Ah, the sweet, familiar melancholy of the end of Christmas. It’s late at night, and the guests have just left, so you’ll forgive me if I’ve nothing much here to say. I should take the week off, and sit down and read my comic books.

A grown man, and I get comic books. One of them was a compilation of Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge stories, which I remember well from childhood. I never bought them, but my Grandma must have picked them up in town for the grandchildren to read when they came over. (I should note that two of the grandchildren lived a few yards away in her son’s house; when Myron got married he built a house on some vacant land, away from the barn and sheds, and raised his family there) I remember a marvelous story about Donald and Unca Scrooge both buying a steam shovel for the triplets, and having an epic fight, Mecha-style, in the middle of Duckburg. There was always something different about a Barks story; they were real stories, and they didn’t talk down to you.

The introduction to the book is by George Lucas, and it is singularly witless.

“The stores are also very cinematic. They have a clear beginning, middle, nd ed, and operate in scenes, unlike many comic strips and books.”

Really? Is that all?

Barks’ stories don’t just move from panel to panel, but flow in sequences, - sometimes several pages long - that lead to new sequences.

Then he gets the characters all wrong:

“Donald Duck and Huey, Dewey, and Louie are all other-oriented, generous, and charitable. While Scrooge is an individualistic miser, the others participate more in the family relationship.”

Donald Duck may be many things, but other-oriented, generous, and charitable are not the first things that come to mind. Peevish, easily riled, prone to belligerence, easy to slight, sentimental. The triplets could be quite mischievous.

More Lucas insights:

“The lure of material things is clearly a main theme throughout all of the Scrooge stories.”

And this gem:

“Sociologists have studied comics s reflections of the society of their times. In addition to the artistic pleasure given by comic stories and drawings such as Carl Barks’s. comic art has something to say about the culture that produces it.”

George Lucas is a deep thinker. He concludes:

“What I think i enjoy most about uncle Scrooge is that he is so American in his attitude. These comics are one of the few things you can point to that say: Like it or not, this is what America is. And it is for just this reason that they are a priceless part of our literary heritage.”

Good. Lord. While it’s true that Scrooge made his fortune during the Alaska gold rush, the qualities of thrift and industriousness and flinty resolve were also associated with the Scots, hence the “Mc” in “McDuck.” His forebears were Scottish.

There is, ho wever, a nifty little five page story that demonstrates a qu ality you find in a wide-open capitalist society where initiative and savvy are rewarded: Scrooge learns, thanks to a gag newspaper Donald made and left for him to see - you know, generous, charitable Donald - that money is worthless, and fish are the new medium of exchange. Dumbstruck, Scrooge reels for a panel or two, then realizes that since his fortune has been wiped out he will have to make another. Through a series of deals, he amasses an enormous amount of fish. But they do not bring the same pleasure as hard currency. Being rich in a fish-based economic system does not bring the same aesthetic pleasures as coins and greenbacks, and since he decides it is better to be happy than to be rich, Scrooge gives his entire fortune to Donald.

You know, Scrooge, the individualistic miser who is not other-oriented.




There have been better Christmases, I’ll say that. Not to say it wasn’t Christmas, which itself is fine and great and good; the family came over and brought lots of French people, and at one point I sat at the head of the table in the Patriarchal throne, looking down at them all over a glass of red, not understanding a word that was being said. Well, a few, but quick conversational French is not my metier. Jasper had a good Christmas, what with all the scraps of pork - this is the only year he’s suffered wearing the reindeer horns all night long.

Christmas Eve we watched “Arthur Christmas,” which is ingenious and smart and hits all the right notes without tumbling into bathos. It should be a Christmas Classic; it has such wonderful Claus-lore backstory, and makes the hellishly creepy North Pole of “Polar Express” look like the empty machine it was. And it makes you love England. O scepter’d isle that has such archetypes in it!

But all these things are over, aren’t they?

Christmas morn gives way to the familial duties of the afternoon, with a trip somewhere else, playing with the cousins, or a visit from the relatives, with those Adult things like the extra leaf in the table, a sure sign that you’ll be stuck with cousins and dessert will be awesome but the day ends with mom and dad washing up. It all peters out. You pass the tree - still lit, as gorgeous as ever, but barren below, its mysteries revealed. Melancholy seeps into the margins of the day; everything you felt before is spent and irretrievable. It has come and it has gone.

The world sheds its magic too easily as Christmas wanes, as though it is anxious to be rid of the responsibility. When everyone leaves at the end of the night they go into a night with little Christmas left. You say “Merry Christmas!” when they come in the door; you say “Good night” when they leave. This is probably why the day after Christmas has such furious Mall activity: everyone wants to fill up the empty places with motion and bargains and practical matters. A week of making the motions, then a secular doppelganger to cleanse the palate, and everything back in the bin.

But right now it’s 14 minutes after Christmas has passed, and the music is trickling from the speakers, and it’s “In the Bleak Midwinter,” one of those songs that somehow snuck into the Christmas canon. It’s not Midwinter yet. It won’t be for a while. But when it comes, and the day is bleak, who thinks of this song? Or Christmas, for that matter?

Ought we not cast our hearts back? Didn’t we all cheer when we learned that Scrooge kept Christmas in his heart all year long?

I stayed away from Twitter most of the Christmas time, because - well, it’s a long story, but something I said in one situation a month or so was printed in a magazine with the context divorced, and duly retweeted by a local “media critic,” and I got lots of You Suck tweets and emails and “man, whatever happened to him?” comments, right before we went to church. Gah. Since we got to church a few minutes late for the 5 o’clock service, there were only two seats up in our accustomed Xmas spot in the balcony. Wife and child went up and I went down to the basement, where there were 200 folding chairs and TV screens.

You know what? I know how this goes. I went to the library and picked out a book about The Symphony and read descriptions of Bruckner’s symphonies, then paged through a book about a man with an old dog. How his dog walked down the stairs with the same sideways hop Jasper has these days. Standing there in a busy library bustling with patrons, people in the hall outside, the sound of the children’s choir downstairs getting ready for the next performance - remembering when Natalie was in the cherub choir with the robes and the big bows, and the smile on her face when we picked her up afterwards because it was Christmas! - and you just feel the accumulation of past wonders, small moments of sheer pure grace, be it your daughter’s smile or your dog running up the stairs and turning around and barking c’mon.

When I was at the Galleria the other day, and there were carolers in Medieval garb, they sang “In the Bleak Midwinter” with heartbreaking purity. People were almost ashamed to clap afterwards, so crass would the sound seem. I can’t think of a song whose quiet confident hope so belies its title. I can’t think of a better Christmas song, really. It isn’t overplayed. It doesn’t jingle. It doesn’t rock. It is a cool hand on a fevered brow. It almost commands you to stop and listen and consider.

Can you think of another Christmas song you wouldn’t mind hearing tonight?

Snapped this just before I went upstairs to upload the Bleat.

Like I said, first year he's kept them on. They almost look like little wings.




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