Publication: 22 December 1979 to 15 March 1980
Artist: Phil Gascoine
Writer: Gerry Finley-Day?; idea by Terence Magee (see comments)
Laura Ashbourne, her older brother Steve and their dog Scratch live in a high-rise flat at Craigmuir Estate. Steve is working on a building site in North Street, a street with a reputation for hauntings. The workings uncover some broken pottery. The pottery strikes Laura as unusual and she takes the pieces home. Later, Laura’s art teacher Miss Carter informs her about some unusual activity (bangs, screams, objects being thrown about) in North Street 50 years previously, and broken pottery was also found afterwards. The events drove her mother out.
In her room, Laura reassembles the pieces, which form a Viking’s head. Then the head starts screaming and shatters again.
At the site, a workman is attacked with no explanation. Laura finds more broken pottery, along with a pendant. When assembled, the pottery forms a hand holding a dagger, while the image of a crying Viking princess appears in the pendant, but only Laura can see her.
The hand holding the dagger comes to life and tries to attack the pendant, but Scratch smashes it. Then a Viking statue, minus its right arm, follows Laura all the way home and makes a grab for the pendant. But Scratch trips it up, and it smashes.
The princess in the pendant, later calling herself Leh, starts appealing to Laura for help in saving her from the warriors. She is growing weaker, and the warriors’ revenge will be complete.
Laura has a terrible nightmare of a cavern where Leh calls to her, but then she has frightening encounters with a serpent goddess, a wolf, and the clay Vikings statues who have fun with her. At the site the next morning, Laura sees the wolf from her nightmares, lying dead amid more broken pottery. It crumbles into dust.
A teacher confiscates the pendant, which has another clay warrior break into the school in search of it. It also gets smashed when Scratch attacks it, but the police blame Laura for the damage it causes. The pendant causes time to reverse, enabling Laura to get away. But then Miss Carter wants to reassemble the clay pieces, which would restore the warrior. Laura allows it, and then puts the pendant in the warrior’s hand to see what it does. It goes into a secret cavern.
Later, Laura makes her own way into the cave, recognising it as the cavern from her nightmare. She comes to a Viking longship, where she finds Leh tied to the mast. She releases Leh, but then Leh suddenly transforms into a hideous crone. Leh is really Hel, the demon goddess of the Underworld, and she has tricked Laura into unleashing her. (Leh is Hel spelt backwards.)
Hel ties Laura to the mast and explains that Thor sentenced her and her wolf, Fenrin (the wolf seen earlier) to death for the misery she inflicted on mankind. But being a goddess of the Underworld, the only way to kill her was to hold her captive for 1000 years, after which she would crumble into dust. Thor used animated clay warriors as her guards because they would be immune to her powers, which only affect mortals. They tied her to the mast and brought her to the cave that they built themselves, where they kept her under guard and repelled anyone who came near. The roadworks in North Street threatened Hel’s prison, and that is why they have been attacking it. They were trying to grab the pendant because they realised Hel was using it to try to escape. Most of the warriors got smashed over the years, like the ones Laura has seen, and only two remain. Now the 1000 years are nearly up and Hel is about to die. So she switches bodies with Laura, leaving Laura to perish in her place while she wreaks havoc in Laura’s body.
The clay warriors do not believe Laura when she explains what happened, but they eventually do so once they realise her demeanour is not the same. They untie her and go to her flat to retrieve Hel. But Steve takes them to be evil and smashes them.
Then Scratch, who has realised it is not Laura, attacks her. Hel uses her powers to repel Scratch and then Steve. This reveals herself, so she tells Steve who she is and that Laura is trapped in her dying body. After Hel leaves, Miss Carter arrives, and says analysis of the pottery revealed that it looked like human cells, but made of clay. So she believes Steve when he says what happened. A battered Scratch leads them to the cave and the dying Laura. Laura tells them to piece the warriors back together to restore them.
Tracking down Hel is easy because she could not resist causing havoc. Recapturing her is also easy, because Laura’s body could not take the strain of her powers and she is weakening. But Laura, trapped in Hel’s body, now looks dead.
They switch the bodies of Laura and Hel back in the barest nick of time – only milliseconds before Hel’s body crumbles into dust. Their task done, the warriors burn Hel’s remains, the longship, and themselves on it. But before they do, they give Laura the pendant, which now has their images on it.
Afterwards, Laura expresses a whole new respect for old people and the ravages of ageing.
This story is one of Jinty’s best-remembered spooky stories, and it’s no wonder –this has to be one of the scariest she has ever produced. Clay figures that come to life, scream, move around, follow you all the way home, and attack you? Whoa, that alone is the stuff of nightmares, and that’s even without the nightmare that Laura has, which is filled with nightmare caverns, frightening figures from Norse myth and a damsel in distress. The fact that it’s clay make it even more scary because clay is supposed to be inert. It’s a story worthy of Misty herself.
The use of Norse mythology adds to the atmosphere because there is a rugged brutishness and unearthliness about it that, say, Greek mythology, cannot reproduce, and readers can really sink their teeth into it. The artwork of Phil Gascoine is the perfect fit for the Viking theme, which enhances the story even more. And Vikings themselves are associated with brutality, which makes the story even more scary as you expect the Viking warriors might start burning and pillaging or something.
This is the only Jinty story that uses a goddess as a villain, though Hel can be put into the same class as the hag villains in other Jinty stories such as “Golden Dolly – Death Dust!”, because she pretty much is one by the time Laura meets her. And Hel is not a hag who bides her time gathering spells together or forcing some hapless girl to do her bidding. Nope, once she’s out, she’s off causing straight out mayhem and destruction that sends the whole town crazy. And this makes it even more exciting.
The twist that the story takes makes it even more effective because it completely takes us by surprise. We’re all set up for a damsel-in-distress who needs to be rescued from evil. It looks like it’s going to be the stuff of fairy tales. But then it all gets turned on its head when it is revealed that the princess is really the villain in disguise while the clay warriors, who had appeared to be the threat, were in fact the good guys. A salutary lesson that things are not always what they seem.
And then there is the anxiety when Laura is trapped in Hel’s ageing body and on the brink of death. She’s full of distress and tears, trapped in a 1000-year old body that could give out any time now. She’s lying in Steve’s arms, and he too is filled with torment at his sister’s plight and imminent death. It’s filled with anguish that takes us right up to the very edge of our seats, for by the time the warriors return with Hel in Laura’s body, Laura looks so far gone that it seems too late already. Nobody’s even sure that the reverse-body transfer is able to take place at all once the warriors start it. Incidentally, this is the first Jinty story that uses the theme of switching bodies (the second was “A Spell of Trouble”).
“When Statues Walk…” was one of the Jinty stories profiled in Pam’s Poll in 1980, which is further indication of how popular it must have been. It would not have been surprising if this had prompted a popular demand to bring it back. For it is a brilliantly-crafted story, filled with atmosphere, emotion, scares, the power of the gods, and twists and turns that go up right to the end. And it’s all flavoured with the mythology of Norse legend.
[Edited to add: the body-switching episode is so well drawn that it is worth adding the scans for it into the post, too. – Comixminx]