Artist: Phil Townsend
Writer: Alison Christie (now Fitt)
Publication: 7 August 1976 to 11 December 1976
Reprint: Princess (series 2) 28 January 1984 and concluded in Tammy & Princess 2 June 1984
Stefa Giles and Joy Brett have been the closest of friends since they were toddlers. Mr Giles worries that they may be a little too inseparable, and Stefa tends to love too much, which can leave her open to being badly hurt. His concerns prove justified when Joy falls ill and dies.
The shock, pain and grief at losing Joy, are so traumatising for Stefa that she cannot bear the thought of experiencing it again. Taking a cue from a statue in her garden which seems impervious to everything because it is made of stone, Stefa resolves to turn her heart into stone so she will never again experience such pain. So Stefa, who had hitherto been a loving girl, refuses to love people anymore. She snubs her classmates, freezes off all friendships, and swallows down any emotion because “statues don’t!” She even strives to stop loving her parents, believing she must so that she will not grieve if she loses them.
The Giles parents put Stefa’s conduct down to the trauma of losing Joy, but they are deeply upset by how Stefa seems to be deliberately hurting them. At the advice of a doctor, they transfer to a new location. Stefa insists on bringing the statue, which she calls Stonyface. She ends up carrying Stonyface on her lap in the car as there is no room in the boot! Her parents are worried and upset that Stefa seems to be care more about the statue than them. They do not realise that Stefa identifies Stonyface as her only friend now that she is turning her heart into stone. Stefa’s pathological relationship with Stonyface leads to some hilarious situations, such as Stefa running away from home with Stonyface on a wheelbarrow – which gets her caught of course. On another occasion she sleeps on the lawn with Stonyface, only to wake up shivering from all the dew.
At her new school, Stefa snubs her classmates, who dub her “The Ice Maiden”. But Stefa is in for a shock – one of them, Ruth Graham, is a near double of Joy! Ruth also has the same sunny, caring personality as Joy and makes every effort she can to be friends with Stefa, regardless of every rebuff Stefa gives her. Ruth’s efforts intensify once she discovers Stefa’s problem. And as Ruth looks like Joy, Stefa finds it extremely difficult to fight her off; emotionally, she wants to embrace her. The presence of Ruth also brings out the grief that Stefa has not resolved and Stefa is embarrassed and humiliated when her grief keeps slipping through her stony behaviour. She becomes desperate to get away from Ruth, but her ploys to do so result in Dad losing his job and having to take a less paid one. The reduced income forces them to move into a council house.
Stonyface becomes a target for stone-throwing kids, but Stefa is not worried; the stones cannot hurt Stonyface, just as nothing else can. But her mother gets hit by a stone and is put in hospital. Although Stefa softens and cries over her injured mother, she soon hardens up again, believing she failed with her stony heart. “I should have been hard and uncaring like you!” she says to Stonyface and redoubles her efforts to turn into stone. So Mum, who was raising hopes that Stefa is her old self again, is in for a shock when she returns home.
After this Dad has had enough and decides it’s time to teach Stefa a lesson. He tells Stefa she must buy and cook her own food. Stefa welcomes it as it will widen the rift between her and her parents. But it becomes another test of her stoniness because Stefa is such a bad cook (although she is fifteen) that she suffers chronic indigestion. But in this case, the way to a person’s heart is not through their stomach, and she remains hard.
Stefa is still determined to avoid Ruth. But Dad will not have Stefa changing schools or ducking out of school to avoid Ruth. So Stefa tries to get expelled, but Ruth keeps foiling her. And Stefa soon finds she cannot avoid Ruth at home either because her parents start inviting her over. One sleepover has Stefa camping out on the lawn with Stonyface because she cannot share a room with Ruth. Stefa wakes up shivering from dew and her father is not impressed. She feels jealous of the attention her parents give Ruth, but swallows it down: “statues don’t!”
Stefa also finds that Ruth has suffered loss even greater than hers – her parents and brother. Stefa is briefly ashamed at Ruth having more courage than her. But she soon hardens her heart again, as she is confident that this will ensure she never suffers grief again while Ruth will.
Then another of Stefa’s tactics to avoid Ruth ends up with her having an accident, and Ruth insisting on going to her aid. In hospital, Stefa finally welcomes Ruth – but then finds the accident has caused her to turn into real stone. She has become a robot, incapable of any feelings or shedding tears. “She might as well be a tailor’s dummy,” says her mother, who is heartbroken to see Stefa worse than ever. It is such a horrible experience for Stefa that she does not want a stony heart anymore. But she cannot break free of the stony heart that now imprisons her. And now Stefa resents Stonyface, whom she believes has the key to her stony cell.
But then the cell unlocks when Stonyface is struck by a bolt of lightning and is smashed to pieces. When Stefa sees this, her stony heart shatters too and she returns to her loving self. Stefa’s parents are overjoyed to see this. Stefa apologises to Ruth and now asks her to be her friend. But there is more – Stefa’s parents want to adopt Ruth, so now Stefa and Ruth will be sisters as well.
Readers of girls’ comics love powerful emotional stories that tug at their heartstrings and reduce them to tears. No doubt this was one reason why Stefa was one of Jinty’s most popular stories. We know Stefa was one of Jinty’s most popular stories because in 1981 the editor said so in response to a letter asking for the story to be reprinted. The editor’s response also reveals that there was a huge demand in Pam’s Poll to repeat Stefa. Yet he still asked if there were others who wanted Stefa too. Hmm, was he hesitant about bringing Stefa back for some reason or did he want to test the waters a bit more? In any case, Jinty did not repeat Stefa, nor did the Tammy & Jinty merger. Eventually Stefa was reprinted in Princess (series 2) in 1984 and concluded in the Tammy & Princess merger. In fact, Princess repeated several old serials from Tammy and Jinty towards the end of her run – not a good sign for a new comic to be recycling old strips and it was an indication that Princess was in trouble.
Stefa was not the only serial to feature a girl who freezes her heart to avoid feeling grief again; Mandy’s “Little Miss Icicle” tried the same thing as Stefa, as did Tough Nut Tara in one Button Box story (Tammy). Jinty’s “Nothing to Sing About” had a similar theme, where the protagonist refuses to sing after her father, a famous singer, dies. Other Jinty stories that feature a protagonist who reacts badly to a loss include “The Ghost Dancer”, “I’ll Make Up for Mary” and “My Heart Belongs to Buttons”.
In most cases the grieving protagonist retains a measure of our sympathy as we watch and wait for the breakthrough that will bring them to their senses. But in this case it gets extremely difficult to sympathise with Stefa because she becomes an increasingly unsympathetic person in the way she treats her parents, classmates and Ruth in her efforts to stop loving. She does not seem to care that she is causing her parents a lot of heartache, anguish and trouble. The family is forced through two shifts; Mum has a near breakdown and then gets hospitalised; Stefa costs Dad his job and he is forced to take a lower-paid job that he finds a real comedown. The Giles family, who used to live well, are now reduced to living in a shabby council house. All because of Stefa’s conduct, but none of it shifts her stony heart. Nor do other things that we expect to make some impression, such as Stefa’s indigestion or discovering Ruth had a greater loss than hers. Even where it looks like something has got through at last, it is only temporary; Stefa soon hardens again.
Stefa is not only utterly selfish with her conduct but stupid too. She does not realise that she is ruining her life and making herself even more miserable than ever. One extremely sad example is Stefa’s birthday (above). It could have been a happy event, with Stefa enjoying her presents, new friends, a party, and her new guitar. But her stoniness turns her birthday into an unhappy one. She does not show the least pleasure in her birthday or gratitude for her presents; in fact, she throws them in the faces of the people who have given them. Stefa is determined to keep up her heart of stone, even on her birthday. What she would have done on Christmas Day we dread to think. Fortunately, it did not come to that.
It is so exasperating that nothing seems to get through to Stefa at all. For a moment something does seem to work, but it does not last and Stefa is back to her stony self. Is there anything that will work, or, as Ruth fears, Stefa has become too hard to melt? In any case, our sympathies turn more to Stefa’s parents and Ruth, and we marvel at Ruth for continuing to care about a girl who goes out of her way not to care about anything.
Ironically, the thing that does get through is what Stefa wanted – a stony heart. Once she has it, she finds she does not like it. Ah, the monkey paw experience does it again. And then, when Stonyface is smashed by lightning, Stefa realises that she has been mistaken about stone being impervious to everything. There are things that can affect stone and it can get damaged too. Clearly, the lightning did what should have been done all along.
One reason why Stefa must have been so popular was that it pushes so many buttons. In the real world, there are real-life Stefas who react against grief by becoming bitter and refuse to love again for fear of experiencing grief again. But like Stefa, all they do is make their lives even more miserable. And there the Ruths who work through their loss, refuse to let it ruin their lives, and come out of it even stronger. There are also warnings about loving too intensely as this can lead to tragedy. It is a warning shared by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which the lovers do not heed either. Finally, the story is a stern warning against bottling up emotions, especially grief. Express, acknowledge and accept them, or they will lead to emotional and psychological problems. Or get a good counsellor!