51IYEB8gGtL._SL160_Just re-watched the 1986 movie From Beyond and noticed that the female doctor, Katherine, was actually more of a main character than I’d remembered, and from her perspective, this is a Girls Underground story (not surprising, it being common in the horror genre).

Katherine meets Crawford Tillinghast once he has already gone half-mad from experimenting with a device which stimulates the pineal gland and somehow lets the person perceive creatures in an alternate (and terrifying) dimension. The doctor he was assisting appears to have been murdered, and Katherine accompanies him back to the house where it all happened, with a police officer as backup. Therefore Crawford becomes her initiator into the otherworld, as well as her companion. This is also one of those GU stories which takes place primarily all in one house. (May be worth noting, too, that Katherine is trying to find a cure for schizophrenia, which afflicted her father, so in a way there’s a theme of trying to rescue a family member.)

They turn on the machine again, and Katherine finds out that it is all real, and meets Dr. Pretorius, supposedly dead but actually assimilated to some horrifying creature on the other side – he is the adversary. After a lot of disturbing things happen (including “forgetting herself” and changing into leather S&M gear), she briefly returns “home” in the middle of the adventure, back to the regular world, but must return again to the house. Eventually, she defeats the adversary with a bomb – however, instead of a victorious ending, Katherine is driven insane by her experiences, which seems a more realistic end for some Girls Underground.

61Gg16goZnL._SL160_“Welcome to your new home. Tomorrow you will become one of us. Until then, stay safe.”

The animated film Ava & Lala turns out to follow the GU archetype fairly closely, although I wasn’t sure at first, as the protagonist Ava is somewhat purposeless and annoying in the beginning. (I would have been more convinced had I seen the tagline on the DVD cover, which references Wizard of Oz – a sure sign of a GU story is referencing another GU story!)

Ava is a bit of a troublemaker for her single father. One day, she follows a strange looking cat (actually a liger named Lala) into the belly of a flying whale that has magically appeared, and is whisked off to Cloud Land with a bunch of other animals. There, an evil tiger is set on finding the “anointed one” whose power he will subvert to destroy the human world (he also has a fox minion). Ava is told that if she stays in Cloud Land for three days, she will become an animal herself.

At first she just explores and has fun and causes trouble, but as things progress (and as she accumulates both companions and enemies), she begins to pursue not one but several typical GU goals – she decides she wants to get home again, she must save one of her companions (who turns out to be the anointed one), she must save humanity from the adversary’s plans, and she must not lose herself in animal form.

When she risks her own wellbeing to rescue her friend (facing the adversary alone in the process), she manages to save the day and herself.

513w+vWPwtL._SL160_At first I wasn’t sure if Neverlake was going to be a GU movie – there isn’t a definite adversary until later in the plot – but the first hint was the large number of Peter Pan references throughout (the title of course, the collection of strange children led by a boy named Peter, the protagonist’s mother having the last name Darling, etc.).

Jenny never knew her mother, and her father put her in boarding schools until one day he invites her to live with him in Italy. She meets a bunch of creepy children in an old institution who tell her there are ancient souls trapped in the nearby lake because their sacred statues had been stolen (Jenny’s father is an Etruscan scholar who has many of these statues in his house). They show her how to save those souls, and eventually she must save the children, too. Eventually, Jenny’s own father is revealed as the adversary in a quite horrific way – I have to wonder if this is a nod to the Peter Pan stage tradition of having Wendy’s father also play Captain Hook – and she must fight him. She also discovers her long lost mother, so there’s the GU trope of rescuing a family member. Hard to say much more without entirely spoiling the plot, but this was a surprisingly original movie (you’d never guess from the ridiculous cover and tagline) and rather disturbing as well.

51O04i0M3xL._SL160_“….at your age, it is not uncommon to be seized with a frightful restlessness….So many things become a source of dissatisfaction. Your heart can pull you in different directions, and you must decide the right way to go.”

When I first picked up The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell and read the synopsis, I wasn’t entirely sure that it qualified as a GU novel. There didn’t appear to be any adversary, for instance, which is a crucial element of the archetype. However, I went with my instincts and I’m glad I did, because not only was an adversary eventually revealed, but overall it was a very enjoyable and original story.

Clara, 11, has been kept indoors her whole life due to a weak heart, not even allowed to have any friends (it being around the end of the 19th century, this wasn’t so strange). Because of this, the entire plot takes place within one house, like many of my favorite GU stories – and it’s a beautiful, if crumbling, old Victorian house too. Clara’s mother is the housekeeper for Mrs. Glendoveer, the elderly lady who owns the house, whose death sets into motion a complicated and mysterious set of events. At the center of the mystery are a group of pet birds of all different sorts, who live in an aviary in the garden. One day they begin talking to Clara, and they soon reveal the dark history of the Glendoveer family, whose children were kidnapped and drowned fifty years ago.

At first Clara is just determined to solve the mystery of the last child, who was never found, but eventually she is pulled into a larger plot, and discovers she is actually part of it. Her mother being distant as she strives to keep Clara locked away, Clara relies on her secret new friend Daphne to help rescue her imprisoned father and free the birds. They discover the adversary (the original kidnapper of the children), and confront him and his minion. Daphne is temporarily mesmerized into submission, so Clara must face him alone.

In the end, not only does Clara accomplish all her tasks, but she also steps into a totally new life, with a complete family, friends, and freedom.

51OVa8pWloL._SL160_The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis is a slight twist on the normal GU approach, and might almost be categorized under “If the Story Were About Her,” because it actually alternates between telling the girl’s story, and that of her primary companion.

Marrill, 12, has spent her life travelling with her parents around the world, but her mother’s relapse into illness is about to force them to stay put in Arizona. Upset, Marrill takes a walk with her cat and stumbles upon a pirate ship in a parking lot, and a wizard who might be able to heal her mother. She follows him aboard to ask his help, but ends up trapped (with her cat) on the ship as it returns to the otherworld it came from, a strange body of water called the Pirate Stream that connects all the many worlds together. The wizard is searching for a magical map, which turns out to also be the one thing that could get Marrill home again. Meanwhile, we meet Fin, an orphan thief, who also needs the map to find his long lost mother. Eventually, they all come together, and pursue the various pieces of the map across the many worlds, while pursued by an evil wizard looking to use the map to bring on the apocalypse.

At one point, they land in a jungle where the plants whisper secrets and rumors and ensnare Marrill, and she loses herself briefly. They are, in a way, betrayed by one of their companions. Eventually, the adversary appears to have won, having gathered the map and begun the process of the apocalypse, but Marrill, in a somewhat roundabout way, defeats him through the power of her love for Fin. She gets home (her first goal), but is unable to bring her wizard friend with her and therefore cannot save her sick mother (the second goal), although it is left hanging as to how they fare after that (there will be more books in this series).

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A reader just sent me a link to this post and I had to immediately share it:

“Creating as the World Falls Down” from Storming the Ivory Tower

The author makes a great case against the stereotypical interpretation of Labyrinth as being about a girl who needs to grow up and set aside childish things (like fantasy). Instead, he posits that the main lesson is about “setting aside self-invented distractions that stop the protagonist from moving forward with her life as not just an adult but an adult with creative agency.” That Sarah must avoid specifically the false fantasies she has designed for herself (both the romantic ballroom scene, and her mundane, materialistic home life) and carve a life (a Story, in fact) of her own volition. I think this is extremely insightful, and also rather in keeping with the Girls Underground concept, since it is significant that GU protagonists have *volition* in their adventures. And of course, I appreciate someone who understands that fantasy is not inherently immature, but is in fact “fundamental to human existence.” Go read the whole article, it’s excellent.

41O5iX3rDeL._SL160_I was recently reminded of the original Alien movie and realized it might be a GU story – and in fact, it is!

As with most horror movie versions of the archetype, Ripley is an adult Girl Underground. Her companions are the other crew members of the spaceship (including a cat, since every GU story should have an animal companion), and her adversary is, of course, the alien. Almost all of the action happens within the ship, making this similar to the “house” GU stories. She tries to avoid a classic mistake in letting the officer who was attacked by the alien back onto the ship, but she is betrayed by a companion. The ship’s computer, “Mother,” acts in this case as the distant parent, unable to help them (because it is controlled by their employers with differing interests). In the end, with all her companions dead, Ripley must face the alien alone and defeat it, potentially saving all of humankind.

One interesting side note about Alien as a GU story is that Ripley only gradually surfaces as the protagonist, initially being just one of many crew members and not necessarily the main character at all. But as more people drop, and she takes control of the situation, it becomes her Story.

51Af5Rr2VbL._SL160_I just watched the movie Housebound, and while it wasn’t quite a full GU story, it was at least worth an Honorable Mention here.

For one thing, it all takes place in a house (like so many of my favorite GU examples), and that’s actually a main plot point, because the protagonist is under house arrest and cannot leave the grounds. And because it’s her childhood home she’s confined to, there’s the whole “return home” aspect – even though in this case it begins the tale rather than being an interlude in the middle.

Upon arriving, Kylie’s mother tells her the house is haunted, but Kylie dismisses this – until strange things begin happening. Kylie’s parole officer ends up being a companion, as he is an amateur ghost-hunter. There are two feints as to the identity of the adversary (and one of the initial suspects becomes essentially a companion, helping Kylie here and there). The main hauntings occur in the basement, which is of course underground (and in the walls of the house, which was rather creepy). In the end, there is no real ‘final confrontation’ with the adversary, but it still has many of the elements in the right places. Not to mention, a wonderfully original combination of horror and comedy.

51UzDitL9mL._SL160_Twelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge was, overall, somewhat of a disappointment, but it qualifies pretty well as a Girls Underground story. Theoretically, I like the setting (1899 England) and the themes (madness, poison, mystery), but the execution was pretty hackneyed. A rather formulaic depiction of the late Victorian era (all gaslights and foggy streets and a good dose of famous authors constantly name-dropped), and when the mystery starts getting kind of weird it also becomes incomprehensible, with mystical tenets appearing out of nowhere which the protagonist somehow grasps and works with, without any prior understanding.

Penelope (Penny), 13, is an orphan who has inherited a periodical called the Penny Dreadful, which she has secretly been writing horror stories for, making it incredibly successful. She hires a man named Monty to pretend to be the famous author of her stories (since no one would accept a child in that role), and he is called on by the mental hospital Bedlam to solve the mystery of why, at 12 minutes to midnight each night, all the lunatics begin writing furiously on any available surface. Their writings are a mystery to the characters, but obvious to us – they are visions of the future. Monty is useless, so Penny picks up the case, with help from her friend Alfie. They follow an orderly from Bedlam and find out that somehow it comes back to a mysterious widow who also happens to be an expert on spiders. This adversary, Lady Cambridge, captures Penny and tries to force-feed her spider venom in order to induce madness and reveal more visions of the future (which is how all the lunatics are doing it). But Penny escapes, the Lady’s plot is revealed, and she is supposedly killed in a fire. Of course, that’s not the end, because the Lady is still trying to gain control over the world by knowledge of the future, and she plans an elaborate mind-control attack on all of London via venom-induced stories written by famous authors (it’s really quite convoluted and hard to explain). Penelope must take the venom voluntarily and go into the same realm of madness in order to save everyone before time runs out at the dawn of the new century. She almost forgets herself, but manages to rally and save the day, and survive a final confrontation with the adversary.

516S2DZME1L._SL160_Had a chance to re-watch Glass House (2001) because I remembered enough of it to think it might be Girls Underground, and I was right! And while it doesn’t take place entirely within a house, as the title suggests it does revolve largely around a house, and I happen to really like that subset of GU stories.

Ruby, 16, and her little brother go to live with a rich couple in a large house made mostly of glass, after their parents are killed in a car crash. The couple quickly start acting creepy in different ways. Ruby seems to find help in her parents’ estate lawyer, but he eventually betrays her (though he was well-intentioned). Other than him, her only companion is her brother (who is also the family member she must rescue), as her former friends quickly dismiss her when they don’t hear from her for awhile. The husband especially becomes the main adversary, while his wife is the lesser problem (and eventually out of the picture entirely). He is being threatened by mobsters over a debt and seeks to control Ruby and her brother’s fortune. It also starts seeming like he may have killed their parents, and been plotting the whole thing from the beginning.

Eventually Ruby confronts the husband, and he throws them both in the basement (underground!). But they escape, and there is a final showdown, where Ruby prevails.

“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.

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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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