Publication: 2 October 1976 – 13 November 1976
Artist: Keith Robson
In an future world (possibly alternate reality) of the 1980s, Britain has been in drought for seven years. It has now reached the point where people are desperate, starving and psychologically reverting to more savage levels. Refugees flock to the cities in search of food; when such people arrive at Fountain-le-Green, they are beaten off by armed parish council men led by Mr Danby, who don’t want outsiders getting their food. Jassy Hurst is more kind and gives the starving people what food she can spare, but this does not make her popular with the hard townsfolk who say she is throwing away food on “trash”.
Then Jassy accidentally finds she has a gift for water dowsing, apparently inherited from her grandfather, and is soon finding her own water sources. But people get suspicious when they see how lush her garden is and Jassy tells Danby her secret. But this puts her in great danger because psychic people have been the targets of witch-hunting martial law state persecution ever since a man with second sight prophesied that there would be no rain for many years.
Danby and his council blackmail Jassy into finding water for them. Unknown to her, they are also extorting payments from people in exchange for her services and making a profit. When Jassy finds out, she runs off and finds a power plant run by Sir Harmer Jeffreys. Sir Harmer takes her prisoner. He has heard stories of what Danby has been up to with Jassy and soon realises who she is. He explains that the drought is crippling his power plant and wants Jassy to find water for him. He assures Jassy that he will share whatever water she finds with the villagers and not take it all for himself. But his word is doubtful as he looks a real villain.
Sure enough, Sir Harmer is soon exploiting Jassy’s water dowsing powers as much as Danby did. It takes the form of a false religion, with Jassy blackmailed into being set up as a water goddess who can work miracles. Worse, it practises human sacrifice, with a blind boy named Mark being used as the sacrifice.
Jassy does not realise the real reason for the sacrifice: Mark has his own psychic powers that threaten Sir Harmer. While bouncing a ball he sings:
“Bouncing high, bouncing low, I’m the only one to know. Never, never shall it rain while the power plant shall remain.”
Jassy beats Sir Harmer at his own game by feigning the divine will of the goddess that Mark become a servant to her priestess. Sir Harmer is forced to agree to having Mark at the posh apartments he has set up for Jassy. But he is worried as he would be in serious trouble if people catch on to what Mark was singing.
Mark’s ball has been confiscated and he can only sing his psychic songs when he has the ball. It is found and Mark sings his song again. Jassy realises what it means – the chemicals from the new process at Sir Harmer’s plant are causing the drought. They must escape and warn the government. They do so by distracting the guards with a fire and with the guidance of Mark’s powers.
They are taken in by a kindly couple, Mr and Mrs Blake who know all about how villainous Sir Harmer is. They say he is also one of the richest men in England who will be building more of his power stations across the world – which will mean a world-wide drought. Jassy tells them that Sir Harmer’s plant is causing the drought and what they are trying to do. Jassy also decides to track down other dowsers in hiding and rally them into a force for the government to take notice of, and this is soon getting results. But of course Sir Harmer is trying to hunt them down.
Soon the children experience another danger – a wandering lion. But it turns out the lion belongs to one Lord Merrow, who used to have a safari park before the drought. Lord Merrow takes them in. Upon hearing their story, he uses what petrol he has to get them on their way, and then faces up to Sir Harmer’s men who are in hot pursuit. They end up shooting Lord Merrow and his lion.
The children are captured by a bounty hunter who is after Sir Harmer’s reward. A policeman spots them and tries to stop what looks like an attempted kidnapping. But upon hearing the children have psychic powers, the policeman has the children brought to the Tower of London where other psychics are imprisoned. The bounty hunter informs Sir Harmer that the children have been taken care of.
Jassy continuously makes warnings that Sir Harmer’s plant is causing the drought, and people begin to take notice. Sir Harmer hears of this and orders that the children be brought to him. But the rumours about Jassy and the plant have spread far enough for an angry mob to attack Downing Street, demanding water and that the Prime Minister release the children. The Prime Minister agrees to Jassy being brought to him.
In the Tower, Mark sings another song that hints that courage will win through. So when the guards come, Jassy insists that Mark come too. When they arrive, Sir Harmer tries to shoot Jassy while she tries to tell the mob outside the truth. Mark stops Sir Harmer and he is taken into custody. Jassy tells the crowd that she has found water dowsers all over the country who can help them find water, including the people imprisoned in the Tower. The Prime Minister has the psychics released from the Tower and shuts the plant down. The water dowsers help find water until rain finally falls, which it does three months after the closure of the plant. Jassy can now put away her wand of power.
In 1976 Jinty ran “Fran of the Floods“, a story on environmental extremes; in that case, extreme flooding. In this story, in the same year, the pendulum swings to the other extreme with drought. Is it coincidence or did Jinty really intend to explore two diametrically opposed forms of environmental extremes? At any rate, this story could be considered as anticipatory as “Fran of the Floods”, which anticipated global warming. In a world where droughts are an increasing problem because of climate change and water supplies are beginning to deplete, Jassy could be considered another Jinty story ahead of its time.
But while Fran of the Floods dealt with natural environmental disaster, this is a man-made one in the form of Sir Harmer’s power plant releasing chemicals that are causing drought. Echoes of the same theme can be seen in Jinty’s 1978 story “The Birds“, where chemicals released from a new plant cause birds to go crazy and attack people.
It is a bit confusing as to how or why Sir Harmer was causing the very same drought that was also crippling his power plant through lack of water. Did he not realise what his chemicals were doing, or did he ignore or disbelieve warnings as to what the chemicals would do? Or did he know it all along and was just using it to jack up prices for his electricity and make even more money? Any of these are possible and would accommodate what would be a plot hole. What is less accommodating is why everyone was saying it was a “new” process that was causing the drought when the drought had been in effect for seven years – hardly a “new” thing. Did the plant perhaps exacerbate what was already an existing drought?
However it started, we can sure see the effects the drought is having on society. People are not only getting desperate, even savage in the face of food and water shortages, but those fascist-style uniforms the state police wear indicate that the drought has swung Britain in the direction of a totalitarian state. A state with hints of the old Nazi Germany, which is even more disturbing. Exactly how far it goes is not clear, but it is psychic people who are taking the brunt; a twist on the witch-hunting theme that appears in many serials such as “Mark of the Witch!” But instead of being persecuted by witch-hunting mobs and burned at the stake they are taken away Gestapo-style. And it’s all just because one psychic predicted the drought. A take on the old scapegoating trick? Or, if this is an alternate universe, is it an indication of superstitious attitudes that this society has? The false religion that Sir Harmer tries to set up with Jassy does point to this. People are so willing to fall for her being a miracle goddess. Has desperation driven people to extra gullibility and vulnerability, or is it also because they live in a more superstitious Britain than ours?
Keith Robson’s artwork does a brilliant job of bringing out the harshness, desperation and primal instincts that are coming out of people in the face of the droughts with the visceral quality to his heavy lines, inking and cross-hatching. His depiction of the hard, ruthless Danby men, for example gives them a near-grotesque appearance in their swarthy, thuggish looks. And Sir Harmer looks like he has fangs when he gets angry!
Jassy herself starts as an oasis of kindness (not unusual in girls’ strips) in a world where most people in her village are losing their humanity and despise her for giving food to refugees. And is that peace badge she wears on her right knee a coincidence or a symbol of how much she sets herself apart with her kindness? This alone has set her apart from her harsh society, but she becomes well and truly a victim when she discovers her special power. Worse, it makes her vulnerable not only to state oppression but to exploitation by money-grabbing men like Danby and Sir Harmer who see her power for what it is worth in this drought-stricken society.
It is no surprise that Jassy becomes a crusader and rebel out to change things in her oppressive society either. It takes the revelation of Mark, another psychic, that the plant is causing the drought, to turn her into one. But once it starts, she is quite revolutionary about it, in her campaign to rouse other psychics in hiding into rebellion. Perhaps this could have done with more development and treatment; it feels that the ending comes a bit too soon and was rushed. The psychic rebellion was an aspect that could easily have been developed more and taken an even bigger hand with the conclusion.
Although Jassy’s Wand of Power is not one of Jinty’s best-remembered stories, it is still an intriguing story that is filled with elements that would disturb readers more than usual. Armed thugs ready to drive off people who are desperate for food? A false religion that practises human sacrifice? Fascist-style state police in Britain rounding people up? A man shot in cold blood for trying to save the children? It would certainly give readers the shudders. Its strongest point of all is the environmental aspect and the damage mankind is doing to the Earth. And considering the global-warming world we live in, that point would be felt even more strongly than when it came out in 1976.