The Girlhood of Valda

  • The Girlhood of Valda – Mandy:  #396 (17 Aug. 1974) – #420 (01 Feb. 1975)
  • Reprinted- Mandy:  #1034 (08 November 1986)  – #1058  (25 April 1987)
  • Reprinted (abridged) – Lucky Charm: #8
  • Art: Dudley Wynne

Plot

This is the origin story of Valda set in the late 1700s in Europe. A man has become a leader of a rebellion against a cruel Archduke, but the rebellion is crushed and he along with his wife and baby daughter are forced to flee for their lives. They reach the river which they hope to cross to the neighbouring state, but the Archduke’s men catch up with them. The man stays behind to delay them, while his wife and child cross the river. He is quickly killed and they shoot his wife while she is still in the water, but the baby’s basket is carried further down the river by the current. An old gipsy woman, Dorcas, has seen the events and rescues the child and returns the basket upturned in order to mislead the soldiers. When Dorcas is safely at the other side of the river, she performs a naming ceremony and on the water the dust forms the name Valda.

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Time passes and Valda grows into a young girl. Dorcas has taught her many things, such as the uses of herbs, communicating with animals and she is preparing to share  with Valda her great secret. She sets Valda tests to prove her worthiness, including tasks to help an uprising against the Archduke (continuing in her parents footsteps). When Valda goes to an inn to pass a message onto a rebel Franz Kessler, she notices the inn was built in 1587, nearly 200 years ago but Dorcas said that she remembered it being built. She manages to give the message to Kessler and help him escape some guards. They hide under Dorcas’s caravan, and Valda observes that Dorcas must have hidden fugitives in the past as there are supports built under the caravan, just for that purpose. Valda and Dorcas help the rebellion and the Archduke flees his home. Afterwards they help the injured with herbs and potions. One man accuses them of using black arts and killing his brother, who Dorcas put into a deep sleep. Kessler squashes the growing mob and when the man wakes up healed the brother apologise. As they leave Valda wonders if they will the people live in peace and happiness. Dorcas says Kessler will do his best but as they just saw people are flawed and she fears that the people and descendants will have more trials and sorrow to face. And she comments that this is something that Valda may see in the centuries to come.

They have more adventures such as saving a prince from his murderous cousin, Count Ludwig. The Count falls down the stairs after a mere look from Dorcas, she says his own guilt destroyed him. By this time Dorcas has shown Valda that she carries with her the Water of Life that restores her strength, but the bottle is empty and they must travel up the mountains to refill it. They meet a storm along the way and Dorcas is too weak to carry on. Valda finds the cave inside a rock shaped like a wolves head has the water of life in its mouth. But it spurts flames. Valda manages to get to the water between bursts. She brings it back to Dorcas to restore her. Later they make camp and Dorcas throws some strange powder on the fire so she can read the mists and see what is in store for Valda, she sees the future of people riding in horseless carriages and soaring in the sky, there will  be many wonderful things to see,  but there will  still be cruelness and sadness in the world.

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Then some outlaws come across the camp, Dorcas and offers them food, but soldiers arrive and take them and Dorcas prisoner. Meanwhile the Prince’s son is sick sp  he has no  time to think about these prisoners. Valda slips away to heal the baby with herbs, in return she asks for Dorcus’s release. The Prince is hesitant but meets with Dorcas, she asks for the release of the bandits, in return she offers to prolong his life. His father and grand father died young but his great-grand father lived long. She directs him to ride out to a spring twice a day. She reveals later to Valda its not the water of life, but the exercise will do the lazy, overweight prince good.

Dorcas is happy that she has chosen her successor well and that she is strong and worthy enough to be given the water of life. She tells Valda the water of life will help her defy years and how she was a young girl during the civil war when Charles I was executed. The water of life does not give eternal youth, but Dorcas knows of a doctor who may know more on such matters. They will seek him out but first they will need more water. There is two places that the water of life may be found, that Dorcas knows of, one in the cave of the wolf, which they have left far behind and the other in the mountains across the border. Dorcas knows she will not defy the years much longer as the water of life no longer restores her as fully as it once did. A war has broken out between the states, which makes their journey more difficult. Valda crosses alone to find the place of eternal flame. Valda finds the water in the middle of a ring of flames she jumps the flame and drinks some water and finds there is no need to jump back she can just walk through the flames. Valda returns to Dorcas, but the water of life no longer can help her, she is just able to tell Valda she knows her secret is safe with her and to seek out Dr. Wilhelm Koenig as Valda need not grow old as Dorcas has. Dorcas dies and Valda burns her in the caravan as gipsy tradition dictates.

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Valda then journeys on to find Dr Koenig.  Koenig is also older than he looks and he has been studying the water of life for years. He believes that the real secret may lie in the volcanic flames that are found near the water. They venture out to find the cave where the fire is constantly burning. Along their way they come across wolves, Valda commands them to stay away but she knows they won’t stay away long, as they are hungry.  During their getaway Koenig trips knocking himself unconscious and the blood attracts the wolves once more. Valda manages to find a cave to drag him to and seek shelter. Some time later Koenig wakes up. They have to return to his lab and scare off the wolves. It’s all too much for Koenig and he begins to show his age, his hair turning white. They get him to the lab and once again the water of life restores him.

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But the villagers have seen the old man enter and when he isn’t found again they accuse Valda of witchcraft and of killing the old man. She is brought to court but is saved by Dr. Koenig, who has run up and down the mountains to appear old again. They continue their quest to find the ultimate secret of life and Valda finds an entrance into the mountain. While they’ve been occupied with their quest, they don’t notice the arrival of the French troops of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon has heard of Koenig’s knowledge and inventive skill and he wants him sent to France to help him win the war. While in the carriage on the way, Valda overpowers the soldiers and the two escape into the mountain. On the way they come across the remnants of the Tyrol army, they are happy to help the wounded but Koenig says the war isn’t their concern they have more pressing matters to attend to.  One of the leaders Franz shows them a village that the French burned as they know they gave food to the opposing army. Valda says they can’t let the innocents suffer like this and Koenig agrees. They join forces with the army. To give them time to escape Valda distracts a group of soldiers. They fire after her causing an avalanche, Valda can out run this  but the soldiers are swept away. The party are impressed by her ability, one man Martin insists she share the water of life with them. But she tells him that his body would reject it. A struggle happens, Martins gun goes off and the bullet grazes Valda’s forehead. Koenig gives her the water of life, and Valda wakes up. Martin grabs the bottle and Valda is too late to stop him drinking it. He wants it to heals his wounds but suddenly falls back gasping for breath, and dies.

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The group presses on to seek food and shelter at a friend’s farm. Valda goes on ahead to check that it is safe but the French have already arrived. She tricks them  into letting her drink from the water of life and she easily overpowers them and escapes with the farmer. Valda suggests to Koenig they take them to the caves where there water of life flows, it means revealing some of their secret but she doesn’t think that’s as important as helping them. She warns them not to drink from the spring. Then her and one of the men, Rudi, go to the valley for supplies. Rudi visits his family but the French are holding them hostage. On their way back Valda notices they are being followed, Rudi apologises for betraying them. While Valda runs on to warn the others he volunteers to stay behind and delay the French. Rudi is shot and in the caves Valda leads the soldiers down one tunnel while the rest go down the other tunnel. She comes across a wall of flame she jumps through it unharmed, one soldier tries to follow but the flames kill him. Valda walks back through the flames, scaring off the soldiers.

After she meets up with the others she returns to the village to help Rudi’s family escape. They do escape but Valda is captured, a captain plans to make her walk through fire, but Valda knows in ordinary flames she will be burnt to death. Luckily once again she distracts them and escapes. Back at the cave her and Koenig and her go to search for where the cold flames burn continually. It isn’t an easy route, but finally they get to the flames, Valda walks into them she can feel the strength surge through her. Koenig thinks the discovery might be too late for him as he is already an old man, but the flames will keep her young. They return to the mountainside, and Otto a friend from the village brings the news that Napoleon has suffered great defeats in Britain. Valda runs far and wide to gather supporters for a final blow to French invaders. Koenig stays with the other men for the fight and afterwards he plans to travel on in his quest for more knowledge. They tell Valda she has done more than enough, and she is feeling weak after all the running. She makes it back to the fire of life. Fully restored and she promises herself that in the years to come she will test herself to the utmost to see what the fir of life can achieve. She thinks of it as a great responsibility and she must prove herself worthy of it.

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Thoughts

This is a very satisfying origin story. It took me a while to write up this post as there is so much going on! I like the historical setting, and while there is the main plot of discovering the final secret of life, we also get the ongoing war driving a lot of the plot. I like that we get to see Valda’s parents and even though they only last a page and we never find out their names, it is better than Dorcus just finding an orphan baby. In their short time we do see important background and characteristics; they are shown to be brave, dedicated and the father is self sacrificial. This makes Valda’s later part in taking down the Archduke and helping war efforts more meaningful, considering her parents previous efforts and deaths.

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The story doesn’t shy away from death, Valda makes a comment after the soldiers are killed by the avalanche, how horrible it is but that is the price of war. Dorcas’s death is well handled and after guiding Valda through half the story it is sad to see her go. Dorcas is a good character and mentor for Valda. I like how she is shown to have a a sense of humour and craftiness, when she sends the lazy Prince off to exercise every morning. While the whole story is good I did prefer Dorcas as Valda’s companion to Dr. Koenig, but Dorcas’s death was an important step to make Valda independent.

There is also explanations for why Valda would compete with athletes in the future, and I like that its hinted at rather than explicitly stated.  Dorcas mentions that age will come slower as long as she keeps herself strong and alert. Then the ending Valda’s run is her first big test and she wants to continue to test herself and the abilities of the fire of life. This is all good, though one thing that is a bit confusing to me is the Dr. Koenig character. He isn’t as old as he appears, but if he is worn out he ages quickly. Dorcas does look more revitalised after drinking the water of life but not any younger. Valda in later stories is also shown to age drastically if she is worn down. I think maybe the explanation for this is the water of life does slow the ageing process but it will eventually catch up to you. Valda will be able to return to her youthful appearance after she is drained because of the flame of life, but for Koenig it’s too late he is already old and his will began to show more and more as time goes by.

Dorcas’s age is in question as well, she is implied to be about 200 years old as she remembered an inn being built in 1587. But later when Valda asks how old she is, Dorcas says she was young girl during the civil war when Charles I execution. That would have been 1649, so she shouldn’t have been a young girl then if she was around in 1587. Perhaps she was just being intentionally vague with Valda, and she was already taking the water of life and just still appeared young in 1649.

This is one of my favourite Valda stories, as  well as the main plots, there is a lot of little adventures going on as well; rebellions, rival princes, avoiding wolves and superstitious villagers and the hard paths in getting the water of life. It’s an interesting and compelling story and beautifully illustrated as always by Dudley Wynne

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