Sunday, May 31, 2009

"The Golden Nugget Boat"

So having written about Gladstone, let's look at how Scrooge is portrayed in 1961, when Barks is feeling old and cynical about his flagship character.

Scrooge, of course, is in a sense opposite of Gladstone--while Gladstone never works for anything, Scrooge has always worked for everything (notwithstanding the early, usually-considered-non-canonical story "The Magic Hourglass"). But is this still the case?

So Scrooge is lecturing Donald and Gladstone about how they need to work hard, like he did. Otherwise they'll never amount to anything. Gladstone disagrees, however: good things fall into his lap. For instance, he just today found this handsome boat carved out of a single gold nugget, which he sells to Scrooge.

As the ducks are leaving, a pass to answer questions on a quiz show and win a trip to Alaska hits Gladstone in the face, as these things do. But he throws it away (see previous entry), and Scrooge gets it.

On the quiz show, we get our first glimmer that things may be changing, as Scrooge wins the prize not by answering any actual knowledge questions, but just by telling tall tales about his Klondike days.

"Windy" indeed. His heroic exploits are becoming a quasi-fictional joke. The question of what exactly his legacy means and whether it still has any relevance looms large here. Still, he wins the ticket--only it blows away (and you can no doubt guess who ends up finding it). Rallying against Donald's defeatism, however, he decides that Alaska will be gone to anyway, using bits of Gladstone's gold boat to pay for passage.

Gotta show those young whippersnappers that he still has It (for a different take on this theme, see 1957's "City of Golden Roofs").

In Alaska, there's a contest going on to see who can find the biggest gold nugget--perfect for his purposes. But of course, Gladstone is here too, and he also enters the contest, damn his hide.

Desperate to win and prove himself, Scrooge starts lookin'. But it is proving more difficult than expected, as the place has been picked clean. This is actually my favorite part of the story:

"Winds play a dirge through his whiskers"--that's a nice bit of writing.

This shows that Scrooge still has the work ethic--but is it even relevant anymore? Unfortunately, it appears that it may not be, because he sure ain't finding anything, and Donald and HDL are getting sick of being out in the wilderness. Finally, they hatch a plot: they beat the remains of the gold boat into a nugget and bury it so that Scrooge can find it and they can get back home.

However--quelle surprise--Gladstone arrives at just that moment, and finds the fake nugget (and isn't this a perfect postmodern artifact?) by randomly tossing a pebble.

After failed efforts to recover the nugget from Gladstone, Scrooge comes to the sad, ineffable conclusion.

The reader kind of believes this, too. But! before heading back, he sadly tosses the same pebble with which Gladstone struck gold, and

This makes him happy, obviously--he's come out on top! But has he? He found this tidy fortune by exactly the same means as Gladstone. Their characters seem to be sort of blurring which is hardly a positive thing. I suppose you could argue that in some karmic sense he "earned" the nugget he finds due to having previously tried so dern hard--and that this is why it's so much bigger than Gladstone's (PLEASE GOD let's not have any Freudian readings here). But sadly, I don't think the comic really supports that interpretation. When I read this story as a lad, these issues didn't bother me. They didn't even occur to me--I just enjoyed the neat giant boat that our heroes make out of the giant nugget.

It's a neat bit of symmetry, but from my current, adult perspective, it seems like kind of a hollow victory, from the pen of someone who's become too tired and cynical to really be writing these things anymore, although fortunately, his later stories would to a large extent redeem him. I won't claim to exactly dislike this story, per se, but from a critical perspective, it is a little bit dispiriting.



Blogger Christopher said...

I don't mean to argue with you, but for my money, any victory where you're up a solid gold boat is far from a "hollow victory."

March 26, 2011 at 2:06 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

I dunno--do you find Gladstone winning some random raffle to be an inspiring, life-affirming affirmation of the human spirit? Sure, you'd rather have a golden boat than not have a golden boat, but when the whole point of the story was for Scrooge to show that he's still Got It, this sort of victory really isn't what he needed.

March 26, 2011 at 12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scrooge looks really happy, I’m really glad for him after such tribulation. I remember how relieved I was that had such good fortune. Of course Carl Barks used this plot device before where insufferable Gladstone seems to be the winner but is trumped in the end - Trail of the Unicorn, The Gilded Man - I think there were a few others. Gladstone was kinda like Dr Smith in the original Lost in Space series, as a kid I hated both of them now I see Dr Smith as great foible that propels the adventures of the Robinsons, otherwise it could get boring. Gladstone is a kind of allegory for what could happen to any of us if we were to get our own way all the time and the hell it could easily create for us.

October 9, 2023 at 4:26 AM  

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