Story theme: Evil influence/supernatural influence

This is the first in a new category of post, covering the various story themes seen in Jinty in more detail. As we will see, the story themes are often not clear-cut; many themes overlap or become fuzzy at the edges when investigated further. Nevertheless, definite strands can be traced.

There is a long-running story theme in girls’ comics based around someone or something (normally an object) influencing the protagonist to do things she normally wouldn’t do, in a way that is supernatural or unnatural. The influencing object usually has its own agenda, and in service of this it often ends up taking away the protagonist’s free will, and perhaps even her memory, such are the extremes that are gone to. The object (or, sometimes, person) is often evil, though sometimes it can be just driven by its own underlying requirements, which the protagonist must serve in order to resolve the situation.

Core examples

Probably the purest form of this story theme in Jinty can be found in the spooky story “Spell of the Spinning Wheel” (1977). Rowan Lindsay pricks her finger on the spinning wheel that her mother has just bought and finds that she is made to fall fast asleep every time she hears a humming sound – like the sound of the wheel when it is being used, but also the hum of a hairdryer, a car, and so on. The spinning wheel is entirely malicious: its agenda seems simply to spoil Rowan’s running career and indeed her life. When Rowan tries to give it away or destroy it to save herself, it responds dramatically by trying to make her go over a cliff, drown in a river, or get knocked down by a car; certainly it’s not possible to just tamely pass it on. In the end it must be destroyed by cleansing fire, but this can only happen once the whole family is united in determination to remove its malign influence: the heroine does not have enough power to get rid of it by herself. (In this story this works partly through the wheel’s power and partly through the mother’s disbelief: although the father is soon persuaded of the spinning wheel’s malice, the mother is turned against her family and refuses to co-operate with them until finally the wheel goes a step too far and shows her its true colours.)

Clear examples of this story theme in Jinty are:

  • Gail’s Indian Necklace (1974): Gail acquires a mysterious necklace made of wooden beads in a jumble sale: it originally came from India. Initially it grants some desires that are unspoken, or socially wrong: she cannot afford a bicycle and so the necklace makes her steal one, or she wants her aunt out of the way and the aunt gets knocked over by a car. The necklace has a specific agenda, to be returned to its original location; once Gail complies she is free of its influence and is even rewarded by it.
  • Slave of the Mirror (1975): Mia Blake finds an old mirror in her house and it makes her turn against her sister. The mirror possesses her and makes her destroy things in the house, sabotaging her sister’s attempt to run a boarding house. It turns out to be haunted by the ghost of a Spanish serving-girl who was ill-treated by a previous owner of the house; her spirit is set to rest and the possession stops.
  • Spell of the Spinning Wheel (1977): see above.
  • Creepy Crawley (1977): Jean Crawley comes across an old scarab brooch in a shop; it comes with the promise that it can help her defeat her rival. She doesn’t stay around long enough to listen to the associated warning she would have been given: once it gives her her wish it will go on to further its own ends, up to and including a reign of insects! Very soon she is unable to give up the brooch or gainsay it in any way; the defeat of the evil object has to be done by a friend of Jean’s, and by the rival herself, who has to be persuaded into forgiveness to break the spell.
  • Come Into My Parlour (1978): Jody Sinclair is made to wear a cat’s-paw necklace by an evil witch, who uses it to get revenge on the descendents of a judge who hanged her wicked ancestor. At first she is made to do things against her will as if she were a puppet, but her inconvenient conscience is eventually eliminated by changing her personality entirely. In the end she is only freed when the house that the witch has been living in is burned down, with the witch inside.
  • Paula’s Puppets (1978): Paula finds some mysterious wax puppets and finds they act like voodoo dolls, and she can make things happen to whoever she makes the puppets resemble. At first the bitter Paula uses them to exact revenge, but eventually she realises she can use them to help her father. (Here, protagonist Paula is the active force behind the influencing object, which differs from usual in this story theme.)
  • The Venetian Looking Glass (1980): the protagonist finds a hand mirror which starts to control her life and wreak its revenge, ultimately being revealed as due to an angry ghost. As with other stories above, the spirit can only be laid to rest with the help of a wider group of people than just the enthralled protagonist, and forgiveness plays an important part too.
  • A number of Gypsy Rose stories also include this story theme, with a more diverse set of evil or haunted objects such as a handkerchief and a tambourine.

Edge cases

Of course, there are always fuzzy edges around definitions, with examples that don’t match the story theme quite as obviously. Looking at these less clear-cut cases can help to challenge our definitions.

  • The Haunting of Form 2B” (1974) has a whole class being haunted by a ghostly teacher. The schoolgirls are taken over mentally by objects given to them by the ghost, but it’s quite a number of varied objects that are influencing them rather than a specific one or two.
  • In “The Haunting of Hazel” (1975) the protagonist is strongly influenced by a ghostly ancestor, but it feels more like a standard ghost story than a case of possession.
  • In “The Mystery of Martine” (1976-77), the source of the possession is not very clearly delineated: is it the bangles that Martine clanks together, or is it the script written by the playwright, or is it all perhaps in Martine’s mind?
  • Sometimes the object is not that clearly evil, or has an influence without appearing almost anthropomorphic. Tamsin Tregorren finds a silver comb that belonged to her mother in “Combing Her Golden Hair” (1979) and the comb shows her visions and leads her to frolic in the water like a dolphin despite never having learned to swim. Eventually she is brought to the sea where she meets her mother, who is a mermaid, and who wants her to come and live in the sea too. The comb serves the agenda of the mother, who is not evil (and though she is portrayed as selfishly not caring whether or not Tamsin would be able to survive in the same environment, this is never actually proven one way or another).
  • In “Child of the Rain” (1980), Gemma West is strongly affected by the rain after a trip to the Amazon rainforest; it is found that some bark from a tree was left in her leg after an accident in the forest, and it is that that is affecting her, rather than any evil object or tennis-mad spirit .
  • In “Who’s That In My Mirror” (1977), the special mirror in question does not remove Magda’s free will, though it does seem to tempt her to worse and more selfish actions than she would have done alone. It’s also not entirely clear at the end whether perhaps the mirror might be intended as an ultimately moral force, to make her repent of her selfish deeds?

Related but different

Further away again from my core definition sit some related themes:

  • Hypnotism and brainwashing are the keys to “The Slave of Form 3B“, “Prisoner of the Bell”,  “Children of Edenford“, and “Jackie’s Two Lives”: the active agents are people, working in ways that aren’t actually strictly realistic but can’t be classed as supernatural.
  • Wish fulfillment: “Dance Into Darkness” has the protagonist forced to dance whenever music plays, with her free will eroded by the curse she takes on. It could be classed along the same double-edged gift that tempts Jean Crawley, but it feels more like irony than evil. And of course a wish fulfillment story can also be purely mundane, such as in “Food for Fagin” and “Freda’s Fortune”.
  • Not to be confused with: a magical companion, who persuades or helps rather than forcing or tempting. Stories with such a companion include “Guardian of White Horse Hill”, “Her Guardian Angel”, “Daughter of Dreams”. The companion may leave the protagonist in a sticky situation but she is not compelled or possessed.

Other thoughts

It’s an old-fashioned sort of story theme, in many ways. The magical objects in question are typically very gendered – mirrors, necklaces, a brooch, a spinning wheel. It feels like a trope from old stories or fairy tales, continued on in girls’ comics as a morality tale. The girl who is affected by the evil object often picks it up initially for the wrong reasons, or is in places she’s not supposed to be: the object promises revenge or oneupmanship, and the seeds of the main character’s undoing are sown because they are heading in the morally wrong direction from the start.

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16 thoughts on “Story theme: Evil influence/supernatural influence

  1. There’s also how the girls get tipped off. Sometimes they know it from the start, as in Combing Her Golden Hair. Other times they don’t understand what is going on until something does tip them off, such as the tape recording in Slave of Form 3b. Or a friend is watching and figures it out, as in Prisoner of the Bell.

    1. Yes, the idea that you could be doing horrible things and not even know you’re doing them is quite nasty. The influence in Combing Her Golden Hair is pretty morally neutral in comparison to a lot of them, isn’t it? She spends a lot of time dreaming under its influence but not actually waking up realising she’s just committed a robbery, or whatever.

  2. I enjoyed reading this a great deal! Your observation about the similarity with much older folk/magic stories with young girls and enchanted or cursed objects made me wonder is there an equivalent in the comics aimed at boys…I mean, stories that drew quite heavily on earlier magic tales, etc. (I suppose, for boys, in the line of Excalibur or quests, trials etc..) Or whether somehow, it was thought that these fairy tale-derived ideas might appeal more to girls? Anyway, what I mean is, very thought-provoking!

    I collect/read much older girls’ annuals (roughly 1920s-1950s) and the story themes there are not as varied and expansive as they are in Jinty – a lot of moral improvement, focusing on virtues like loyalty, resolve, etc. But one that stands out is the occasional really nasty bullying story, and I think that type crops up in more modern comics more often. Do you think you’ll have a ‘bullying or controlling’ story theme? (distinct from supernatural controlling through hypnosis or something?)

    1. Thank you, really glad you enjoyed it!

      Since finishing this post I’ve been thinking whether it’s really true that the possession by enchanted object theme is a traditional one or not. I haven’t found any examples in Grimm’s fairy tales on a quick pass, but it does ‘feel’ old fashioned to me.

      There will certainly be a post on the bullying story theme, as it’s such a prevalent theme throughout girls comics.

      1. Evil influence must have been a popular story as there were so many of them, but like you’ve pointed out a lot of writers had their on take on the theme, changing things up a bit.

        One of my favourite’s was Bunty’s “In Paula’s Place” where a girl, Carrie is fostered by a couple who’s daughter died. When Carrie wears Paula’s ring she is influenced to do nasty things. Not only is she dealing with these mood swings and unable to remove the ring, her new parents seem to be trying to make her into Paula too. Getting her to wear her hair like Paula’s and buying similar clothes etc.

        1. Thanks for the example from Bunty! Have you got the year when that appeared? I am wondering now whether these really were old-fashioned types of story or not, because I haven’t yet got any good examples of fairy stories using exactly this trope. So it would be interesting to know what years it actually appeared in girls’ comics.

  3. In one evil influence story, the object seems to be helping the girl as much as causing trouble for her. This is Portrait of Doreen Grey from Tammy. And if you think the title sounds like a certain Oscar Wilde story, you’re right. The story is even cited as a warning to Doreen Grey as to what can happen when she comes into a portrait of a girl who is a dead ringer for her.

    The trouble is, the portrait is getting Doreen into its power by helping her. Doreen is a shy girl who is the target of bullying. The portrait’s influence starts changing all that, but as its influence grows, Doreen starts going the other way. She doesn’t know what to think and every time she tries to break away, it worms its way back into influencing her.

    Finally, when Doreen learns the portrait is of a girl who had amazing powers of manipulation, and the portrait influenced another girl, her will gets strong enough to destroy the portrait.

    1. Yes, the evil object can certainly seem helpful at first – though in “Creepy Crawley” it’s pretty clear that the scarab brooch is helping Jean in something that she shouldn’t be aiming for (defeating her rival). So it seems on her side, but it’s pretty clear that it’s not actually a good object from the start. I guess with Doreen Grey maybe it seems good at first?

      1. “In Paula’s Place” started in Bunty #1822 (12 December 1992), not sure when it finished.

        Other DCT stories that fall under the theme are “The Painting” (Bunty: 1990) and “The Power Over Paula” (Emma: 1978), similar to the “Mystery of Martine” Paula is an actress playing a nasty character, and she wears a locket that was worn by the person who originally played the part. Again she ends up doing nasty things that she can’t remember afterwards.

  4. Thanks, it’s good to have some context from other story papers too. I’m interested to see that we’re not coming up with loads of examples from much earlier than the Jinty years: perhaps I am wrong in thinking of it as a traditional story trope. Thinking in terms of non-comics stories, I have come up with a couple of tales: Hans Christian Andersen’s The Red Shoes, which fits quite nicely (vain girl puts on red shoes and is forced to dance without stopping), and the traditional Scottish folk tale Kate Crackernuts (prince who needs rescuing by brave girl is found to have been made to dance each night until he is exhausted). Not many examples though in these tales, certainly not as many as I’d assumed there would be. In novels, there’s the One Ring in Lord of the Rings, and the Portrait of Dorian Grey fits in; those I’d count as old-fashioned themes but not exactly traditional.

    1. There are loads of fairy tales about princes and princesses who are under enchantments that transform them, imprison them, or make them act against their real nature.

      1. There was a Bunty story, “Witch” (#1744-1755) where Ellie Ross is accused of being descended from the village witch, Black Bess, when she moves to the village of Littledene and is harassed by the villagers. It does not help matters that Black Bess herself does seem to be taking over Ellie at times and funny things seem to happen. The exact purpose is not clear. Is it to warn Ellie and help protect her from the villagers? It does save Ellie’s life several times in this story. Is it for revenge? Or is Black Bess trying to clear her name, as Ellie eventually thinks?

        A similar story, “Bad Luck Barbara”, appeared in Mandy (#971-985) some years earlier. Same writer, maybe? The interference of the alleged witch in this story is less overt or consistent at first, but in the end her apparition actually appears and tells Barbara that she is her instrument of revenge against the village of Wavertree. Poor Barbara does not know what to think. But she is so relieved to leave the village where everyone hates her because they think she is descended from the witch when her dad gets a transfer to Wales.

        I think the message with both these stories is that we are challenged to make up our own minds.

      2. Well, yes, this is what I thought, but then I found it hard to come up with actual examples. In “The Frog Prince” it isn’t the protagonist who’s disguised/transformed; in Sleeping Beauty the princess is imprisoned by sleep but she’s so inactive I’m not sure that she even counts as the protagonist so much as the problem to be solved! So there’s lots of examples of magic in fairy/folk tales, but I’m not sure how well they actually map onto the evil influence story theme when you look closer.

        The magical helper in comics, though, definitely has very clear parallels in fairy/folk tales.

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