Published: Jinty 22 December 1979 to 19 April 1980
Artist: Phil Townsend
Writer: Benita Brown?
Translations/reprints: None known
The Christmas season is a good time to look at serials with winter themes and snow settings, so we bring you this ice skating story from Jinty. Jinty herself must have thought the same way, as she started publishing it over the Christmas period. It sure made for a beautiful Christmas season cover!
When Karen Carstairs’ father dies, her mother thinks it’s so kindly for their Graham relatives to take them in. But when they arrive, Karen soon discovers it’s not so kindly. Aunt Margaret, a mean woman in both senses of the word, only wants Mum as unpaid help around the house and gives them the less comfortable apartments upstairs. Cousin Cynthia, the best ice skater in the county, is a spiteful minx and clearly her mother’s daughter. Only the uncle is kind to them, but he is too good-natured to see how nasty his wife and daughter are to their relatives.
Uncle suggests Cynthia take Karen down to the lake and teach her how to ice skate. Cynthia doesn’t look too thrilled at this as she hands Karen a pair of skates. At the lake, she and her friends are laughing at how badly Karen is doing and don’t bother with her anymore. Then a mysterious woman comes skating up, tells Karen she did badly because the blades are in poor condition (surprise, surprise!) and offers to teach Karen herself. Under her guidance, Karen is soon doing much better. Cynthia sees this and immediately smells a rival. But she doesn’t seem to be able to see the lady.
Back home, Uncle spots how poor the skates are and gives Karen good ones from the dozens of pairs they have. Cynthia says she didn’t notice the state of the blades (yeah, right).
For Karen, the lady and skating are now the only bright moments in what is clearly going to be a miserable time with her aunt and cousin. But Mum doesn’t realise she’s being taken advantage of with all these dogsbody tasks Aunt keeps finding for her. Karen tries to tell her this and helps her out wherever possible; the work is very hard and it’s telling on Mum. Even though Mum eventually gets some inkling of it herself, she feels she has to do it out of gratitude for the home they’ve been offered.
The strange skating lessons continue, with Karen making strides and Cynthia thinking Karen’s making things up or something with this mysterious lady. Karen begins to realise the lady only appears when she’s alone, and only she can see her. And she’s miles better than Cynthia. She now takes to going to the lake early to make sure she’s alone with the lady, but this gets her into trouble at home and she’s banned from skating for a week. This makes things awkward; the lady has warned the ice will thaw soon and Karen must come as often as she can before that happens, and the lady can’t guarantee coaching her at the ice rink. However, when Karen saves a farmer’s child’s life, Uncle graciously lifts the ban.
Now it’s skating by moonlight, which Karen now deems the safest time to meet the lady. Karen is surprised to briefly see a man skating with the lady, but he disappears as mysteriously as the lady herself. And the lady insists Karen ask no questions about her. And there are a lot to ask – like who is she, and why and how does she seem to disappear into thin air?
Meanwhile, it doesn’t take Cynthia long to catch on to the moonlight skating. She sneaks out to spy on it, and soon detects something very odd is going on. When it looks like Karen is just flying through the air (the lady is holding her), Cynthia faints dead away and takes a bump on the head. She mumbles about what she saw to Karen before fainting again, and now Karen knows something really strange is going on. Karen gets the farmer to help Cynthia home. As well as getting trouble over this and skating at night, which Uncle says could be dangerous, there are damned awkward questions for Karen to answer about just what happened.
Cynthia says she can’t remember what happened after that knock on the head, which helps Karen to cover up about what happened. And Cynthia suddenly going nice to Karen, even urging that Karen go on skating when Aunt tries to ban her. But of course it’s just an act. Sneaky Cynthia remembers everything and is determined to find out just who is coaching Karen, which is the only way she could have made such strides so fast with skating. Then the lady appears and warns Karen that Cynthia is speed-skating into danger, as the other end of the lake is thawing fast. Karen saves Cynthia in the nick of time, but Cynthia is suspicious as to how Karen knew about that thawing ice in the first place. For her part, Karen is suspicious as to why Cynthia didn’t notice the sludging ice, a warning of dangerous ice ahead. She noticed it herself when she went after Cynthia, and Cynthia is a far more experienced skater than her. Good question, but it’s never answered in the story.
Anyway, the lake is finished for skating and now it’s the rink for both of them. Aunt agrees to allow Karen to skate at the rink, but she will only pay for her skating sessions, not extra coaching like Cynthia. Meanwhile, Karen is worried as to how she will cope at the rink without the lady coaching her, but in a dream, the lady reassures her that she will try to find a way to help her.
At the rink, Karen soon discovers Cynthia is not at all grateful to her for the rescue. She isn’t having her friends making a heroine out of Karen over it and tries to play down Karen’s heroism by lying about what happened. Nonetheless, Karen makes a friend out of one girl, Diane, who gives her the skating outfit and tights Karen didn’t know she should have (and Cynthia obviously didn’t tell her). The coach, Miss Baker, spots Karen’s talent and wants her in Cynthia’s class. Pretending to be the nice aunt in front of everyone, Karen’s aunt agrees to pay for the extra coaching after all.
Also, Miss Baker says something that could be the first clue to the lady’s identity: “I see you’ve inherited the family talent, Karen. You remind me of the Great Margot!” Later, Aunt tells Karen the great Margot must be her husband’s great aunt, Margot Graham, who was an Olympic skating star in the 1920s. She became a very rich and famous film star and died just after the war. At home, when Karen reflects on the day’s events, she realises the lady did find ways to be there at the rink for her.
After the first lesson, Karen stays on her own for extra practice, and the tune “The Haunted Lake” from a Margot Graham film, starts playing. Once Karen’s on her own, the mysterious lady appears and skates to the music, saying it’s her music. Now Karen realises the lady is Margot Graham – but she is dead, which means…oh, finally caught on, have you, Karen?
Under Margot’s tuition, Karen makes further strides that impress the girls, but this odd talking to herself (actually, the ghost that the others can’t see) is making Cynthia suspicious. And she is so jealous at how her cousin is upstaging her as best skater that she decides it’s time to bring out her big guns.
Cynthia makes her move when Karen is given a record of “The Haunted Lake” by another friend at the rink, David, who operates the control room. She smashes the record, but then the music starts playing from somewhere else.
No, it’s not ghost music. It’s the television set, which is screening “The Haunted Lake” – and talk about life (or death?) imitating art! In the film, Margot plays a ghost haunting a lake who teaches a girl to ice skate. This has Karen babbling about Margot is now doing the same thing with her. This provides Aunt Margaret with her excuse to stop Karen skating, saying she’s ill. Meanwhile, Uncle says that the lake was where Margot first learned to skate. She always wanted to return there but was too busy with her career. Eventually, she booked a flight home to do it, but the plane crashed, killing everyone on board.
Mum shows Karen a book she has found about famous skaters. Karen now learns the name of the male skater she once saw Margot dancing with. He was another Olympic champion, Rudi Linde, and after Margot’s death he opened a skating school in Switzerland before dying just after the war.
Cynthia snatches the book away and says she’s going for an audition to win a scholarship at that skating school, now run by Rudi Linde Jnr. Karen then overhears an argument between her aunt and uncle over whether she should audition as well. Miss Baker had suggested it, but Aunt told her Karen was ill. Moreover, allowing Karen to audition could spoil Cynthia’s chances. Rather weakly, Uncle gives in. Furious, Karen decides to go for the audition.
So Karen makes her way to the rink to put a programme together. But she has to walk to the bus stop, which means a long in the snow. Worse, Cynthia and Aunt have discovered what she’s up to and give chase. They lose her, but are confident she’ll end up lost or too tired for any auditioning. Sure enough, snow is now falling and Karen’s in danger of getting lost. However, they have reckoned without Margot, who guides Karen to the town and the rink, presumably through a short cut. But then comes another snag – the rink is closed because of the upcoming audition, which means no practice or chance to put a programme together.
David comes to the rescue. He helps Karen slip in to prepare for the audition, and as she is alone, Margot appears to help her. Cynthia, Mum and Aunt burst in, with Aunt trying to block Karen from the audition again. However, Miss Baker saw Karen skating brilliantly, and as Karen is clearly not ill, she insists she take the audition, which can now begin as Linde Jnr is here.
Cynthia goes first, and she’s definitely on form. Karen is off to a somewhat uncertain start, but when “The Haunted Lake” music comes on, it gives her the boost to narrowly beat the more experienced Cynthia and win the scholarship. Karen now learns Margot was Linde Jnr’s mother; Linde Snr and Margot married, but kept the marriage secret from their fans, a common thing for film stars at the time. So Linde Jnr and Karen are relatives, and the family talent is now explained – the skating genes of Margot Graham run through both Karen and Cynthia.
Mum is given a job at the Linde school, so she’s coming to Switzerland with Karen and is no longer Aunt Margaret’s drudge. Uncle apologises to them for how his wife and daughter made their stay unhappy. At the school, Karen makes brilliant progress, and she still feels the presence of Margot when she’s skating alone.
This is a good, solid read, and the letters page indicates it was a popular story. It certainly has plenty in it to make it so: a Cinderella theme, a nasty cousin who is utterly irredeemable, a wicked stepmother type, ghosts, ice skating, a fairy godmother figure, and a girl with a wonderful secret. There’s also the Phil Townsend art, which is always popular and can be turned to a variety of genres. It is perfect for the snow settings in the story and does a good job on bringing the skating to life.
Some of the story elements we have seen many times before, but it’s nice to get some new takes on them. For example, it’s the mother who’s the Cinderella of the story rather than the heroine, who takes the more novel role of Buttons. We have no doubt if Karen had arrived alone to her relatives’ house, she would have been the Cinderella, with the Aunt using far more blackmail tactics to keep her in line as Karen isn’t falling for her tricks the way her mother does. It’s nice to see one relative who’s nice instead of both being horrible and exploitative, which is the usual case in Cinderella serials. The only problem with the uncle is that he’s a bit naive in not being able to see how horrible his wife is being, and he may also be lacking a little backbone. For example, in the quarrel with his wife over whether Karen should go to the audition, he gives in a little too readily despite his reluctance and what should have been a red flag: his wife saying Karen shouldn’t go to the audition because it would spoil Cynthia’s chances. We have to wonder why he married her at all, as he is far nicer than she is.
Unlike regular Cinderella protagonists, the mother in the Cinderella role is not even trying to fight or break free of her exploitation because she can’t see it for what it is, despite Karen trying to tell her. She thinks it’s fair exchange for the home they’ve been given and doing it is an expression of gratitude. Even when the uncle apologises for it in the end, her response is more gratitude for the home they were given.
Oh, what kind of home? It’s clearly a dismal one with Cynthia and her mother. Karen’s pursuit of skating and the mystery lady are the only bright spots and relief in what is otherwise a miserable situation. And when Cynthia’s response to Karen saving her life is more jealousy and spite, it’s established once and for all that this is a home they must break away from. Those two are beyond redemption and will never change, so there is no living with them.
It’s also good to see the ghost/fairygodmother figure is not a deus ex machina. There are limits to her powers because she can only appear when Karen is on her own, so she can’t always be there to bail Karen out. She can still find ways to help where possible, but it’s done in subtle ways, without Karen even realising she’s doing it, which actually helps Karen even more that way. It gives Karen scope to stretch her own development in skating and not be too dependent on her mystery lady. In the audition scene we sense Karen really is winning it all on her own, without Margot’s help, except for a last-minute boost of needed confidence.
The story makes a fine job of explaining how Margot came to be haunting the lake, but it’s a real surprise twist to have the haunting inspired by a movie she did in life. The family connection was clearly another reason why she appeared to Karen, but that’s not to say she can’t appear to anyone who needs it. For all we know, Margot is still haunting the lake, waiting to help another prospective skater to stardom as she did with Karen.