Story theme: the Magical Companion / Non-human companion

Stories of magic and the supernatural often include a companion who helps, guides, prods, or sometimes rather forcibly plonks the protagonist in the middle of adventure. The companion in question has his, her, or its own agenda and in that, it has some similarities to the evil object which takes over people’s lives: but unlike the evil object story, the magical guide does not coerce or remove free will. Generally speaking, the agenda of the companion is at least morally neutral, if not positively on the side of the protagonist’s best interests. The journey towards a happy ending, though, is not in itself happy all along: often the life of the main character is made decidedly more uncomfortable as the story unfolds.

Normally the companion is clearly magical, maybe right from the start: sometimes she (rarely he) or it seems outwardly normal at first but is found in the thick of things too often for it to be a coincidence. This perhaps is particularly the case where the companion is an animal, such as one of the three(!) examples of magnificent white horses that help protagonists in various ways.

Core examples

The example I think is one of Jinty‘s best for this theme is “Guardian of White Horse Hill”. Janey Summers is an orphan, with foster parents who she is hoping will go on to adopt her. However, life with her new family is not easy, partly because of mean snobbish girls in the local area, partly because of trauma she hasn’t yet got over (badly handled by the adults in question, as usual), and partly because, well, she sees a white horse that no-one else can see. Obviously people start questioning her sanity as well as her temperament, but the horse in question turns out to be Celtic horse goddess Epona. Epona takes Janey back in time more than once, to the Celtic settlement originally located where the modern village is. In the historical time, Janey finds herself in the body of a young priestess facing the peril of a Roman invasion; in the modern time of the story, the village is threatened by a road which is to be built through the village itself. At the priestess’s behest, the Celtic villagers saved themselves by a non-violent path, namely digging a white horse on the hillside; the earth left over from all the digging is swept into the path of the invaders by torrential rain. In parallel in modern times, the path that the villagers were going to take – giving up and giving in – is derailed by Epona, who through Janey’s actions reveals the historical white horse carved on the hill. The villagers are able to declare this a site of special interest and hold off the road-building that way.

Even before Epona takes Janey back in time, she clearly reveals her magic to the reader: no-one else can see the horse apart from Janey, and when she gets on the back of the horse she is invisible to those around her. Ultimately Epona’s actions are in Janey’s interest too: by saving the village, the livelihoods of Janey’s foster parents are secured, but also Janey’s role in bringing that salvation helps to secure her wish to have real, loving parents again. There are uncomfortable moments for Janey along the way: for instance when Epona makes her dismount (so that she can then be seen by anyone who can spot her) just before a big village meeting. Even more so, you could point to the basic fact that making yourself visible to just one person is in itself asking to lead them into trouble – and Epona, magic though she is, is not a talking horse and does not explain herself.

Clear examples of this story theme in Jinty are:

  • “The Valley of Shining Mist” (1975) has a mysterious woman in a mysterious cottage in a mysterious valley – only when the mist fills the valley can the protagonist see the cottage as anything but an old ruin. Debbie is taught music by the woman in the cottage, but more than that, she also learns love and acceptance as Mrs Maynard helps her to change her life.
  • Corn Dolly in “Golden Dolly, Death Dust!” (1975-76), who guides and protects the protagonists in their battles against the evil witch Miss Marvell.
  • The eponymous horse in “Horse From The Sea” (1976) seems initially like a normal (magnificent, unbridled, appearing-out-of-the-blue) white horse, but a tale is recounted part-way through the story that makes it clear that this is the same mysterious horse that throughout centuries has defended the heir of the local estate from danger.
  • The mysterious Malincha in “Sceptre of the Toltecs” (1976-77) is golden-eyed, and inhumanly strong and smart. She needs the help of protagonist Jenny Marlow to fulfill her quest; you could perhaps consider Malincha to be the protagonist herself, but she is so characterless and mysterious that it is hard to see her in that role.
  • In “Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag” (1976-79), the magical companion is another inanimate object: well, I say inanimate – the bag in question is given expression by the creases in the leather, giving her a cheeky look. This one is played for laughs too, and as an ongoing humour strip there is less of a clear agenda on the part of Henrietta the hand-bag as there is less of an overall story. Henrietta often helps Sue and gets her out of a pickle, but equally she often lands her in one too.
  • In “Daughter of Dreams” (1979), Sally Carter is a wall-flower until she makes up an imaginary friend, Pauline Starr. Her imagination is so strong she can see her new friend clearly – so clearly in fact that Pauline comes to life! Pauline helps to shake up Sally’s life, first of all by getting her to do more lively things so she can make more friends, and then in the sequel, “Miss Make-believe” (1979), defeating crooks in a stately house caper.
  • Karen finds a ghostly skating instructor in the “Spirit of the Lake” (1979-80): appearing to her as an elegant woman, the spirit is friendly and helpful to Karen in a situation where the girl is otherwise not shown much love or friendship. The skating spirit seems to have little agenda of her own other than to help Karen become a skating champion.
  • “Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost” (1979-81) has another ghostly companion but is an ongoing humour strip like “Sue’s Fantastic Fun-Bag” (and indeed is drawn by the same artist too).
  • “Sue’s Daily Dozen” (1980) has an inanimate object as the magical companion, making it perhaps a slight stretch from the main theme of the category. Sue finds a book in the old cottage that she has moved into with her sister: the recipes in the book turn out to be more like magic spells, but very positive and homely ones intended to spread positive effects in the local community: sweets turn out to bring the childhood sense of fun back, and a love potion reconciles a quarreling couple. None of the spells are dramatically and clearly magic until the end of the story: the ambiguity of whether the odd effects are coincidental is maintained for quite a while, which is nice. In the end the book is reunited with the cauldron that Granny Hayden had also used, and both items disappear off to be found in the future by another lucky girl.
  • Gabbi is the magical companion in “Her Guardian Angel” (1980-81); literally a guardian angel, this played-for-laughs story has her defending her charge from all sorts of things that are not in fact dangerous. Gabbi has her own agenda: she has to pass a test to earn her wings, and earthbound Roz must therefore temper her normal way of being in order to help this angel who has become a friend.

Not in Jinty: Mistyfan has pointed out the Tracy story Rhoda’s Robot, in which the companion is not magical in origin, but a robot. (It’s a little arguable in my mind as to whether the robot really should be counted as non-magical as she doesn’t behave anything like a ‘realistic’ robot, but still.)

Edge cases

As with the other themes, you can see examples that don’t fit quite as clearly in the category but still have a lot of overlap with it.

  • “Wild Horse Summer” (1974) has (yet another) magnificent wild white horse which changes the protagonist’s life, but this horse really does seem to be a real-life horse who behaves reasonably realistically.
  • “The Zodiac Prince” (1978) in question is definitely magical; he is more protagonist than companion.
  • “Paula’s Puppets” (1978) is a little harder to categorise; I’d say it was a better match with the Evil Object / Supernatural Object theme as the puppets have a less clear agenda of their own, if any.
  • In “Pandora’s Box” (1979) Pandora has a little black magical cat, Scruffy, but he acts like a typical witch’s familiar, not as a magical guide.
  • “Sea-Sister” (1979) has a ghostly/magical character who again is more protagonist than guide or companion.

Related but different

  • There are other stories with animal friends or antagonists – cats, dogs, horses, birds and so forth in stories such as “The Big Cat”, “The Birds”, “Blind Faith”, “The Disappearing Dolphin”, “Finleg the Fox”, “Friends of the Forest”. As with “Wild Horse Summer”, these are animals that are given a generally realistic treatment.
  • Evil object / supernatural object, discussed separately.
  • Mysterious helper: a story type where someone is mysteriously helping the main character, but in a naturalistic way. The particular example in Jinty would be “Diving Belle”, where the protagonist gets training in diving by a female instructor who appears mysteriously and does seem to have more-than-natural knowledge of what is needed (what with being a gypsy, as obviously psychic powers come with that). Nevertheless she is a human and interacts with the main character in a human way.
  • Wish fulfilment: this can be magical/supernatural in nature (“Dance Into Darkness”) or through more naturalistic methods (“Jackie’s Two Lives”, “Kerry In The Clouds”). There is a trigger for the protagonist to have her wish fulfilled but that is not someone who accompanies her throughout the story guiding her.

Other thoughts

Bringing a magical companion into an otherwise ordinary girl’s life is always going to be a popular way to power a story; any reader could hold out a hope that just such a force could enter her own life and help her out with her difficulties. I guess it also makes sense that the writer can’t have the magical companion make things too straightforward for the protagonist as it’d be boring otherwise; the magical companion must therefore challenge or complicate the main character’s life as much as improving it.

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3 thoughts on “Story theme: the Magical Companion / Non-human companion

  1. Another key companion story in Jinty was Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost (1979-81). I wonder if this had the same writer as Fun-Bag because these stories follow similar patterns in establishing themselves over several episodes before embarking on their regular routines. They were both drawn by Hugh Thornton-Jones too.

    1. You’re right, I totally forgot Gaye’s Gloomy Ghost, I will add that in. It’s quite a long list, isn’t it? A fertile theme for stories! I agree that it could well be done by the same writer as Fun-Bag, as you say,

      1. Yes, I revisited the first few episodes of Fun Bag and Gloomy Ghost and noticed that they followed similar patterns in setting up the premise. I will be mentioning that when I do an entry on Fun Bag.

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