Illustrations from the Li'l Susy tract series by Jack Chick. Websnark entry number 1000 considers the plight of schoolteacher Ms. Henn, introduced in Apes, Lies, and Ms. Henn. She's a horribly underutilized character, an adversary with great potential, and it's a shame that we don't see more of her. It's hard not to sympathize with her, too -- would you want a child like Susy, the anti-Bobby, in your class?
Poor Ms. Henn. From her very first day, she had trouble with Susy Barnes.
Ms. Henn works in a public school. She hasn't been in this particular job very long; she was hired as maternity cover for the semester. Mostly, she likes it here, though. She enjoys organizing special events for the class, like speakers from the community and Halloween costume contests. learn, and grow, and embrace new ideas. She wants them to have the best possible education they can.
But the kids are going home from school scared, and shaken, and saying upsetting things to their parents. "Well, my friend Susy told me..."
How does a little girl end up that way? It just makes Ms. Henn sick to think about it.
Of course, Susy's bright and charismatic, but she's a very troubled little girl. Why, her father died last year, and her mother died in childbirth; the only person she has left in the world is her grandfather. The way her file tells it, she didn't even have a chance to grieve properly; she showed up at school barely a week later, a little too cheerful, telling everyone about her new daddy in Heaven.
Conversion under duress? It's as though Susy sees a completely different world.
Obviously, Susy's personal faith keeps her going, keeps her from breaking completely; it's good that she can draw strength from that. But the way her grandfather's raising her, she's learning to impose her faith on others at every available opportunity. And she's developing a terrible worldview in the process, too.
It frightens Ms. Henn. It really does. It's not that Susy's religious; it's that she's cruel. And militant.
It'd be another thing altogether if it was even just good-natured sharing, but Susy's incredibly overbearing and manipulative. She zeroes in on her most vulnerable classmates, like little Cathy, whose father ran out on the family. She'll say the most vicious and hateful things about other people's beliefs or practices to get underneath their skin. My friend Susy told me that Pagans sacrifice cute kitties and little girls. And that's not even the worst of it. What must her grandfather be teaching her? She's building up a little following of students, and they're starting to trust her with just about everything that goes wrong.
That just won't do. It just leaves those poor kids open to getting their heads messed with, and there's not a blessed thing that Ms. Henn can do about it.
Ms. Henn doesn't know how to manage Susy at all. Mr. Barnes is awfully clever, and teaches his little girl how to weasel around the school's authority instead of properly respecting it. A little bit of it is Ms. Henn's fault, in a way, and she knows it -- she lost her temper on that first day, when Susy called her a liar in front of the whole class -- but Mr. Barnes took his granddaughter's side, and that didn't help things at all. (She probably told him horrible things about her.) He made sure Susy only spoke to her little group off of school grounds, where Ms. Henn couldn't do anything at all about the nasty things Susy would say or do. He sent Susy to school in a Santa costume today, for goodness' sakes! Just so that she wouldn't be participating in a fun holiday like Halloween!
(Ms. Henn wonders if Susy even knows where Santa comes from. Probably not yet. Mr. Barnes will probably tell her about druidic sacrifices sometime next month.)
Really, it'd be much easier for everyone if Mr. Barnes would just homeschool little Susy, as was suggested at the parent-teacher conference. Why, Susy's so convinced that there are demons everywhere, Ms. Henn's not convinced that Susy isn't hallucinating them now. There's no getting through to that little girl while she's so unbalanced, and it's getting harder and harder for her to keep control of the class. The other parents are complaining horribly about it, but she can't do anything to stop Susy outside of class. She had to spend weeks apologizing to Larry and Charles for Frankie's horrible outburst, and she just knows that had nothing to do with Frankie's home environment.
If the children turn up to school tomorrow with those wretched little hate literature tracts in their Halloween candy, Ms. Henn just doesn't know what she's going to do about it. Perhaps she ought to see about getting Susy referred to the school counselor.
This just isn't going to end well. Ms. Henn might have to go drinking.