Published: Tammy 11 June 1977 – 13 August 1977
Artist: Tony Highmore
Translations/reprints: None known
Jenny and Leonie Page are fraternal twins who live at Ploughshares Farm. Their Uncle Brian, a Professor of Paranormal Studies, wants to perform an experiment for his Physical Society to prove the existence of reincarnation. The experiment will use hypnotic regression, and Leonie is to be the test subject.
The hypnotism regresses Leonie back to a previous existence as a girl named Susannah. Susannah says she is in hiding because her life is in danger. But then Uncle Brian collapses from a heart attack and is taken to hospital, where he is soon in intensive care. Without him to bring Leonie out of the trance, she remains in it, reliving her previous existence as Susannah.
In the trance, Leonie is experiencing confusion of identity. While initially speaking in Susannah’s voice, her mind reverts to her own while she is stuck in the past. So it is in effect Susannah’s body with Leonie’s mind, in what turns out to be the 14th century. So Leonie is confused by the medieval surroundings she is in and all these medieval people all around her who call her Susannah and tell her that her life is in danger.
Leonie gets her first taste of the brutality of the times when a gang of men try to kill a boy because he is a lackey of John of Gaunt. Leonie sticks up for the boy, but she uses 20th century references, which of course the men don’t understand and they call her a “crackbrained daughter of Eve”. Indeed, Leonie’s lack of experience with the 14th century continues to lead to very awkward and even dangerous moments. As the time travel wears on, Leonie’s awareness of her 20th century identity becomes blurred and filters through in flashes. Sometimes she does not know what century her mind belongs to anymore. However, she never loses sight of getting home to Ploughshares Farm and Jenny.
Then another man comes, says Susannah is his sister and pulls her away. The lackey thanks Susannah for saving his life and says he won’t forget it. Susannah’s brother turns out to be Wat Tyler, the leader of the ill-fated Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. Tyler also has a feud with Tyler and John of Gaunt; the former is accused of attacking the latter and burning his home down.
Now and then Leonie mumbles things while in her trance, which give Jenny clues as to what is going on. One of them is Leonie saying Wat Tyler is her brother. When Jenny reads that the king, Richard II, ordered all members of Tyler’s family to be executed after the Peasants’ Revolt failed, she is really afraid for Leonie. A doctor is called in but can’t help. They can only hope Uncle Brian recovers, but Jenny fears time is running out.
Back in the past, the Peasants’ Revolt is underway. They intend to march on Smithfield where Tyler will give an address to Richard II that will demand rights for peasants, equality for everyone and an end to serfdom. However, a fellow rebel named Tom Quintain fears Tyler’s address is sounding too radical and will not go down well with Richard. He sends Leonie/Susannah over to Tyler with a warning to tread more carefully with Richard and treat him with the utmost respect. But Leonie/Susannah fails to get to Tyler in time, and soon Quintain is proved right. Richard II is outraged at Tyler’s address, which really is too far ahead of its time. Worse, Tyler discovers that he has fallen into a trap set by Richard and his men, and gets struck down.
The revolt now falls apart and Tyler’s supporters abandon him. Leonie/Susannah and Quintain take Tyler to a monastery for medical attention. Mayor Walworth, a King’s man, bursts in to arrest Tyler. Walworth shows no respect for the sanctuary of the church; his men brutally murder the monk who was nursing Tyler and drag the already-dying Tyler out to be executed. Leonie/Susannah escapes with the help of Quintain.
As they pass the Tower of London, Quintain shows her a cage hanging from walls. It is a gruesome relic of what happened to the sister of another man who offended the king. They locked her in the cage while keeping her alive by lowering food to her. She was exposed to all elements for seven months before she finally perished.
Now understanding the merciless fate that awaits her, just because of who her brother is, Leonie/Susannah eagerly goes on the run with Quintain. Their plight grows even more desperate when they find out the soldiers have their descriptions and are now on the lookout for them. Quintain and Leonie/Susannah now head for the Tylers’ home in Kent.
Hearing this from Leonie’s mumblings, Jenny realises the fugitives are heading straight into a trap because Kent will be the first place Richard’s men will look. She has the University Library Service send her all they’ve got on the Peasants’ Revolt. She is sent one item that is very helpful: the original parish register of Twaintrees, which the sender thinks Tyler originated from. She finds the record of Susannah’s birth and realises that in 1381 Susannah would have been the same age as Leonie.
Fortunately, when Leonie/Susannah and Quintain arrive in Kent, they see the soldiers looking for them. The soldiers have orders to execute people for participating in the Peasants’ Revolt, on the mere pretext that they were out of the area recently. They drag off one innocent man because of this, and then they start offering rewards for names of anyone else who was absent from the village of late. Then the soldiers spot Leonie/Susannah and Quintain, but they mange to escape and get to Twaintrees, where Quintain wants to warn Tyler’s supporters to flee.
When they arrive at Twaintrees, Leonie/Susannah begins to hear Jenny’s voice. Jenny has been trying to contact Leonie, and has finally succeeded. Leonie/Susannah can now hear Jenny across the ages. She tells Leonie/Susannah that Uncle Brian is still in no state to bring her out of the trance.
Tyler’s friends take some persuading to believe Richard has betrayed them and they are in danger of their lives. They are finally convinced when a dying escapee from another village arrives and, before he dies, says Richard’s soldiers are already burning other Kentish villages and killing innocent people. Jenny tells Leonie/Susannah to tell them to head for Standfast Castle; the books she is consulting say the Kentish rebels held out by occupying the castle. They head for the castle, and Leonie/Susannah is standing by them; she is now convinced she has a part to play in their fight against Richard. The rebels get ready to fight against Richard’s men, and a sortie unfolds when the royal soldiers arrive.
Meanwhile, Jenny has made her own way to Standfast Castle. She finds the castle is broken down and incapable of holding out an army. She can only hope it was not that way in 1381. Then she finds a plaque saying the sortie was a big mistake and many of the Kentish rebels and their leaders were ruthlessly killed. Oops!
In 1381, Quintain is among those killed and Leonie/Susannah is cursing Jenny for what turned out to be bad advice. And now the soldiers are after her and all the survivors. They retreat back into the castle, where the men start to quarrel about whether their revolt was right and wondering if they will be saved or killed. The quarrel centres between Quintain and the hypocritical, cowardly turncoat Hedge Priest. Then they get a horrible shock when they see Richard’s men are now bringing on their “black thunderbolt”, a battering ram that no castle gate has ever withstood. Leonie/Susannah can only hope Jenny will come up with better advice.
Jenny goes to the Custodian of Standfast Castle and gets a historical map of the area. She is astonished to find Ploughshares Farm on it and it is in the vicinity of Standfast Castle. She contacts Leonie/Susannah and starts using the map to guide her back to Ploughshares Farm.
However, Leonie/Susannah doubts she can do that, because the black thunderbolt has now done its work and the soldiers are pouring into Standfast for the final slaughter. Moreover, the sycophantic Hedge Priest offers to betray both Susannah Tyler and all the loot the rebels have hidden. The soldiers shoot an arrow through him before he gets the chance to tell them. The final battle between the soldiers and the rebels begins.
Leonie/Susannah now proceeds to make her escape. She gets surprising help from the lackey she had saved earlier. He has come to repay his debt, and his name is now revealed to be Giles Lamport. Giles uses a rope to get Leonie/Susannah off the castle walls and down into the marshes. The soldiers do not believe Giles when he says he found no sign of Susannah in the castle. But they have grown sick of all the slaughter and decide to just leave. Leonie/Susannah is pleased to finally see some chivalry in these soldiers.
Using the map, Jenny guides Leonie/Susannah through a causeway in the marshes towards Ploughshares Farm. Unfortunately this turns out to be more wrong advice. Jenny does not realise the marshes had been drained in the 17th century, but they were not in the 14th century, so Leonie/Susannah is now getting caught in the marshes. Worse, some of the soldiers have seen the escaping Leonie/Susannah and go after her. They head towards the marshes and block her escape.
Then Leonie/Susannah overhears the soldiers saying things. They have been spooked by rumours from the rebels that Leonie/Susannah is a witch because she seemed to be talking to a spirit from another world (Jenny). So Leonie/Susannah turns it to her advantage by playing ‘spirit’ to scare them off: “Woe unto Richard, the second of that name – and thrice, thrice woe to the brutes who murder in his name!” This gets rid of the soldiers (and by 1400 they should be saying that the prophecy has come true).
Leonie/Susannah is now safe to go on her way. But she is in a very bad state from lack of food, hypothermia and getting covered in marsh mud. When she reaches the end of the causeway she has no idea which way to go, so she calls on Jenny. Jenny begins to guide Leonie/Susannah in. Along the way the girls get to see what their farm looked like in 1381: pig pens that no longer exist, oak saplings that are now trees in the 20th century, and wattle-and-daub dwellings.
Uncle Brian, though still an invalid, comes home to bring Leonie out of the trance. He arrives just in time to see her come out of the trance of her own accord now she is home. Leonie is rather confused by her change of clothes and surroundings, and it takes some moments for her to get her bearings on what century she is in. They deduce the people at the 14th century Ploughshares Farm took Susannah in, so she found safety from Richard II. The parish register reveals that Susannah married Stephan Fairman of (then) Plowshares Farm and had three sons: Wat, Tom and Harry.
This story could well be regarded as one of Tammy’s underrated gems. Girls’ serials featuring reincarnation have appeared elsewhere, such as Misty’s “Hush, Hush, Sweet Rachel”, but this is the only serial I know of that features past life regression. This is a very fresh, innovative idea, and it’s a whole new take on the hypnotism formula, particularly hypnotism gone wrong.
Using past life regression as a time travel device is both an ambiguous and clever one. At times we are not sure as to whether Leonie is just recalling her past life as Susannah or if she is actually changing and shaping the past itself, especially when Jenny begins to interfere with well-meaning but not always well-researched advice. Is Jenny actually responsible for the deaths of all those rebels in the ill-fated sortie with the wrong advice she gives Leonie/Susannah? Or is it something that just happened anyway and what is unfolding in Leonie/Susannah’s mind just confusion from the hypnotism and the girls’ identities? After all, it is still debatable as to whether past life regression is actually true regression or if the hypnotism is playing tricks on the mind.
Once the links to Ploughshares Farm are revealed, there is a “so that’s it!” from readers. It becomes apparent as to why Susannah has reincarnated as Leonie. The story not only uses the Peasants’ Revolt and its aftermath to give us a time travel adventure but to also shape the history of Ploughshares Farm and (we suspect) the family history of the Page family.
The Middle Ages is a time period that did not seem to receive much attention in IPC’s period stories, which concentrated more on the 19th century. But this one is a powerful, relentless exploration of the Middle Ages that is so realistic because it does not spare the brutality of the age. This begins straight away with a gang of brutes who are on the verge of killing an innocent boy just because he is a servant of John of Gaunt. And it continues with people being brutally killed. Even the clergy and perfectly innocent villagers are shown no mercy. Whole villages are razed to the ground and their inhabitants left to burn, just because of Richard’s vendetta against Wat Tyler. The gruesome, barbaric punishments of the period are also featured. Though they are kept cleverly off-panel, they make their presence keenly felt, particularly in the scene where Tom shows Leonie/Susannah the cage used to torture a girl to death, just because of who her brother was.
The story totally debunks the chivalry that medieval people romanticised so much. There is no chivalry in any of the soldiers and knights in the story who do nothing but murder, pillage and vandalise in Richard’s name. They are, in the words of the rebels, “devils in armour” and “killer(s) on horseback”. The chivalry and honour comes from most of the characters that go against them, from Tom Quintain to Giles Lamport the lackey who always remembers his promise to repay Leonie/Susannah for saving his life.
Tony Highmore was a June artist whose artwork was seen most often in Strange Stories after the merger. “Time Trap” was his only serial for Tammy (apart from a mini-serial Strange Story) and it is one of his crowning moments. The medieval atmosphere is brilliantly wrought through the linework and inkwork of Tony Highmore. They are quite heavy and not fine or delicate, which really brings out the roughness and coarseness of the characters, the harshness of their environment, and even the types of dentures that prevailed at the time.
The story makes strong statements that heroes do not always survive or get things right. Readers must have cried when Tom Quintain, the brave, honourable man who takes up the mantle of Wat Tyler, becomes one of the rebels slaughtered in the Standfast Castle sortie. And Jenny, whom we expected to be the saviour of the piece once she gains the power to contact Leonie in the past, turns out to be indirectly responsible for it because she gave the wrong advice. Readers would have been even more gutted because of that. The writer sure was breaking moulds there.
The characterisation of the medieval people is also wonderfully depicted. Even minor characters get their moments. For example, Richard II only appears in a few panels but it is enough for him to make his point that he is a man who should not be underestimated although he is still young – as the rebels discover to their cost. And although Richard is shown as a handsome man in appearance, his actions show he is one of the worst tyrants and not to be trusted. Hedge Priest is another minor character who makes his mark – as a coward and weasel despite being a man of the cloth. What a contrast to the poor hapless priest who is murdered for nursing Wat Tyler!
The way in which the writer uses the Peasants’ Revolt for the time setting is very ingenious. Instead of just telling the story of the Peasants’ Revolt through the time travel element, the story uses the aftermath of the failure of the Peasants’ Revolt to bring us a fugitive story filled with bloodshed, lots of fighting, and overlap between two centuries that are six centuries apart. What makes it an even more interesting take on the Peasants’ Revolt is that the story does not focus on Wat Tyler himself, who gets killed pretty early in the piece. Instead, it concentrates on the supporters and family of Wat Tyler and the consequences they suffer from the failed revolt and gives them a chance to shine.