:

This keeps happening--HDL want Donald to show those awesome detecting chops he is reputed to have; Donald wants to charm snakes. He's kind of a snake-charming savant, really:

Tell me that isn't endearing. Ultimately, he charms up a giant sea serpent, which HDL intuit just might have something to do with the missing ship. Now Donald's snake-charming may prove useful, but he ain't cooperating--he just tootles along, head in the clouds,

when he happens to accidentally summon the sea serpent again--only it won't let him go, and he ends up having to play for days on end, wearing himself senseless. Eventually HDL manage to get rid of the beast by catapulting barrels of pepper into its mouth, but it gets away with the ship, and so the ducks return home, unfulfilled. Naturally, Donald's passion for snake-charming is a casualty of this trauma :-(

That's not a relevant question, boys. This issue is that, like Brian Wilson, he wasn't made for these times, and all the prodding in the world won't change that. The professor comes back to correct his mistake--Donald is meant to be a great snake charmer!--but this, obviously, is a non-starter at this point. It's kind of dispiriting, really. But we should take comfort in the knowledge that Don is a resilient soul:

Sure, it's not as cool as snakes, but it still shows him capable of living in his own world whilst surrounded by this other. As we see again and again--"Ancient Persia," "Dangerous Disguise," "Voodoo Hoodoo"--he doesn't react so well when he's forced to engage, but when he isn't, he does all right for himself, and for that, I love him.



Blogger Mike Matei said...

There's also a scene where Scrooge is in his office surrounded by money. I always found it funny when Scrooge would take the money out of the vault and have it in his office like that. Some of Scrooge's gold ships sank again, god that happened a lot! (Strange Shipwrecks) Not that there's anything that interesting about this scene, but I always get excited when Scrooge shows up in a mostly Donald story.
There's also a nice splash panel in this comic of the ducks overlooking "Barnacle Bay". But the first splash panel of the ship sinking just cements my thoughts that Barks just liked drawing ships.
Whenever he got the chance he was doing splash panels with ships it seems. "The Flying Dutchman", "The Prize of Pizarro", "The Golden Helmet" ext..
I could make an article about all Barks ship tales, but then again, I wouldn't want to turn into Peter Kylling.

September 26, 2010 at 8:55 AM  
Anonymous Richie said...

Two points with this story;

1) Just what HDL are aspiring their uncle to be doesn't seem clear enough. They seem motivated by how prestigious professions there are available for Donald at first, then they're happy when he is told to have great detective potential. Detective is not a precisely revered occupation on society, so I'm inclined to believe they're excited because, really, just how cool it is to have a detective uncle?...Except that, as you said, how come SNAKE CHARMER doesn't fit the ULTRA COOL category?

2) As much as I can identify with Donald and find myself rooting for him most of the time (A certain Easter tale you've covered previously be screwed) I can't help but think the nephews may be taking the right stance, AKA "Donald should be something of a higher-profile" but for different reasons. This is never addressed in the story -and I didn't expect it to, being a Barks tale and not a Don Rosa- But just how Donald plans to raise HDL by charming snakes? Even minor dialogue indicating he scored a job at the circus or something would have clarified this...

January 22, 2011 at 2:53 AM  
Blogger whc03grady said...

Scrooge's assistant, surely mindful of the precariousness of his continued employment, nonetheless when instructed to hire the best detective in the world doesn't hesitate to line up the job with a few elementary school-aged kids.


January 2, 2017 at 3:54 PM  

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