Continuing from the previous WTFometer post, here are some worked-through examples.
“Song of the Fir Tree” is not a fantastical story, but it is one that takes the reader quite far away from their usual context. There’s not just one girl protagonist but two, of mixed gender (the major focus is on Solveig, but her brother Per gets a lot of lines, action, and attention too). The story is set in Continental Europe, not very long beforehand but in a definite historical period compared to the readers of the time; and the children are more than poverty-stricken: they are in serious danger of starvation and of death by murder or by accident. In the absence of family, they have to make their own decisions and way all across many countries; this is all without special abilities like that used by “The Robot Who Cried” or Xenia in “Almost Human” when they also trek far distances.
I am experimenting with giving the stories scores on the WTFometer – a small score on a measure means that the difference (positive or negative) compared to the default is likewise small – a boy rather than a girl, but not an animal or an alien. A score in this column counts as 1 point. A big score on the measure means that the difference (whichever way it goes) is larger – their basic physical security is not just compromised to the extent of a broken leg or a hospital stay, but seriously enough to endanger their lives. I am scoring these as 5 points, to give extra weighting accordingly. And an ‘Extreme’ score? That scores 10 points, and represents a protagonist death, or a school structure so different from the default to seem unrecognizable, or physical laws so warped to allow for just about anything.
“Children of Edenford” is surprisingly tamer than I might have expected. Well, no, not tamer, but… more concentrated in its focus?
Much of the set-up in “Children” is going to be very familiar to the readers. Patti is a girl much like the expected average reader: white, English, with parents who both work either to earn a living or to keep the house. The school, however, is very definitely out of the ordinary, and the contrast is the sharper for it; the same goes for the coercion and mind-control, so strong that it borders onto magic. (Perhaps I should have scored ‘agency in small things’ in the Extreme column to show this?) This is a case where I would really like to do a comparison of the early episodes with the later ones, to show how the departures from the average become more marked as the story develops.
There is no lack of Extreme columns for the last story: if you’ve read Mistyfan’s summary of “Worlds Apart” you will know it is going to be possibly the highest-scoring story in all of girls’ comics. The protagonists are no big deviation from the standard, apart from the fact that in each story they seem to gain considerable status and power; but boy are the schools that they go to in each world not half odd! Their agency is taken away, their mental capacity affected as they each take turn to lose their memories and, most striking of all, they die painful deaths – not just one death happening in front of the reader, but over and over again.
Physical laws and real-life historical facts are overturned without compunction, the girls are given physical attributes both greater and lesser than the norm, their emotional and mental security is played with almost as much as their physical security; but still it all happens within a brief timespan in our own present time, and in a reasonably circumscribed location. Yes, it’s bonkers – but it’s not all bonkers.
I doubt I will be working through all the Jinty stories giving them WTFometer scores, but I’m sure I will come back to this another time. I would be very glad if others wanted to try it themselves; I have the grids available as spreadsheets that I will happily send out on request.