Published: Judy Picture Story Library #190
Halloween is in the offing, which makes it fitting to focus on some more of the spooky publications from DCT.
The year is 1656. Anne is the adopted daughter of Pastor Septimus Bartholomew. Anne has always been happy there, but then small disquieting things begin to happen. Her father gets oddly upset when Anne jokingly calls one of her siblings “my little imp”, and also when she speaks endearments to a kitten.
These seem such trivial things, but they foreshadow something more worrying when Anne pays a visit to Pendleton, the village of her birth. An old woman (who looks like a witch herself!) tells Anne that her mother was a witch. As she is approaching thirteen, her own powers of witchcraft will soon awaken too, and she would have a Devil’s mark on her body. Following this, Anne begins to doubt herself. She wonders if she has inherited witchcraft from her mother, and whether a mark on her arm is the Devil’s mark like the old woman said.
Mary, the servant woman, tells Anne it’s all superstitious nonsense, and that mark on her arm is not a devil’s mark but a scar from a rose thorn. All the same, Anne has horrible nightmares of being a witch’s child that night and is still full of self-doubts.
Soon after, Anne is given a place as a seamstress to a grand lady, Mistress Latimer at Pendleton Hall – which is in the very village where her alleged witch mother lived. The sewing goes very well, but Anne is still troubled by the story about her mother and the doubts about herself. She grows even more fearful she is a witch when the household dog, Toby, reacts very badly to her for no apparent reason.
Unwisely, Anne tells people in the household that she wonders if she is a witch because of the allegations against her mother. Though Emmie the housekeeper is sensible about it, she does tell Anne that her grandmother was feared because was said to have powers to foretell the future. She also says plague killed the mother and her family, and Anne was the only survivor. However, the ensuing gossip spread by others has Lady Latimer telling Anne to leave the hall the next day.
That night Anne slips out to the ruins of the cottage where her mother once lived. She examines an old cauldron Emmie said was there, but there is nothing untoward or sinister about it.
On the way back Anne rescues the dog Toby from a trap set by the manservant of the hall. Emmie tells Anne that her act of kindness is proof she is not a witch, and gives logical explanations for Toby’s initial hostility towards her. Anne’s mind is now put to rest, but she is so glad when her family summon her home.
The story definitely means well in its message that the old belief in witchcraft was a product of ignorance and superstition. From the sound of it, Anne’s mother was a victim of it rather than being any practitioner of black magic, presumably because her own mother had what would now be called psychic powers. Anne was very fortunate that she experienced little more than self-doubt and some gossip. There have been so many other girls in girls’ comics who suffered full persecution that started with such rumours, such as Ellie Ross in Bunty’s “Witch!” Nor did Anne have any weird experiences that could suggest genuine powers of some sort as her counterparts in stories like “Witch!” did.
As this is a story set in the age of witchcraft persecution itself, it feels so pat and unrealistic that Anne got through it so unscathed and with such little trouble. The 17th century people in the story are not reacting to these rumours of witchcraft with the fear and hysteria that they should have. It is acknowledged that even the 17th century would have had its share of sceptics, who come across so exemplary in the forms of Mary and Emmie. But the others in the story who believe it more are not really reacting as dangerously as they should have been. In those days, once that sort of rumour got going, Anne would have found herself persecuted on all sides from witch-hunting mobs and such. Nor would she have been able to cast off the accusation of witchcraft as glibly as she did. Once the label of witchcraft stuck in those times, it was there to stay. Even if anyone was acquitted of witchcraft in those times, the accusation still cast a long shadow over their lives.
Although the story is well meaning in its intentions and the artwork works well, particularly in the spooky night scenes, the plot feels weak and unconvincing. Also, there is little drama or excitement in the story, while the potential was there to use the 17th century fear of witchcraft and its life-threatening ramifications for Anne to make it a far more intense and thrilling story.