Published: 14 February 1976 to 24 April 1976
Artist: John Armstrong
Translations/reprints: None known
We now complete our look at “possession” stories with this 1976 story from Tammy.
Sheri Soames is a shy, scruffy girl. She has no confidence and no idea how to stand up for herself, and always sits things out because of it. She is bullied at home by her stepmother, who steals all the money Sheri earns for bingo, takes advantage of her father’s absence to treat her as a drudge, and never bothers with the rent; at school she is bullied by Kay Thorpe (later spelled Thorp in the story); and also by Mr Dobbs at the second-hand shop where she works. Her only friend at school is Mary. Sheri auditions for the role of Marie Antoinette in the school play but fails because of her lack of confidence.
At Mr Dobbs’ shop, Sheri is allowed to have a chair said to be a Louis XIV chair once owned by Marie Antoinette herself but a dealer, Mr Crispin, said was fake. It has a strange effect on her. After periods of sitting in it she feels wonderfully refreshed and confident. She takes more pride in her appearance and sheds her ghastly specs. She starts standing up for herself, albeit in an oddly pompous, old-fashioned manner that leads to arrogance at times, which sometimes leads to trouble, and has no problems re-auditioning Marie Antoinette for the school play (to Kay’s chagrin). But the effects don’t seem to last, causing Sheri to fall back to her old self just as she makes strides with her new confidence and going back to the specs and being bullied by Kay and her stepmother.
Sheri also begins to have strange visions of voices out for her blood and people out to kill her. As the visions get stronger, they take the form of ghoulish-faced, bloodthirsty French revolutionary lynch mobs and even the guillotine. These visions always seem to appear as Sheri’s confidence fades, as if they were an after-effect.
As the confidence-building does not seem to last, Sheri sits in the chair more and more to get more of that confidence, and gives her bully stepmother a lot of shocks with it, which leave stepmother frightened and sweating. Her schoolwork improves, particularly in regard to the French Revolution. But her arrogance is growing too; she acts like a haughty queen who thinks everyone and everything is beneath her, such as flinging her lines away: “Pah! What does a person of my consequence want with such piffling trifles!” She does not seem to get into any trouble over not doing the lines; instead, the teacher praises her for her improved classwork.
Sheri discovers her stepmother has sold her chair to Mr Crispin. At this, she now realises the chair is genuine and the old twister is trying to get his hands on it for a fraction of its value. Her brimming confidence from the pickup enables her to foil the pickup and retain the chair, but is warned Mr Crispin will be back. After an evening of forced drudgery from stepmother as her confidence ebbs again, then giving her money-grabbing stepmother the shock of her life after sitting all night in the chair – “You are a thieving knave who steals money and sells things that do not belong to you” – she sends Mr Crispin packing, with his money returned. However, Mr Crispin isn’t giving up on the chair that easily.
At school, Sheri’s haughtiness grows worse. She demands to know where Mary’s curtsey is, and when she is outraged to find her name not on the list for the hockey team, Kay challenges her to a hockey test. Kay is stunned when Sheri does brilliantly, and when Kay tries to nobble her, she attacks with Kay her stick. Then the nightmares return. This time, Mary appears as a friend who tries to pull her to safety from the mob, but they throw her into prison. When she comes to, she is in the team and is expected to perform as she did, but she is back to her scared, useless self. After this, Mary, who had been sceptical about Sheri’s story about the chair, becomes more convinced and wants to help.
Sheri finds herself again under threat of losing her chair, this time from bailiffs who confiscate all the furniture to cover stepmother’s non-payment of rent. Sheri is homeless after this and is now staying at Mary’s. They learn the chair is in the distraint pound. Mary manages to sneak the keys for the distraint pound from her father, but it’s the wrong set and they have to break in to take back the chair. Inside they are caught by a policeman, who places Sheri in the chair, which has Sheri soon behaving in the haughty manner towards the surprised policeman and she demands the return of her chair. She even has the policeman carry it out for her. They run for it with the chair and hide it in a barn. The visions return, this time showing Sheri crying out from behind bars: “Let me out, I am your queen!”, but her cries fall on deaf ears with the French revolutionaries, who remain out for her blood.
At the hockey match, Sheri’s haughty behaviour reaches heights like never before. She gets so angry at the “insolence” that she lashes out at the captain of the opposing team. The opposing team turns ugly at this, which triggers more nightmares of the French revolutionaries. Sheri locks herself in the pavilion, suffering nightmares of them coming into her cell, tying her hands behind her and leading her out while screaming “Death! Death!” The sports mistress is not impressed and sends Sheri home in disgrace, to face the headmistress on Monday. Mary suggests Sheri tell the headmistress what’s going on, but they have to collect some evidence about the chair. Which means asking Messrs Dobbs and Crispin some questions.
On the way, they discover stepmother convincing the policeman from the distraint pound that Sheri is out of control and wants her taken into care. And after what happened at school, Sheri is terrified she will be locked up as a delinquent or something. Her only hope is the chair again and get the confidence to talk her way out of things as usual. They head back to the barn but find the chair gone. Moreover, they don’t realise Kay is eavesdropping and now she is tailing them.
They go to question Mr Dobbs. He says he lost the records of the chair’s purchase in the Blitz, but he did buy it on a trip to France. At Mr Crispin’s they find a matching chair and learn Sheri’s chair and this one are a valuable pair of chairs that belonged to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who used them the day before the wrathful Paris mob struck. The chairs need to be together to be of value, which explains why Mr Crispin is so determined to get Sheri’s chair. They then discover Mr Crispin has called the police but manage to give the police the slip.
Back at the farm they discover the chair in a field with a scarecrow in it. Sheri gets a fright when the scarecrow’s head falls off – she is reminded of the ultimate fate of Marie Antoinette. Then the police catch up and lead the girls away. Kay tries to take the chair, but the police bring the chair to the station with the girls.
At the police station they are surprised to find Mr Soames, Sheri’s father, there too. He retired from the sea, lost track of Sheri, but has now caught up and heard about stepmother (and now we’re wondering why the heck he married her in the first place). He says he now works at a detective agency and a very strange client had him track down the chair, which he says genuinely belonged to Marie Antoinette. He believes there is something spooky about the chair and it is giving Sheri terrible nightmares. He has her sit in the chair again, saying it is the only way to see the nightmares through. Sheri now realises she becomes Marie Antoinette in the visions, and of course the latest vision is Sheri/Antoinette meeting her appointment with Madame La Guillotine. Everyone gets a fright when Sheri’s head drops back as the blade falls in the vision, but it’s just a faint.
The nightmare is not finished. A soothsayer appears and leads Sheri/Antoinette away from the guillotine, saying it happened again and none of it would have if she had listened to him. The soothsayer tried to warn Marie Antoinette that the way she treated her subjects would cost her her head if she did not change her ways and treat them differently. When she refused to listen he put a spell on her chair in the (vain) hope the visions she would see would make her see sense before it was too late. The spell was not supposed to affect anyone but Antoinette, but it did affect Sheri because of her desire to have the role of Marie Antoinette in the school play.
Things are sorted out at school, Sheri gets the role of Marie Antoinette, and tells a rather confused Kay about her new confidence and no more pushing around from her. The chair is restored, cleaned up and put on display in a case where it can’t affect anyone else. Sheri is now sure of permanent confidence and no more sitting out for her. The client – whom Sheri recognises as the soothsayer – rewards Sheri and her father with money to start a happy new life.
In more recent times, historians (e.g. Alison Weir) have seriously revised the image of Marie Antoinette who said “let them eat cake” (which never comes up in the story) and single-handedly started the French Revolution with the haughty, callous way in which she treated her subjects. She was in fact a much kinder person than that. However, this story was written before that revisionism, and the image of Marie Antoinette paying the price for her arrogance with her throne and life was how she tended to appear in girls’ comics (Misty’s “One Last Wish” for example).
Girls’ comics were never good at historical accuracy either, but things go a bit far when Mr Soames says, “[Marie Antoinette] was just a girl, nor much older than you. What did she know about being a queen?” Come on, Antoinette was 47 when she died, a grown woman with children! It’s also funny we never see Antoinette’s husband in these visions although the chair was one of a pair that belonged to both of them. It’s a girls’ world in girls’ comics all right, regardless of setting, whether it’s alien planets, lost civilisations, visions or whatever.
Now these quibbles have been said, we move on to how the story handles the “possession” theme. It certainly is stranger than possession/evil influence stories usually are because the force is not inherently evil. It is just the personality of an unsavoury person that, unlike other “evil influence” serials such as “Portrait of Doreen Gray”, probably does not even intend to be a bad influence on the protagonist. It is not quite clear whether Sheri is being possessed by the spirit of Marie Antoinette or if her personality is just influencing Sheri’s. It is also unusual for the actual power behind it all not to be evil either. Instead, it was intended to change Marie Antoinette for the better before it was too late for her. Sheri just got caught up in it when she wasn’t supposed to be. In a different serial it would be a redemption story, only in Antoinette’s case it failed.
As with Doreen Gray, Sheri’s confidence turns to dangerous arrogance, which gets her into trouble. But that is not the main concern that should put her off using the chair. It is the terrible price she pays afterwards – the ever-increasing nightmares, which were meant to be the warnings for Antoinette to change her ways but are now scaring the living daylights out of Sheri. This makes the story even more frightening than the more usual ominous warnings that the object the protagonist is using to increase her confidence is dangerous. Because of these nightmares, Sheri develops a love/hate relationship with the chair, fearing it as much as she feels she needs it.
There is also great humour in the way Sheri stands up for herself Antoinette-style when she’s under the influence. Readers must have been laughing out loud when the horrible stepmother received lines such as: “Out, peasant! How dare you enter my private room without permission! Back to your pots and pans!” and “How dare you burst in here! Get out and knock if you want to see me! Do it again and you’ll lose your head!” Or when the policeman was told: “Insolence! Am I not above the law?” and “You are getting above your station!”
It is so distressing for Sheri that the confidence just does not seem to last and she is back to her old self. In the end, what made Sheri’s own confidence stick was realising she could be confident if she wanted to, and if you want things to be different you have to work at it, not sit back and just hope they will be different. “It’s all a case of mental attitude,” she tells Kay. And this was the lesson she learned from the chair.