The Forbidden Garden (1979)

Sample images

Garden 1

Garden 2

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Garden 3

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Publication: 24/3/79-28/7/79

Repeat: Tammy 1984 – unfinished due to Tammy’s cancellation

Artist: Jim Baikie

Writer: Unknown

Plot: Mankind has polluted the atmosphere, causing plants to become extinct and soils incapable of growing any. The plants that do survive are protected in laboratories while public places are filled with plastic substitutes. The pollution and lack of plants also means water and food are strictly rationed, and punishments for transgressors are harsh, such as imprisonment for water stealing. Other harsh measures are taken as well, such as imprisonment for breaking curfew and destroying pets because they are a strain on food supplies. People start dumping them in the Forbidden Zone (a ruined part of old London) instead.

Laika Severn’s sister Valli is extremely ill, but her parents cannot afford hospital care, which is for rich people only. Valli wishes to see a real flower, but where to get one? Then, one day Laika trespasses into the Forbidden Zone. To her astonishment, she finds a patch of earth with grass growing in it. As she explores further, she discovers evidence that the patch once belonged to a gardener. She finds seed packets and immediately sees her chance to grow a flower for Valli.

But the seeds need water, and that poses a problem in this water-rationed society. Eventually Laika is driven to the imprisonable offence of stealing water from school. Her transgression is photographed by “the meanest prefect in the school”, Gladvis Clampp. But instead of reporting Laika, Gladvis starts blackmailing her into doing dirty, exhausting work at her Uncle Maxwell’s food processing factory in the industrial zone, in exchange for more water. He is only too pleased to have cheap labour that he can pay just with water and does not care that it is illegal because Laika is underage. And in return, he gives Gladvis off-ration food.

Nonetheless, the seeds start sprouting, and they start with the tears Laika sheds. Then Laika finds a water source in an old washroom because the authorities forgot to turn off the pipes. Now Laika has no need for her water wages from Gladvis’ uncle, but she is still being blackmailed. Then, when Gladvis orders Laika to clean up to her room, Laika manages to break into Gladvis’s safe for the blackmail evidence. She discovers she is in good company – the safe is full of evidence that Gladvis has been using to blackmail people. Laika destroys everything to free her fellow victims as well as herself. Her act also sets off sprinkler systems and sends Gladvis running!

Later that evening, Laika finds that her plants seem to be growing at an unusually fast rate that seems abnormal for plant life. Another problem are the animals that have been dumped in the zone – they have grown ferocious and dangerous, and could kill people. The authorities are taking drastic measures to cull them.

Laika knows Gladvis will take revenge, but she does not anticipate how far Gladvis goes. Gladvis contrives to have her father (Mr Severn’s manager) demote Mr Severn to “C” Worker, which forces the family to relocate to the dreaded industrial zone. However, before she leaves for the industrial zone, Laika tells her friend Kara Stayn about Gladvis and urges her to pass the word around. In earshot is Miss Karvell, a teacher with a reputation for favouring Gladvis.

The industrial zone is a depressing, dreadful place to live in. It is so seriously polluted that people have to live in “horrid” shabby flats located underground. School is a dump with no lessons at all and filled with rough kids who are pale from never seeing the sun. Mr Severn is even more depressed at his new job because Grade C workers get “all the awful jobs” (something Laika herself experienced during her brief stint at the food processing plant in the industrial zone). And there is no way out of the industrial zone; once you are there, you are there for life. Not surprisingly, Mrs Severn is overwhelmed with depression and despair. Only Valli remains cheerful and hopeful because Laika promised her a flower. But Laika cannot even wangle a pass to get to her plants.

Then, Laika is surprised when the Child Protection Force arrives. They take her away and put her in with Kara’s family. They have received information that she is brilliant; brilliant children are placed in the care of the force and given privileges. This means a forced, heart-breaking separation from her family. On the other hand, it also means a return to her old school, a chance to bone up on horticulture in the library for the sake of her plants, and to see them again. When she does, she finds they are growing at a phenomenal rate and wonders if there is something odd about them. She is also puzzled as to how she got into the protection of the force; she is intelligent but not brilliant. She begins to wonder if she has a secret friend.

The rainfall (programmed so water can be collected) is advanced, and Laika goes into the Forbidden Zone as she fears her plants will be damaged. But Kara follows and suffers a head injury in a flooded underground passage, while Laika lets it slip about her garden. When they get out, they are caught by the police for curfew-breaking (also an imprisonable offence). But Miss Karvell comes and, to Laika’s surprise, gets them off the hook. However, Kara’s parents are furious with Laika over what happened.

Next day, Laika finds out that Miss Karvell is her secret friend. It turns out that Miss Karvell and other staff members were among the victims that Laika freed from Gladvis (but Gladvis looks like she is still in business and finding new victims to blackmail). In return, Miss Karvell falsified Laika’s school records to get her out of the industrial zone and into the Child Protection Force. She asks Laika to confide in her as she suspects a problem; Laika asks to keep things secret a little longer. Miss Karvell also says that Valli has worsened and nearing death. This prompts Laika to go to her garden to see if her plants have bloomed in time for Valli.

They have, but they are hideous mutants. Shocked, Laika smashes them, then tears up the seed packets and throws the seed around in a fit of pique. She heads back to Kara’s, where another shock awaits. In a state of delirium, Kara rambles about “Laika’s garden”. Fearing the police will soon arrest her for trespass in the Forbidden Zone, Laika heads back to it, collecting food rations on the way. But the rats eat her rations and the wild animals force her to barricade herself into the washroom. Hunger drives her out in search of more rations, but she gets lost in dense fog. Meanwhile, the police force things out of the weakened Kara and head to the zone to look for Laika.

Back in the Forbidden Zone, Laika suddenly smells a heady perfume. It is so powerful she can follow it, even in the fog. It leads straight back to her garden. Laika is astonished to find her garden is now suddenly a tropical paradise!

Laika realises the plants must have grown from the seed she threw about when she had her tantrum, but cannot understand why they have grown so fast or huge. Then she discovers an old notebook left by the gardener. He was conducting experiments to reverse the environmental damage to his garden. At the time his efforts failed, but now they are paying off. However, the garden is producing mutant flowers, hence the abnormalities Laika has noticed.

Laika then gets a most daring idea – trade the notebook with the scientific community in exchange for the best hospital care for her sister. She enlists the help of Miss Karvell for this, while running the gauntlet with the police and turning the heads of the townsfolk with armfuls of real flowers in the process. Laika’s plan works and help arrives in the nick of time for the dying Valli. By the time Valli has recovered enough, her flower is waiting for her. And there is a butterfly to go with it. Nobody has seen a butterfly for ages, and they take it for a sign that Earth’s ecology will be restored.

Thoughts

Jinty was known for her environmental stories, and The Forbidden Garden is another of her most endearing classics on this theme. Its message of what we can do to our environment through pollution and other careless acts seems even more real now in an era of increasing mass extinctions and even bees under threat. Even if we survive, the society we could create for ourselves may be even grimmer than the one depicted in the story, which was grim enough. The drive to preserve the existing food and water has produced harsh measures, which can be seen in every inch of society, and not just in laws governing water-stealing and killing pets because they are a drain on food supplies. And the Forbidden Zone, which gives Laika indications of how life used to be, contrasts so wistfully with the life she has to lead because there are no plants. For example, Laika sees old advertisements for sweets and vegetable seeds, and reflects ruefully on how she cannot have either; sweets are banned and nobody can grow fresh vegetables except in laboratories.

We also see the bleakness in the uncle’s food processing factory, where work is done by hand because machines are a drain on the country’s dwindling power supply. The monotonous, repetitive, boring work makes the factory a grim place to work in; “the workers look like robots” and “bored stiff”. The work Laika is forced to do is even worse – the gruelling job of cleaning out vats with cleaning chemicals that choke her. It exemplifies what is meant by the “awful jobs” that the Grade C workers are lumbered with in the industrial zone, and what Mr Severn must go through at work when he is demoted to C Grade. And the uncle makes it even grimmer for the factory because he is a mean man who is capable of underhand tactics such as exploiting underage workers and giving his niece off-ration food in exchange for providing him with Laika’s cheap labour. It would not be surprising if he and Gladvis make a regular habit out of exploiting her blackmail victims in this way.

The caste system that Laika seems to live under makes it even grimmer. From what we gather, the worker system is graded A, B and C. A is the top, where the Clampp family is, B is the middle, where Laika’s family are, and C is the very bottom, where the worst jobs are reserved for people, and no way out of the depressing, polluted and clearly underfunded and uncared-for industrial zone. And the pollution of the industrial zone, which forces its people to live in dilapidated underground flats, shows just how many lessons have been learned about the dangers of pollution after the mass plant extinction it has caused. Even brilliance (presumably driven by a desperate need to preserve the best) causes more oppression, with authorities granting special privileges to brilliant children, but also forcing their removal from their families and into the protection of the child protection force. And money, as always, defines the class distinctions even further; hospital care, for example, is for the rich only.

Nobody seems to speak out against the severity of this society, nor do we see what happens to anyone who does. Demotion to the industrial zone seems a punishment in itself, and its use against the Severns indicates that it can be used – and abused – to get rid of people. It would not be surprising if the industrial zone is used in this manner regularly.

The heroine herself is not quite a rebel against the system either. Unlike Cassy Shaw of Land of No Tears, who rebels outright to change the oppressive Alpha-Gamma system, Laika is no crusader who wants to change the inequities and harsh measures of her society. Sure, she hates the destruction of the planet’s ecology, defies the law to break into the Forbidden Zone and in obtaining water, and fumes at how her sister is dying because they cannot afford hospital care. But the liberties she takes are driven by her love for her sister, and to fulfil her sister’s dying wish to have a real flower. Nonetheless she too ends up changing her society – not through rebellion and overthrowing the system, but by taking the first step to reverse the ecological damage that led to its creation.

Some things do stretch a point. It is never explained how mankind actually survived the extinction of the plants or the atmospheric pollution, or how they manage to survive without plants – except in a very oppressive manner. For that matter, it is not explained how Earth itself manages to keep going without plants. And even if the flowers in Laika’s garden are mutants, it is stretching credibility that they can start growing from Laika’s tears or grow so fast and huge after a deluge of water. They could have not had more than a week to do so.

Still, this story stands the test of time, and the issues it explored then are perhaps even more relevant today. It is a well-written story, filled with drama, emotion, and hope and love against desperate odds, a race against time, and an oppressive system. And the artwork of Jim Baikie lends itself brilliantly to the depiction of this harsh society with his cross hatching and powerful line work. A stalwart of science fiction stories in 2000AD, Baikie was right at home here with The Forbidden Garden. It is small wonder that The Forbidden Garden was one of Jinty’s most popular and best-remembered stories. It is a real shame that its reprint in Tammy (possibly prompted by Pam’s Poll in 1980) was cut off so abruptly by Tammy’s sudden disappearance.

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18 thoughts on “The Forbidden Garden (1979)

  1. It’s such a classic story. Yes, there is little explanation of how they got to the point where the story starts, but then utopias often don’t show how they became utopias either; the same often goes for dystopias too.

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