Artist: Jim Baikie
Writer: Alison Christie (now Fitt)
Reprint: Tina Topstrip #42 as “De betovering van het spinnewiel / The magic of the spinning wheel”
Rowan Lindsay’s shepherd father is an outstanding cross-country runner and is determined to “blaze the name of Lindsay beyond this humble dale!” But his ambition is dashed when he is rendered lame after a fall into a quarry. So it now falls to Rowan to blaze the name of Lindsay in cross-country running.
Dad cannot work because of his injury and money is tight. Mum sets up a craft shop, but it isn’t taking off. Then, on a visit to the next village, Rowan is inspired by a spinning wheel being sold at auction. She is surprised to find nobody bidding against her. The bidders even warn her against buying it; one woman says she would not touch it for all the tea in China while another tells Rowan she is buying a whole load of trouble. Rowan is puzzled, but she brushes it off and has the spinning wheel delivered to her house. Soon business is booming with Mum selling handspun wool.
But soon the warnings bear out when Rowan pricks her finger on the spinning wheel. A strange sensation goes through her, and then Rowan finds any humming noise is sending her to sleep. This starts interfering with Rowan’s cross-country running, and even puts her life in danger several times. Dad believes Rowan when she says the spinning wheel has put a Sleeping Beauty-type spell on her, but Mum just won’t and thinks it is rubbish. She keeps thinking Rowan is ill and having dizzy spells and wastes doctors’ time and Rowan’s by sending her to medical examinations. Doctors think it is exertion and bar Rowan from running. Dad, who believes in the spell, helps Rowan to train secretly, but there are ructions with Mum when she finds out.
To complicate matters, the Lindsays need the spinning wheel for their income, which makes it all the more difficult to get rid of it. And what with Mum spinning at it all the time to make wool and money, Rowan can’t escape the humming and the sleeping spells.
It gets worse when Rowan’s cross-country rival Della Barnes discovers Rowan’s weakness and starts taking advantage of it to send Rowan to sleep with the sound of hair dryers and such. But at one point she gets a nasty shock when she allows Rowan to fall asleep after hearing the hum of bees – only to find Rowan nearly drowned because she had her head in a stream. Later on she tries to put Rowan to sleep with her tranny while Rowan is running on an emergency, but Rowan manages to beat her.
Mum won’t listen and their efforts to convince her just lead to rows. So Rowan and Dad try other ways to deal with the spinning wheel. Once it becomes manifest that removing it from the house is not the answer, the only answer is to destroy it. Rowan tries having it replaced with a look-alike. But it feels like the evil spinning is striking back. Rowan nearly goes over a cliff and the replacement spinning wheel falls to the bottom.
However, the spinning wheel does have its weaknesses. One weakness is that the spell doesn’t work when the spinning wheel gets damaged and is out of action. But once the spinning wheel is repaired, it and its evil spell are back in business. Another weakness is that its power weakens over distance, as Rowan discovers when it goes to London with Mum. But then Mum gets a tummy bug (we wonder why?) and comes back with the spinning wheel. Back to square one.
Rowan reaches breaking point and just runs off – only to fall under the wheel of a car. When she wakes up in hospital, she feels the spinning wheel engineered that too. While she recovers at home, a hiker drops by. He seems to believe Rowan’s story and offers help. But they soon find he is student psychiatrist who thinks she is mentally ill. Dad throws him out, but not before his interfering gets Rowan so upset that she throws bricks at the spinning wheel and Dad and Mum have yet another row.
Nobody seems to pursue the history of the spinning wheel and what makes it tick, despite the warnings Rowan received about it having an evil reputation.
A doctor gives the green light for Rowan to resume cross-country running. And it is here that the old adage that “seeing is believing” comes to the rescue. The spinning wheel takes a step too far by spinning all by itself in order to put Rowan to sleep and put her out of a big cross-country event. But when Mum sees what the spinning wheel is doing, she is finally convinced and has it destroyed in “The Burnings”, a carryover from witch-hunting days.
Rowan is free to pursue her cross-country event without fear of falling asleep from humming noises. She wins of course, while jealous Della does her best to lose gracefully. Mum agrees that Rowan is more important than money, and Dad promises her another spinning wheel. Rowan is going on to carry the Lindsay torch and let the spell of the spinning wheel fade into memory.
This is regarded as one of Jinty’s best-remembered stories, and it is the only serial I have seen that features a spinning wheel. I am a spinner myself, and this is one reason I have always been drawn to this story.
The evil influence in this story is unusual in that we can’t actually see just what the evil is. In most evil influence stories there is an expression of evil (either from the object itself or the person wielding it) that not only makes it more frightening but also gives clues as to what motivates the influence (revenge, power, or general maliciousness). This is not the case here; there are no apparitions of evil faces, whispering voices, dreams or whatever to scare the living daylights out of the readers and the protagonist while at the same time providing hints as to what is happening. In the case of the spinning wheel, the evil itself cannot be seen, except in the final episode where it starts spinning by itself. For the most part the influence of the spinning wheel is felt rather than seen as its terror over Rowan increases.
The evil of the spinning wheel is perhaps all the more terrifying because we don’t know why it is evil. Rowan gets warnings that the spinning wheel has an evil history, but she does not go back to follow them up and learn all she can about the spinning wheel. This is something that heroines in evil influence stories normally do, and Rowan not doing it leaves a gap in the story that is rather frustrating. Readers must have been dying to know the truth about the spinning wheel, what with all the hints Rowan gets when she buys it, and they must have been annoyed that the reveal never comes. The fact that the spinning wheel was destroyed in a carryover from witch-hunting does suggest a connection to witchcraft. Did a previous owner have a reputation for it? Was it cursed by someone with a reputation for sorcery, such as a witch or gypsy? Was there material on it with a reputation for evil? Or was it something else – Sleeping Beauty herself, maybe? We never know because nobody goes to find out.
Perhaps Rowan doesn’t chase up the history of the spinning wheel because she and her father are too fixated on how to break its power. Destroying it is the obvious answer, but they are frustrated by Mum refusing to believe the spinning wheel is evil, and she also needs it to make money.
It is a bit odd that the spinning wheel seems to strike back when Rowan tries to fight it, but it does nothing when Mum takes it to the Burnings. Maybe it thought the game was up once Mum saw it spinning by itself? Or maybe it realised too late what was happening? Or were all those accidents and Mum’s tummy bug just coincidences and all the spinning wheel could do was send Rowan to sleep? The story is so skilfully crafted at keeping the evil more felt than seen that we cannot know for sure. Then again, perhaps the Lindsay parents disabled it to render it powerless before bringing it to the Burnings.