Tag Archives: supernatural influence

Sit It Out, Sheri (1976)

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Published: 14 February 1976 to 24 April 1976                      

Episodes: 11

Artist: John Armstrong

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: None known

We now complete our look at “possession” stories with this 1976 story from Tammy. 

Plot

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. 

Thoughts

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. 

The Dance Dream (1977)

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The Dance Dream 1

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Published: Tammy 16 April 1977 – 4 June 1977

Episodes: 8

Artist: Douglas Perry

Writer: Anne Digby

Translations/reprints: Girl annual 1982; Tina in 1980 as ‘Dans, Diana, Dans!’ and in 1984 reprinted in Tina Dubbeldik Superalbum 14.

Plot

In 1938, orphan Diana Watts dreams of becoming a ballerina and she idolises famous ballerina Diana Oberon. She has moved to London to get close to Oberon and whenever she sees Oberon it always seems like Oberon has always known her, though the two have never met. Oberon just seems to act like some spiritual guide and mentor to Watts, offering encouragement and help, no matter how hard things get. It certainly is hard: no money to pay for lessons or proper ballet gear; cribbing all she can from books; no space to practise except in the attic room she rents; no music; and scrimping to buy a gramophone.

Oberon lends a mysterious hand to help Watts get the gramophone, and Watts is even able to get some music to go with it. (Once the music is introduced the story keeps making a glaring error: it repeatedly says The Dance of the Dying Swan is in Swan Lake; it isn’t.) However, practising to music gets Watts evicted for being too noisy. Watts manages to find other accommodation, but it’s not very nice (basement room, rats). It’s more expensive – so less money for ballet lessons – and less room to practise. But after meeting Oberon, who says good things are going to happen to her, Watts feels encouraged again.

Soon after, Watts’ dingy new room looks better and she realises the basement area outside makes a ready stage for her to practise on once cleaned up. This gets her noticed by Mr and Mrs Hartley who own a ballet school. Upon seeing her talent they offer her private lessons, and don’t worry about fees. After this, Watts is convinced Oberon has strange powers and she arranged all this.

Watts strikes another problem at dance class: no ballet gear of her own and her ballet shoes are too tatty. But not for long: Oberon turns up in her mysterious manner with a bag full of everything Watts needs. Soon Watts’ ballet lessons are going so brilliantly that she is accepted by the London Company.

Suddenly Watts is shocked to find Oberon not appearing because she is indisposed. Then she has a horrible vision of horrible black hands reaching out for Oberon and realises it is a premonition. While rushing to Oberon’s house to warn her, Watts gets knocked down by a car.

Watts regains consciousness at a Swiss clinic and seems to hear her gramophone playing. Her legs are paralysed. Oberon appears, and tells Watts she has a destiny to fulfil, but is not specific on what that destiny is. Oberon puts Watts through a series of tests to get her to walk and eventually to dance again. Watts’ final test is to dance before an audience while every muscle in her body still gives pain. Oberon tells Watts to forget the pain and just dance for her audience. She does so, finding the music just seems to drive the pain away. The applause is thunderous and Watts tells Oberon she is cured.

Oberon tells Watts her destiny is to take her place as “Britain’s foremost ballerina”. She then says goodbye to Watts forever.

Watts regains consciousness in the hospital. She has been in a coma all the time and the Hartleys were playing the gramophone music in the hope it would wake her. The doctors are baffled as to how Watts, who was completely paralysed, has recovered, and is now dancing even better than before. It turns out that Oberon, who was taken ill, died at the precise moment Watts woke up from her coma. Watts vows to fulfil her destiny to carry on from Oberon as Britain’s leading ballerina, starting with the London Company.

Thoughts

This is quite a charming story. It is likeable and enjoyable to read. Nobody would call it average or boring. The writer remembers it fondly. We like the period setting, the hot chestnut job, the supernatural elements, struggling to dance in lousy accommodation, and Watts’ ultimate battle to overcome her paralysis and learn to dance again. We even like the touch of the mean landlady who offers Watts the basement area, which we suspect the landlady is overcharging for.

However, we feel that Watts does have it a bit too easy compared with other dancers in girls’ serials. Her story is not given enough episodes to really flesh things out or put more tribulations in her path. For example, we never see how Watts gets on at the London Company. And the obstacles Watts faces do not feel all that much of a threat. We get the impression they are only superficial and fleeting because they will be overcome the moment Oberon appears, which she always does.

Oberon acts too much like a deus ex machina who is always bailing Watts out of every fix she gets into. Yet it’s never in person. It’s always in a vision or appearing with dark glasses and a hood, like some fairy godmother. This also creates a bit of overdependence on Oberon. We are left wondering how Watts is going to cope now Oberon is dead and said her goodbyes. Is it here that her real tests of character will begin?

There is a real mystery as to how the power of Oberon over Watts actually works and it’s one of the most baffling in girls’ comics. Unlike the “Spirit of the Lake” she is not a ghost and is not dead (until the end of the story). There is no evidence of Oberon having actual powers. The two women are not related, nor are they twins. The only things they have in common are their love of ballet and having the same Christian name. Yet both women sense there is some sort of link between them and one is destined to follow on from the other. Perhaps everything can only be left to the readers’ imagination.

Combing Her Golden Hair (1979)

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Colour reprint as “Comb of Mystery” in Katy

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Publication: 1/9/79-8/12/79
Reprint: Katy as “Comb of Mystery; Tina Topstrip as Dutch translation
Artist: Phil Townsend
Writer: Unknown

Plot: Tamsin Tregorren lives with gran (her dad is often away at sea). Gran is a fearsome, iron-willed woman who is very old fashioned and strict with Tamsin. She always seems to keep Tamsin looking a frump in plaits, glasses, and buys her second hand clothes (okay, so they do have a limited budget, but that’s not the real reason). She does not even like Tamsin having long hair and only allows it because Dad likes it that way. Tamsin’s strict upbringing attracts sympathy from her classmates, who think gran is a dragon and don’t come to Tamsin’s house for that reason.

There is a mystery about Tamsin’s mother; whenever Tamsin asks questions about her, gran’s temper flares up. Tamsin is not sure she believes what gran says about her mother being dead, and wants to meet her mother. Tamsin also yearns to swim, but gran says she cannot because chlorine brings on her asthma, so she cannot join swimming classes at school. She always feels the odd one out.

One night Tamsin’s comb is ruined. She searches gran’s drawer for a spare and finds a silver fish-like comb. When she starts combing her hair, the comb seems to have a strange effect on her. She combs her hair all evening, and she seems to hear a sweet voice calling to her. She also has a strange, calming feeling, as if she is floating on water. This starts a habit of combing her hair continuously with the comb while feeling those strange effects. But gran is not impressed to find Tamsin combing her hair all evening. She calls it vanity and threatens to cut Tamsin’s hair off. But the comb starts inciting Tamsin to go against her gran. She starts wearing some fashionable clothes with the help of her friends. They also help her to have a go at swimming but gran stops her, screaming about her asthma problem, and drags her out in front of her friends.

Still, the attempt has Tamsin wondering if she really has a problem with chlorine. Then a new teacher insists on pupils producing doctor’s certificates if they are to be excused swimming. Tamsin hopes this will settle the matter once and for all, but gran refuses to take her to the doctor to a certificate. Instead, she’s going to keep Tamsin at home on swimming days although it is illegal and gran could get in trouble. But the comb encourages Tamsin to swim, and she starts doing so in secret at school with the help of her friend Ellen. And when she does, she finds she is a natural swimmer and there is no reaction to the chlorine.

There is another scene when gran catches Tamsin combing her hair. This time she almost cuts Tamsin’s hair off for real. But Dad, who has returned from the sea, intervenes. He says, “Oh Mother, I realise why you tried to do it, but cutting off her lovely hair is going too far!” But he will not tell Tamsin what he meant by knowing the reason for gran’s actions. This deepens the mystery that Tamsin is now more determined to solve.

An eye test (something gran had always kept Tamsin away from) reveals that there is nothing wrong with her eyes and Tamsin discovers the glasses her gran buys her are just plain glass. She now realises the glasses, plaits and everything else frumpy were intended to de-emphasise her looks because gran considers beauty a sin. Furious, she smashes her glasses and starts wearing her hair loose. When she confronts her father over the matter, he is oddly defensive about gran’s actions. Still, Gran is forced to agree to allow Tamsin to wear her hair loose. However, she confiscates all mirrors in the house to discourage any vanity in Tamsin, but Tamsin defies her with a broken mirror in the shed. This time, when she combs her hair, the comb says a name: Redruthan. Later, Tamsin discovers Redruthan is a place in Cornwall. When she mentions Redruthan, and more questions about Mum to Dad and gran, they both clam up oddly, saying that she and her mother originated in London. Now Tamsin is even more determined to find out about her mother.

Gran discovers Tamsin’s secret swimming. She really flips out, cutting up the swimming costume and towel and locks Tamsin in the broom cupboard. She also says something odd about lying being in Tamsin’s blood. Tamsin realises this can only mean her mother, as her father is honest. The comb comforts Tamsin again, saying happiness can begin in Redruthan. Then Tamsin discovers her birth certificate, which says she was born at Gull Cottage, Redruthan. So much for London origins.

Then gran falls sick and has a bad attack. Tamsin is also having second thoughts about the comb, realising it has brought problems for her in encouraging her to defy her gran. She turns to looking after her gran, but eventually gran is taken to hospital. The comb takes Tamsin over again and and urges her to head to Redruthan. This time, Tamsin cannot resist the call, although gran could be on the danger list and needs her badly. She goes Ellen’s house, as she and her parents are heading to Redruthan on holiday. She takes a replacement swimming costume Ellen left for her and sneaks a lift there in the back of their caravan. When she arrives in Redruthan, she feels she belongs there. People are astonished to see a girl running about in a swim costume in cold weather, but Tamsin does not feel cold in it; she feels alive.

Tamsin finds Gull Cottage, and learns that she, gran, Dad and Mum lived there when she was a baby, and locals think there was something funny about them. Her mother did not get on with gran and then disappeared. The comb then leads Tamsin to a mirror that matches it.

Meanwhile, gran discovers what Tamsin has done. Although she is still sick, she leaves hospital and comes to Redruthan, saying she is trying to save Tamsin. Ellen is in tow. Ellen is appalled at how sick gran looks, but gran is determined to save Tamsin. She always did have a will of iron.

Tamsin comes face to face with her mother – and discovers she is a mermaid! Her name is Nerina, and Nerina explains that when she first saw Tamsin’s father, she knew she must have him. Mermaids can swap their tails for legs when they want to marry humans, and this is what Nerina did to marry Tamsin’s father. Gran had opposed the marriage as she did not trust a woman whose past was a mystery, and she was right. The marriage soon fell apart due to Nerina’s selfish, vain cold mermaid nature; this made her a “vain, lazy wife” who spent all day preening in her mirror while leaving baby Tamsin crying in her cot. The irony of the whole situation is revealed in that it was left to strict gran to look after the neglected baby and give her love (see below), which by mermaid standards was “spoiling”. Eventually gran worked out the truth, so Nerina left, and she was missing the sea anyway. She left the comb, knowing it would bring Tamsin to her. Now she wants Tamsin to join her in her mermaid realm and starts pulling Tamsin down there. She does not seem to understand or care that Tamsin would drown because she is human.

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Gran and Ellen arrive, and Tamsin manages to get away from Nerina in order to say goodbye to gran. Gran explains that all her tactics were to ensure that Tamsin did not grow up like the vain Nerina and to keep her away from water. Tamsin now understands gran did not mean to be cruel but says vanity and swimming are in her blood; she is a mermaid’s daughter after all. Gran begins pointing out what a cold fish Nerina is; she shows no love, no affection, and only sees Tamsin as a possession she must have and does not care that Tamsin would drown if taken down below. Indeed, Nerina told Tamsin not to call her “mother”, calling the term “an ugly, ageing title”. Ellen adds that gran has shown Tamsin love, in risking her life by discharging herself prematurely, in order to find Tamsin.

They get through to Tamsin. She realises her mother does not love her because a mermaid cannot feel love as humans can. She agrees to come home and look after gran.

Nerina isn’t giving up that easily though; she is determined to have what is hers. She retrieves the comb and throws it after Tamsin, trying to tempt her with all the comb has done for her and can do for her. But Tamsin has gone with gran and Ellen, and the comb gets lost forever in the waves.

Thoughts

“Combing Her Golden Hair” is regarded as another of Jinty’s classics and was one of her most popular and enduring stories. It can also be regarded as one of her most unconventional ones. It takes established formulas in girls’ comics and then turns them completely inside-out. And it does this with a conclusion that takes readers completely by surprise because it is not what they expected.

We have seen the formulas in this story used in so many serials: a strict guardian who never lets their charge have any fun or be herself; a guardian who imposes bizarre and unfair sanctions because they seem to have such an enormous chip on their shoulder for some reason; a shy girl who gets more confident when she acquires an object with strange powers, but it may come with a price; and a good old fashioned mystery that is just begging to be unravelled. The mystery here is the mystery of Tamsin’s mother. It is not hard to guess that the mother has something to do with why gran’s strictness is so extreme. When the comb appears, the plot thickens even further. If it has a connection with the mystery mother, it drops a hint that there is something supernatural about the mother. And whatever it is, it is clearly connected with swimming, the sea, and all the other things that gran seems to go all out to squelch in Tamsin.

At any rate, we laud the comb because its actions seem to be aimed at freeing Tamsin from the iron apron strings of her severe gran and her harsh, bizarre measures that really shock us at times, such as when gran goes so mad she nearly cuts Tamsin’s hair off or locks her in the cupboard. We all reckon that gran should be reported to child welfare, but we will settle for the ultimate liberation, which surely must come when the mystery of Tamsin’s mother is revealed. Once it is, Tamsin is going to be free of her horrible gran forever and go off arm in arm with her mother and she lives happily ever after. That’s how it always ends up in girls’ serials, right?

Nope, not in this case. It breaks all the clichés to give us a happy but completely unconventional ending that is full of surprises and irony. It turns out that the mother is the villain; not actually evil, but a possessive, selfish, cold fish who wants Tamsin the same way she wanted her father – as possessions, and has no love for them. The mother used the comb to lure Tamsin to her while winning Tamsin’s confidence and trust by encouraging her to rebel against her grandmother and doing the things that gran was trying to keep her from. Gran had been set up as the villain of the piece, but she was actually a heroine – or anti-heroine? Once we learn all the facts, we can understand what made the gran the way she is and the thinking behind her actions. But she was not going about them the right way and it could easily be construed as child abuse. Trying to deny Tamsin what she is was not right either. As Tamsin herself told her gran, she is a mermaid’s daughter. We can only hope that in the aftermath, Tamsin and her gran will get along much better and gran will be more tolerant of Tamsin’s mermaid half. She will have to be, because Tamsin has a mermaid/human heritage she will be getting to grips with.

Perhaps the greatest irony and surprise of all is Nerina telling Tamsin that gran spoiled her rotten as a baby. Gran spoiling Tamsin? We have to laugh at that after seeing the way gran has brought Tamsin up. But the whole irony of it all is that it was the severe gran who gave Tamsin love while the cold-fish mother did not because it was not in her mermaid nature and gave baby Tamsin all the care she needed when the mother neglected her. And gran again showed Tamsin love by risking her own life to save Tamsin from what she sensed was going to happen once Tamsin met her mother. She was right, and she saved Tamsin’s life by showing she was the one who really loved Tasmin while the mother did not. So gran emerges as a proper heroine now and redeemed herself for her earlier harshness.

Readers are astonished when the reunion between mother and daughter is not liberation and happiness; instead, it is life threatening for Tamsin. But then, mermaids have been associated with sirens, who lured people to their doom with hypnotic singing. Mermaids have also been connected to things like shipwrecks, flooding, drownings and luring people to their doom. Other mermaid folklore portrays them as more benevolent and even tragic, depending on the region. But not in the case of Nerina, who was clearly inspired by the darker side of mermaid folklore.

Who’s That in My Mirror? (1977)

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Publication: 30/7/77-1/10/77 (also translated into Spanish twice, under the titles “The Ghost in the Mirror” and “The Other side of the Mirror”)

Artist: Tom Hurst

Writer: Unknown

Plot

Magda Morrice has the face of an angel but the heart of a devil. She schemes her way to anything she wants and her pretty face belies it all to everyone. She gets jealous when Janie Gray wins the third form prize for fashion design and deliberately puts a dent in it. She then quietly takes the trophy from Janie, under pretext of having it mended. Later, at the market, she tricks her way into acquiring a mirror she fancies.

But when Magda gets the mirror home, she is surprised to find that the mirror is reflecting two images of her! She does not realise that the second face is actually a reflection of the devil in her – not yet, anyway.

The reflection takes a hand in helping Magda with her schemes. These are designed to take advantage of Janie and pretend to be friends with her while stealing Janie’s work and passing it off as her own, while sabotaging Janie’s other work to make her look bad in the eyes of their fashion teacher, Miss Winn. She also pretends to Janie that her mother is ill (and even gives her mother a dose of food poisoning to complete the effect) in order to pull Janie’s heart-strings and cadge off her for things such as a sewing machine. And she is very slick at pulling the wool over the eyes of Miss Winn, who thinks she is improving marvellously while Janie seems to be losing it.

But while the face continues to help Magda, it also grows increasingly ugly, evil-looking and frightening.

Magda catches on to what is happening in the mirror and tells the reflection that she is going to change so the reflection will be pretty too. But the reflection just sneers at her – and it is right. Magda soon finds she cannot change the things she has started without getting into trouble. Besides, she has gained things out of them, such as receiving accolades from Marcus Greg, a famous theatrical designer. She is soon lapsing into her scheming ways.

Now Magda has had enough of the terrifying face and tries to get rid of the mirror. But it always finds its way back to her – more of its powers. So Magda smashes it instead. She is puzzled as to why the mirror does not resist her as she throws a rock down on it.

But she soon finds out! Far from ridding herself of the face, she finds the face is following her everywhere! Every time she looks a mirror, pane of glass or anything reflective, she sees that face. It is getting uglier by the minute, and bigger too. It is such a nightmare that Magda can’t sleep and isn’t brushing her hair because of that hideous reflection in the mirror. People notice what a state Magda is in but of course Magda can’t explain why. The only way out seems to be to confess, but she is too caught up in what she has started to change anything now, and not with accolades from Mr Greg in person. Morever, she can’t quite work up enough courage to confess.

And there are still traces of Magda’s selfish, scheming old ways left in her. Eventually she gets so afraid of discovery that she takes her latest work and Janie’s (some costumes) to school with the intent of destroying the evidence.

But it is then that the worst happens. The pile of costumes suddenly comes alive, and it has that hideous face for a head! The strange monster is now coming towards Magda and seems to be about to speak to her.

Magda is so terrified that she faints.

When she comes to, Miss Winn is standing over her. Magda is so terrified that she finally makes a full confession to Miss Winn, Janie and then her mother. Miss Winn is all for punishing Magda (if only she knew), but Janie is forgiving and still wants to be friends. Magda returns the trophy she tricked Janie out of. As it has to go back at the end of term, she decides to buy Janie a replica she can keep forever, as a way of making it up to her.

When Magda next looks in a mirror, she finds the hideous face has gone. Hers is the only reflection now. But she resolves to be as good as she looks from now on – in case it comes back.

Thoughts

Now this is one story that takes established formulas and does a take on them to give us something fresh and different.

The first is what I call “the sweet-faced schemer” formula. Cunning schemers who get away with murder because they look so pretty, angelic and innocent have abounded in girls’ comics. They cropped up regularly in DCT titles, such as “Move Over, Maria” (Bunty) and “The Truth about Wendy” (Mandy). Sometimes they have been regulars, such as “Angela Angel-Face” (Sandie). Perhaps the most cunning sweet-faced schemer of them all was Carol in Jinty’s “Concrete Surfer”. This schemer was so cunning that not even her victim, Jean was sure if she was a real schemer or victim of misunderstandings until the climax of the story where Carol finally slips up.

The general focus in these stories is to catch out the schemer, and it is not easy. They are so slick, manipulative and innocent-looking that they have everyone around their little fingers (or play tricks to put them out of the way). But here the focus is on reforming the scheming girl and making her as nice as she looks.

And here is the second thing that is unusual about this story. Stories dealing with turning unsavoury girls around usually deal with girls who are spoiled, selfish, snobby or arrogant. Seldom do they deal with a girl who is downright nasty or scheming. But this is the case here. And it is one of the rare serials I have seen where a sweet-faced schemer does change her ways. Usually they just get caught out at long last and are expelled or whatever.

The third is the evil influence formula. Instead of forcing a nice girl into doing terrible things, which is what normally happens in evil influence stories, the influence actually seems to be helping an already nasty girl with her machinations. In the early episodes, readers may have felt a sense of outrage at the mirror helping a scheming girl. Shouldn’t she be getting her comeuppance or something from this mirror? But as the face grows increasingly hideous, readers must have reconsidered and wondered if this story would go the comeuppance way after all.

Magda’s reactions to the image are realistic in that she doesn’t change all at once. One reason for this is that she doesn’t quite know how without getting herself into trouble. Another is that her old ways keep resurfacing. She tells herself that she will have to make up for things some other time, but of course that is just bandaid treatment for a rousing conscience and does not stop the evil image from haunting her. It continues right up to the end, where Magda decides to destroy the evidence – but it is then that the evil image threatens to do its worst. Magda realises she must act now, or goodness know what might happen.

The intentions of the evil image are a bit confusing. The evil reflection encourages and abets Magda’s own evil. Yet at the same time it seems to be scaring Magda into changing her ways with its deteriorating, frightening appearance. It is not like other evil mirror stories that have appeared over the years. Girls either see a reflection in the mirror that is not their own but means big trouble (such as in “The Venetian Looking Glass” and “Slave of the Mirror” from Jinty), or the mirror creates evil reflections that set about taking over (“The Evil Mirror”, Girl series 2). But here the reflection is a reflection of the girl’s own evil that seems to start off helping her and then progressively scares the living daylights out of her. Furthermore, other stories where an object reflects a girl’s evil tend to do so in a reproving manner. One example is Mandy’s “Portrait of Pauline”, where Pauline’s new portrait starts reflecting her selfish nature and then her progress and setbacks in changing her ways. But this is not the case here. Rather, the image reflects Magda’s evil in a manner that flourishes in Magda’s evil. Maybe the answer lies in what would have happened if the image had spoken to Magda in the end, or if Magda had not confessed. But we never find out because Magda finally does the right thing in the nick of time.

What was the purpose in a magic mirror that behaves like that? Is it an evil mirror that feeds off people’s evil? Is it a magic designed to punish evil people in a rather unorthodox manner? Was it the result of magic that went a bit wrong? Was it designed to be some “monkey’s paw” thing? Or was it something else? We never know because the origins of the mirror are left unexplained and the image never speaks to Magda – assuming that was its intention in the final episode.

Still, it’s a different take on the evil influence theme, and we like the serial for that.

The theme of an unpleasant girl being haunted by evil-looking faces that turn out to be distorted reflections of herself – or perhaps reflections of the evil inside her – has cropped up in the “Strangest Stories Ever Told”. “The Face of Greed” (Tammy 4 October 1975; reprinted as a Gypsy Rose tale in Jinty 8 November 1980) and “Marcia’s ‘Ghost’” (Tammy 22 March 1980) are two examples, and there are probably more elsewhere. But those were complete stories. This is one occasion where I have seen the idea explored in a serial.

The art has been credited to Tom Hurst following Ruth’s comment below.

Note: This is the only Jinty story drawn by Tom Hurst.