Donald Duck: Christmas on Bear Mountain, by Carl Barks – The Fantagraphics collections of Barks’s comics go back a bit for this one, which features the first appearance of Scrooge McDuck. Scrooge softened over time, despite always remaining a money-obsessed penny-pincher, and here he’s pretty mean and arbitrary.
He sets up a test for Donald to prove his bravery, which Donald does through pure dumb luck. And no, this story involving Donald and bears does not include Humphrey, who didn’t actually exist until three years later. Other stories in this volume include both fairy mundane set-ups like Donald’s nephews learning to play instruments and Donald being pestered by door-to-door salesmen, while others are adventure tales that visit exotic locales. “Ghost of the Grotto” presents a ghost story that turns out to have a rational explanation. In this one, the Ducks take down a giant octopus with hot peppers, something I can recall also happening on an episode of TaleSpin.
I believe Barks actually did some writing for that show, so it might well have been an intentional homage. “Volcano Valley,” takes place in the nation of Volcanovia, a land full of volcanoes. It also plays somewhat on Mexican stereotypes, with the locals speaking in exaggerated accents and taking long siestas, but the notes on the story are careful to note that “Barks intended nothing in this tale of international high adventure to be culturally derogatory.” I’ll admit that I’ve always kind of liked dialect-related humor, but I’m also quick to point out that people who actually speak in these dialects might well not agree with me, and their opinions likely count more than mine. “Adventure Down Under” is more problematic to modern sensibilities, featuring cannibalistic bushmen speaking in what Craig Fischer terms “ooga-booga patois.” That said, it’s interesting to note that the bushmen are drawn as fully human, rather than having animal features like most of the people in these comics. It also touches on the issue of ducks being people while other birds can be freely eaten.
Grandma Duck appears in one story and is mentioned in a few others as the nephews’ grandmother.
Don Rosa would later retcon her as Donald’s grandmother, the mother of Donald’s father Quackmore.
The BFG, by Roald Dahl – This is a children’s classic that I didn’t get around to reading until adulthood. I think my remember my sister reading it and saying I’d like it, but for some reason it took me a while before checking it out. In this work by perhaps the most famous author whose name looks like it’s missing a letter, a girl named Sophie is captured by a giant, but it turns out he’s the only giant who doesn’t even people. Instead, he lives on a repulsive vegetable called the snozzcumber, the only thing that will grow in the giants’ country. “BFG” here stands for “Big Friendly Giant,” not for what it does in the Doom games. Dahl has a lot of fun with language, including a series of puns on how the inhabitants of different countries taste to the man-eating giants: Turks taste like turkey, the Welsh like fish, Panamanians of hats, and Greeks (the only people giants won’t eat) of grease. There’s also humor in the mixed-up way the giant talks, including referring to Charles Dickens as “Dahl’s Chickens.” The word “scrumdiddlyumptious,” which most people know through the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie, is actually used by the BFG in this book; it doesn’t appear at all in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The snozzberries that Willy Wonka mentions in the film might have been inspired by snozzcumbers, but let’s hope they taste better! The BFG’s job is to blow dreams into people’s windows, and he and Sophie use this ability to alert the Queen of England to the man-eating giants. Eventually they’re all defeated, and the BFG becomes a respected British citizen. Oh, and there’s also flatulence humor. Overall, it holds up quite well. The Sultan of Baghdad saying, “We are chopping off people’s heads like you are chopping parsley” might not hold up so well, but that’s just a throwaway line anyway. It appears that there’s a film of this book in pre-production; we’ll have to see if it ever gets made, and if so whether it’s any good. It’s a pretty short book, but not as short as Dr. Seuss’s works, and those have been made into feature-length movies.