Sunday, December 23, 2012

"Donald Duck and the Christmas Carol"

And now, we begin our survey of Disney takes on Charles Dickens' classic Christmas Carol, which has been retold so often that it's one of those uncommon literary works that pretty much everyone knows, at least in outline.  I know I do; in addition to reading the original, I've seen a shitload of theatrical adaptations--so many in fact that I was kind of sick of it for a while, but that was some time ago, and now I'm raring to go again.  So let's do this thing.

We start with a first (and, presumably, last) for this blog, by covering…this.

That's right: it's a Little Golden Book.  From 1960.  Featuring ducks!  And, of course, illustrated by a slumming Carl Barks!  I was extremely keen to check this out, not for the story, of course, but hey--Barks artwork I'd never seen.  You gotta be interested in that.  It hasn't been reprinted in the US in any easily-accessible form, but I found a copy of the original book on ebay fer cheap, so here we are.

Now, the fact is, Little Golden Books are aimed at very small children.  Therefore, there's not much point in attacking them for being overly simplistic; they are what they are (though I would like to note that when I was a very small child, my father read to me the actual Christmas Carol, which probably is indicative of something about me).  However, I think there is a very strong argument to be made that there was simply no good way to tell a version of this story that is twenty-two pages long, with fifty words to a page on the outside.  I mean, not that someone probably couldn't have done better than Annie North Bedford did, but still…per wikipedia, this is a pseudonym for LGB editor Jane Werner, and frankly, you can see why one would not want to be associated with this.  

"Hughie."  Yup, things are shaping up quite nicely here.  It will also be noted that HDL refer to Donald and Scrooge as "Uncle."  Given that the book claims to have been "prepared under the supervision of The Walt Disney Studio," you'd think they could've gotten something that easy right.

And see here's the thing: the necessary compression to fit the story in the allotted space means that Scrooge comes across here as not so much "miserly" as kind of insane: "well, I was going to ask you to participate in my weird Faulknerian fantasy scenario, but now that I see you have presents, screw you!  I'm outta here!"  Right, then.  I'll also note that it would've been super easy to have him trying to get their help in something less wildly out-of-character than burying money at a farm.  Given that this was published in 1960, I don't think a passing familiarity with the central character is too much to ask.

The art.  Well, it's not Barks' greatest effort--he was clearly at his best in a comic medium; I personally am not all that enamored of his paintings either--but the above image is nothing if not iconic, at least in part for how closely it mimics a well-known comic panel…

The "redemption" bit is also, of course, massively truncated: no Jacob Marley, and all three ghosts are done in seven pages total.  I suppose, to some extent, you have to admire the ruthless efficiency.  There are not nephew-looking ghosts, either; these are actually the nephews themselves in disguise, which…I dunno.  I suppose without the context Marley provides, it would seem a bit arbitrary to have actual ghosts appear, but this is still pretty lacking.  Maybe there was some prohibition against supernatural elements in Little Golden Books.  Or maybe it was just desired that Donald and the kids play a more active role here.  Or, maybe it was just easiest--the path of least resistance.  Whee.

Why the Ghost of Christmas Present there seems to be trying to look like some kind of sinister ninja, I don't know.  And let me say: this is only one of many ways this whole venture just does not work.  Scrooge's redemption in the original isn't psychologically realistic, but it's such that we're willing and able to buy it (I'll have more to say on this in a later entry).  But here, it's just farcical.

IS YOUR HEART WARMED?  IT IS NOT, AND THAT IS BECAUSE THE STORY HAS NOT LAID SUFFICIENT GROUNDWORK TO MANDATE WARMING.  Dammit.  If you were going to write a term paper about the meaning of McLuhan's well-known dictum, you could do worse than using this book as an example.  Download it here if you want to check out the Barks art, but I don't think you're likely to find the experience in general hugely edifying.

Tomorrow, yer gonna wanna set yer browser to the sadly-neglected Duck Cartoons Revue, where we're gonna take a look at Disney's attempt to tell the story in animated form.

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Anonymous Elaine said...

Now, if the photos in the photo album (shown to Scrooge by the nephew-qua-Spirit of Christmas Past) were of Scrooge's childhood in Scotland, with his parents and Matilda and Hortense, I'd be more convinced that he would be moved. And I'd personally love to see flashback scenes of the family in Scotland celebrating Christmas! But no, the photos are of baby Donald (which doesn't fit with my Rosa-continuity, of course, according to which Scrooge and Hortense were seriously at odds when Donald was a wee tyke, but I can't fault LGB for that) and--worse--of baby Daisy! LGB disseminating the false idea that Daisy is a relative! I know some fans think this is the case, but they are wrong, wrong, wrong! Though I do wish them all a merry Christmas, nonetheless.

December 23, 2012 at 6:28 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

...though actually, 19th-century Scots wouldn't have celebrated Christmas at home, would they? The Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) discouraged Christmas festivities. The photos would have to be of Hogmanay.

December 23, 2012 at 6:47 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Then again, working-class people in the late 19th century wouldn't have had cameras to take photos of themselves at home, so it's all moot. :)

December 23, 2012 at 7:37 PM  
Blogger Chris Barat said...


I don't know... I think that the Nephew of Christmas Present looks sort of cute. Of course, "cuteness" is not an attribute commonly associated with these particular manifestations of the spirit world.

It looks to me as though those are HUMANS in the background of the "iconic" picture of Scrooge striding through the snow. Maybe we can write off this disappointing effort as having taken place in the QUACK PACK universe?


December 23, 2012 at 8:54 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Now, really, folks…

If anyone other than Barks drew the illustrations to this 1960 “Little Golden Book”, would we even be having this discussion?

The entire MINDSET of grand sweeping Duck history and continuity, that we (myself certainly included) cling to and spew forth in all manner of ways, did not even EXIST at the time (except perhaps in Mr. Barks’ own mind, simply because he was such a consummate storyteller). Not until WE FANS began stringing it together and found that it forms a reasonably comprehensive whole that Don Rosa would later carry to new heights.

It’s tough enough to reconcile all those early Duck relatives like “Cousin Botcho” (anyone remember him?), and later ones like “Uncle Rumpus”, without opening the floor to the contents of “Little Golden Books”. Bah, Humbug! …And, who’s “Hughie”?

Merry Christmas to All, and To All a Good Night… even “Hughie”!

December 23, 2012 at 9:58 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Pretty sure Elaine wasn't literally suggesting that the author of this Little Golden Book should have used her time-travelling powers to see into the future and thence hew to Rosan chronology :p Just a bit of holiday fun!

December 23, 2012 at 11:36 PM  
Blogger Joe Torcivia said...

Of course not, Geo and Elaine! It’s all in “fun, fun, fun”, as the great Fritz (“popping sound”) Feld once said on Lost in Space! BTW, I love the idea that Barks worked in a variation on his Klondike Scrooge into this Christmas tale! …On, Goldie… On, Dancer… On, Donner and Blitzen!

December 24, 2012 at 12:16 AM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Yup, I actually did *say* that I don't fault the author for not coordinating with Rosa's L&T! :-)But I do think that even in 1960, there was no excuse for representing little Daisy as a member of McDuck's family. Not to mention suggesting that Scrooge would have given little Daisy a *doll*! As opposed to, say, a marble. This book actually would have made me laugh if Scrooge had looked at a photo in the album and said, "Oh look, there's Donald when he was a little kid, playing with the marble I gave him." I like the idea of Scrooge carrying on that Christmas tradition through the generations.

December 24, 2012 at 9:37 AM  
Anonymous Duckfan said...

About the illustrations: these were painted by Norm McGary after Barks drew them, which is why they don't look entirely Barksian. Look him up on Inducks, he made some pretty awesome covers.

December 27, 2012 at 11:57 AM  
Blogger gl said...

About the "Hughie" thing, it appears that Jane Werner misspelled the name that way in every Golden Book she wrote.

April 5, 2018 at 11:40 AM  
Blogger Shamus said...

great Barks art. Love it!

December 20, 2021 at 1:55 PM  

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