Follow-My-Leader Lil – Judy: #905 (14 May 1977) – #914 (16 July 1977)
Lil Lavender lives in an industrial area of town. The closest thing they have to a playground is a waste ground nearby named the Forstal. Lil is confined to a wheelchair and she likes to sit under an old tree and watch the nature around her. But Marsdon a local councillor and developer wants to build on the land. Lil takes the lead in a campaign to try and stop this. First her and the local kids try and track down a deed to prove that the space is common land, but Marsdon is one step ahead of them and has taken all the records out on loan. The kids try to track down any other copies of the deed. They manage to find an old copy but its in Latin. They get it translated and discover the land can be used to host a fair or festival indefinitely on St. Peters Day, as long as it is done with no more of a 75 years elapse.
At the same time of this discovery, Marsdon’s men are ready to cut down the old tree and start development. Some of the boys climb up the tree to delay them while Lil and the others got to the council offices to present their discoveries. They manage to put a hold on the work. They only have 2 weeks to find out if there was a fair held in the last 75 years. They manage to find proof but it seems the last fair was held just within the 75 years, so they have only bought them selves an extra 18 days then the deed will lapse. But Lil isn’t one to give up so she says they will just have to organise a festival themselves.
Marsdon tries to put a stop to the festival, by ruining all their attractions. They arrange a gymnastic display, dancers and a local marching to appear, but these acts rely on council grants and buildings to get by. So Marsdon makes sure they won’t risk helping out the festival. Similarly the choir backs out, as most of them are Marsdon’s employees and fear they’d lose their jobs. Lil’s still not going to give up though and decides to turn it into a youth festival. To counter this, Marsdon sets up a free seaside trip for the same day. When it looks like the festival will fail, Lil wonders if she can get the old tree marked for preservation. They go to the local newspaper to ask about preservation, the staff can’t help with that but they do think the festival and campaign make a good story. So they help with the festival, getting a popular band to come play and writing an article about it. The day is a success, keeping the area safe for another 75 years and Marsdon resigns from the council.
It is good to see a story with lead character who is disabled but not have that define the plot. Stories with disabled characters usually fell into a few categories. The plots would involve; trying to find a cure or trying to overcome the disability, using their disability (or faking one) to exploit people or exact revenge, or being exploited themselves. In this story Lil’s disability is not really key to the plot, she could have still been the leader of the campaign and been able to walk. She is not being discriminated against because of her disability, she is in the same position as the other local kids fighting to keep the one green area they have.
That’s not to say her disability is totally inconsequential. They use it to their advantage when needed; such as delaying people so the boys can sneak into a site to find the deed , or gaining sympathy so she can get to see an old woman outside of visiting hours. Even the newspaper reporters make a point of saying a photo of her in her chair (along with the campaign) would be good at pulling at people’s heart strings.
There have there have been several stories of campaigning girls saving their park/youth clubs from evil developers previous to this. So Lil’s disability may be seen as a a gimmick to differentiate it from these similar stories. Also the word “cripple” is still in use throughout the story. Still overall it’s quite progressive that it is Lil’s leadership qualities that define her character not the wheelchair. The story itself does have a sense of urgency, with them only having weeks to save the Forstal. Marsdon is your typical antagonist a big business man that steps on the little people and uses underhand methods to get what he wants. The other kids don’t stand out as much, mostly they are there just to follow Lil’s plans. There are two that seem the closest to Lil (one being her brother) acting like second-in-commands, but the rest of the kids are quite interchangeable.
Throughout the story the Forstal is described as a wasteland, so I find it good that they save the land and they don’t go further by making it into some great playground for the kids. Its just an open space for them to play in. There are some issues raised that without this space the kids are more likely to stray into delinquent activities. Of course it would be great if they had extra facilities but more realistic that they are lucky just have some green area.