Zartan (zartan) wrote in pacific_novelty,

1986 : The Secret of the Glowing Box

"The Secret of the Glowing Box", written by Barbara Hunnicutt and illustrated by Claudia Heaston. Originally presented in More Five-Minute Bedtime Stories, published in 1986 by Current, Inc.

An interesting artifact I found yesterday while processing a large donation of children's books. The story's subtitle, "A Glitterby™ Story", immediately caught my eye: the trademark symbol after "Glitterby" suggested that these were established characters (or, at least, intended to be established characters). And the wording of the thing—a Glitterby story—makes it sound like it's one of many stories. None of the other bedtime stories in this volume have such a subtitle.

What makes this special is that, despite the subtitle's posturing, this is not a Glitterby story, it's the Glitterby story—specifically, a very obvious origin story. These two little girls are sneaking around an abandoned house, they find a jewelry box, pop it open, and hey presto, it's the Glitterbys1. Well, actually, it's a bunch of butterflies that turn into the Glitterbys:
Suddenly, in a flash of sparkling colors, the butterflies changed into six lovely creatures, each more beautiful than the next.

I like this sentence because the author—almost certainly unintentionally—sets up a hierarchy of beauty for the Glitterbys; the first one to transform is the most beautiful, the second one is the second-most beautiful, and so on right down to the sixth2, whom I suppose they keep around just to make the rest of them look that much better.

So, yeah—and apparently, the Big Bad of the Glitterbys' world is that chick dressed in black seen on the third and fourth pages. Her name is Mothra. No, I'm serious. I have no idea if Barbara Hunnicutt intended this as an homage, or if she was simply unaware that a character named "Mothra" already existed and was, in fact, pretty well established. It's plausible enough, honestly; I can imagine someone in 1985-86 being unfamiliar with Japanese monster movies.

The Glitterby / Mothra thing is set up on the Persephone / Hades model: half the year, the Glitterbys fly around as butterflies and the skies are dark; the other half, they go home and form the light of the Aurora Borealis. Okay. Anyway, Mothra got greedy and wanted it to be dark all the time, so she locked the Glitterbys in that jewelry box. The little girls saved the day. Mothra froths and raves about hatching a plot, and how she'll get them next time, or whatever, and they all fly away. The End.

It's not a very good story, honestly, although I'm kinda fond of the art—and I freely admit that this is probably more due to a nostalgia for a bygone aesthetic than any sort of rigorous artistic critique. It just kills me how everything is so perfectly set up for this to have become some sort of serial franchise: the open-ended ending, the exposition infodump in lieu of any real action or drama, the cast of differently-colored characters versus a Big Bad and her henchmen, etc. And yet—the Glitterbys, as far as I can tell, just sort of fell off the face of the earth3 after this single appearance in the very last story in a low-print-run compilation of bedtime stories put out by a publisher that is now some sort of small-time Hallmark-alike.

I couldn't find anything else written by Barbara Hunnicutt. Claudia Heaston apparently did some illustration work for some Mormon storybooks and hymnals published by Perry Enterprises4 around that same time, but apart from that, not much.

I did find a signed print of her work, though, in an estate sale of all things:

And a picture5 of her; she's actually pretty cute!

I wonder if anyone out there read this story—or had it read to them—and has had it stuck in the back of their brain ever since.

* * *

1 This is how they're pluralized in the story. Not how I'd have done it, but I defer to the author.

2 I'm betting it's the yellow one.

3 No pun intended.


5 Undated, but from what I can make out from the text, it's probably from the late 70s or early 80s.

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