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.

51CMUenV59L._SL160_“He will try to control you, Olive. He’s been watching you. He knows you. He’ll use the things you want and the things you fear. He will threaten whatever you care about most.”

The Shadows (Volume One of The Books of Elsewhere) by Jacqueline West stars Olive, 11, who moves into a strange old house with her very distracted parents – and this is one of those GU stories that takes place entirely within one house. Left mostly to her own devices, Olive soon discovers a magical pair of glasses that lets her enter the creepy paintings that hang in every room. A talking cat gives her a stern warning about her explorations, which of course she ignores. Then Olive meets Morton, a boy trapped in the paintings, terribly afraid of an unnamed man. Eventually Olive finds two more talking cats, all guardians of the house, and discovers the story of the original owner, who seems to be both the mysterious painter and the man Morton fears so much.

For awhile it seems like the cats may actually be against her, but instead it is another companion who betrays Olive, and almost destroys her while trying to resurrect the spirit of the old man. Ultimately, Olive is trapped alone in the attic, separated from her companions, and must face this adversary while he preys on all her fears. But fortunately she is clever enough to defeat him.

This is the beginning of a fairly long series, and it looks like the third book features a descent underground!

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!)

2873125085_239aa74ba2

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?

“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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If you enjoy the Girls Underground concept, please help me keep reading and blogging by donating any amount!

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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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