Slaves of the Candle (Jinty and Lindy)
Twelve parts 8/11/75-24/1/76
My cunning plan was (and still is) to try to do at least one of all the standard girls’ comic genres near the beginning of this blog. Tragic Victorians have to be quite high up on the list. The girls’ comic view of the Victorian era is usually fairly Dickensian – not in the jolly Pickwick Papers sense, but in the tragic, mistreated orphan who gets a happy ending after an awful lot of suffering sense. This sort of thing is reassuring to young girls, who often think their lives are desperate tragedies (even if the tragedy is spots rather than starvation), but cherish the hope of a fairy-tale ending. Of course, in genuine Victorian times, the reality would probably be death in the workhouse, but hey, this is fiction.
The story I’ve chosen, Slaves of the Candle, also allows me to go off on one about a couple of strip-story bugbears. It passes one with flying colours and fails the other with its flag half-mast. So please excuse me while I run on for a bit.
There was a comic brought out a few years ago called the DFC. I was jolly excited. A new fortnightly ‘story paper’! It was mail-order subscription only, and I signed up straight away in the hope it would lead to a huge comic revival. Now, I’ve heard anecdotally about children who loved it. But for me – no. It didn’t work. I desperately wanted to love it, but I couldn’t. One of the problems for me – and this doesn’t mean it is The Truth, just my feelings – was that the stories were written by novelists, not comic writers. (Of course it’s possible to be both. I would like to be both. Feel free to hire me to write comic strips.) Talking about Dickens back up the page there reminds me that his books were written as serials – but they can also be enjoyed as full novels. Not so in the case of many of the DFC strips. Each episode felt like an illustrated bit out of a novel. Sometimes not a lot happened. Sometimes you’d be expected to remember something that happened weeks ago. It made me realise how much craft there is in creating something that stands up on its own for three pages but also forms part of an ongoing storyline.
Slaves of the Candle works very well as a serial. Possibly not quite so brilliant if read in one go, because heroine Lyndy does escape and get captured an awful lot. But each episode is complete with hope, tragedy, incident and either a cliffhanger or a ‘she’s been defeated for now – but she will rise again!’ vibe, plus perhaps a hint towards a final mystery that must be solved. A great example of the comic-strip craft.
Right, that’s the good bit. The bad bit is admittedly my own personal prejudices, but this is my blog so ha. The story is set in early winter 1830 (Robert Peel is still Home Secretary, so November or earlier). Victoria is Queen. Unfortunately these things are mutually exclusive and the history teacher in me is shouting Noooooooooo! I feel quite strongly about historical accuracy in children’s fiction. Yes, of course there’s dramatic licence and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I know how much of my everyday general knowledge was picked up from comics and books when I was young and I don’t want wrong answers burned into my brain. I mean, I am absolutely hopeless at Geography – really astonishingly ignorant – but I was always able to remember that Belgrade was the capital of Yugoslavia thanks to a strip in Whoopee! (When Yugoslavia stopped existing and my one piece of geographical general knowledge vanished with it, I took it very personally.)
In the strip’s defence, the note about it being set in 1830 does vanish when it’s specifically referred to as Victorian. Perhaps it was only decided partway through publication to include Queen Victoria, and they hoped no one would notice the change. Or, just possibly, seven or more years went passed in between episodes and no one commented on the fact. Or grew older.
Hang on, we haven’t actually talked about the story yet. It concerns 15-year old maidservant Lyndy Lagtree, who realises Mrs Tallow the candlemaker is actually a thief and tracks her to her lair. There she discovers that Mrs Tallow is using child labour to make her prized candles. Unfortunately, not only is Lyndy captured and put to work, her disappearance means she is believed to be the one who stole from her employers. She can’t escape, and even if she could she’d be arrested. The other children tell her they’ve never even tried to escape – where would they go? In the House of Candles at least there’s food and warmth. Bit of social history there. If only the people knew Mrs Tallow used child slaves! Lyndy thinks. Well, I would imagine they’d probably shrug and keep on buying the candles, so maybe slightly less social history in that bit.
Lyndy is in many ways the unluckiest child going. Every single time she manages to escape, the person she confides in turns out to be one of the villains. Why Mrs Tallow is bothering with her elaborate candle/theft schemes when she can make wax masks that fool everyone and could therefore get in pretty much anywhere, I’m not sure. It’s revealed in the last episode that she’s mad, so there’s not much point in scrutinising her motives. Incidentally, the comic gives away the big revelation from episode six – that Lyndy’s confidante is really Mrs Tallow in a mask! – on the front cover.
Mad Mrs Tallow belongs to the Happy Families brand of villain who is named for their job (see also her thuggish assistant, Wick). She also refers to herself in the third person, in the manner of parents of small children, or Tom Baker. The other evil figure is Mrs Tallow’s unknown accomplice, who eventually turns out to be the Governor of the Tower of London. Yes, Mrs Tallow’s plan is to steal the Crown Jewels. She succeeds, but in the process double-crosses the Governor, who turns on her and rescues the girls as Mrs Tallow’s about to burn down the House of Candles with them all in it. The Governor might or might not die on the last page, it’s sadly unclear. Anyway, Queen Victoria is very grateful to the girls and makes sure they’ll have a happy future.
It’s a good, engaging story, with a go-getting heroine and a happy ending. A triumph over tragedy. But talking of tragedy – ‘Starting in your next issue: Bound for Botany Bay’ it says at the end of the last part. That would be the tale of the young girl transported for stealing a loaf of bread. Oh yes, tragedy is never far away in girls’ comic land.
Tragic car crash: 4
Mysterious cursed object: 2 (Subsection ‘Mirror’: 1)
Girl in a wheelchair: 2
Orphan: 6 (I’m counting both Lyndy and new friend Lucy as orphans. It’s never stated that they are, but no parents are in evidence. It’s also probable that all the other Slaves of the Candle are orphans too, but I decided not to push my luck.)
Time travel: 1