Friday, March 20, 2020

"The Prize of Pizarro"

Hi all. Hope you're staying safe out there. When I'm forced by viruses to remain inside, I sometimes like to read Disney stories (also watch operas, but that's a given). And when I do that, I sometimes feel the urge to write about those selfsame Disney stories. And sometimes those stories are classic Carl Barks adventure tales., are you enthralled by this gripping chain of events? Would you like to hear more?

Anyway, I got kind of carried away and this entry ended up way longer than I thought it would, and I keep thinking of new things that would complicate my analysis.  But at a certain point, you have to just declare an article done, so I'm gonna leave it to you guys to make whatever objections you want to make.  Sit back and enjoy, or at least tolerate!

For my money, by far the most interesting thing here is the first part, with Scrooge feeling civic-minded for once. I've often either said or at least thought that, if he was always the way he's sometimes depicted--you know, the way he is in almost every Don Rosa story--he would just be totally intolerable to deal with. There have to be lighter moments! And here's a shining example of that. Look how he doesn't evince the slightest buyer's remorse here! He just did something nice in a totally selfless way, and he's happy about it. Well you might say: well, yeah, but that's mainly because Barks was, at this point, not super-concerned with consistency. This story was published in 1959, 'round about the time he wrote a story where Duckburg is a futuristic space-city. And, yeah, okay, fair enough, I don't really think that Barks just sat down one day and thought, okay, now I shall depict Scrooge in this way to give his character additional nuance. But the thing is, that doesn't matter, because regardless of his motives, he does it well. Sometimes when a character is depicted inconsistently, it just looks like bad writing, but here, it's all totally believable.

Though I have to say, I do sort of want to shout "IT BELONGS IN A MUSEUM!" here. Can you even imagine in what fast order a thousand greasy kids tearing through the ship are going to degrade it? Doesn't bear thinking about.

Dig that classic example of characters identifying themselves for no reason. That's our Barks!

How charming is this? Seriously, we know Scrooge is all about the money, but he doesn't necessarily always have to be all all about the money. Things like this also make it easier to forgive his more obnoxious moments.

Well, yes, obviously Scrooge knows Spanish, but you'd think there would at least be some sort of mention of the fact. And just think: if there had been a throwaway "I learned Spanish when..." line, we might have a whole 'nother Don Rosa story! I guess it's just such a common language that Barks saw no need to comment on it. It's interesting the way the story acknowledges yet also has to dance around the fact that the message was written by a dying man. I guess the fact that Barks had the instincts necessary to pull this off is part of what makes his stories succeed.

Pretty abrupt transition, but it's fine. Barks clearly knew how to budget his alotted page count. I want to call attention to that bottom right panel on account of it's awesome. I wish it were bigger, but even at that size, you get a real sense of space. The suspension bridge down there lets you trace their progress from the lower to higher elevation, and that river down there shows you just how high up they are. I could look at this image all day...and I just might. Not like there's anything BETTER to do these days.

GOOD LORD, MAN. How those children did not fall to their deaths I'll never know. Lucky for Scrooge and Donald that there are apparently no child-endangerment laws in their world. The idea that Scrooge is only reading bits and pieces of the letter at a time is both funny and also--god, I'm getting old--wildly irresponsible.

Though, in fairness, his irresponsibility is equal-opportunity, as likely to get himself killed as anyone else.

I like the llama. It's cute, although it looks kind of like a Doctor Seuss character--if you don't look closely, it's easy to think it's got three legs on each side. I do wonder, though: what is the status of these llamas? Are they tame, or not? Is this guy just somehow going to know to return to the llama rental center, or was it just temporarily domesticated for the occasion, and now it's going to roam free? I need answers, dammit!

Okay, I have something to say about this. Here's what you might expect me to say: that it's a blind spot on Scrooge's part not to realize that this stuff would be very valuable too, even if it's not gold. And I will say that! But I'll go further: I think this stuff is much more interesting than the gold. Gold is valuable, sure, but the kind of gold they're looking's just gold--whereas this stuff has actual historical interest to it. It would be one thing if we were talking about gold that had been modeled into sculptures by Incan artisans, but it's not: it's just gold. Of course, Scrooge isn't alone in thinking that gold itself is the important thing, end of story: we know about actual Spanish invaders melting down Incan artifacts into ingots because they could not have cared less about Incan culture (at least, I assume we do. That's a story I heard somewhere. I haven't checked it. I assume it's true). Still, I will always find actual cultural artifacts more interesting than something that's just a dead mineral, and I have to imagine that's true for most readers. It is, however, possible to imagine Scrooge being myopic in this way, and so even though I'm sure it's not what Barks intended, I'd say it works. You'd think at least the kids would be more interested in the history, though.

These Incas play a pretty large role in the story, but I'm not quite sure what to think about them. It's good that they're not depicted as racial stereotypes, though I think that might be more because we (at least in the US) don't really have many stereotypes about indigenous South Americans. We might suggest that these guys are stuck in a liminal space here: they're trying to carry on the traditions of their ancestors, but there's a lot of anachronistic dialogue ("four hundred years since the emperor even sent a greeting card to these diggings!") which suggests a mode modern outlook. Their frustration comes from the tension between these two modes of living.

What do we make of the fact that the ducks are never even aware of their existence? Well, on one level it's clearly just something Barks thought would be funny, but "one level" is rarely all you get with him. We could see it as emphasizing what I said earlier: these guys are like ghosts, living out of time, and thus the modern-day ducks never interact with them. If we wanted to be confrontational about it, we could suggest that the problem is that the actually people who lived here are totally irrelevant to them: a kind of colonial erasure. It doesn't have to be just one thing. It could be a mixture. In Barks' defense, the fact that the mechanisms of their society are shown in such detail indicates that he wasn't actually dismissing them entirely the way a lesser author might. It's a tension we probably don't need to resolve! Which is good, because we probably can't.

Hey, here's the ol' Spanish! But, um, I kind of hate to say it, but this idea--"we should wear these old conquistador outfits up to the mines like Pizarro's men did four hundred years ago!--gives some extremely powerful ammunition to the Dorfmans and Mattelarts in the audience. "Let's specifically follow in the footsteps of the colonialist cultural despoilers!"  I mean, you can easily connect this to the play-acting the ducks were doing on the ship earlier and think of it all as just a lark, and yet...this is real on some level, as much as we might like to unreflectively pretend otherwise.  Yes, there's an aspect of "first time as tragedy, second time as farce," and yes, you can object that Barks just included this to make room for hijinx later on, but damn, man.  This is what happens when different aspects of a story are in tension with one another.  As I said above, things can be more than one thing, but if you want to view this story sympathetically, it really does not pay to spend too much time thinking about this.

Okay, abruptly changing the subject! That is a rad-ass image. Really gives a sense of the scope of the place. But...I have no idea what that dialogue means. What the hell is a "fur-cornered layout?" I thought maybe "fur-cornered" was just an old-fashioned term I hadn't heard, but a google search clearly shows that that isn't true--you just get a handful of weird German results. If you have the answer, please explain it to me.

I dunno: could we find something to say about this? Highly advanced societies nonetheless being totally unable to compete with the innovations of the invaders--the guns and horses? Well...I don't know. As loathe as I am to declare a cigar just a cigar, this may well just be a series of jokes about ducks being short. I mean, regardless of their technology, if they were regular-sized humans, they'd definitely be...hmmm, what's the word...?

I'm sure it'll come to me. But the point is, the ducks have an advantage here over their predecessors. But what does this mean? Does it "mean" anything significant? Well, I know this is a bit of a tangent, but let us to turn to this article by Lonnie McAllister, which appears in the issue of U$A in Color where I read this. McAllister writes:

The nephews; appearance in Spanish armor, graceful on Pizarro but ludicrous on waterfowl, becoes the focus of a series of gags about the size and valor of modern men. Again it seems that we have lost something from the Golden Age, turning pastoral into farce.

So this is fine as far as it goes, but to my mind, there is one really big problem with McAllister's analysis, and that is the fact that she totally ignores the historical reality of the situation. This thing about the "pastoral" (which he defines as "a timeless natural world that shuts out modern civilization") just looks grotesque when you consider the grim history of this sort of colonialism. Any analysis, even an inadequate one like this blog entry, has to grapple with it on some level. Now, someone might retort, hey, you're the one compulsively dragging politics into everything. Barks doesn't want to deal with this stuff, and hence McAllister doesn't either. But that's the thing, innit? You may not care about politics, but politics cares about you. Hey, I'm not saying that we can't have fun with the story; that we have to view it as part of some grim dialectic between capitalism and colonial exploitation. It's a fun story! But if you ask me, you're doing Barks a disservice by pretending these issues don't exist. He is far more interesting and problematic and slippery than is dreamt of in your philosophy, Lonnie (I should say, as a disclaimer, that I have nothing against McAllister and I don't think her points about this story are totally invalid, besides which, the essay is actually about a handful of other stories as well, which are less fraught and about which she makes good points. If you're reading this, feel free to friend me on facebook!).

Anyway. What was I saying?

Oh yeah, that's the word I was looking for.

Aside from the beginning, this is definitely the best thing in the story. I clearly remember noting this while reading the story as a child: "slamscraggle" is a truly outstanding word, and the fact that it hasn't entered the common vernacular is a grave injustice. I can find only two(2) examples on the internet. The first is from a post from 1999 on a technology investment forum: "It seems that Globalstar will fly over Europe later this year and slamscraggle terrestrial service providers." The second is a post from a hockey forum from 2005: "Both teams are going to be SLAMSCRAGGLED by the CANOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOCKS!" Good enthusiasm. Both of these people had clearly deeply internalized this story, to just stick the word there like it was nothing. I strongly recommend you do the same, trying to find opportunities to use it in your daily life. Also, for those of you who have read this story in other languages, how did they translate it? Did they make it sound as good as it does in English?

I don't really have much to say about this part of the story. It is interesting that, in contrast with treasure hunts past, Barks does almost nothing to depict the actual putative goal of the hunt. The gold is irrelevant in itself. Compare to "The Mines of King Solomon" and the difference is extremely apparent.

Yeah, this is just something that makes me raise an eyebrow: Donald got blasted all the way to the other side, but then in the next panel he's just back like nothing happened? That looks like a really long way, but apparently it's not? Hard to say.

Very anti-climactic ending for these guys--I distinctly remember feeling that way reading this story as a kid also.

Ending similar to "The Twenty-Four Karat Moon"--you've done all this work, and now the gold's here, and yet somehow, it no longer appeals the way it did in the beginning. Does this mean the entire world market in gold is way down? This seems like it could have financial repercussions beyond Scrooge getting sued or whatever.

So yes, we are done here. I have oft commented on Barks' frequent difficulty with endings, and here we just get this thing about not checking other people's mail, which seems to be irrelevant to the story's main point: if you're gonna end a story with a joke like that, it ought to in some way relate to the story's dang themes!

Anyway, great story in all. I hope me running my mouth about colonialism and whatnot didn't create the impression that I somehow feel otherwise.



Blogger Pan Miluś said...

The urge to mention this story was influance on "Indiana Jones" is to powerfull... can't... resist...

March 20, 2020 at 5:17 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

I've always told myself that most of the guards are happy to be released from their very boring job and will get more out of life down in Cuzco, once they adjust to the fact that there is no emperor.

On "fur-cornered": I went on past all the German to the second page of Googled hits, and found a review on "" which includes the following lines: "She rolls words out of her mouth like soft balls of fur. There's a lot of this fur-cornered softness on the album, that yielding melt that belongs to bossa nova." Despite the extreme oddness of that initial metaphor (did the writer ever encounter a cat?), the reviewer's use of "fur-cornered" sounds as though she thinks it's an actual word.

March 20, 2020 at 5:19 PM  
Anonymous Elaine said...

Ah--it is possible that old-fashioned, analogue scholarship has won the day. In my American Heritage Dictionary, definiton #9 of "fur" is "Building Trades. to apply furring to (a wall, ceiling, etc.)." Definition #4 of "furring": "Building Trades. a. the attaching of strips of wood or the like (furring strips) to a wall or other surface, as to provide an even support for lath or to provide an air space between the wall and plasterwork. b. material used for this purpose." The Shorter OED has as definition #3 of "furring": "a. Shipbuilding. (A piece of timber used in) the action or process of double planking a ship's side. b. Carpentry. The fixing of timber strips to uneven joists etc. to make a plane surface." I don't immediately get what it would mean for a carpenter to fur a corner, but this seems more likely to apply to corners than "fur" in its usual sense. Though the reviewer whose hairball compliment is cited above seemed to think the word had to do with actual fur: luxury as softness, rather than its more probable origin, luxury as excellent carpentry.

March 21, 2020 at 8:52 AM  
Blogger Jeffyo said...

I've always thought that the word "fur" here is nothing more than a dialect form of "far." As in fur-flung. The same kind of dialect Scrooge would have heard and used as a sourdough on the banks of White Agony Creek.

March 21, 2020 at 9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always assumed that "fur-cornered" was a melding of "fur-lined" (for luxuriousness) with "four-cornered." Also I should point out that Lonnie McAllister is a she rather than a he, but at least you get points for not using "they" as a gender-neutral single pronoun.
—G. Blum

March 21, 2020 at 1:10 PM  
Blogger Jeffyo said...

"They" in place of he or she may be gaining in currency, but IMO it still looks awful in print.

March 21, 2020 at 1:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your support. I was half expecting to get called out as a dirty sexist.
—G. Blum

March 21, 2020 at 1:57 PM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. said...

Oops. Apologies to Ms McAllister--it did vaguely occur to me as I was writing that I wasn't sure of the gender, but I just generally think of "Lonnie" as a male name, so there we were. I've corrected the entry. But I'm afraid I'm going to quickly lose those points I just got, because I'm a big fan of singular "they." It's the wave of the future! You cannot escape it!

March 21, 2020 at 1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to mention losing points for just having split an infinitive ("to quickly lose"). RESIST THE FUTURE!
—G. Blum

March 21, 2020 at 2:11 PM  
Blogger Achille Talon said...

I'm neither an active fan of the singular "they" as such, nor against its use, personally. The thing is that it's terrifically useful to have a gender-neutral pronoun applicable to individuals, and that while "they" takes a little while to get used to, the made-up alternatives like "ze" are significantly sillier and more off-putting.

And with all due respect, Mr Blum, I am told (by Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue, and more recently by Wikipedia at that the prohibition on split infinitive is a 19th-century invention. Not to say that unsplit don't have a tendency significantly to slap. But it is they who are the conspicuous affectation in most cases.

Anyway. About the story… the French translation renders "scramscraggle" as "écrabouiller", which is a fun, picturesque word to be sure, but a much more common one than "scramscraggle".

March 22, 2020 at 9:56 AM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. said...

My feeling is that if a language has "rules" that a native speaker doesn't naturally internalize in the course of acquiring it, those "rules" are spurious. In English, splitting infinitives, ending sentences in prepositions, and some thing with whether to use "that" or "which" in relative clauses which is so unintuitive I can't even articulate it. The sole English-language exception to this is the prohibition on using "me" as a subject pronoun ("Me and Geoff argued about grammar"). EVERYBODY botches this on occasion when they're not thinking about it, teachers have to constantly correct it, there's no good reason for it. You wouldn't say "Je et Geoff" in French. But it HAS been so universally internalized that you have no choice but consistently do it if you want to come across as literate. We've just gotta accept it at this point. But otherwise, I have no use for made-up rules.

Singular "they" is fine, and it's time to explode the myth that it's somehow "new"--the first attested usage is from 1375. It's just a natural thing that makes sense to people. Whenever you hear people objecting to usage on "logical" grounds--"they" is plural, so how can use it to refer to just one person?--I have to call bullshit--languages, at least natural languages, are not logical constructs. Anyway, we seem to get along fine with using "you" in both the singular and plural (not that I wouldn't be in favor of bringing back "thou" and "thee," just for fun), so what's the big deal? Though the "problem" would be moot if, like Indonesian (and presumably other languages, but that's the one I've studied), we had a gender-neutral third-person-singular pronoun ("dia").

March 22, 2020 at 6:27 PM  
Anonymous TTL TTLR said...

Hey, GeoX, you have GOT to be back on this blog on Carl Barks's birthday! In the country I'm currently residing in, it's already March 27! Oh, and remember to celebrate this blog's 11th anniversary, OK! I hope you are healthy and not infected with that COVID-19 thing. I wish you all good luck! Wow, it has been such a good time on this blog for more than two years (I have, as long as I can currently remember, reading this blog from at least December 8, 2017, and have been liking it REALLY much ever since!). Yes, what said is ALL true, everyone! And now, I'm back to read this blog and try to do it even frequently than before!

March 27, 2020 at 1:33 PM  
Blogger Jeffyo said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 27, 2020 at 6:45 PM  
Anonymous Christina said...

Are we sure it's not just a typo for "four-cornered"?

March 28, 2020 at 5:27 PM  
Blogger Miguel Madeira said...

"Also, for those of you who have read this story in other languages, how did they translate it? Did they make it sound as good as it does in English?"

In Portuguese, "esmagar" ("Ah! O nosso quebra-crânio rugidor vai esmagar os invasores") - nothing special.

March 28, 2020 at 6:25 PM  
Blogger Þorgrímur Kári said...

I just looked at the Icelandic version of the story. Despite Icelandic being a a language famously prone to obscure neologisms, the word "slamscraggle" is not translated. Instead, the Inca leader just gloats that "They shall not escape alive from the Bone-Breaker Bridge!"

March 28, 2020 at 8:48 PM  
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