Story File: Children of Edenford
Children of Edenford’s spooky set-up of a village of apparently perfect children is reminiscent of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, and not dissimilar from a number of other twentieth-century tales of isolated communities whose residents act in unnatural and cultish ways. But there’s nothing wrong with a knowing homage if done well, and Children of Edenford is a brilliantly creepy little serial.
Drawn by Phil Townsend and running in Jinty between February and June 1979, the story stars Patti Anderson, who is forced to move with her parents from the big city to live in the countryside. Dad has a new job as a driver for a rural bus company, and the position comes with a house in the village of Edenford. Reluctantly, Patti tries to make new friends but discovers that the children of the neighbourhood are a rather strange lot – they dress in white clothes, speak politely and without passion or humour, and pursue perfection in work and behaviour.
At the local school, which resembles a Greek temple, each child is renamed after a virtue to be attained. Patti is named Humility, and her only friend, Jilly – also new to Edenford – is named Tolerance. Events become darker when Patti sees another girl, who appears to have escaped her conditioning, chased down by other children in the woods. Then, in gym class, a girl who sneezes is led away and put into isolation in the school’s medical wing. Patti and Jilly appear to be the only children unaffected, and, being rebellious sorts, they are determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. Until Jilly herself is suddenly converted, and – horror of horrors – takes down all her John Travolta posters! (There’s a modern-day irony that Travolta, an adherent of the Scientology cult, is a representation of the free world.)
Eventually Patti herself succumbs to the change, and starts behaving like a model child, until she suffers an attack of hay fever at which point the conditioning breaks. She realises that sneezing and other symptoms of having a cold are what cures children of the possession, which they are contracting in the first place through a drug which the headmistress, Miss Goodfellow, is putting in the school meals.
Goodfellow wishes the girls of her school to become apostles of the ‘New Way’, spreading purity and perfection throughout the world. But first she must destroy the captured Patti (‘Does not a surgeon remove diseased tissue to make the body whole?’). Patti is dressed as a black sheep and dragged to the Temple of Purity at the centre of the school, where Goodfellow tries to murder her with a sacrificial fire. But, after a struggle, it is the maniacal headmistress who dies in the flames and the whole school burns down. This is all quite shocking stuff when one thinks about the age of most children likely to be reading Jinty in 1979 (mostly pre-teen, I suspect). Physical or psychological horror of this nature wouldn’t have been allowed in most children’s television drama. Children of Edenford is a fine example of the fact that girls’ comics could be just as tasty as the boys’.