Tag Archives: witchfinder general

Spell of Fog [1983]

Sample Images

Fog 1

Fog 2

Fog 3

 

Published: Tammy 29 October 1983 to 17 December 1983

Episodes: 8

Artist: Tony Coleman (credited as George Anthony)

Writer: Jake Adams

Translations/reprints: none known

Plot

A film crew arrives in the village of Wolfen to make a film about Alice Compton, a victim of witch persecution by none other than Mathew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General. Her so-called crimes included bewitching cattle and an artistic style that was ahead of its time and dubbed “the Devil’s likeness”. Nobody spoke up for her because they were too scared of Hopkins. Hopkins applied the usual junk witch tests of the day, which were sometimes augmented by fraud, to ‘prove’ Alice was a witch. After Alice’s burning at the stake her ashes were scattered on the marsh. Predictably, her ghost is said to haunt the spot.

Sally Groves, who feels very strongly about Alice’s fate, is shocked to hear the film director is going to depict Alice as the “devil’s handmaiden” with a “dark, malignant force beneath her almost angelic appearance” who brought evil to the village instead of “the innocent victim of ignorance and superstition” she really was. When Sally protests against this portrayal, the film director has her thrown out. Several people, including the film director, are saying Sally is stupid to get worked up over something that happened centuries ago. Nobody else speaks out against the way the film portrays Alice.

Alice’s self-portrait in the vicarage shows that Sally bears a striking resemblance to her – oh dear! That never bodes well for the protagonist in a serial that features witch-hunting. It is never established as to whether the resemblance is due to Sally being a descendant of some sort, which is the usual assumption in other witch-hunting stories. The self-portrait is the only one of Alice’s pictures to survive; the rest were burned with her. It shows her looking really sad, but that’s all there is. No sign of any malice or evil is present in the portrait.

A mist arises on the marsh where Alice’s remains lie. Sally and her friend Jenny immediately notice it is coming towards them when the wind should be blowing it away. Believing this is Alice’s angry reaction to how the film depicts her, Sally tries to spread the warning, but the director does not listen and continues with his version of Alice Compton. However, the mist comes into the village, stops the filming cold, and has a lot of people running scared.

The mist soon has the film crew trapped in the inn run by the Groves family – and then breaks a window and makes its way in. And they’re not the only ones – the mist has everyone trapped in their homes and nothing keeps it out; it is even breaking down doors to get in.

That’s only the beginning, of course. Next, the mist cuts Wolfen off from the outside world and forces it to revert to a 17th century pattern. All modern technology, including running water, stops working. All modern clothes rot while the 17th century costumes from the film remain intact so people have no choice but to wear them, and they have to cook, clean, fetch water etc the way they did in the 17th century.

But the fog is making one conspicuous exception – Sally Groves. Her modern clothes are the only ones to stay intact. This not only makes her stick out like a sore thumb but also makes her a target of the hysteria, panic, confusion and terror the fog has aroused. These are bringing out the primeval instincts that can turn even civilised people into hysterical idiots and witch-hunting mobs. Gradually, people mutter and then scream that Sally has something to do with the fog, she summoned it, that she’s a witch, she’s Alice Compton returned for revenge etc. Sally becomes the target of persecution, with kids throwing things at her and such. Jenny defends Sally at first, but then goes as nutty as the rest of the villagers when the fog shows up at the attack on Sally. Sally herself has an awful nightmare of the villagers taking her for Alice Compton because of the resemblance they share and burning her at the stake, and is terrified it will become reality.

Sally believes Alice must be behind the fog and what’s happening but can’t understand why Alice is doing this to her when she was speaking up for her. Was she wrong and Alice was a real witch after all who is out for revenge? The portrait betrays no clues and just continues to show Alice looking sad.

There is no doubt in Sally’s mind that the film production is what started it all. When she tells villagers this they try to remove the film crew and equipment in a most violent manner, much to Sally’s horror; she did not mean that. In any case, when the villagers try to throw the film crew out of the village, actual figures appear in the fog and block them, saying there is no escape. The figures look like Puritans from Alice’s time, but Alice herself is not present at all. However, nobody grasps the significance of this clue (that maybe it is not Alice who is behind the fog?).

Then the fog touches everyone in the village, causing intense pain as it does so. Again, Sally is the exception. After this, the villagers think they are the actual 17th century villagers from Alice’s time. They talk, think and act like 17th century people. They can’t even see the now-useless 20th century technology whereas Sally can. These Puritan-thinking people react with horror and outrage at her 20th century clothes. They also believe she is Alice Compton the witch, and Sally’s efforts to convince them that this is the 20th century are misconstrued as further proof of witchcraft. Sally’s parents, which are likewise affected, change her “godless apparel” for 17th century dress, and again try to help her escape, but are blocked again. This time, it is by the possessed villagers and the film director, who now thinks he is Mathew Hopkins the Witchfinder General (it sure is perfect casting!).

The stage is set for the re-enactment of the persecution of Alice Compton and so it ensues (above): sham trial; crazed, ignorant hysterical people on all sides providing testimony; Witchfinder General twisting everything Sally says about this being the 20th century to prove she’s a witch and taking advantage of the villagers’ hysteria; the junk tests/fraud to prove witchcraft; and only sporadic, token protests (from Jenny). The Witchfinder General declares Sally a witch and she is tied to the stake to be burnt.

At this moment the fog reappears, extinguishes the fire, and returns the villagers and film director to normal. The villagers are shocked and ashamed at what they almost did to Sally.

The figures in the fog reappear. They are the original persecutors of Alice Compton. In death they came to realise what they did to Alice and how Hopkins took advantage of them. They cannot rest because they are so ashamed of their crime. And when the film production started it was too much for them and brought them back. With apologies to Sally, they had the villagers re-enact the Alice Compton persecution, right down to the thinking behind it. This was so they too would emerge from it feeling the same way and understand that witch-hunting is not just something ignorant, superstitious people did in times past. All humans, in any age, are capable of it because they all carry the same primeval instincts that fuel it: unreason, prejudice and fear of what they do not understand. The ghosts also did it because they want to entrust with the villagers with two things: first, consecrate Alice’s remains on the marsh so both she and they will find rest; second, a warning not to let a modern witchfinder take advantage of them too.

When Alice’s remains are consecrated her own foggy figure finally appears in the story. Alice tells Sally she knows about her sharing the same pain of persecution and hopes they will now share the same joy. She says farewell and departs for the next world.

Within days Wolfen returns to normal and everything modern is back and functioning. The film director (who must have realised the ghosts also did it to teach some people a lesson) scraps the film and makes one about the recent events so as to spread the warning. Sally approves of this film and is sure Alice will too. The vicar finds Alice’s portrait has gone from looking sad to all smiles, but reckons Alice will be even happier if the portrait was gifted to Sally.

Thoughts

Tammy started this story in her last Halloween issue because it is a spooky one. It sure is; it’s got themes about ghosts, witches, the Devil, possession, a grip of terror and hysteria, persecution, a historical setting, and above all, that mist. No villager from Wolfen would look at mist the same way again after this experience.

As the mist takes hold, it gets creepier and creepier. It is clear that this is no ordinary mist. It is intensifying in thickness and intenseness, and it is taking over the whole village. It can even break down windows and doors. It is forcing people back into the 17thcentury, but its reasons for this are hard to discern. Is it Alice returning for revenge? If so, she seems to be taking a very odd approach, including making the girl defending her a target of persecution. When those figures in the fog appear, it suggests it may not be Alice after all. Or are these figures trying to protect the villagers from the mist? And where is Alice? Nothing has been seen or heard from her at all during all the time the mist is taking over the village. It’s all very confusing; we don’t know what to think (or have we guessed?). All we know is, it’s a time bomb that has been ticking ever since Alice was burned, and the film production has detonated it. The question is: where will the fallout from the blast end up?

This story has been mentioned before on this blog, in the Shadow on the Fen entry, as there are echoes of Fen (Witchfinder General references, girl threatened with burning for witchcraft, modern villagers turning into witch-hunting idiots, strong message against the evils of witch hunting and a fog that cuts a village off from the outside world) in this story that has me wondering if it was the same writer.

There have been plenty of stories of murdered witches, both innocent and guilty, returning from beyond the grave or leaving a curse behind them. Examples are “Secret of the Skulls” (Tammy), “Sharon’s Stone”, (Bunty) “The Painting” (Bunty), “Witch!” (Bunty), and “Bad Luck Barbara” (Mandy). There have also been stories that condemn superstitious people for persecuting people in this manner and ones portraying witch hunters as the true evil, including “Shadow on the Fen”. Misty took delight in complete stories about witch hunters and witch-hunting mobs meeting their downfall at the hands of a protagonist with genuine powers.

But this is the only serial I have seen where former witch persecutors return from the grave because they are remorseful and want to make amends and find peace. Their repentance is far more believable than the repentance of witch-persecuting villagers in stories like Jinty’s “Wenna the Witch” and “Mark of the Witch!”. The villagers in these stories just change their minds when they see the girl they persecute perform a heroic act, while the ghost villagers learned it in the afterlife where, we presume, were condemned until they had made amends for their act.

It certainly is a twist to have the former persecutors to be the ones behind it all. From the outset we expect Alice to be behind any creepy stuff that ensues in the story, especially when we hear how the film is going to depict her. To our mind it’s not who’s behind it but what she intends to do and where it’s all going to lead. But then, making it Alice is a bit too obvious and clichéd, isn’t it?

The way the ghost villagers go about their redemption certainly takes you aback. Forcing modern people to re-enact the witch persecution of long ago? Putting an innocent girl through a terrifying ordeal of being persecuted for witchcraft? Inflicting terror on an entire village and forcing it to revert to the 17th century? Wow! But anyone going through that would emerge never assuming witch hunting is just a thing of the past ever again. It can occur anywhere, anytime, because the mechanisms behind it (hysteria, fear, prejudice, hatred of the other) are part of human nature, regardless of the day and age. When the atmosphere is right (such as the terror the fog induces or fear of the growing threat of Communism) all that is needed is the spark to strip away all common sense and sanity and turn apparently reasonable, civilised people into hysterical, witch-hunting idiots and for someone to rise and take advantage of it. Just look at the examples of the Communist witch-hunts and the Satanic Ritual Abuse scares. Or look at the hysterical villagers. It didn’t take much for their common sense, sanity and belief that Alice was just a victim of superstition to be stripped away and for them to become witch-hunting idiots, even before the fog had turned them into complete persecutors.

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Shadow on the Fen (1978)

Sample images

Fen 1

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Fen 2

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Fen 3

Publication: 18 February 1978-13 May 1978

Artist: Douglas Perry

Writer: Unknown (but see thoughts)

Reprint: Girl Picture Library #25 as “The Witchfinder”

Plot

Linden James and her family have just moved to the village of Wychley Green, but things aren’t off to a good start for her. She misses her old home and isn’t making friends because they think she’s standoffish. At the Wishing Tree she wishes for a friend, without much hope of getting one.

But then a girl from the 17th century appears. Her name is Rebecca Neville and her evil cousin, Matthew Hobley “The Witchfinder”, has accused her of witchcraft. Part of it is Rebecca having her grandmother’s ‘healing hands’ and treating sick people and animals with them. But the real reason is that Hobley is after her inheritance. Hobley was leading a witch-hunting mob against her all the way up to the Wishing Tree, and she suddenly found herself in Linden’s time. Linden draws the conclusion that it was the Wishing Tree. She tells Rebecca that she is quite safe here because people here don’t believe in witches anymore. Rebecca is upset to find her home in ruins and her grandmother’s grave (which does not give the date of her death). However, she moves in with Linden, swapping her 17th century clothes for modern ones and school uniform happily enough.

But soon there are warning signs that Hobley has followed Rebecca into the 20th century. During a thunderstorm, they are terrified when a frightening silhouette that looks like a Puritan appears in a mirror. Soon the same shadow is following them about. And Linden, who is confident that Hobley can’t stir up people against Rebecca in this period because people no longer believe in witches, is soon to learn otherwise.

It begins when the school visits an archaeological dig, which Rebecca realises is unearthing an apothecary’s shop. The Witchfinder attacks with a pile of bricks, which narrowly misses Rebecca and the Professor in charge of the dig. The classmates blame Rebecca and start to whisper she is a witch. She gets particular trouble from the wayward Smith boys. Meanwhile, the dig uncovers a ring on a trap door that could lead to something.

Linden buys a witchball (an old charm against witches) for her mother’s birthday. On the way back from the shop the shadow of the Witchfinder appears. Linden threatens him with the witchball and he retreats. They now have a protection against the Witchfinder, but odd attacks start at Linden’s home and seem to be targeting the witchball.

The whispering against Rebecca gets worse when she offers to help Mrs Perks look for her cat while the Smith boys tease Mrs Perks over it. Mrs Perks is also rumoured to be a witch because she is psychic. They help Mrs Perks find her cat and in return Mrs Perks reads Rebecca’s palms. She says Rebecca has healing hands and warns her that there is an evil shadow pursuing her.

The dig uncovers a box that contains items from the apothecary. Among them is a gold locket belonging to the apothecary’s granddaughter Catherine. Catherine was a friend of Rebecca’s, and she and the apothecary stood up to Hobley for her. Then the Professor uncovers a document listing the names of people brought to trial for witchcraft – and Rebecca’s name is on the list! This renews the rumours that Rebecca is a witch. Linden covers up by saying the other Rebecca must be an ancestress, which calms things down. But they wonder how the list got there.

That question is answered when the Witchfinder turns up in person at school, posing as Professor Hopkin who has joined the dig. Linden and Rebecca learn that Catherine searched Hobley’s room for false evidence against Rebecca and stole the list. But she was discovered, so she, the apothecary and their cat were hanged as friends of a witch. However, Catherine is not quite finished – her ghost appears when the Witchfinder traps them at the fen and gets help for them.

They now realise the Witchfinder must be a wizard in his own right and turn to Mrs Perks for help. The Witchfinder tries to scare them with ghosts, but the ghosts fade when they approach Grandmother Neville’s grave, and they figure it must offer protection against the Witchfinder. Mrs Perks helps them figure out the secret of the Witchfinder’s power – a box containing a black wand, a black book and a book bound in black leather. If they destroy those items, they destroy the Witchfinder.

They discover that the Witchfinder/Hopkin has gone into hiding. Mrs Perks suggests he may be at Deepdene Cottage and gives Rebecca a cross and rowan flowers for protection. She says the cross was carved by an ancestor, whose wife became one of Hobley victim’s – so she has her own score to settle with Hobley.

They find the box at the cottage but are attacked by the Witchfinder’s minions – ravens and vicious dogs. They manage to retrieve the wand and destroy it. But the Witchfinder still has the book and knife.

Mrs Perks tracks down the box again, but the Witchfinder attacks in person – and right in front of the Smith boys. Linden repels him with the cross, and they destroy his book. But he gets away with the knife.

Mrs Perks ends up in hospital. The Witchfinder gave the Smith boys such a fright that they have reformed and are looking after Mrs Perks’ garden. Mrs Perks warns the girls that the Witchfinder will be even more dangerous now because he is frightened, and they still have to destroy the knife. Their search for him goes nowhere, and now he sends a mist that cuts off the village from the rest of the world.

Rebecca heads back to the Wishing Tree on her own, figuring that is where she will find Hobley and the knife. She finds the knife, but has forgotten her cross. So she is unprotected when he emerges, ready to drag her back to their own time and burn her at the stake.

However, Linden discovers the oversight, heads to the Wishing Tree with the cross, and arrives in the nick of time. As she flourishes the cross, lightning strikes. The Wishing Tree is destroyed and Hobley is reduced to bones, which crumble within the hour, leaving only his hat. But there is no sign of Rebecca.

Then Linden finds a book Rebecca left for her. It contains a reference to a statue in the churchyard that is a tribute to Rebecca. It reveals she survived Hobley’s persecution, became Rebecca Bartlett, and died a noble old lady at 77. Linden is relieved to know Rebecca got back safely and goes to put flowers on her grave. She finds the epitaph reflects their whole adventure: “Time and Death are illusions – but Friendship survives forever”.

Thoughts

This story is certainly a cut above the formula about evil sorcerers/witches who use their evil magic to wreak havoc while the protagonists try to stop them, and it almost invariably ends with the sorcerer/witch being destroyed. But there is always a lot of dark, spooky, scary stuff along the way, and this can leave panels that resonate with the reader years after she reads the story.

Shadow on the Fen is using the formula to make a serious statement about witch-hunting and where the evil really lies – with the accused or the accuser? Its strongest underscoring in this regard is in the hypocrisy of it all – the Witchfinder accusing people of being evil witches while he is the one who is an evil wizard. There is humour in the irony in that the Witchfinder is the one who is allergic to the things that are supposed to repel witches – witchballs, rowan and crucifixes. It further underlines the hypocrisy. While real witch-finders could hardly have been evil wizards, they were certainly evil people who would go to any lengths, such as heinous torture, to make a bounty and a fortune.

The story also touches on human psychology and how much we have actually outgrown the thinking that sent people to the stake for witches in olden times. And how far has Wychley Green itself outgrown it? For example, are the rumours against Mrs Perks the product of stupid, ignorant people, or could there still be traces of witch-beliefs in Wychley Green? Lingering witch-beliefs in modern villages have formed the basis of several ‘persecution’ serials such as Wenna the Witch and Mark of the Witch!

The story should be appreciated for taking a few moments to depict witches as they really were – wise women who helped people with charms, folk magic and herbal remedies. They were not agents of the Devil – a myth invented by the Inquisition – but their healing practices made them ready targets for accusations of witchcraft. When Rebecca first meets Linden, she recounts how several people in her time went this way, and her own healing abilities have made her vulnerable to the same accusation.

The name of Matthew Hobley and his alias, Professor Hopkin, are clearly references to Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General. The fact that Hobley turned out to really be a dark wizard may be a reference to the (probably apocryphal) legend that Hopkins was declared a wizard by his own witch-hunting methods and executed.

Several years later the theme of the Witchfinder General resurfaced in Tammy, with Spell of Fog, 29 October 1983 – 17 December 1983. This time, though, it is Hopkins himself. A film crew want to make a film about one of his victims, Alice Compton. Sally Groves, who has been deeply affected by the Compton case, protests when the director announces he is making a sensationalised version that depicts Alice as an actual agent of the Devil, not a hapless victim of superstition and hysteria.

Then a strange fog appears where Alice’s remains have been scattered. Its power cuts the village off from the outside world and has the village progressively reverting to a 17th century pattern in technology, dress and people’s thinking. Hysteria erupts in the village as the fog takes hold and people think it’s Alice’s revenge. Sally is the obvious scapegoat because she alone has remained unaffected, so she becomes a target of mob attacks and people calling her a witch. Eventually the fog takes over completely and the persecution of Alice Compton is re-enacted, with Sally as Alice and the film director as Hopkins.

But it turns out the power behind the fog is neither Alice nor Hopkins – it’s the villagers who burned Alice at the stake. They acted out shame and guilt over what they did, but also to remind the modern villagers that witch-hunting is not something that belongs in the past. It can erupt in any day and age because the psychology behind it (unreason, prejudice and fear of what you do not understand) is in every human. (Yes, you only have to look at things like the Red Scares and Satanic Ritual Abuse Scares to know what they mean.) They leave the villagers with a warning not to let a modern witchfinder take advantage of their fears.

There are similarities between Fen and Fog – witchfinders, evils of witch-hunting and mass hysteria, and supernatural forces and mists that cut off villages from the outside world and turn modern people into witch-hunting idiots of olden times – that have me wondering if it is the same writer. The mist in Fog sounds like a step up from the fog in Fen – going from what seems a belated last-ditch effort on the part of the Witchfinder to becoming the driving force of the entire plot. The credits for Fog list Jake Adams as the writer and George Anthony (actually, Tony Coleman) as the artist.

Fog 1Fog 2Fog 3

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