Tag Archives: witch persecution

Misty Short Stories III: Witches

For the third volume of Misty Short stories I have selected Misty stories with a corresponding theme: witchcraft and how Misty portrayed witches in her complete stories. As many of the stories have a similar theme, they have been grouped together under subheadings, with “thoughts” attached. I have also included closing thoughts at the end of the overview. Text stories have been omitted from this list. So witch-themed text stories such as “The Story of Little Wytching” have been excluded.

1: The Wise Woman

The true definition of “witch” is wise woman, a person who would use folk magic and herbal knowledge to help people. But witch-believers did not always see it that way and wise women were always vulnerable to being persecuted as agents of Satan. As the following stories show, Misty had the sense to frequently show the witch as she really was: a wise woman. However, they also show that how the wise woman’s help was received, or even understood, depended very much on how much the protagonist needed – or deserved – her help.

Bookworm

Misty: #99

Artist: Jordi Badia Romero

Reprints: Scream & Misty Halloween Special #2

Joanie Preston is a bookworm, but also a selfish, lazy girl. She wants to live the life of Lady Agatha in a book she is reading, where she can live in ease and comfort and never have to work. She finds a spellbook in Professor Margolis’ collection of forbidden books. She bullies Old Nell, who has a reputation for witchcraft, into helping her cast one of the spells to transport her into the Lady Agatha book. She ignores Old Nell’s warnings that it is evil black magic and can only bring disaster. While Joanie is casting the spell the Professor finds out and tries to intervene. This causes Joanie to take the wrong book into the magic circle – and its title is “Dracula”.

Thoughts

It is curious that although Old Nell warns Joanie that using the black magic will lead to catastrophe, what really causes Joanie’s undoing is her accidentally taking the wrong book into the magic circle. The danger of using black magic might have been more effective if Joanie had gone into  the Lady Agatha book after all, only to find it’s not what she expected – a monkey’s paw sort of thing.

If Only…

Misty: #51

Artist: Carlos Guirado

Poor girl Lois is jealous of rich, spoiled girl Kora, so she visits a witch, Widow Farley. Farley agrees to help because Kora is a girl after her own black heart and Lois deserves the spell.  The spell has Lois and Kora switch bodies. Then Lois finds out too late what Farley really meant by her deserving the spell: Kora was dying, and this is why she was spoiled.

Thoughts

We are told that Widow Farley is a more black-hearted wise woman than the other examples below, but it gets no development. The story would have been fine to leave that part out and have Widow Farley give Lois the spell just to punish her for her jealousy.

Aunt Mary’s Blessing

Misty: #21

Artist: Uncertain

Dying – and creepy – Aunt Mary tells Melody that she has Romany powers, which include precognition, and Melody is to inherit the art. Melody does not want any part of it. After her death, Aunt Mary appears as a ghost to Melody and tells her where to find the box that contains her inheritance. Sensing what is happening, Mum gives Melody a crucifix for protection but a teacher confiscates it. Aunt Mary draws Melody to her house and directs her to dig up a box, which contains a hand. As the hand touches Mary left hand, it crumbles into dust, and Aunt Mary tells Melody she will not see her again. Later, Melody has a premonition that her hospitalised father will be okay, but inwardly adds, while looking at her left hand: “But will I?”

Thoughts

So Melody is fated to inherit Aunt Mary’s powers. But are these powers really evil or is it just a case of people being afraid of something they don’t understand? Aunt Mary sure is creepy, but is she evil? And would Melody inheriting the powers make her evil? Or will Melody find it a great gift that she learns to accept and love? The title does say Aunt Mary’s inheritance is a “blessing” after all.

A Girl’s Best Friend

Misty: #48

Artist: John Richardson

Reprint: as Carla’s Best Friend in Tammy 15 January 1983

Blind Carla and her guide dog meet Old Greta. They are kind to Greta while others avoid her because she says she is a witch. That night Belle slips out to Greta’s house, and Greta realises why Belle has come. Next morning, Carla is astonished and overjoyed to find she has suddenly regained her sight, but then realises Belle is missing. Greta explains that she did use a spell to restore Carla’s sight, but for it to work, someone else has to give up his or her sight in return. Belle made the choice to do so, and now she is blind. Shocked to see Belle blind in her stead, Carla begs Greta to reverse the spell. Greta says Belle will still have a good life as long as Carla reciprocates the love and affection Belle showed her when she was blind. Carla hugs Belle and promises her all the love in the world forever.

Thoughts

This is one of Misty’s most brilliant and moving short stories. Carla regains her sight with the help of the witch, but it’s not a happy ending. It’s a bittersweet ending that leaves us all in tears when we learn the price that has been paid for Carla’s new sight. We cry even more when we learn Belle will stay blind, and will need all the love and help she can get.

The Queen’s Hair

Misty: #43

Artist: Jaume Rumeu

Reprint: Best of Misty 4

Tyrannical Queen Elida administers cruel justice to her subjects and throws them in her dungeons. The real reason for this is that she blames them for an illness that caused her hair to fall out and she has to wear wigs. Elida strikes a bargain with a witch for a spell for new hair. The witch gives Elida a headband that will make her hair grow again, but she must not wear it for more than 24 hours. Elida reneges on the deal and throws the witch into her infamous dungeon.

Although Elida does grow new hair she does not forgive, and she leaves her prisoners in the dungeons to rot while she throws a celebration. But then Elida’s hair starts growing crazily and uncontrollably. She realises it’s because she forgot to remove the headband after 24 hours (we thought that might happen). Elida soon finds there is no way of stopping the super-growing hair or removing the headband. The witch can’t help as she died in Elida’s freezing dungeons. Elida’s angry subjects seize the moment to storm the castle, rescue the prisoners, and exact revenge on Elida. But they find there is no need for revenge because the hair is now engulfing the whole castle and bringing Elida down with it.

Thoughts

As with Old Greta, the witch is the helper. But the witch would have really been able to help Elida if she hadn’t been beyond helping. Growing her hair back was not enough to help Elida. She had grown so cruel and selfish that she was totally beyond redemption, and she was given a chance to redeem herself. Plus she reneged on her bargain with the witch, which was really asking for trouble. We can’t help but wonder if the witch caused Elida to forget to remove the headband in time and it was she who engineered her own death in the dungeons, rather than the cold.

Mark of the Witch [1966-67]

Plot

In 1588, Liza Trott’s mother Betsy is accused of witchcraft by Sir Edward, the current owner of Mullion Manor, and imprisoned to await trial at the assizes. Liza is branded “W” as the daughter of a witch and turned out of the community. She goes to London to get help for her mother from the previous owner of Mullion Manor. But when Sir Edward realises where Liza is headed, he goes in pursuit of her.

Notes

  • Artist: Hugh Thornton-Jones
  • Not to be confused with “Mark of the Witch!” from Jinty

Appeared

  • Mark of the Witch – Bunty: #458 (22 October 1966) – #469 (7 January 1967)

Lonely Lucy [1976]

Published: Spellbound: #01 (25 Sep. 1976) – #10 (27 Nov. 1976)

Episodes: 10

Artist: Jordi Franch

Plot

The splash page of the first episode of this story immediately establishes that it is set in the days of highwaymen. It’s also set in the days of lingering witch superstitions, as our protagonist Lucy Pilgrim is to find out.

Lucy’s mother has just died and her cruel aunt and uncle have a bombshell for her: her mother adopted her as a baby after she was found abandoned, and her real parents are unknown. Aunt and Uncle don’t want Lucy and are taking her to an orphanage. At least they allow her to retain her bracelet, which has strange marks her adoptive mother never explained. It brings Lucy comfort, and we can guess it’s the key to finding her true parents.

On the way to the orphanage their coach is held up by a highwayman, Gentleman John. When John see how the cruel relatives are making Lucy sit outside the coach with the driver in drenching rain and without any rain protection, he is appalled at their treatment of her. He forces them at gunpoint to take Lucy’s place and has Lucy take their place in the coach. John also reacts oddly to Lucy’s bracelet. He allows her to keep it, saying “Where you’re going ‘tis best kept hidden” and wishes her luck.

The orphanage is just as cruel as Lucy’s aunt and uncle. Even the other children in the orphanage pick on her once they see she comes from a higher-class background, with some kinder exceptions. Their bullying grows worse when they see Lucy is left-handed. They call it the mark of evil and brand Lucy a witch. When Lucy faints from her ill-treatment, the staff throw water over her and throw her out on the street for a while, anticipating she will come crawling to be let back in.

Instead, Lucy runs away and bumps into Gentleman John again. John and his horse Midnight got shot in a clash with some soldiers. Lucy, who has been taught nursing by her adoptive mother, tends to both of them. John is outraged to hear what people are calling her because she’s left-handed, but unfortunately for Lucy that’s not the end of it. John also needs food, and the only way Lucy can get it is…to go back to the orphanage. She also finds they’re looking for her as the Governors are coming. She pretends to have fallen ill from the way they treated her earlier, which gets her special treatment and good feeding – with a bit of blackmail she applies on them while the Governors are around. Once they’re gone, Matron has Lucy sleep in the outhouse as punishment for the trouble she caused.

At least the outhouse makes it easier for Lucy to slip back to John. John is recovering, but Midnight is suffering from infection and needs special care. Lucy insists on using the orphanage as the place to get food and supplies from despite its cruelties, as she refuses to use John’s dubious highwayman contacts on principle.

But when the resident black cat seems to protect Lucy from the children’s bullying and becomes friendly with her, her witchy reputation escalates to the point where the children actually believe she’s a witch and become really frightened of her. Matron decides Lucy has to go. She has Lucy boarded out to another position – and pocketing her wages – so she will make a profit into the bargain.

Trust Matron to have Lucy boarded out to a coal mine, with all its horrors, dangers and dreadful working conditions. And again rumours spread that Lucy is a witch once her fellow workers see she is left handed. At least Lucy is not far from John and can slip away to tend to Midnight, who is on the mend. She stays on at the coal mine because she fears running away will lead her pursuers to John. But she gets into big trouble when she speaks out at the colliery owner, Mr Tranter, when his nasty daughter insults her. Tranter orders that Lucy be roundly beaten in front of everyone, much to the delight of his daughter – and then straight back to work without any medical treatment. Not one of the workers offers Lucy any sympathy because of her left hand, and she’s on the brink of collapse.

But one of John’s men has seen everything and makes a full report to him. John retaliates by holding up the Tranters. But instead of robbing them he deprives them of their coach so they have to make a very long walk, and warns them to repent how they mistreated the “left-handed lass”.

Repent? If they had any brains they would realise there was a link between Lucy and the highwayman and have her arrested. Instead, when word gets back to the mine, the idiots actually think Lucy used witchcraft to summon Gentlemen John! Well, at least their fear prompts them to release her from the mine (so that’s the end of Matron’s profit there) and she is free to nurse Midnight. However, she begins to wonder if John actually knows something about her past because of the way he reacted to the bracelet when they first met. And now there’s no sign of him.

So Lucy goes in search of John, and fortunately Midnight is now well enough for Lucy to ride her. Unfortunately the constables spot her riding John’s horse, so now she is wanted as his accomplice. She traces John to a derelict inn, and is horrified to see he is in league with some cut throats. They are planning a big gold bullion robbery, which John is going along with rather reluctantly as he does not like their talk of murder. They just say so what? They will be hanged anyway. John says he won’t help them without Midnight, so for this reason Lucy decides not to reveal herself or Midnight to him. She heads out to Hartford Hall, where John said he was hanging around, but hears some talk that suggests Hartford Hall has a sinister reputation.

Then gypsies steal Midnight and threaten to put a curse on Lucy when she tracks them down. She decides to use her left-handed reputation to her advantage and claims she has her own powers with it. When she puts on a witchcraft act with their fierce dogs they fall for it and return Midnight. But as they do so, they say that’s no wonder she has such powers above the ordinary with that bracelet of hers. But they refuse to elaborate and tell her to get the hell out.

As Lucy nears Hartford Hall she hears more sinister rumours about it: it has been taken over by “nameless forces” ever since a tragedy occurred there. She reckons John started those rumours to scare people away from the place. At Hartford Hall she finds John, and tells him what she overheard, and tries to talk him out of it. Instead, he holds her prisoner and leaves her in the care of Nursie Kate.

When Kate sees Lucy is left-handed she says someone very dear to her and John was too. She also says John is a Robin Hood type – he steals only ill-gotten wealth and does not keep it for himself. Lucy tries to escape from the hall and warn someone about John’s plot, only to fall into a deep pool of water and John finds her. He pulls her out and takes her back to Kate for nursing. Kate also reacts strangely to the sight of Lucy’s bracelet.

Lucy falls asleep and dreams of a woman, and she calls her “mother”. Lucy explores the hall and finds a portrait of the woman. The woman in the portrait is left-handed and wears the bracelet, and Lucy realises the woman must be her mother. She then overhears a conversation between John and Kate and learns that John is her father! Her mother had been a gypsy, and her tribe never forgave her for marrying the non-Romany John. When the mother died giving birth to Lucy, John could not bear to set eyes on his infant daughter. So Kate handed her over to the gypsies, who must have abandoned her.

Lucy tries to escape again and give warning, but gets into trouble when she tries to climb a ledge. John saves her. He says he turned to being a highwayman because he was “crazed” by his wife’s death. He knew from the first who Lucy was, but her disapproval of him being a highwayman prevented him from revealing himself to her. He agrees to give up being a highwayman if Lucy will live as his daughter, and she says she knew he was not a highwayman at heart.

Thoughts

The splash panel of the highwayman in the first episode would immediately have anyone hooked into this story. There is something so romantic about the highwayman (though I’m sure the reality must have been very different), and possible spooky connotations as the highwayman is often associated with ghosts and hauntings. The story has a lot to keep the reader engaged. It’s a tight, engrossing plot with a heroine who not only suffers cruelty but also superstitious prejudice, a mystery to be solved, fugitive elements, exploitation, dastardly plots, and an animal to be nursed back to health. The heroine is determined to keep up her nursing of Gentlemen John and his horse even when she is collapsing from a hard day’s work at the mine or enduring the severities of the orphanage. But will she be cut down by a witch-hunting mob or something the way they think about her being left-handed?

The scary thing is, this story is not far wrong in the superstitious prejudice Lucy encounters because she is left-handed. In earlier centuries, being left-handed really could get you accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake. Lucy also has other skills that could also get her accused of witchcraft, such as her skills with nursing and herbal remedies, the way she handles the gypsies’ dogs, and how the black cat at the orphanage befriends her. It is fortunate for Lucy that she was born too late to become a victim of the witch persecutions themselves or be charged with witchcraft, but the witch superstitions still linger among the lower and less educated classes. And they are enough to make Lucy’s life an additional misery to what she suffers at the orphanage and the coal mine. If not for those superstitions regarding her left hand Lucy would have some helpers and friends among her fellow victims at those places. Ironically, that same reputation also helps Lucy to get out of those same situations by making her oppressors too frightened of her to bother her much further.

From the moment we meet Gentleman John and the kindness he shows Lucy we know he is not a bad sort, even if he is a highwayman. He’s the hero in the story while everyone else Lucy meets (the aunt and uncle, the orphanage staff and children, the coal mine people, the gypsies and the cut throats) is villainous, and he dishes out comeuppances to several of them. We have to wonder why he is a highwayman at all and what made him one when he clearly has no criminal mind. It isn’t hard to guess that it’s something to do with Lucy’s the bracelet from the way he reacts to it, and unlocking the mystery of the bracelet will also unlock the mystery of the highwayman. Like Lucy, we want him to give up being a highwayman, especially when he starts plotting something downright criminal with the evil conspirators. It is at this point we begin to despair of him, and even more so when it looks like he will proceed with the plan when Lucy catches up with him. It becomes even more imperative to unlock that mystery.

It’s certainly a bombshell when Gentleman John is revealed to be Lucy’s father, and he rejected her as a baby because of a bad reaction to his wife’s death. However, this being the reason for him becoming a highwayman sounds less plausible if he using it as a form of crusade, to get ill-gotten gains off unsavoury types. Some other explanation would have worked better, such as him being cheated and robbed by an unscrupulous type who got away with it. But it’s a relief all around when Lucy finally succeeds in getting her father to stop being a highwayman. Let us hope the law does not catch up with him all the same.

 

The Revenge of Roxanne

Plot

Roxanne moves to a village where she falls under the power of a vengeful ghost, who is also named Roxanne. The Roxanne ghost forces Roxanne to commit acts of terror against the villagers through a ring she puts on Roxanne’s finger and Roxanne cannot remove. As a result, the villagers think Roxanne is a witch and it culminates in Roxanne being chased by a witch-hunting mob.

Notes

  • Artists: Ron Tiner plus unknown filler artist

Appeared

  • The Revenge of Roxanne – Suzy:  #192 (10 May 1986) – #199 (28 June 1986)

 

Bad Luck Barbara (1985) / Witch! (1991)

“Bad Luck Barbara” from Mandy and “Witch!” from Bunty share the same premise, and also so many similarities and common threads that I am looking at them both together. In fact, I suspect it was the same writer. The two stories were published only six years apart, which makes it even more feasible.

Both stories revolve around a protagonist who is a newcomer to an English village that still believes in witches. In both cases the villagers persecute the new girl because they believe she is descended from the village witch, and the persecution becomes protracted because the parents do not realise what is going on. In the early episodes only one girl makes friends with the protagonist because she also originates outside the village and therefore does not share the villagers’ thinking. But then the friend turns on the protagonist and joins the campaign against her. Later the protagonist finds another friend, but again the witchcraft stigma drives them apart. In both stories there are incidents that have the protagonist herself wondering if she does in fact have powers that are working against the villagers. There are even strange occurrences that do suggest there is a genuine supernatural power at work from the alleged witch.

Bad Luck Barbara logo

Bad Luck Barbara

Published: Mandy #971 (24 August 1985) – #986 (7 December 1985)

Artist: Carlos Freixas

Translation: Translated into Dutch in Debbie Parade #45 as Barbara brengt oneluk [Barbara brings bad luck]

Plot

After a long period of unemployment, Barbara Petty’s father finds a job as a farm manager in the village of Wavertree. He expects the family to do their bit to help his job succeed. But when Barbara’s neighbour Mary Weston hears what her surname is, she warns Barbara not to spread it around.

Bad Luck Barbara 1

Soon Barbara finds out why when she hears the story of Old Mother Petty. In 1590 the villagers cruelly harassed Old Mother Petty because they believed she was a witch who was causing waves of constant bad luck to strike Wavertree. When a lynch mob tried to drag Old Mother Petty away, she was pushed too far. She inserted her ladle into an oak tree and uttered a curse: whoever pulled it out would be the one to take her place, and wreak her revenge on all the villagers for their cruelty by inflicting even worse bad luck on them. Then she disappeared with a flash of lightning.

Barbara realises the villagers may connect her with Old Mother Petty because she has the same surname. She tries to disprove it by showing she cannot pull the ladle out – but she does! The villagers instantly believe that Barbara is the one to unleash Mother Petty’s revenge. The man who told Barbara the legend suddenly collapses and shouts that he is her first victim. The rumour gets even worse when Dad finds the ladle on his doorstep and nails it to the front door to be used as a pot plant holder, and all the villagers can see it there.

From then on, the villagers blame Barbara for anything bad that happens to them. In a lot of cases these are things that were their own fault (such as a family getting poisoned because they kept on using an unsafe well) or can be put down to simple explanations or coincidence. But of course they prefer to blame Barbara the witch. Barbara becomes increasingly ostracised and harassed everywhere. People whisper behind her back and children run away from her in terror. She hopes school will bring some respite as it is outside the village. But Barbara discovers village girls go there too and they spread rumours around, which get reinforced by more seeming bad luck and witchcraft. Before long Barbara gets the same abuse at school as well. She also loses Mary’s friendship after a trick from one of the bullies casts Barbara in a very bad light with her.

Bad Luck Barbara 4

Barbara soon finds there is no escaping the stigma; everywhere she turns, she comes up against tales and relics of Old Mother Petty, which further fuels the hostility against her. For example, Barbara takes up riding lessons with friendly Dixie Carter, who does not believe the superstition. But Barbara comes up against the story of Old Mother Petty putting a curse on all horses and their riders, which in the villagers’ eyes comes true when Dixie has an accident.

Barbara tries to tell her parents about the villagers’ hatred, but they just don’t get it. Not even when it stares at them in the face, such as when Mum gets abusive treatment from the grocer once he hears who she is. When Barbara tries to tell them how serious it is they are so dismissive, telling her she is being over-sensitive, that the villagers are just teasing her and such. Moreover, Dad’s job is just too important to them for them to even consider leaving Wavertree. At other times, Barbara tries to hide the truth from them to spare their feelings.

Bad Luck Barbara 2

Eventually Barbara is getting so down that she herself begins to wonder if she does have powers. She even starts wishing she did have some to teach the villagers a lesson. Then, that night she has a vision of Old Mother Petty, who says that Barbara really is her chosen one to wreak her revenge! Nightmare or what? Barbara does not know what to think.

The day after the nightmare, Dad announces that his boss is transferring him to a new job in Wales. So the parents take Barbara away from Wavertree at last, while still not understanding the situation or how serious it was. Barbara resolves to put Wavertree behind her – but of course she never wants to see it again – and look forward to her new life in Wales.

Bad Luck Barbara 6

But unknown to Barbara, the new owner of their old house takes a shine to the ladle while not knowing about its notoriety. Moreover, she feels an odd sense of belonging to the area. She and her husband are going to look for ancestors in Wavertree – and her maiden name is Petty. Will her new-found happiness in Wavertree go the way of Barbara?

Witch logo

Witch!

Bunty: 1744 (15 June 1991) – 1755 (31 August 1991)

Artist: Edmond Ripoll

Plot
Ellie Ross and her parents move to the village of Littledene, where Mr Ross’s ancestors originated. The parents settle in happily, but for Ellie it was a very bad move. The villagers are a clannish lot who do not welcome strangers, and Ellie’s only friend is Lynne Taylor, a newcomer who is likewise shunned. Ellie also befriends a cat that ran away from cruel owners, the Lawsons, and names him Lucas – the name just seemed to pop into her head. But Ellie finds the villagers have been extraordinarily hostile towards her from the moment they saw her; they call her a witch, and she cannot understand why.

Eventually Ellie and Lynne find out the reason: the villagers still believe in witches, and they think Ellie is descended from the village witch. Her name was Elizabeth Ross (Ellie’s full name), but the villagers call her Black Bess. Their belief that Ellie is descended from Black Bess is based on her having the same name, Lucas sharing the same name as Black Bess’s cat (oh dear, why did we see that coming?), Ellie’s resemblance to Black Bess (there are portraits available), and Ellie’s funky hairstyle is not helping matters either. And unfortunately, all evidence eventually does point to Black Bess being an ancestress of the Rosses.

Witch 1

Once Ellie fully understands the campaign against her, archenemies come out into the forefront. The ringleader is Fran Lister, a school bully whose father is a leading rich man in the community and has his eye on the Rosses’ property. The Lawson family are also frequent abusers. The campaign becomes protracted because Ellie cannot bring herself to tell her parents, who are so happy in Littledene.

Ellie starts some serious research into Black Bess. She learns that Black Bess was branded a witch because when she came to a place in Littledene called Manor House, animals and people started dying. But she finds out little more.

In addition to the campaign, strange things start happening to Ellie. She starts having inexplicable dreams and visions, often of stone-throwing mobs out to kill her. Other times she feels that someone else is speaking through her to threaten the villagers when they attack her – and then something happens to them, such as being attacked by seagulls and bees, falling down, or having accidents. At times Ellie feels she is hearing a voice and even multiple voices. Most often they are laughing or crying. Sometimes they sound sad and other times they egg her on to hurt her abusers when they torment. Because of this, Ellie begins to wonder if she does have genuine powers as strange things seem to happen when she is around. Lynne soon feels the same way and joins Fran in the campaign against Ellie.

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Ellie finds another friend, Miss Black. But it turns out that Miss Black was also a victim of the villagers’ witch beliefs because she treats animals with herbal remedies. The villagers drove her out of Littledene, and when the bullies discover Ellie’s friendship with her, it all threatens to start up again. Miss Black tells Ellie she must not come back and urges her to get her parents to take her away. Ellie realises Miss Black is right, but still cannot bring herself to tell her parents.

When Fran harasses Ellie at school, Ellie tries to scare her off by pretending to be a witch. Then Ellie is startled to hear the voices in her head, which urge her to hurt Fran. Fran trips over her bag, hits her head and is put in hospital.

Of course the villagers blame Ellie for Fran’s accident, and they retaliate by vandalising Mrs Ross’s pottery workshop. However, not even this induces Ellie to tell her parents what is going on. Instead, she runs off to a nearby town. There she comes across a bookshop where the owner has acquired Black Bess’s journal. Ellie discovers that Black Bess’s family were wiped out by plague and she fled to relatives at Manor House. But apparently she brought the plague with her, which caused the animals and people to die. This led to the villagers branding her a witch and they persecuted her cruelly. The owner then tells Ellie that a stone-throwing mob chased Black Bess into the sea, where she drowned. He says that he will publish a newspaper article telling the truth about Black Bess.

But when Ellie returns home, she nearly meets the same fate as Black Bess when a lynch mob chases her all the way to the beach and tries to stone her. Only her mother’s phone call to the police saves her life. After this, Ellie finally tells her parents and they agree to take her away from Littledene.

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Fran confesses to Ellie that her father put her up to it because he wanted to get rid of the Rosses and turn their property into a petrol station. But now he has found it was all for nothing because the house is listed.

Unfortunately the newspaper article makes no difference to the villagers’ attitude. As Ellie and her parents depart, the villagers hurl abuse at her on all sides and make it plain that they hate her and Black Bess as much as ever. Ellie theorises that Bess was trying to clear her name through her, but of course she could not make any headway there. Ellie can only hope Bess does not try again with another newcomer.

Thoughts

Witch superstitions still linger in some parts of the English countryside, and this has formed the premise for a number of girls’ serials such as the two discussed above. In one variation of the theme, the girl has a genuine power or is in the grip of a malevolent force, which prompts the villagers into thinking she is a witch. One example of this is “The Revenge of Roxanne” from Suzy. In a less common variant, an animal is the victim of the villagers’ witch beliefs, such as the cat in Mandy’s “The Cat with 7 Toes”.

The premise did not appear much and I myself have not seen many serials that have it. But DCT must have had more. If anyone knows any examples besides the ones cited here, I would love to hear about them.

When comparing “Witch!” with “Bad-Luck Barbara”, the former seems to give the impression that it is a more advanced model on the latter. There are so many elements in “Bad Luck Barbara” that were confined to self-contained episodes, but in “Witch!” they are expanded to form parts of a story arc that carry through the entire serial. Three of these are discussed as follows.

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First is the ringleader of the witch-hunt. In “Bad Luck Barbara” there are no distinct ringleaders in the campaign. Some of the persecutors are named but none emerge as a definite ringleader or archenemy. For example, in one episode Barbara comes up against a girl called Wendy who pulls nasty tricks to stir up the villagers against her because she wanted to get rid of the Pettys so her father could take Mr Petty’s job. Wendy had potential to be expanded further over many more episodes and become a major villain. Instead, she only lasts one episode – and it is the penultimate episode too. In contrast, Fran Lister, who is Wendy’s counterpart in “Witch!”, is a rounded villain who plays a huge role in the development of the plot and the campaign against Ellie. And like Wendy, Fran is only in it for her father’s personal gain. Unlike Wendy or any of the other witch hunters, Fran is the only one with any redeeming qualities, which come out when she confesses and apologises to Ellie.

Second is the cat that befriends the protagonist. Lucas’ counterpart in “Bad Luck Barbara” is a cat called Sooty, which the villagers brand as Barbara’s familiar because he looks like a witch’s cat. Sooty only lasts one episode as well; Barbara has to quickly find another home for him after the villagers try to kill him. But while Sooty appears in just one episode, his counterpart in “Witch!” is expanded into a character that goes for the duration of the serial, and sharing the hatred and abuse Ellie suffers from the villagers.

Witch 3

Third are the strange visions that both protagonists have. In “Bad Luck Barbara” the vision of Old Mother Petty does not appear until the final episode, when the protagonist finally begins to wonder if she does have strange powers. But in “Witch!” the odd visions and dreams start from the beginning. They begin on a pretty small scale but seem to get stronger as the persecution develops, while still remaining indistinct and their motives indiscernible. Are they trying to warn Ellie of the danger? A lot of the visions and nightmares do centre on stone-throwing mobs out for blood. Are they trying to protect Ellie from the villagers’ attacks or helping her inflict revenge for them? After all, Ellie only gets a strange voice speaking through her and then something happening when someone attacks her. The strange voices never direct any malevolence towards an innocent person. Or was Ellie’s conclusion about Black Bess trying to clear her name the correct one? And Ellie did feel oddly drawn to the bookshop where the owner had just acquired Black Bess’s journal. Was it gut feeling or was it guidance from the strange forces? Were the strange things that happened to Ellie some combination of the above? Or were there more simple explanations, such as a medical condition?

Witch 2

Let us assume for the moment that Black Bess and Old Mother Petty were unleashing some genuine supernatural forces from beyond the grave. However, it is still hard to gauge as to whether Black Bess or Old Mother Petty were downright evil. After all, Old Mother Petty’s alleged curse of revenge was retaliation for the villagers constantly persecuting her. And she set her curse on horses for the same reason – because a horseman assaulted and bullied her. There is no way of telling whether Old Mother Petty was actually working some kind of black magic against the villagers or if she was just a scapegoat for bad things happening, the same way Barbara was, and shouted curses back at the villagers in anger.

Secretly, we do laud Old Mother Petty for striking back at the witch hunters and escaping their clutches. More often such victims end up like Black Bess. Incidentally, the circumstances of how Old Mother Petty was branded a witch are not unlike how real-life witchcraft accusations worked in the English countryside.

Black Bess is kept more mysterious and ambiguous than Old Mother Petty (no flashbacks or visions of her, as there are of Old Mother Petty), so it is more difficult to judge her motives. They could have been anything from protecting Ellie to wanting revenge. But it cannot be said with certainty that her motives were evil. A lot of this ambiguity is related to how Black Bess was established in the story. In “Bad Luck Barbara”, the story of Old Mother Petty, the villagers branding Barbara her successor, and Barbara understanding why the villagers hate her are all set up in the first episode. In “Witch!”, the establishment is built up over several episodes. Black Bess is not introduced until episode three, and until then Ellie cannot comprehend why the villagers seem to hate her. Throughout the story, the backstory of Black Bess is not revealed until the last episode. Until then, readers and Ellie are left with a mystery surrounding Black Bess. And even after the truth is revealed, Bess’s motives are still hard to discern.

Witch 5

Both stories end realistically. In several other stories that follow the premise, the protagonist proves to the villagers she is not evil when she performs an act of heroism, and they welcome her with open arms, flowers and apologies. This is how “The Cat with 7 Toes” and Jinty’s “Wenna the Witch” and “Mark of the Witch!” are resolved. Unfortunately that is not how it really works with people who believe in witches. Once they brand someone a witch, the label sticks. Nothing can shift it and it lasts for generations. And both “Bad Luck Barbara” and “Witch!” acknowledge this sad fact. “Bad Luck Barbara” makes this particularly clear in one episode, where Barbara does save a child’s life. But instead of the villagers realising she is a good person and accepting her, their witch-beliefs twist it all around to reinforce the notion that she is a witch. This incident proves once and for all to Barbara that she just can’t win with them and there is nothing she can do to change their attitude. Leaving the village is the only option, and even then the villagers make it clear that their hatred of the protagonist will persist long after she is dead. There are no ridiculous happy endings with the protagonist proving her goodness and the witch-believers accepting her at long last. In fact, both stories end on ominous hints that other unsuspecting newcomers may also fall victim to the villagers’ witch beliefs.

The stories do differ somewhat in their resolutions. Although both stories end with the parents taking their daughters away, their reasons for doing so are quite different. In “Witch!”, the parents eventually find out what is going on and remove Ellie accordingly. Still, in that instance the parents do have to find out because Ellie just won’t tell them. In “Bad Luck Barbara” the parents never find out, which is quite annoying and even distasteful. They only take Barbara away because Dad gets a job transfer to Wales. It would have redeemed the thoughtless parents considerably to finally get the message instead of belittling it all when Barbara tries to tell them.

Bad Luck Barbara 3

Maybe part of the Petty parents never finding out was that the Wavertree villagers never got quite as violent as their Littledene counterparts. Ellie is subject to several attacks that could have killed her before the stone-throwing mob in the final episode. Barbara is threatened with a lynch mob in one episode but manages to scare them off. When Ellie departs, the villagers hurl blatant abuse at her that horrifies her parents. If their Wavertree counterparts had done that when the Pettys departed, not even those thickheaded parents could have been so dismissive of it. Instead, the Wavertree villagers express their hatred in a more restrained way: silent glares, muttering, and throwing the odd stone. So while Barbara can see their hatred, the parents remain oblivious to it.

There have been several stories like these where the story leaves the reader to judge whether the protagonist does have strange powers or whether the things superstitious fools and bullies accuse her of are just accidents, fate, coincidence, Law of Attraction, autosuggestion or whatever. These are questions the protagonist herself begins to wonder as she discovers the brainwashing effect of the constant accusations of witchcraft. They can really get to her and she starts to think that she does in fact have strange powers. She may even wish for some so she can get real revenge on the cruel villagers. This happens to both Ellie and Barbara, and they have to fight hard to shake the idea out of their heads. Readers are left to draw their own conclusions. My own response is always the same: it does not matter because either way, you burn!

Hetty with the Healing Hand [1981]

Plot

Hetty Holt has a strange mark on her hand that gives her the power to heal. The Maggs take advantage of it and her, threatening to denounce her as a witch if she does not comply with their demands. (Hetty lives in an age that is past the witch hunting era, but the superstition is still strong among the lower classes.)

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Notes

  • Artist Hugo D’Adderio

Appeared:

  • Hetty with the Healing Hand – Debbie: #448 (12  Sep 1981) – #459 (28 Nov 1981)