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In Old California

In Old California is a Donald Duck comic strip story written by Carl Barks in May, 1951. On a tour through California, Donald and his nephews suffer a car accident. When they come to, they discover they have travelled to the California of 1848.

Plot

Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers

Donald and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie are on a holiday in California, heading to Los Angeles, but decide to leave the highway to avoid the heavy traffic. They take a small narrow road that seems deserted and start discussing California's history while sight-seeing. Donald seems to believe that the turning point in California's history was the Californian Gold Rush. Donald gets momentarily distracted from keeping his eyes on the road and misses a turn. Their car crashes in a rock besides the road.

They awake as visitors of a local tribe of Native Americans that offer to help them recover. The exhausted Ducks are offered a drink. That sets them to sleep. When they recover they find themselves in the California of 1848. They soon manage to befriend a local Spanish-speaking family, owners of a cattle ranch, and the workers of the ranch. As visitors they both observe the family's life and try to help with the family problems. They visit the San Francisco of the age and acquire lands cheaply, but soon they are swindled out of them by American settlers. Then they get involved in the Gold Rush and as goldminers partner with a friend from the rush. The Ducks do the digging, his fists and guns make sure than nobody swindles them out of their gold.

After their friend departs the Ducks start to feel that their environment starts fading and that all their acquaintances from this era seem suddenly distant memories. Then they truly awake. They were in a hospital bed for weeks. The drink they had kept them sleeping for this long. The Ducks receive their repaired car and continue on their way. But they do make a stop first at an abandoned old house where they had stayed as visitors in 1848. They admit that they don't know if it was all a dream, if they really lived all those experiences, but choose to keep the memory of Old California.

Analysis

The story is notably influenced by old Westerns, a genre that Barks enjoyed although he occasionally parodied its conventions. The theme of escapism is evident here and the Ducks are quite aware of it as they escape from their modern settings to an era that appeals to them more, despite its dangers. They return to their present refreshed from their experiences, even if they are not sure if they lived them or if they where dreams. As in other Barks stories the borders between the mythical past and the present are not clear, and dream and reality are not easy to tell apart. A nostalgia for the past evident in other Barks stories is dominant here.

Considered one of Bark's most refreshing stories, with the highest level of escapism.



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