The Girl Who Never Was (1978 – 1979)

Sample images

From Jinty 13 Jan 1979

From Jinty 13 Jan 1979
click thru
From Jinty 13 Jan 1979
click thru

Publication: 7 October 1978 – 17 February 1979 (17 episodes)
Artist: Terry Aspin
Writer: Unknown

Translation/reprints: Translated into Dutch as ‘De verbanning van Irma IJsinga’ [Irma IJsinga’s Banishment] (in: Tina 1981).

Synopsis

Tina Williams is ever so good at what she does – school sports and academic achievements both – but she is a big-headed arrogant girl who none of her peers like, apart from one pair who toady up to her all the time. More tellingly, her parents seem to have lost control of her long ago too, and she neither respects them nor is even polite to them. She sounds a pain to be around – in the first episode her school goes on a theatre outing to see Salina the Sorceress, and Tina spoils all the magic tricks by explaining them. But she can’t explain away the Disappearing Gateway that Salina asks her to enter, warning that “you may not return… not to this world, anyway.” The bright light of the gateway, once dimmed, shows that she is in a suddenly-empty, indeed abandoned, theatre, and once she has managed to walk home, she finds that her parents don’t even recognize her. A spooky start!

She quickly finds that she is in a parallel world in which she was never born, which is enough of a shock – her parents call her Gina by mistake, and she has to sleep in the spare room (which should by rights be her own bedroom, full of trophies and clothes and things). Her parents are at least willing to take her in, but that’s only once she mentions the name ‘Salina’. It turns out that there are more shocks in store – Salina is Professor of Advanced Sorcery and an accomplished magic worker – which is proved to Tina as she disappears in front of their very eyes! Not before showing Tina a few home truths about how unpleasant, ‘conceited and self-centred’ she is, and making it quite clear that if she’s not prepared to recognize that, then she can jolly well stay here in this world. And of course at this point, Tina doesn’t recognize it – her reaction is to deny it with “I can’t help it if everyone is more stupid than me!”

For someone so clever, Tina is a bit slow on the uptake as to the implications of this new world she has been landed in – I think she is understandably a bit afraid of what she might find and perhaps not trying to think it through. She tells herself rather optimistically that perhaps only Salina has strange magic powers (but if so, how would the university have a department of sorcery?) and tries to behave in her usual way (throwing her weight around with her parents). When she gets to school, she very much wants it to be business as usual  with her beating the pants off fellow schoolgirl Lindy; but all the other schoolgirls wonder why she hasn’t bothered using magic in their swimming contest, if she’s meant to be so good at swimming. Tina quickly finds out that as magic a part of everyday life on this world, to be a success you therefore need to be able to do magic well! Simply swimming well doesn’t mean anything, if you can’t also counter a spell to drain the pool too. Not that she takes this change of the rules of life graciously, of course.

Rival Lindy is consistently nice to Tina, trying to show her around and console her when she is visibly upset at losing. But she can’t shield Tina from other surprises, such as finding out that the science class is covering alchemy today! Tina thinks she’s clever by making an excuse to be let off – saying she hit her head when Lindy drained the pool too quickly – and skips to the local library to start boning up on magic now that she recognizes she will never be a success without mastering it. Humiliatingly, the only ‘teach yourself’ book that she stands any chance of understanding is targeted at four to five year olds, but at least she is able to master the simple spell of moving an object by magic. When she uses it in her hockey game she still finds further surprises  – it works quite well the first time, but the second time she tries it she is sent off, because you’re only allowed to use one spell per girl per game. She moans to herself “How can I know all the rules when I don’t belong to this world?” but she hasn’t really tried to find them out, say by confiding in the rather nice Lindy.

Instead, she consistently tries to land Lindy in the soup – but this world has an underlying fairness in much of the way it works. One of her attempts to land Lindy in trouble means that they are both subjected to a trial by magic – whereby both the girls jump into the pool with weights on! “If you sink, you’re innocent… if you float, you’re guilty!” Tina is relieved to think that of course she will sink, with the heavy weight that she’s attached to – but the trial by magic is cleverer than that, and she is revealed to be a liar in front of the whole school.

Presumably to save her from continual humiliation, the story now takes a slight twist. Tina demands to see Salina so that she can be sent back to her own world, but she is still away on a trip. Instead, Salina’s younger twin sisters give her an unexpected gift – 9 spells that she can cast whenever she wants, to do pretty much whatever she needs. But – she can’t use any one of them more than once, and she won’t know in advance what exactly the spell will do, except that it will be appropriate to the occasion… The first one, cast before she even knew the detail of what had happened, was when Tina cast a flying spell onto a car that was about to crash into Lindy – and it worked very well, even making Tina into a local heroine at school. But of course some of the other schoolgirls want her to cast the same flying spell on them, and they jump from a high window as a result! Tina’s next spell is more amusing than astounding – they have a bouncing spell put on them, which the girls in question aren’t best pleased by, but the rest of the class thinks was rather funny.

We can see that the pattern of the next few episodes will be shaped by the remaining 7 spells, and how Tina can best use them – or avoid wasting them. The two girls who had the bouncing spell cast on them are still pretty cross about it, and they cast a dancing-feet spell on Tina as she is on her way home that night – as a result she can’t stop dancing, and by the time the spell wears off she is miles from home and very tired. She doesn’t want to use up one of her precious spells to counter it, so she only gets home very late indeed. Her parallel earth parents have been worried sick, but Tina can’t be bothered to explain. Her cavalier attitude gets her grounded – her parents tell her to stay in the next day, regardless of her other commitments (which in this case is her decision to enter yet another swimming contest against Lindy). And they back it up with a spell, that makes it impossible to leave the house. Of course faced with this, she does use up one of her spells – but again it works in a way she hadn’t expected – this time by making the whole house disappear!

The swimming contest goes her way, but the next round will be tougher (for one thing, spells will be allowed in the next round). Tina is happy to have got through but as a result, slips back into the old self she has started to cast off at earlier points – she boasts and sounds conceited, and the other girls give her the cold shoulder as a result. Apart from the rather saintly Lindy, who tries to get through to her, and manages enough of a breakthrough that Tina does start to think that maybe having friends would be nicer than being the top girl with no friends. In the spirit of turning over a new leaf, she hurries home to try to get back before her parents return – only to find that they’re back already, and stunned to find their house vanished and the nosy neighbour ready to accuse Tina of the evil spell that must have done it!

The police are ready to haul her off to the station for interviewing, when the house suddenly re-appears, and news comes in that it wasn’t her, after all – it was Salina who did it, and so she could be set free. Very puzzling to Tina, of course, who knows jolly well that she did do it! But it gives her a new hope, because if Salina has returned, then she can ask her to send her back to her own world. Full of this optimism, Tina spends a couple of her spells to actually make other people happy – a spell to make her parents’ garden flourish as it never had done before, and one for her school peers, to cheer them up. And it’s a lovely treat for Tina, too, who is enjoying making other people happy – not only because it’s gratifying in itself, but because she is discovering that it can yield unexpected ways for her to enjoy herself too. She’d never have known about magic skateboarding otherwise!

Sadly for Tina, she is soon down to earth with a bump again. Salina wasn’t back yet, after all – it was the twins who had sent the message about Salina. Tina is furious, but the twins show her in their crystal ball how happy the spells she cast (once she thought she was going) made others. But Tina is not a redeemed person yet – she pinches the crystal ball when it is left unguarded. She doesn’t like what she sees when she tries it next – her losing to Lindy – and in a temper, she sweeps the ball onto the floor, where it cracks into pieces. It turns out that in this world, breaking a crystal ball is much worse than breaking a mirror – something awful is guaranteed to happen to the one who broke it. In Tina’s case, she loses the swimming race and in a rage, uses a black magic spell against Lindy (though the twins try to stop her, saying it is the curse of the ball that is making her do it). Lindy is turned into a toad, in front of everyone! And though Tina turns her back again right away, this sort of black magic is totally beyond the pale, and everyone turns against her – including her parents and school friends. And she only has two spells left now…

The twins spirit her away, but the only real solution is for Tina to reach Salina, who is on a retreat at the top of a tall mountain. The only catch is that Salina has put a spell on the mountain – “anyone thinking mean or nasty thoughts will be stopped from getting to the top.” That means that Tina must control herself much more than she has been able to do in the past! First she is dumped back down to the bottom, where they all started; then she must face a dragon and a giant. Luckily for her, she has a counteracting nice thought “Oh, if only I’d listened to the twins! They’ve been so good to me. I wish I could take back everything nasty that I thought!” And that does the trick – the last spell kicks in and wipes out the giant and the dragon, and she finally gets to see Salina. Or does she? All she can see is the twins – but it turns out that they were Salina, all along! She knew Tina needed someone to keep an eye out for her. The mountain was just a last test, to see if she was ready to return to her own world. Salina sends her back, with one spell still to spare.

In her own world, it turns out that she has been in a coma for two months, and everyone had nearly given up hope that she would recover. Salina had been coming in to see her every day, consumed with guilt over the accident that put her in a coma when the magic act made her hit her head. But where are her parents and friends, why aren’t they coming to see her? Tina can only think it is because she has been so nasty in the past, they don’t care about her. And even the reformed Tina can perhaps be forgiven for lashing out a little, upset that no one has come to visit her apart from Salina, and her parents very briefly. But Salina has come to pick her up on her discharge, and in her neat roadster, Tina finds herself telling the whole story. Including the bit about the left-over spell, which Salina urges her to try out – and so Tina does, asking for a spell that would make people like her. Behold – the door to her house opens onto a welcome-back party, done as a surprise by her parents and schoolfriends, who kept it a secret until she got back home. Tina, the reformed character, vows she won’t need spells to make herself liked in the future!

Thoughts

This is a favourite story of mine, though not quite making it into my top ten. The parallel universe where magic works is a great draw and a very fun read. We enjoy seeing Tina’s discomfiture with things not going as she expected! It was clearly pretty successful: it is the lead story throughout its run (though it only makes it onto the cover once), and was translated into Dutch.

Of course it needs to have a bigger aim or structure, and in this case it’s a redemption story: Tina is a pretty unpleasant girl, who is redeemed through her tribulations. Her unpleasantness is shown to be simply selfishness and big-headedness rather than anything outright villainous, so it does not stretch credulity too much to have her end the story as a rather nicer girl than she was at the start of it (whereas the black-hearted Stacey in “Slave of Form 3B” would be much less believable as a reformed character). This is just as well, as the story rushes a little quickly towards her change of heart at the end, despite it being a relatively long story at 17 episodes.

It makes quite an interesting comparison with two other stories from around the same time: 1977-78’s story “Land of No Tears” is also a redemption narrative of sorts, as is “She Shall Have Music” (which actually ran in many of the same issues as “The Girl Who Never Was”). LONT has a different feel and different ending – once Cassie Shaw lands in the world of the future she is out to beat her hated rival and (eventually) to defeat the whole premise of the unfair society that she is placed in. The fact that she improves in character is incidental, in a way, though the Cassie at the end of the story certainy is a great improvement on the one that starts the story.

Tina’s story is all about her redemption: the world she is placed in is also unfair in many ways (there would be no appeal from the punishment she was due to get for turning Lindy into a toad) but the thrust of the story isn’t about the greater good, it’s all about Tina learning to appreciate her own mistakes and becoming less self-centred. In this story, Salina (or the twins, whichever way you want to see it) is clearly guiding and testing her, rather like a fairy godmother. When the twins leave Tina alone with the crystal ball, they are obviously tempting her (and she fails); later on when she has to climb the magic mountain then again she is being tested, very explicitly so, and this time she passes.

In SSHM, Lisa Carstairs also has to learn to be less self-centred and conceited, but she has no kindly fairy-godmother equivalent. The trials she goes through are considerably harsher, and with nothing that lets her out easily. It’s a much harder read; Lisa herself is considerably more unpleasant than Tina too. I think the harshness of the story with its realistic tribulations (poverty and deprivation, tiredness, hunger, relationship difficulties caused by changed circumstances), ties into the unpleasantness of the main character: Lisa is so horrible throughout much of the story that she needs that realism of ‘no easy get-out’, otherwise the final redemption wouldn’t work. Will Tina’s change of heart last once she is back in her own world, without a magical companion looking over her shoulder? I am not so sure that it will, whereas Lisa’s and Cassie’s new leaf will stay turned over, I think.

 

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23 thoughts on “The Girl Who Never Was (1978 – 1979)

  1. Personally, I find Lisa not so much unpleasant but naff, which makes her really irritating.

    I found it astonishing that in the wake of the forbidden spell a tribunal turns up with the judge telling Tina she’s already been found guilty and sentence is going to be passed. She was found guilty in her absence without being allowed to stand trial? If they’d just turned up to arrest her it would have sounded more reasonable.

    1. Lisa is indeed naff and irritating, but she’s much more actively horrible to her parents than Tina ever was. She Shall Have Music has lovely art, but it’s not a story I’d ever dig out to read for pleasure (though if I had to choose between Lisa and soppy Ann in “I’ll Make Up For Mary” I’d chose Lisa in a heartbeat).

    2. I guess the thing about a world run by magic is that they can tell what actually happened, through magical means (like the trial by magic which didn’t depend on detective work to figure out who was telling the truth). And then if you have people who can work magic, you probably need to deal with them as quick as quick can be, otherwise they would be able to cause all sorts of damage! Not that it makes it any fairer, as it doesn’t take into account any mitigating circumstances of course.

  2. The shock of the forbidden spell fiasco – everyone except Salina turning against her, going on the run, being threatened with being turned into a statue – would surely linger for a while and keep Tina in line. Mind you, it seems to be forgotten pretty quickly once Tina starts going up the mountain. Perhaps the spell she cast to make people like her will also help her stay reformed. People can’t like her unless she is likeable.

    1. Yes, you’re right, maybe the spell will help. Also I suppose people may treat her differently given that she’s been in a coma for two months!

      1. Tina might set up some self-reminder not to slip back into her old ways. It’s happened in other stories, such as some Strange Stories I have seen.

  3. Just a detail about the title of the Dutch translation: it should be IJsinga instead of Ijsinga, so with a capital I and J. It’s difficult to explain in English why this is. Even many Dutch people don’t get this right.

  4. Terry Aspin was finishing this story at the same time he was starting a new one, Alice in a Strange Land. Bit of a contrast to Tina in that instead of improving her character the protagonist strengthens it, going from shy and underrated to courageous. At some point we have to cover that one as it is one of Jinty’s classics.

  5. Stories like this worked so well with cliffhanger endings where you had to wait a week for the next episode that I can’t help wondering if it might spoil the effect to gather the whole tale in a collected format.

    1. See my comment to Marc below – it seems to me that we’ve already got various examples of this having worked well in the past, but we will have to see…

  6. In the Dutch Tina this story had two pages each week, instead of three like in Jinty. I remember the final panel of the second sample image being the cliffhanger of one of the episodes.

    1. An interesting point! The pacing has already been rejigged in various reprints and reissues. I think we won’t know whether Phil is right or not until we start seeing more reprints coming out, though we can start to get a feel with the Misty reprint etc.But of course they did reprint stories, inclduing suspenseful ones, in annuals and the like, so in principle it should work.

  7. Come to think of it I guess it’s not all that different from TV box-sets – though in the same way I’d prefer the original logo to be preserved for each episode rather than stitching everything seamlessly together as DC Thomson did with their Lucky Charm collections.

    1. Ben Smith has said to me that they are keen to publish material in a way that reflects the original publication – so not relettering them or colouring them. I assume that means leaving the logos on too, but let’s see. The reprint of Moonchild has been scanned from an annual, and therefore was already edited back in the 80s to remove the original logo etc from the episodes, but I’m not sure where the Four Faces was scanned from.

      1. Eve was reprinted in Best of Misty Monthly #2, so that might be it. Or one of those DVDs you can get on eBay now.

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