Thursday, March 24, 2011

"The Salmon Derby"

Thanks to DCR reader My Dad for donating money to Japan. He asked me to write about the Barks ten-pager known as "The Salmon Derby," partially because he's a rather fanatical fisherman, and partially because, well…he remembered it. A scientific study (scientific study's sample size: me, my brothers, my dad) indicates that even if they don't remember the particulars of this story, everyone nonetheless recalls the concluding panel.

It's a fairly satisfying Donald vs. Gladstone story from 1954. As you can see, it posits that Donald is constantly obsessed with Gladstone, even when he's nowhere around--a supposition that numerous other stories would seem to contradict. Well, maybe we can assume that he had had a negative encounter with the gander just prior to this story, and thus has him on the brain (their previous on-panel encounter, in "Raffle Reversal," was typically fractious).

So now Donald can win stuff, maybe! I merely want to note here that ten dollars is a fair chunk of change in this setting--remember "Ten-Dollar Dither?"

...but we never learn what second prize is, an omission that will haunt me to my grave. What comes between a boat and a luxury car, value-wise?

Well, yes, Donald, but there's still the pesky element of skill involved. You are acting as though, sans Gladstone, winning is a fait accompli, which strikes me as an odd assumption.

...see previous. If you'll "never get another break like this," then I think you are in substantial trouble.

I looked up salmon weight records to see whether the weights this story are concordant with reality. Apparently, chinook salmon can reach a hundred thirty pounds, so we're safely within the realm of the plausible.

A nicely-rendered fish. That's really all I have to say about that.

But then...fuckin' Gladstone. It strikes me as odd that he's "come a thousand miles" for this contest. That sounds to me very much akin to work, and we all know his feelings on that subject. Beyond that, his supercilious manner of referring to the ticket taker as "chum" and "my good fellow" is good characterization. We're meant to hate the guy and--mirabile dictu!--we do.

He was willing to travel one thousand miles to win a car he doesn't care about just to piss off Donald. If that's not sociopathic behavior, I don't know what is.

No need to go through the whole story; suffice it to say, the usual bullshit luck manifests itself and Gladstone wins (although shouldn't you have to actually catch the fish for it to count?). That's a nicely emphatic series of sound effects there. BLAM! THUNK! CHUNK! And just like that, Gladstone's luck comes out of nowhere just to be a dick.

When you think about it, in spite of his luck, Gladstone rarely if ever actually wins out over Donald. Sometimes they both lose. Sometimes Donald wins. Sometimes they both win--as in the deus-ex-machina-ish endings to "Luck of the North" and "The Gilded Man." He does win by losing, occasionally ("The Easter Election"). But actually beating Donald in a competition and having this victory "stick?" Not too common. Which is good, because, while our frequent uncertainty about whether or not Donald will "win" or "lose" is part of the character's appeal, nobody wants Gladstone to win, ever. Donald inadvertently saves Rich Uncle Pennybags' daughter, and Gladstone is shamed by the size of Donald's, ahem, car. His huge, thrusting car. Apparently, he purchased it at some sort of all-night car-dealership. Would my first move on getting a sudden, unexpected financial windfall be to blow it all on the biggest car I could find, complete with chauffeur (who, one has to imagine, I wouldn't be able to afford to employ for long)? Unlikely. But if it were a matter of showing up some fucking gander, I might consider it. It's certainly a pleasing image to go out on.

Fact remains, though, that Barks is required to make Gladstone's luck incomplete. Here, it's narrowly focused exclusively on the contest, even though in this instance, winning the contest wasn't really the way to go. If his luck had really held out, he could have both won the contest and saved the girl. And the ending of the story seems to represent a sort of finish-line: okay, Donald is ahead at this moment; therefore, Gladstone has to concede defeat. If he didn't why wouldn't he be just as cocky as he was at the start? Why wouldn't he assume that his luck would just reassert itself soon enough? But nope--not happening. Remember "The Golden Nugget Boat," in which Gladstone is beating Scrooge in the nugget-finding contest until Barks preêmptorily decides, nope--now, for the purposes of ending this story on a high note, Scrooge is the lucky one? It's less obvious in other stories, but really, that's the same thing that happens in any story in which Gladstone ends up displeased and Donald happy.

And a good thing it is, as an omnipotently-lucky Gladstone would be a terrifying creature indeed, and would preclude fun stories like this one.



Blogger Christopher said...

So, does this first panel prove that in the Barksverse; Duckburg, Calisota is one thousand miles away from Puget Sound?

March 26, 2011 at 5:03 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Seems probable, unless Gladstone was already on some sort of vacation when he heard wind of this here derby.

March 26, 2011 at 5:09 PM  

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