Tag Archives: Riding

The Changeling (1978)

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Publication: 22 July 1978-5 August 1978
Artist: Phil Gascoine
Writer: Unknown
Summary
Katy Palmer lives a miserable life with her brutal uncle and his shabby flat. Uncle puts Katy out to work in the stables, little realising that this is the only time she gets some joy. This is when Katy indulges in the only thing that makes her life bearable – riding. Lately she has been putting in extra riding with Midnight because her employer, Miss Peers, is training him up for an event at Ryechurch. Unfortunately the stables job and riding are cutting into homework time, and Katy is constantly in trouble at school because of it.

Then Uncle yanks Katy out of the stables job to work as a dishwasher, which robs Katy of her only joy. At this, Katy reaches her limit and just runs off. Before she knows what she is doing, she is on a train to Ryechurch. On the train she meets another Katy, Katy Blair. Katy Blair is on her way to Ryechurch to meet her uncle and aunt, whom her lawyer has only just traced.

Then the train suddenly crashes. The accident leaves Katy Blair apparently dead. Desperation drives Katy to steal her suitcase and take her place at Ryechurch so she can finally have a happy life with loving parents. And they have everything Katy could wish for – love, a comfortable life and even stables and horses, where Katy can continue to indulge her passion with horses. She gives her new horse the same name as Midnight.

But Katy soon finds she cannot have real happiness because she is living a lie. All the while there are twinges of conscience. And then the past catches up. First Katy spots Miss Peers and the other Midnight at the Ryechurch event (forgot that bit, didn’t you, Katy?) and has to do a fast sick act so Miss Peers does not see her.

And then – horror – Katy spots Katy Blair! Is she seeing ghosts?

No. It turns out that Katy Blair is not dead after all; she was just in a coma. She has amnesia though, and is trying to recover her memory. At last conscience gets the better of Katy. She confesses the truth to Katy Blair and then her aunt and uncle.

They take Katy to see her uncle. After they see for themselves what an unfit guardian he is, they pull Katy away and tell him they are going to apply to the courts for legal custody of her. The application is successful; the two girls are now sisters and share their riding together. (Mind you, we’re not told how the parents differentiate between two girls named Katy.)

Thoughts
This story is very odd in being so short lived. It only lasted for three episodes when there was potential to spin it out more. For example, we could have had some more development on the villainy of the nasty uncle and, in particular, what he does when he realises Katy has run off. And we could have had more on Katy’s conflicted conscience, the mounting fear of being found out and dragged back to her uncle, and what situations this leads her into. Moreover, having more episodes before Katy Blair returns would have made more sense, because Katy Blair seems to have made an all-too-quick recovery from her coma.

So why did this story only have three episodes? The fact that the episodes have an extra page (or half a page, as in the first episode) suggests it was meant as a filler story and was not intended to be spun out or be a serious length serial. It is a bit disappointing, because this story was crying out for more length and development and could have been a popular Jinty serial.

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Badgered Belinda (1981)

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Publication: 10 October 1981 – 21 November 1981

Artist: Phil Gascoine

Writer: Unknown

Summary

Orphan Belinda Gibson is a trust-paid pupil at Brockhill Boarding School. She is badgered (bullied) by the other girls, especially Frances and Katie. We get the impression Belinda is a target of bullying because she is shy and has no pedigree or friends. The bullying makes Belinda so miserable that one night she decides to run away.

Belinda is making her way up a slope when she comes across a badger, which soon dies. Belinda suspects it was poisoned. Then Belinda finds the badger’s new-born litter. One of them is pure white and she soon calls him Whitey. She lingers to feed them, but unwittingly caves in the tunnel, leaving them vulnerable to predators. So she ends up a surrogate mother to the sett, guarding them all night. This upsets her plans for running away. Eventually she decides to quietly return to the school so she can continue to secretly look after the sett, and voluntarily endure the bullying for the sake of her badgers.

Upon Belinda’s quiet return, Frances and Katie bully her again. But the bullying backfires when one ruins her silk gown and the other her tennis racquet. Later, Belinda uses the items to help the badgers, and has a good feeling at how her wonderful secret is helping her confidence. Back at school she starts swotting up on badgers. Frances and Katie notice Belinda’s apparent early rising for this and get suspicious. But in fact Belinda has been sneaking out at night for the badgers and loss of sleep starts showing in her lessons and getting her into trouble.

Belinda begins to feel that she should inform the headmistress about the sett. But then, Squire Blackmore, who owns the land next to the school, speaks at assembly. The squire announces that he will be lending his stables and horses to the school for riding lessons. He is also a big fan of hunting and endorses it to get rid of vermin. Fearful that badgers will be classed as vermin, Belinda decides to say nothing about the sett.

The girls have a free afternoon. The others use it for the riding lessons while Belinda goes into town to buy supplies for the cubs. But Whitey follows, and the bus with the girls on it is coming. Belinda hides Whitey in her bag, but his scent causes problems with other animals when she arrives in town. Belinda then bumps into Miss Green the biology teacher and discovers that she has been buying poison for vermin traps. Remembering the fate of the mother badger, Belinda gets even more scared. Back at school, she finds the squire has gifted prints of hunting scenes to the school and they are proudly displayed on the wall. Belinda is revolted to see that one print shows badger digging.

The secret tending of the badgers continues. But Belinda still suffers from lack of sleep and this causes problems, including more bullying from Frances and Katie who set out to disrupt Belinda’s attempts to catch up. There are other close shaves that almost expose Belinda’s secret as well, including the bullies poking around. And the squire seems to be going out of his way to become a fixture at the school, with constant visits, his prints and offers of free riding lessons. Belinda is now forced to go on one. She can’t ride, so she is relegated to mucking out. But then a pack of the squire’s hunting dogs gets loose and Belinda fears for her badgers. She manages to draw the dogs off with some aniseed balls until the squire’s hunting horn calls them off. But when she attends to the badgers that night, there is a man about with a spade, and he looks suspiciously like the squire. And there is evidence he was digging for something. Belinda begins to suspect the squire let the dogs loose on purpose and wonders if there is another secret about.

At the squire’s stables the next day, Belinda overhears the squire on the phone. It was indeed him she saw last night, and he knows there was a schoolgirl out there. He then says “I’ll leave the problem to you to deal with.” And when Belinda prepares to leave the dorm that night, someone comes in. She manages to evade the intruder but cannot see who it is. Later, she suspects it was one of the staff and now feels she cannot turn to anybody because there is nobody she can trust.

When Belinda goes to the sett again, she finds the squire and another man digging and frightens them off with her torch. Next day, the squire announces he will be holding a ball the following night to celebrate 200 years of hunting and the school is invited. However, a day history trip has Belinda drawing the conclusion that the squire is digging for buried treasure, which means the badgers must be safe.

Meanwhile, the teachers begin to notice the bullying. Frances and Katie are eventually caught red-handed and are punished with detention instead of going to the ball. Belinda tries to sneak away from the ball with food for the badgers, but gets caught by a teacher, Miss Harper. She is forced to explain everything to Miss Harper and show her the sett.

Miss Harper then tells Belinda something that only she knows about. Many years ago a rich lady took an interest in the sett. When the school fell into debt in 1881, she gave a grant that still keeps the school solvent, but on condition that the sett remains unharmed. And now that Belinda has shown her where the sett is, the squire can get rid of them once and for all. So Miss Harper is the squire’s accomplice! The whole plot has been to find and destroy the sett so the grant will end and the school forced to sell. The squire will then buy the grounds for development. And at this very moment the squire and his men are setting about badger digging on the slope. That badger-digging print had been a clue, but Belinda missed it entirely!

Belinda tries to escape Miss Harper, and is ironically saved by Katie and Frances. They like badgers too and are repulsed at the badger-hunt, and at Miss Harper for calling badgers vermin to be got rid of. They lock Miss Harper in a store room. Once Belinda tells them the story, they set off to rescue the badgers. On the slope, a race begins between the squire and the girls to get to the sett.

Evidently the squire was so confident of victory that he did not linger to see the outcome. He goes back to the ball and brags to his guests that their school is closing and it is their fault for not knowing about their school history (he may have a point there). But the grin is wiped off his face when the girls come into the hall with the badgers. They got to the badgers first!

It is the squire who is forced to sell out while Miss Harper resigns. Belinda is now best friends with Katie and Frances. There is only one type of badgering for her now, and it is out there on the slope. The whole school is now devoted to looking after the badgers.

Thoughts

“Badgered Belinda” was one of the filler stories for the last seven issues of Jinty. It has four page spreads throughout its run rather than the usual three. It is very unusual for a Jinty serial to have four-pagers for the entire duration of its run; usually four-pagers appear when a story is winding down, but there is pressure to finish it quickly. This happened with “Worlds Apart” and “The Human Zoo”. But Belinda was a four pager from start to finish. What could be the reason? Was it to pack as much story as possible into the seven episodes that the story was allowed? Or was it so that Belinda would help fill out the last seven issues more?

In any case, Belinda was the last Jinty story drawn by Phil Gascoine, and it literally bookends Gascoine’s run in Jinty; his artwork appeared in the first issue with “Gail’s Indian Necklace” and in the final issue with Belinda. In between, Gascoine’s artwork has been continuous in Jinty. There were very few instances where his artwork did not appear and several where it appeared in two stories in the same issue.

Story wise, Belinda is not one of Jinty’s classics, but she can be regarded as one of the stronger filler serials to appear in the final issues of Jinty. Belinda may even be the best serial in the line up that Jinty selected for her last seven issues.

Bullying stories are always guaranteed to be popular, and this one takes the twist in which the victim decides to endure the bullying, for the sake of the badgers, rather than trying to free herself from it as most victims in bully stories do (a la “Tears of a Clown”). The bullying is serious; we see Belinda shoved around on the sports field, constantly being pushed out of bed as her wake-up call and being forced under a cold shower among other nasty incidents. It is ironic that Belinda’s secret mission to take care of the badgers and keep them safe from the hunters helps her with confidence that she did not know she had. For example, desperation for the aniseed balls to draw off the hounds has her barrelling her way to the counter to buy them. This takes the girls by surprise as they always considered her “a weed” (although this does not stop them from punishing her with the cold shower).

Animals (especially orphaned animals) are always a hit as well, and Jinty makes a very strong stance against hunting. Girls’ comics have always come out strong against blood sports. But it is unusual to use badgers for this; foxes and deer are more commonly used when girls’ comics commented on the issue. The hunting has a very insidious side to it as well as a cruel one; when the squire has his hunting prints plastered on the school walls, offers the girls free riding lessons and invites them to his ball to celebrate hunting, it’s almost as if he is indoctrinating them into the sport. Belinda alone seems to stand against it. So it is a surprise when it turns out that the bullies take such a strong stance against the badger hunt that they lock the teacher in the store-room and join forces with Belinda. Mind you, how many pupils would really dare to lock up a teacher? That would be an expelling matter, wouldn’t it? Fortunately for them, it was justified. And the bullying problem reaches its final resolution. It goes from punishment, with the bullies being caught out in the penultimate episode, to redemption in the final episode.

Girls love mystery stories too. So as the mystery element creeps its way into the story with the introduction of the squire and his strange generosity, and then the strange goings-on on the slope, it would certainly have jacked up the drama and thrills and kept the readers engaged. It is a bit jarring that it turns out to be Miss Harper, though, because there have been no hints beforehand to suggest it might be her. In fact, she hadn’t even been named until then. Perhaps there was not enough scope in the seven episodes the story was allowed for sufficient clues and red herrings to be dropped for the readers to ponder on in solving the mystery.

Lastly, there is an environmental element in this story too. Jinty had been strong on environmental stories such as “The Forbidden Garden” and “Fran of the Floods”. We see it again in Belinda, with the indiscriminate use of poisons that are meant to kill pests but can also kill innocent wildlife. This is how the mother badger dies. If Belinda had not been there, the cubs would have died too. A whole family of badgers killed through the thoughtless of humanity. But the badgers are saved by a kind girl who not only finds courage and confidence in the face of bullying but ends up saving her school and finding friends at last.

 

 

 

Mark of the Witch! (1977)

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Publication: 8 January 1977-30 April 1977

Artist: Phil Townsend

Writer: Unknown

Summary

In the village of Kettleby Yorkshire, Emma Fielding is branded “Black Emma” – a witch, a bad sort, and an outcast because of the black streak in her hair. The black streak runs in the Fielding family and the stigma began with the first Fielding to have the streak, Simon Fielding. He was an evil 18th aristocrat who tyrannised and terrorised the countryside, and his black streak struck fear into anyone who saw it. Since then, the Fielding black streak has been associated with evil and the Fieldings have been persecuted as bad people. The persecution is made easier by the fact that the Fieldings no longer have the wealth and power that Simon Fielding had; they are the poorest people in the village and “the lowest of the low”. Their ancestral home, Fielding Castle, built by Simon Fielding, is now nothing but a ruin. But like the Fieldings themselves, Fielding Castle is avoided and feared by the villagers. Everywhere Emma goes, she is taunted by children and shunned by adults. She has become wild because she reacts aggressively against the abuse, which brands her even further as a bad lot. Emma herself has come to believe she has a bad streak, which shows when she lashes out or hates people, and thinks she must fight it.

There are only two bright spots in Emma’s life. The first is her loving mother, a gentle contrast to her frightening and sometimes violent father. Like Emma, Mr Fielding is aggressive and bitter because he has led a terrible life due to his own black streak. The second is riding, the only thing Emma does well. But there is another girl at Emma’s riding lessons who she hates more than any other – Alice Durrant. Emma is jealous of Alice because she has everything Emma does not, and her family is the most respected in the village. Emma thinks the hand of friendship Alice offers her is phony. But it is genuine; Alice alone sympathises with Emma, does not despise the black streak, and desperately wants to be her friend. But Emma keeps spurning her and does not believe Alice is trying to help her.

As the story progresses, Emma discovers another with a black streak – a horse with a black streak in its mane. The horse’s owner deems him a bad lot because he acts wildly. Eventually, of course, Emma and the horse will team up.

Things get worse for Emma when she discovers a fire at the Durrants’ farm. She tries to put it out, but the villagers, ever ready to make her a scapegoat, accuse her of starting it. Mr Durrant discovers the fire was accidental, but the damage is done – the rumour mill has culminated in an angry mob that attacks the Fielding house. Alice tries to stop them, but gets get hurt by one of their stones. Unfortunately Emma does not see this. If she had, it would have proved to her that Alice is genuine.

Emma’s embittered father blames her for the attack and throws her right out of the house – and to the stone-throwing wolves. Emma flees for her life and manages to throw off the mob. But now she has had enough and decides there will be no more fighting her black streak (as she believes). From now on, she will embrace it and become the bad person the villagers say she is. “If that’s what they expect from me, that’s what they’ll get!” She sets up camp at Fielding Castle to start her own campaign against the villagers. As part of her revenge, she decides to enter the equestrian cross country race, The Hudson Trophy. She means to take the trophy away from Alice Durrant. Doing so would really humiliate the villagers because Alice is the darling of the village.

But there is one problem – she has no horse. This problem is solved when she finally acquires the horse with the black streak from its owner, who had lost patience and was on the verge of shooting the animal. Naming the horse Midnight, she starts breaking him in herself before training him up for the trophy.

Emma’s campaign of revenge intensifies when some boys dig a trap for her to fall into. Her beloved mother falls into it instead and narrowly avoids a serious accident. Furious, Emma dresses herself up as a witch in her grandmother’s clothes and falls upon the villagers. “If you say I’m a witch, I’ll be a witch, in every way! And you’ll regret it!” She curses one John Pike for throwing a stone at her and then confronts Dave Young, the leader of the gang who set the trap. She tells him that she has his name in her Book of Vengeance, which she has just started for listing the names of people who have aggrieved her, and she is now off to settle the score with him. She does so by destroying Mr Young’s wheat field. Other things happen which seem to reinforce the witch persona: a storm blows up as Emma accosts the villagers; John Pike has a road accident soon after receiving the curse; and Emma is adopted by a black cat.

Later, Emma announces her intention to enter the Hudson trophy and take it away from Alice Durrant. This is greeted with intense scorn by the villagers, who say she is hopelessly outmatched by Alice. They all eagerly anticipate watching the event to see Black Emma make a fool of herself and see (as they believe) good triumph over evil in what will be a needle race. Alice is reluctant to go against Emma in the race because she wants to be her friend. But she is persuaded to do so.

In the meantime, Emma’s campaign of vandalism and thievery against Kettleby continues, and names get ticked off in the Book of Vengeance. The local council takes drastic action by sealing up Fielding Castle to drive Emma out. Eventually this fails, but not because Emma nearly gets herself killed trying to get into the castle. Midnight saves her, but the near-accident has Emma all the more determined to have revenge at the Hudson Trophy.

But when the race starts, Alice takes a strong lead against Emma. Eventually Emma realises that the villagers were right – Alice is better than her and she faces defeat. This drives her into taking reckless and dangerous chances to pull ahead, which are cruel to her horse and horrify the onlookers. However, this does enable Emma to take the lead.

Then, when the girls cross a river, Alice falls off her horse and is in danger of drowning. Emma now faces a choice – the trophy or Alice’s life? Eventually, Emma decides to sacrifice the trophy and go in after Alice. This puts Emma in danger too, but she is surprised to find herself feeling happy at fighting with Alice against the current instead of against her.

Meanwhile, the villagers are surprised to see it is not Alice at the finishing line and go to investigate. By the time they arrive, Alice is in danger of going under and only Emma is keeping her afloat. This time, the villagers realise Emma is trying to do good instead of assuming she was being bad, and save them both.

Following this, the black streak stops being a mark of stigma for the Fieldings and everything is different for them. Now Emma is a heroine, and the villagers treat her with love, friendship, remorse, and gifts of flowers (presented by John Pike). Emma returns home and is reconciled with her father. Mr Durrant offers Mr Fielding a good job, which enables the Fieldings to climb out of poverty. Emma and Alice are now friends and share their rides together.

Thoughts

In some parts of the English countryside people still believe in witches. This has been the inspiration for several serials where girls fall victim to lingering witch-beliefs. “Mark of the Witch!” was the second – and last – Jinty serial to explore this theme; the first was the 1974 story “Wenna the Witch”. The endings of the two stories are similar; the girls prove their goodness with an act of heroism that has the witch-believing villagers changing their attitudes towards them and presenting them with love, apologies and flowers. It could be that the serials had the same writer, or that Wenna had an influence on this story.

Other stories with the theme included “The Cat with 7 Toes” and “Bad-Luck Barbara” (Mandy), and “Witch!” (Bunty). In some variants on the theme, the girl is branded a witch because she has a genuine power or is in the grip of a malevolent one, such as in “The Revenge of Roxanne” (Suzy).

In general, the theme did not appear much and serials to feature it were infrequent. Where it did appear, it often featured strange things happening, such as bad things happening to people who taunt the girl, the girl having strange visions, or other weird things that seem to happen whenever she is around. Readers are challenged to make up their own minds about what is going on. Is she really a witch? Is there some genuine supernatural force at work? Or are these things just coincidences and the products of ordinary explanations such as hysteria? Whatever it is, it proves to a brainwashing effect that is so powerful that the girl herself can succumb to it. She may start to doubt herself and wonder if there is something to what her accusers are saying. It even has Alice’s parents going although they are not like the backward, superstitious villagers. When John Pike has the accident, Mrs Durrant wonders if it really was due to the curse Emma put on him. Alice rebukes her mother outright: “It’s all just silly superstition!”

In the case of Emma Fielding, one thing is certain. She is sad proof of the words of Socrates: if people keep telling a man he is five cubits high, he will end up believing he is five cubits high, even if he is only three cubits high. People have been calling her a bad lot for so long that she has come to believe it. She thinks there is a bad streak in her, personified in the black streak in her hair, which she must fight. But eventually she comes to believe it does no good to fight it. Instead, she becomes what the villagers say she always was, saying that if that is what they expect, that is what they will get, and it is their own fault for the way they treated her. Indeed it is, but the villagers do not see it that way. Instead, it reinforces the views about Emma that they have always had. It is a vicious cycle. A vicious cycle that Alice is so desperate to break, but she cannot convince Emma of this. Her frustrated efforts to get through to Emma are reminiscent of the persistent efforts of Ruth Graham to get through to stony Stefa in Phil Townsend’s previous story, “Stefa’s Heart of Stone”. But like Ruth, Alice’s efforts go nowhere until the very end, when a surprise turn of events turns things around. And they turn around because Emma found that she was not a bad person at heart. Faced with the choice, she realised that she could not leave Alice to drown, even though trying to save Alice meant sacrificing the lead she had gained and winning the trophy.

After the villagers see Emma try to rescue Alice, they automatically stop their hatred and treat her with respect and acceptance. This seems a little too pat, the villagers giving up hatred that has lasted for generations in only one day. And it does not ring true with people who believe in witches either. Witch believers simply do not act in the way the villagers do in suddenly accepting Emma as good and presenting her with flowers and apologies. The ending of “Wenna the Witch” followed the same pattern, which is very neat and happy, but it is not convincing. In real life, once people with this type of thinking brand someone a witch, the label sticks, even generations later. And the past has proven that even if the person branded a witch is cleared, the label casts a long shadow that can come back to bite. This is why the endings of “Witch!” and “Bad-Luck Barbara” are more realistic. The girls end up being taken away from the village, with the villagers still hurling hatred and abuse at them as they go. Yes, Emma (and Wenna) did perform a good deed that saved lives, but it is unlikely that even that would shift the label of “witch”. An ending where the villagers are compelled to keep their hatred to themselves and leave Emma alone once she has won the respect and protection of the Durrants might have worked better.

But on the whole, this is a powerful, disturbing and compelling story that is a stark warning against labelling and mistreating people and using them as scapegoats. Life would be so much better if these people were treated as human beings – the message that Alice represents in her persistent efforts to befriend Emma. Gays, Jews, coloured people, minorities, victims of caste systems and class distinction, exploited workers and other types of oppressed people – we see them all in Emma. What Emma becomes is exactly what her persecutors made her out to be – a warning to persecutors everywhere and the stuff of revolution that oppressed masses would love. The revolt of Emma Fielding against her oppressors ultimately leads to the end of her oppression. In real life that would not come so readily, but girls’ comics prefer a happy ending.