THE MYSTERY OF THE OLD WELL was adventure ten in FUDGE THE ELF series created, written and illustrated by Ken Reid. It first appeared in THE MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS between August 20, 1951 and May 10, 1952, and was reprinted as SPECK AND THE MICROMEN between March 13, 1976 and 27 November 1976. The version that I have photocopies of is the reprint one, and according to FUDGE THE ELF index at the back of FUDGE IN BUBBLEVILLE edition published by Savoy Books in 1981, text captions were re-set and occasionally rewritten, and four panels were omitted. The original story consisted of 672 panels, 224 strips.
I have nine of the 27 Fudge the Elf tales so far, plus the stories reprinted in book form by University of London Press and Savoy Books, and although I doubt they would appeal to the modern reader, I am still convinced Fudge and the Magic Book (story No. 26), covered on my blog in two parts HERE and HERE, would make an excellent feature film in the hands of the right producer/director…
Here’s my long-read detailed illustrated summary of THE MYSTERY OF THE OLD WELL tale for die-hard fans of the one and only Mr. Ken Reid:
It begins on August 13:
Despite Fudge’s refusal to believe in witches, the bell tower on Ivy Hill calls the gathering of the evil sisterhood at the Witch Knell:
Sensing danger, Fudge and Speck try to hide in the Leafy Wood but Grizhilda Fungusfang lures them into a trap and kidnaps the poor elves with the aid of Kirk – her magic broomstick. As it turns out, the witch plans to use them as specimen for demonstration purposes during her lecture on changing the human eyeball into plover’s egg. During the lecture, another witch - Liza Lichenchin – accuses Grizhilda Fungusfang of plagiarising her spell and the two get into a squabble. Amidst the commotion, Woozle the Wizard appears out of nowhere and sets the elves free.
Hiding in the bushes, they hear a strange sound coming from the foliage above:
They dash for the safety of Speck’s woodland home:
In the morning Fudge and Speck decide to investigate. The mysterious creature is still up there, and it turns out to be nothing more than a fat prize pig stuck between the branches. They help the poor thing down and go to the police station to report the strange incident.
Fudge and Speck establish that flying pigs have nothing to do with either Woozle the Wizard or the witches, so the mystery remains unsolved. Moreover, on their way home they see huge inflated cows fly across the sky...
The following morning the Pixieville Post announces that the pigs have been claimed by farmer Barleycorn of Bumpingham. The two pals set out for the village to investigate. N.B. As you may recall, the original name of this tale is THE MYSTERY OF THE OLD WELL, and the first time we get to see the actual well is nearly a quarter-way into the story in panel 143:
It’s a hot day, and an old villager offers Speck some water freshly drawn from the well. This is what happens as the ‘old ‘un’ shares some interesting village folklore with them:
The conclusion is obvious:
Morning paper confirms Speck’s speculations:
Speck decides to get to the root of it and find out all he can about microbes. He starts by getting himself some laboratory equipment:
…and consulting some scientific literature:
A few days pass before Fudge pays Speck a visit:
Fudge has no intention of joining his mate on this mad expedition but Speck coaxes him into trying one of the reducing pills to experience what it’s like to be microscopic. The effects are supposed to wear off after an hour, but since the expedition was going to take a lot more than that, Woozle has also made extra-strong pills that last three weeks, and Speck gives Fudge one of those by mistake. Speck realizes that the only way out of this mess is for him to take one of the extra-strong pills too, and find his mate who is lost in the maze of gigantic cotton threads of the tablecloth:
Their plan is nearly derailed by a sudden ‘hurricane’ caused by the wings of a house-fly, but finally they board Tiny Tim and their journey begins:
It turns out that the faintest breeze is enough to fling the little machine off its course:
They get entangled in the fur of a little dog…
… and finally land at the bottom of the old well:
Check out this long sequence of their first steps in the alien and unfamiliar world:
Tiny Tim gets swept away by the blast, and all they can do is continue their search on foot. Suddenly:
For a second time in this story, Fudge and Speck are captives again:
After an intense, albeit silent conversation, the creatures fall asleep and the two adventurers set themselves free. They come across two deserted dart-machines and realise they must have been piloted by their captors. Speck squeezes himself into one of them hoping to figure out how to operate it and use it in Tiny Tim’s place but the strange creatures wake up and recapture the fugitives.
They make Speck and Fudge mount the dart machines and are taking them somewhere, but soon acquire some ferocious-looking and very determined pursuers:
After the attack, the pilot of Speck’s machine turns into a bulbuos object and drifts aimlessly in the water, his dart-machine heads twirling downward in the water, and Speck goes down with it.
Speck realizes that the tiny attacker must be the evil Inflatraphobia microbe:
In the meantime, the pilot of Fudge’s dart machine realizes something is amiss, swoops swiftly downwards and skids to the standstill on the ground. Fudge shows some courage and makes a new friend whom he decides to name Willie:
Fudge and Willie set off again, but before they leave the scene, Fudge sees his friend being taken away:
Agitated by seeing his friend, Fudge falls off the dart-machine and finds himself on a strange greenish-grey ‘living’ plane that nearly devours him, but Willie comes to his rescue:
Willie takes Fudge to a futuristic city:
… where he meets the local Ruler-in-Chief:
Glug explains things more clearly: the city is called Micromania, and it is inhabited by the Micromen who share the city with a race of intelligent microbes – Flagalites – who carry out less skilled work. Micromen coexist at the bottom of the old well with the Germites – the lowly race who have taken into their silly heads to rule the Earth by breeding millions of Inflatrophobia microbes. Their plan is to release these creatures in untold numbers on the world above, causing every living thing to float from the Earth’s surface, leaving it free to themselves. Glug tells Fudge that his people are about to launch a large-scale attack on Germites in an attempt to destroy the breeding grounds of their microbes. Before saying his good-byes, Glug gives Fudge a pass enabling him to go anywhere in Micromania.
Fudge goes to explore the strange city and meet some of its inhabitants:
His tour is cut short by the call summoning the fighting men to duty and signaling them to board the great fighting ship that is now ready to leave for its attack on the Germites. Fudge must go with them to save his friend!
Fudge explores the ship as it sails to the battle but his excursion is cut short again:
A battle ensues:
Unexpected orders from the Captain stop Fudge’s eagerness to help:
Amidst the gadzillions of disguise bubbles emitted by the fighting ship (remember ‘windowing’ used by British Air Force during Germany bombings in WWII?), Fudge and the ‘specially trained’ Microman land near the breeding domes:
… and take out the guards one-by-one:
The two ‘special agents’ then render the germs harmless without exterminating them because the chemical destroys only the sharp fangs with which they inject the poison which causes Inftaprophobia:
The next – and the hardest – step is “operation rescue Speck”. It involves getting beneath the greenish-grey spongy surface and entering the gloomy underworld of ‘Germania’ where the two bold agents decide to disguise themselves:
All goes well until they run into a group of young Germites who decide to hold a shooting contest using the disguised Fudge and the Microman as targets.
As it turns out, Speck has escaped from his captors and is also hiding in one of those stout roots. The time for the effects of the reducing pill to wear off has come:
The growing body of Speck breaks through the ‘living plane’ and faces the danger of being attacked by Micromens’ fighting machine, but now he is too big to be harmed:
Finally, the full-size Speck emerges from the pleasant meandering stream flowing from a green hill side not far from the village of Bumpingham, where the story comes up to an abrupt happy ending: