So the…I feel weird calling Wirt, Greg and Beatrice “our heroes” all the time. I really should come up with a name for them. The Unknown Wanderers? The Frog Squad? The Autumnal Avengers? Greg and the Gregettes? What am I saying, the answer is obvious.
So Greg and the Gregettes have split up with Wirt and Greg having ditched Beatrice after her trying to sell them into indentured servitude to an evil witch (God some people are so sensitive).
They’re ambushed by the Woodsman who tries to warn them the Beast is after them after the events of Songs of the Dark Lantern but they of course think that he’s the Beast…or a lunatic with an axe which either way, y’know? So they flee until they come to a creepy cottage in the middle of the woods and hide inside.
Inside the cottage they find a barrel of the mysterious black turtles that have been cropping up all over the forest. The boys are discovered by a thin, pale servant girl named Lorna. They hear a noise outside and Lorna nervously whispers at the boys to hide in the turtle barrel so that they won’t be found by “Auntie Whispers”.
Whispers asks Lorna if anyone has visited the house because she can smell children. Lorna lies and says that there are none, but Whispers uses a magical bell to force Lorna to tell her the truth. Lorna tells her that they’re in the basket but when Whispers goes to look she only sees the turtles and assumes they were what Lorna was talking about. She thentells Lorna to sort the bones “of those who have previously been devoured” and goes off to bed, taking the bell with her. The boys come out and Lorna explains that Auntie Whispers keeps her working constantly so that she doesn’t “succumb to wickedness” and Wirt says that’s super sketch because it is indeed super sketch. He offers to help her get her chores done quicker so that she can then escape…which I can’t believe it’s taken me this many rewatches to realise that that makes no sense.
If Lorna is ready to escape, surely they can just go? What’s the point of staying, doing all the chores and then escaping? Good etiquette? Well anyway, while Wirt and Lorna work to clean the house and blush at one another from across the room like a couple of cuttlefish, Greg goes wandering upstairs and wakes up Auntie Whispers who chases him down the stairs. The children lock themselves in the cellar while Auntie Whispers howls that they will soon be eaten alive. Wirt and Greg turn to look at Lorna and OH GOD…
Yes, it turns out Lorna really does have an evil spirit and Auntie Whispers really was making her do all that housework to keep the demon under control. Just when it looks like the Gregettes are about to be eaten alive, Greg reveals that the Frog ate Auntie Whispers’ bell. Wirt shakes the Frog, which rings the bell, which gives him control over the demon, who Wirt orders to leave Lorna’s body, freeing her forever.
Auntie Whispers and Lorna tearfully reunite and Auntie Whispers says that she’s glad Lorna is now cured but regrets that Lorna is going to leave her now. But Lorna says that Whispers is her only family and of course she’ll stay with her and I’m sorry WHAT?
Auntie Whispers could have cured Lorna at any time. We all agree on that? But INSTEAD, she used the bell to keep working her 24/7 while leaving the demon still in her where it could (and did!) eat any passers by who wandered in. Now, granted, it was probably only a few people…
Any, with Wirt firmly convinced that this not a family he wants to marry into the Gregettes continue on their way. Wirt admits to Greg that he doesn’t have a plan and doesn’t know where they’re going.
And from the shadows, the Woodsman and the Beast watch them go. The Woodsman pleads with the Beast, saying that the souls of children cannot be traded like tokens and that there has to be another way to keep the lantern lit but the Beast replies: “No. There is only me. There is only my way. There is only the forest, and there is only surrender.”
How was it?: The Ringing of the Bell is without a doubt the scariest episode of the whole series and does a great job subverting your expectations. By having Whispers and Lorna dress and speak like Puritans, we’re primed to view Lorna’s “demon” as simply her burgeoning sexuality which Auntie Whispers is ruthlessly working to suppress. Until the point where the cartoon says “No, literal demon. Why, what did you think we meant?”. It’s clever. Less clever are the logical plotholes like why they choose to stay and do the chores if they’re already planning on escaping, or why Lorna doesn’t even try to explain to Wirt what her deal actually is. It’s perhaps less polished than some of the other scripts but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t one of my favourites, and that’s mostly down to:
Holy Crap, that sounds like…: TIM CURRY giving a very un-Tim Curry but utterly hilarious and memorable performance as Auntie Whispers. This was (I believe) Curry’s first voice work after suffering a stroke and it’s not entirely clear how much of his performance was affected by it but…damn it, he’s perfect.
Can I see some references?: Auntie Whispers: Baba Yaga from Slavic folklore, the giant from the Jack and the Beanstalk and the Witch Yubaba from Spirited Away. Lorna is named for Lorna Doone.
This frog’s name is: Doctor Cucumber, and congratulations to him for getting his medical degree.
In regards to the plot-holes…I was under the impression Lorna wasn’t much more clear on the issue then the boys. And, as for why Auntie Whispers didn’t just use the bell to order the demon out…I can think of three possible interpretations: 1. She never even thought of it. It would fit with the series recurring theme (including this episode) of the dangers of taking things at face value, and there is a running pattern of Wirt using an obvious solution no one thought of to solve the problem. 2. She thought it was too risky. She doesn’t seem like the sort to have much knowledge of demons, so it’s possible she was worried about what would happen afterwards. Sure, she could get the demon to leave Lorna, but who’s to say that would kill it? For all she knows, it could just leave and poesse someone else. Better to keep it in Lorna, where she can see it and keep it stationary in one location, rather then risk it going somewhere else and causing more damage, where she won’t be around to stop it. 3. Darkest, but probably the most plausible: She was simply so terrified that Lorna would leave her that she kept the demon in her to keep her around. Kinda ruins the moral of the episode, but still.
I think this is actually my favorite episode, it’s so eerie. And if John Cleese is our funniest guest star, Tim Curry is definitely the scariest.
I interpreted the chores thing as follows: Auntie Whispers keeps Lorna busy because if she isn’t she “succumbs to wickedness”, i.e. the demon takes control. The bell can command the demon to do something, but once that task is done unless there’s another waiting it can do as it pleases.
Hence the constant busywork. Auntie Whispers forces Lorna to clean the place from top to bottom figuring that’ll buy, say, eight hours. Instead Wirt helps and it gets done in four. Oops.
As for the other thing, I’m with Billy Weed and think Option 1 is the truth. This is a fairy tale/fable/legend, and in a lot of those there’s some simple solution that’s obvious in hindsight but it takes a clever hero to spot it.
The reason they can’t leave until they finish the chores is that Auntie Whispers ordered Lorna to do the chores, and she is compelled by the bell to do them until they’re finished. Only then can she act of her own free will. That’s what keeps the demon bound. That’s how I interpreted it, anyway.
And yes, I interpreted Auntie Whispers not ordering the demon to leave as her simply not thinking about it. These are simple people.
The reason they can’t leave until they finish the chores is that Auntie Whispers ordered Lorna to do the chores, and she is compelled by the bell to do them until they’re finished. Only then can she act of her own free will. That’s what keeps the demon bound.
And yes, I interpreted Auntie Whispers not ordering the demon to leave as her simply not thinking about it.
I appreciated you taking the time to comment on/analyze this episode. As a lifelong Tim Curry fan, I adore this episode and the eerie gravitas he brings to the role.
One thing, though…the ringing of the bell COMMANDS Lorna. She HAS to complete the task given to her, because the spell is binding. The spirit does what the bell-holder dictates. So there’s no plot hole there. Lorna can’t escape until the work is done.
As for why Auntie Whispers doesn’t free Lorna, I don’t actually think she understands that Lorna is possessed. Auntie only ever refers to Lorna’s wickedness…as if Lorna is just inherently this dualistic girl/cannibal creature thing. If Auntie had known the true nature of Lorna’s condition, she might have freed her.
Unless Auntie truly didn’t want Lorna to leave and felt this was the only way to make her stay. Which is messed up. And since the episode is ambiguous about that point, I find it even creepier and more poignant.
But it’s all clearly deliberately, delightfully, upsettingly ambiguous. A fabulously written episode!