611BadOPssL._SL160_When you’ve read over 100 Girls Underground books as I have, a lot of them start to blend together – naturally, since they all follow a very similar pattern. Unfortunately, some just follow the script by rote, without seeming to have a truly unique story to tell. So it’s always a pleasure to read something a little different, like The Path of Names by Ari Goelman. The focus on Jewish mysticism was an interesting and unusual setting for what was also a very solid GU plot. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised to see a book aimed at pre-adolescents covering topics like the secret names of God, the Kabbala, golems, and such, with seriousness. And on a personal note, it was fun to read something set in a Jewish camp, which echoed some of my own experiences growing up (oh yes, the pre-dinner song/prayer, I remember that!).

Dahlia, 13, is into math and magic tricks more than anything, but her parents force her to spend three weeks at a Jewish summer camp in order to help her become more social. Right off the bat, she starts seeing the ghosts of two little girls, and having strangely vivid dreams of being a male yeshiva student in the 1940’s (many of the chapters are told from this man’s point of view, as he discovers the 72nd name of God and is pursued by members of a secret society intent on using this holy word for nefarious purposes). After finding an old book filled with writings on mysticism and drawings of mazes, Dahlia enlists some other campers (her companions) and eventually her brother (a counselor) to help her unravel the mystery of how all these things are connected, and what they have to do with the mysterious hedge maze and the caretaker who guards it. There is an initial feint as to the identity of the adversary, who is only revealed for certain towards the end. Several campers get trapped in the magic of the maze, and Dahlia must rescue them, and the dead girls, all on her own. She exposes the adversary’s fraud, tricks him using her well-practiced sleight-of-hand, and soundly defeats him, rescuing everyone.

An interesting side note: unlike the picture on the cover, the “maze” in the story is actually a unicursal labyrinth – the kind that has a single path weaving back and forth to the center, used by many spiritual traditions since its origins in ancient Greece. Ironically, the genesis of the Girls Underground idea was with the movie Labyrinth, which actually features a multicursal maze.

51uNgU5Y4dL._SL160_Recently, someone suggested to me that the 1984 movie The Terminator might be a GU story, and sure enough, upon re-watching it (under some amount of protest, as this is not really my sort of movie), I found that it was.

As with many GU stories where the protagonist is an adult woman, the object is saving her child – only in this case, it is a child that is not yet born. Sarah is being stalked by a cyborg from the future who wants her dead to prevent her future son from leading a revolution against the machines. Her companion is a man sent from the same future to protect her. While he doesn’t betray her, she does temporarily think he has made it all up. She also briefly returns to the “real world” in the middle of being on the run. In the end, her companion is killed, and Sarah must defeat the Terminator alone.

(Side note: the future date is 2029, now closer to our present time than we are from the year the movie was made!)

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Today, November 4, marks the day that Alice went through the looking glass (exactly six months after she went down the rabbit hole). In celebration, I am holding a mini-version of my annual Alice Days event, with movies and decorations and treats and intoxicants.

How will you venture into Looking-Glass Land?

51CJC31Y6HL._SL160_Wishmaster is another horror movie GU entry where the protagonist is a woman rather than a girl or teenager, and the adversary is some kind of demon or killer. It’s amazing how many of these there are!

Alexandra is an appraiser who is given an extraordinary gem to examine, which turns out to hold a djinn (a malevolent spirit), now released accidentally by some kind of spectral analysis. The djinn always tries to get the person who awakens him to make three wishes, upon which the door will open to his world and all the other djinn can come through. He takes the form of a man he has killed and starts hunting Alex, who has visions of the people he torments along the way. All of the people who assist her (companions) are eventually killed. At one point, she journeys to his lair inside the gem, which although not technically underground, certainly gives that impression. She also returns home at one point (due to a wish). Toward the end, she must rescue a family member – her sister, who the djinn has captured. Eventually there is a final confrontation, and Alex makes a very clever third wish and defeats the djinn.

Just found a couple of Girls Underground mentions out in the blogosphere recently….

In Things That I Like: Lesser-known plots and archetypes at White Marble Block, Ryan Gauvreau profiles a number of interesting concepts, including the Maiden’s Tragedy and the Künstlerroman, as well as Girls Underground!

Over at Kelly in Development, which charts the progress of a new musical, one of the writers goes through the entire Girls Underground archetype, comparing the various plot points to his own creation and finding a lot of commonality, in a post called Kelly Underground. I love this!

6182X8ZGDCL._SL160_While I mentioned the 1985 movie Return to Oz in my original Wizard of Oz post, I decided after re-watching it recently that it deserved its own entry, much like I did for Tin Man. Based on a combination of several of L. Frank Baum’s books, this movie is much more faithful to the original spirit of Oz than the more famous 1939 movie – for one thing, Dorothy (played by Fairuza Balk) is the proper age! – and is a great Girls Underground example in its own right.

After returning from her first trip to Oz, Dorothy has become troubled by her memories, which of course her aunt and uncle think are only fantasies. They arrange for her to receive electro-shock therapy, but she runs away during a storm and ends up in Oz again, with her pet chicken (who can now talk). They discover that all is not well in the kingdom, which has been taken over by the evil Nome King and overrun by truly creepy minions called Wheelers.

Dorothy discovers a new companion, a mechanical man named Tik Tok who was sent by the Scarecrow to help her. She tries to get information from a supposed princess called Mombi, but discovers she is a witch in league with the Nome King, and Mombi traps Dorothy in her tower. There she meets Jack Pumpkinhead, who was brought to life by a magical powder – Dorothy steals the powder to enliven a winged creature they all cobble together from furniture in the tower, and they all escape by air to confront the Nome King.

There, Dorothy and her companions take a tumble down, down underground, where the Nome King informs them that he has turned all Dorothy’s old companions into ornaments in his palace, and they must play a game to try to rescue them. But her new companions fail, and it is left to Dorothy to save all of them, which she does. In a rage, the Nome King tries to eat Jack, but the chicken (who was hiding in his head) lays an egg in her distress, which falls into the King’s mouth and poisons him. Dorothy then puts everything else back in place, returning the Emerald City to its former glory.

She refuses the Queenship of Oz and wishes instead to return to Kansas again (why?!), leaving behind her chicken, who has better sense and elects to stay where things are magical. Back at home in her room, she can see some of Oz’s inhabitants in her mirror, very much like the final scene of Labyrinth.

51ysrNDhV3L._SL160_While I’d watched the movie a few years ago, I had never read the book Inkheart by Cornelia Funke until just now. As I suspected, it is indeed closer to the GU archetype than the movie was (which didn’t focus as much on the girl).

Meggie, 12, never knew her mother, who disappeared when she was three years old. She lives with her bookbinder father until one day a mysterious man named Dustfinger shows up and they are suddenly on the run, protecting a book she has never seen before. While staying with her great-aunt, they are betrayed by Dustfinger (and off and on companion of sorts throughout the story, but an untrustworthy one to the end) and Meggie’s father is captured by the evil Capricorn’s henchmen. She goes off to rescue him, and discovers that he has a secret and special talent – when he reads from a book aloud, things and people can come out of the book into this world… but there is always an exchange, and Meggie’s mother disappeared into the book he is now trying to protect (so that one day he might get her out again).

They all escape (along with a new companion, a boy who was read out of Arabian Nights, and who has a crush on Meggie) and go to find the book’s author, in hopes he has another copy, but are captured again. Meggie discovers that she too possesses this magical ability – exciting for her, but also dangerous as Capricorn turns his attention to her (he wants a reader to provide treasure, and more henchmen, and ultimately an evil being from his world called the Shadow). With the help of the author, Meggie tricks Capricorn in the final showdown, and manages to annihilate everyone who threatens her, rescuing her mother along the way.

51+tbHd55lL._SL160_The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove features a unique and imaginative world concept that made up for the way the adversary relationship sort of just petered out at the end.

Sophia, 13, lives with her uncle after her parents went missing a decade ago. She lives in the 1890’s, technically, but hers is a strange world – ever since the Great Disruption, all the eras of history exist side by side across the planet, so while it’s the 19th century in America (now called New Occident), it might be the 13th century in another area, the 40th century in another, and prehistoric times elsewhere. Cartologers chart time as well as geography in their magical maps, and her uncle is one of the best – just beginning to teach her the art. When he is kidnapped, Sophia goes in search of him, accompanied by a mysterious boy she just met.

They are chased by the terrifying minions of her uncle’s kidnapper, Blanca, a veiled woman who is trying to find a legendary map that will change the world. Sophia possesses the key to Blanca’s goal, although she doesn’t understand its significance. She is temporarily abandoned by her companion but taken up by friendly pirates. She finds her uncle, loses and then rescues her other companions, but then they all must flee together. They go underground into a labyrinth that leads to an empty city, where many answers can be found. Sophia does end up alone with the adversary at the end, but instead of a showdown, the adversary gives up her plans – seeing her inevitable defeat as the world is on the brink of destruction – and helps Sophia with the task she was destined for.

This was an incredibly engaging and interesting book, and I especially liked how Sophia was sort of unhinged from time, and could easily experience a moment as a day, or vice versa – which could be an advantage or a disadvantage. Having a bit of that problem myself, I could relate, and it made her more complex and thoughtful than the average 13 year old.

bfdd53926f969f5222951e6fa7311d1aThis is another example of “If the Story Were About Her“. If you watch the first season of the television show American Horror Story from the perspective of the daughter, Violet, it appears to be a Girls Underground story. Warning: SPOILERS ahead, I can’t talk about this without them.

First of all, the entire show takes place in a house, as many GU stories do – an extremely haunted house. In fact, Violet can’t even leave the house by the end, once she has died there (returning to her life as if everything is still normal after that transition mimics the “returning home in the middle of the adventure” trope common to GU stories). She certainly has the classic distant and distracted parents – so much so that they don’t even realize she is dead! When she is dead, her body is literally underground, in the crawlspace below the house.

Violet’s relationship with Tate is the most interesting part. He is both adversary and companion. As a companion, he watches out for her and tries to save her life, and helps her cope once she is a ghost. But as her adversary, he lies to her, tries to control her, and ultimately she must face off against him and banish him (“Go away, Tate!”).

Not quite a full GU example, but worth mentioning.

61g5izigvVL._SL160_The Riverman by Aaron Starmer isn’t a GU book, but it deserves a mention here – and not just because it was so unique and riveting that I was literally unable to put it down, and read it all in a single sitting last night. It isn’t a GU story – but it’s the story of a GU companion, essentially, and provides an interesting perspective on that role.

Alistair, 12, gets a visit one day from a childhood friend, Fiona, who tells him an unbelievable story. Since the age of four, she has been visiting a magical otherworld called Aquavania, where everything is created by the imagination. But there is a sinister threat – a figure called the Riverman has been invading children’s self-created worlds there and sucking out their souls. Fiona fears she will be next.

Alistair never journeys with Fiona, and for most of the book he is doubtful that any of her story is real – assuming instead that it is a cover for a more mundane but still awful trauma. But as things escalate, the horrible truth of the Riverman is revealed, and Fiona disappears, leaving Alistair to figure it all out. I can’t really say  more here without spoiling it, and this is a book that hinges on the mystery, so I will leave it at that.

But what fascinated me along with the plot was to read a first-person narrative by a Girl Underground’s companion, to see him as a protagonist in his own story, with the Girl’s adventures being only related second-hand, and taking a secondary role. And there is no doubt that Fiona is a Girl Underground – the author’s website even gives this description, linking her with several other GUs:

“Fiona Loomis is Alice, back from Wonderland. She is Lucy, returned from Narnia. She is Coraline, home from the Other World. She is the girl we read about in storybooks, but here’s the difference: She is real.”

While I felt that this book stood on its own even with a somewhat unresolved ending (not everything, after all, needs to be neatly tied up in reality), it turns out there are two more books planned, and I will have to give them a shot despite my skepticism about series, since this one was so engaging.

“The traffic flow from folklore to fiction and film has always been heavy.” - Maria Tatar, Secrets Beyond the Door

An exploration of story…

In which I describe examples of the Girls Underground archetype that I have discovered in literature and film. For more information regarding the concept, including its earlier incarnations in fairytales and mythology, visit the pages linked above. Here is a list of all the examples I have covered thus far.

Alice Days

Celebrate one of the primary inspirations for Girls Underground - Alice in Wonderland - with a holiday down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass! Check out the Alice Days page for party ideas, movie recommendations, and more.

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