Sunday, July 29, 2012

A meditation on "Back to the Klondike"

I was eager to sample Fantagraphics' new entry in their Carl Barks library: Uncle Scrooge: "Only a Poor Old Man". It contains the first six issues' worth of Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge. Although I had already read the titular "Old a Poor Old Man," one story I was especially interested in sampling was "Back to the Klondike," a story which delves into some of Scrooge McDuck's past as he created his incalculable fortune.

The actual plot of "Back to the Klondike" involves Scrooge suddenly recalling he has a fortune in gold buried in the Klondike, so he hurries up north with Donald, Huey, Dewey & Louie to unearth the riches. The major complication in this tale is Goldie, a woman who once tried to steal Scrooge's gold and is now squatting on his one-time gold mine with her pet bear.

I understand there's a lot of interest in Goldie amongst Barks enthusiasts; apparently some fans consider her "the woman" of Scrooge's life (just as some fans consider Irene Adler "the woman" to Sherlock Holmes or Rebecca "the woman" to Wilfred of Ivanhoe). What I found most interesting about Goldie is a brief moment from the flashback scenes in "Back to the Klondike."

Goldie is introduced as a singer in the Black Jack Ballroom who takes a gander at Scrooge's goose egg nugget and forces her attentions on him, even though he has little interest in her (Goldie opens by offering coffee; presumably Scrooge accepts only because he won't turn down free refreshments). After learning about Scrooge's valuable claim, Goldie drugs Scrooge's coffee and steals all of his gold. Scrooge revives "six miles from town" and storms back to the Black Jack Ballroom, brutally pummels every man in his path, then reclaims his large gold nugget from Goldie. However, as the rest of his gold is gone, Scrooge demands Goldie write out an IOU for $1,000.

Even after obtaining the IOU, Scrooge isn't done with Goldie; he drags her out to his claim and forces her to work on his gold mine, declaring, "You're going to learn how hard a miner works for his gold!" Goldie works on Scrooge's mine for a month at just $0.50 per day. At the end of the month, Scrooge pays her off, but she throws the money in his face and storms off. "I dug more gold than you did, you tightwad!" she rages.

The difference in Scrooge & Goldie's reactions to valuables, crimes, rights and wrongs is what I find most interesting. Scrooge, for all his miserly ways, obeys the letter of the law (especially when it's to his advantage). He promises Goldie $0.50 per day and he pays her just so. Goldie, however, believes her work was worth more than what he promised as recompense; her pride won't accept it. Contrast this with the earlier gold theft: then, Scrooge is entirely a hapless victim (although his explosive reaction after the theft is probably partially enhanced by earlier attempted thefts of his gold, mentioned in passing); Goldie is completely in the wrong, robbing an innocent man. Thus, Scrooge will use the letter of the law to take advantage of others, but won't tolerate being anyone's sucker. Goldie thinks nothing of cheating someone of their property, yet she bristles at the notion of being cheated. The qualities Goldie hates most about Scrooge are those qualities she has in abundance in herself.

Say, perhaps there is something to Goldie as Scrooge's "woman?"


Anonymous said...

Never heard of Goldie, but my heart always beats a bit faster when I see Uncle Scrooge, he was such a big part of my childhood :)

Michael Hoskin said...

Miguel, it sounds like you'd do well to seek out Fantgraphics' first Uncle Scrooge collection! "Back to the Klondike" and the other exceptional tales contained therein are a delight for even casual Duck fans (re: me).