The online literary magazine Paper Tape has just published an interview I did with them awhile back on the Girls Underground concept. It kicks off their Underground issue, which I’m looking forward to. Go read the interview, and while you’re there, check out some of their other posts!
I found Sweet Miss Honeywell’s Revenge by Kathryn Reiss the way I have several other GU books – by instinct alone, picking a likely title off the library bookshelf. I seem to have acquired a knack for this. I was doubly excited to see that it not only appeared to be GU, but was also centered on an evil doll.
Zibby (short for Isabel) is all set to buy a pair of rollerblades for her 12th birthday when she is suddenly and inexplicably compelled to buy an antique dollhouse instead, which she immediately regrets. The dollhouse and its dolls soon begin acting strangely. Whatever she and her friends pretend in the dollhouse comes to pass in the most awful way possible. The worst part is the doll in the gray dress, who moves around on her own. Zibby can’t even get rid of the dollhouse – even after being burned to cinders, it just reappears in her room.
Zibby and her friends discover that the doll is the ghost of a murdered governess. The old woman who sold it to her was trying to rid herself of the curse, but Miss Honeywell (the governess) clearly orchestrated the whole thing. She wants to have a new girl to control. There are also other ghosts around, all connected to Miss Honeywell, and Zibby must unravel the mystery in time to save her mother from being possessed by Miss Honeywell forever.
Zibby never has a one-on-one confrontation with her adversary, relying consistently on the help of her friends even at the end, and her parents are not neglectful, but it is otherwise a fairly good example of the archetype.
I found out about 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison by way of Swan Bones, the blog of its illustrator Kelly Louise Judd, who I’ve long adored. Realizing it was probably a Girls Underground story was icing on the cake. But it turns out this one is a bit tricksy as far as the archetype goes. While it seems to be a pretty typical GU plot at first, the adversary is not revealed until the very end, and actually, I think one of the companions’ side story is a more clear-cut example of the archetype than the main character’s.
Tanya is 13, and she has been able to see fairies her whole life, fairies who quite constantly torment her. Due to their antics, she is seen as a difficult child, and her mother sends her to live with her grandmother one summer as a punishment (her father is totally absent). At her grandmother’s old mansion in the English countryside, Tanya discovers a dark secret about her family’s past, and find out that children have been going missing from the nearby village. With her dog and the groundskeeper’s son Fabian, Tanya begins to unravel the mystery of her true identity. She is helped along the way by an old gypsy woman. Tanya and her companions discover that a girl missing for 50 years is actually trapped in fairyland, and try to rescue her.
At one point Tanya ventures into a secret passage underground, and finds a girl hiding there, who is trying to rescue her own baby brother from the fairies. While it seems this girl Red is simply a supporting character, when the adversary is finally revealed and the confrontation happens, it is Red who ends up saving Tanya, and facing the adversary.
There are two more books in this series, and from what I can tell, Red remains a crucial character, perhaps even making the stories overall more about her than about Tanya, though it looks like Tanya might turn the tables and have to rescue Red in the end. I will hopefully have a chance to read them soon.
Thanks to one of my readers for sending in these potential Girls Underground webcomics. I haven’t had a chance to go through all of them yet, so in the interim I’ll just post them here and encourage you all to go check them out yourselves!
Kill 6 Billion Demons - about a girl who is suddenly thrown into a world of demons, gods, and mystical portals
Gunnerkrigg Court - about a young girl who has just started attending a mysterious school, and the events that unfold around her as she becomes embroiled in political intrigues with the inhabitants of a forest outside the school
Namesake – a woman discovers she can visit other worlds – fantasy and fairy lands made famous through the spoken word, literature and cinema – and her power as a Namesake forces her to act as a protagonist in these familiar stories as she figures out how to get home
Vattu - the eponymous member of a tribe of nomad hunter-gatherers whose lives are disrupted by forces of change, Vattu is taken to a foreign society, and gradually accumulates other characters: a struggling artist, a member of a secret society, a young apprentice in an alchemical enclave, etc.
At first I thought Splintered by A. G. Howard was simply going to be a re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland, but it ends up being a reasonably original story, and a Girls Underground example in its own right.
Alyssa, 16, is living with the legacy of being descended from the original Alice Liddell, Lewis Carroll’s muse. Insanity runs in her family, and for years she has been able to hear the conversations of insects and plants. She suddenly begins to recover lost memories of a boy who would come to her in dreams, and to uncover signs that perhaps Wonderland is actually real. When her institutionalized mother is sent for shock therapy, Alyssa believes that going down the rabbit hole like Alice did will make things right. She is accidentally accompanied by Jeb, her long-time crush.
Wonderland is indeed real, but is not quite what Carroll described – all the elements are there, but much more sinister. Alyssa is simultaneously trying to break her family curse, save Wonderland, and save her mother. She is alternately helped and challenged by Morpheus, the one from her childhood dreams, who seems to be a companion but eventually is revealed as her Adversary, albeit a complicated one. In the end she must face his lies, defeat the Red Queen, and rescue her love. She returns home a very different girl than the one who left.
I don’t know why this hadn’t occurred to me before, especially since Girls Underground are often orphans, and Annie is pretty much the classic orphan, but the 1982 movie Annie fits the archetype pretty well, although the normal plot points are a bit tangled up.
Annie is a 10-year old orphan, living in an orphanage under the control of drunk, bad-tempered Miss Hannigan, who may appear to be the adversary at first, but is really serving a greater adversary, her brother Rooster (in the end, after all, Miss Hannigan balks at actually killing the girl). She is, of course, dissatisfied with her life, and tries to escape the orphanage constantly. In a sense, the other orphans are Annie’s companions. But when she is taken to the “otherworld” of a rich but surly man, her companions are his assistants, and of course her dog Sandy. The adversary, hoping to cash in on Daddy Warbucks’ reward for Annie’s lost (and actually dead) parents, poses as her father and takes her – but the fraud is discovered, and everyone comes looking for her. Annie escapes and has a terrifying showdown with Rooster on a raised bridge, but is rescued rather than actually defeating him herself. She finally gets her wish – a real family, though not her birth parents.
I’ve mentioned the Miyazaki film Kiki’s Delivery Service a couple of times already on this blog, as an example of what I call “reverse Girls Underground” – that is, when the protagonist starts out in an otherworld type setting and travels to the “real world” – but haven’t actually given it its own entry yet. This is because it’s really more of an Honorable Mention, especially since it lacks an adversary; however, it’s still worth talking about.
Kiki is a 13-year-old witch, and it is the custom for young witches to strike out on their own for a year in the rest of the world (where magic is known, but not common). She takes her talking cat Jiji with her, and makes friends with a baker who gives her a room, as well as a young boy Tombo obsessed with flying. She sets herself up as a delivery girl on her flying broom. However, her insecurities about her abilities hit her hard after a bad night, and she loses her magic powers.
When Tombo is in imminent danger due to a dirigible accident, Kiki must quickly overcome her problems and believe in herself in order to save him.
Haunter, directed by Vincenzo Natali, is a bit of a twist on the haunted house trope, as the girl being haunted is already dead. Lisa, one day shy of her 16th birthday, has been repeating the same day over and over again with her family, unable to leave her house, unable to convince her parents of what’s really happening. She begins to make a connection with the living girl currently inhabiting the house. She is also terrorized by a dark spirit, a man who doesn’t want her to be “awake” (to know she is dead). And her surroundings are becoming increasingly ominous, as her father begins to act violently, and Lisa finds a door in the basement leading to a secret underground tunnel.
Eventually Lisa begins to discover the true history of the house, and the nature of the evil spirit who, as a living man, killed his family, and has been causing deaths there ever since through possession. With the help of the spirits of the other girls who died, and the currently living girl, Lisa faces off against the killer, and breaks her own cycle of repeating days, free to move on at last.
A YA/Intermediate level book with a girl’s name in the title is often a Girls Underground tip-off, and this was the case for Rose by Holly Webb. 10-year-old Rose is an orphan who’s known in the orphanage for telling great stories. One day magical pictures start appearing with her tales, though she doesn’t know why. Soon after, she is chosen to go work in a grand house as a maid, a house belonging to an alchemist, or magician (this world, mostly like our own 19th century England, also has real magic, although it is expensive and therefore reserved for the upper classes). There she makes friends with a talking cat and the magician’s apprentice.
Rose hears rumors of children disappearing in the neighborhood, and this hits home when she returns to the orphanage for a visit and finds that her friend Maisie was supposedly claimed by her real parents, although Rose can tell it’s a lie. Meanwhile, a mysterious and creepy woman has begun dating the magician, and it is not hard to guess that she is the kidnapper, and hence the Adversary. Rose and her companions plan to catch her in the act, but instead are caught themselves and brought back to her house, where she is draining the stolen children’s blood in an attempt to become immortal.
Rose manages to rescue the other children, and then faces off against the evil witch, who tries first to lure Rose to her side with promises of magic. Rose breaks her glamour, and sets a malicious spirit on her, although the witch is not certainly dead and there is obviously room for a sequel (or many, as it turns out).
Unlike the original Hans Christian Anderson story, Disney’s 1989 animated movie The Little Mermaid appears to be a Girls Underground story, of the sort I call “reverse” (where the girl starts off in an “otherworld” and comes to our world).
Ariel, 16, is a mermaid dissatisfied with her life in the ocean, who wants to live in the human world. On an excursion to the surface, Ariel saves a prince from drowning and falls in love with him. Desperate to join him, she makes a deal with the sea witch Ursula to become human for three days, in exchange for her voice. She must find true love with the prince in that time, or she will stay a mermaid forever and be at the mercy of her adversary.
While Ariel tries to get the magic kiss from her prince, Ursula disguises herself as a woman and, using Ariel’s voice and some magic, captures the prince’s heart and they are to be married immediately. Ariel’s companions disrupt the wedding and expose Ursula’s fraud. Too late, however, and Ariel is turned back into a mermaid, kidnapped by the thwarted Ursula, and used as a bargaining chip to steal her father’s kingdom.
Ariel has a confrontation with her adversary, although it is actually the prince who defeats her (typical Disney). And of course, her father decides to make Ariel human forever, and she can marry her prince, and everyone lives happily ever after – unlike the original story in every way.