On Donald Duck's 89th birthday, here's a look at an early story that took him (and Huey, Dewey and Louie) on a strange quest for...square eggs.
CARL BARKS' Lost In The Andes (1949) begins with Donald Duck working as the fourth assistant janitor at the Natural History Museum. He's been tasked this morning with polishing the museum's collection of rocks and stones. In particular, he has to focus on a few specimens from Peru that date to the Inca period, and have been in the museum's collection for over 60 years.
Lost in his thoughts about the things he'd do once he moves up the museum hierarchy (get rid of the rocks collection, for starters) and what use the curious, square-shaped, palm-sized stones he's cleaning were put to (Donald conjectures they were children's playing blocks), he drops one on the floor — only for it to crack open and spill a yolk.
The square stones are not stones at all, but eggs! The discovery shakes up the scientific World, and those in the poultry business (Square eggs! What a delight they would be to stack and package!). There's scant information about the provenance of the stone specimens — the museum's records have been lost in a fire — but analysis of the shell indicates that they might have originated somewhere in the high Andes.
And so it is that an expedition to Peru is mounted, to find more of these square eggs and the creatures that lay them. Donald takes Huey, Dewey and Louie on the ship, an ill-advised move as it turns out. When the expedition leader wants to eat an omelette for one of his meals, the triplets — sent off to the kitchen to whip it up — panic when they realise their provisions don't include a single egg. What if they were to dip into the museum's stock instead? A few square eggs are promptly cracked and an omelette of very dubious flavour made, that is sampled by all the officers before reaching the leader.
Unsurprisingly everyone soon has a case of acute ptomaine ptosis of the ptummy — where, as the ship's doctor explains, one's gastric ducts are tied up in square knots. Now anchored at Peru, with all the senior members of the expedition indisposed, it falls to Donald and the boys to save the day.
A long and exhausting journey, filled with false leads, near-swindles and a depleting stock of square eggs later, they come up on an old vicuña hunter who is able to shed some light on their quest. He tells them that he'd seen these square eggs at his home, as a child. Many, many moons ago, a man had staggered out of the Region Of Mists, barely alive. The hunter's father tried to nurse him back to health, but the man soon passed away. In his possession were several of these square eggs. The hunter's father took some to a priest in Cuzco, while keeping a few at home: these were the square eggs the hunter had seen. The eggs taken to Cuzco were likely the ones in the museum's possession.
Donald and the triplets are enthused at finally getting a real, solid lead. With a few directions from the hunter (but completely missing his warnings of the dangers that lie ahead), the four boldly sally forth into the canyon that leads to the Region of Mists.
Here, thick fog, unlike any they've experienced before, surrounds them completely. Donald almost falls off a ledge and Huey, Dewey and Louie must save him. In the process though, they lose their bearings and have no idea of where they've left their bedrolls. Stumbling and feeling their way through the mist, they reach a wall, pass through an opening, and tumble down a steep grassy slope to end up in a valley — with a civilisation in it.
The tribe, the ducks discover, is very hospitable. They speak English with a heavy Southern accent: the result of being taught the language by their one and only visitor from the outside world, decades ago — an American named Rhutt Betlah. He'd christened the valley Plain Awful, and after engaging in a period of cultural exchange with the people, had taken a trove of their square eggs (for these form the mainstay of the tribe's diet) to return home. Clearly, it is Betlah whom the vicuña hunter's father had encountered.
The ducks are invited to be guests of honour at a feast hosted by the chief. Expecting delicacies like spring vicuña with wild rice, the ducks are disappointed when all three courses of the banquet comprise square eggs prepared in various forms: poached, scrambled and boiled (these dishes too are, like the eggs themselves, square).
Desperate for anything other than eggs, they venture into an eatery, hoping for a hamburger or some roast beef. But here too they find nothing but eggs on the menu. What's more, the chef tells them that they've never actually seen the fowl that lay the eggs: every morning, the villagers make their way to the Valley Of Eggs and find masses of them simply lying in the grass, that they gather and bring home.
The ducks proceed to the valley themselves. More shenanigans by Huey, Dewey and Louie reveal that the large, square-shaped rocks dotting the landscape are actually square hens, who sleep during the day and lay their eggs while awake at night. The ducks are feted by the tribe for their fortuitous findings.
As the ducks plan for their exit through the Region of Mists, there's still time for another escapade: Huey, Dewey and Louie are found blowing bubble gum and since the creation of round objects is a crime in Plain Awful, they are to be sentenced to work in the stone quarries unless they can rectify their mistake by blowing square bubbles instead. The use of a few well-concealed square chicks allows the ducklings to pull off the feat, and — loaded with eggs and two of the chickens — the party begins to navigate their way out of the valley.
Many days and much muddling later, the four finally make it out again. They've had to eat the eggs, but at least they still have the chickens and when their ship returns to America, they're given a hero's welcome. Until the scientists realise that the chickens they've brought back are both male, and therefore, cannot breed or lay the precious square eggs.
The last scene of the comic depicts the foursome venturing into a diner, looking for a classic American meal. The options they're offered once they're seared? Ham and eggs, roast chicken or a cheese omelette.
Incidentally, one of Carl Barks' jobs before he starting writing and drawing the Donald Duck comics was as a chicken farmer.