“This is a story about monsters and mazes, and what it means to be lost.”

I picked up Kendra Kandlestar and the Door to Unger by Lee Edward Fodi on a hunch during a recent visit to The Strand in NYC, but noticed it was Book Two of a series, so I picked up the first book as well, Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers. As expected, though, the first book was only vaguely a Girls Underground story, while the second book fit the archetype much more.

In the Box of Whispers, we are introduced to Kendra Kandlestar, an eleven-year-old Een (a race of small magical creatures) who isn’t quite like other Eens, and whose friends are all talking animals. Her entire family disappeared when she was a baby, and she is being raised by her wizard uncle. One day something terrible breaches the magic curtain that protects the land of Een from the outside world and steals a very important box. Kendra is selected, along with several others, to journey to the outside and retrieve the box. Along the way, she rescues a young Unger, who are the sworn enemies of Eens. The companions pass through a riddle door, and face a dragon adversary. Kendra ends up defeating the adversary by facing her darkest secret, and saves the day. However, it’s not really her story yet – she is just pulled along with events she can’t control.

In the Door to Unger, Kendra becomes a full-fledged Girl Underground with her own quest and volition. An old Unger shows up one night and tells her she must find the mysterious Door to Unger, which will reveal the secrets of her missing family. She sets out with the same group of friends, and they must sneak out of Een through an underground passage. They are delayed in the dwarves’ land by an evil dwarf king who tries to make them his slaves. Instead, Kendra frees all of his other slaves (even though they are monsters), but is left alone in the ensuing chaos, her friends captured. She ends up teaming up with the very same Unger she rescued in the first book, and they form an uneasy alliance. She also acquires a faun as a companion later on, although he is unreliable. Her Unger companion brings her to the Door, which turns out to be the manifestation of an ancient evil wizard who was once an Een himself. So in this story, the classic GU talking door is actually the adversary!

The Door orders Kendra thrown into a terrifying maze along with her companions and many monsters. He gets inside her head and tries to make her believe his lies, including a betrayal by her companion. As she succumbs, she begins to turn into an Unger herself. But Kendra overcomes this manipulation, and realizes a shocking truth about the fate of her family. She breaks the curse of the wizard, which destroys the maze, and rescues her brother… though only temporarily. The stage is set for more adventures.

Totally off-topic, but I have to take a moment here and announce the publication of my new book!


“Who doesn’t want to run away and join the carnival? In 1937, my grandparents did just that. They only toured for a year, but they left with a special gift that – much later – they passed on to me: the secret language of the carnival folk.”

Part memoir, part cultural history, part linguistic exploration, The Secret History of Carnival Talk traces the evolution of this curious manner of speech from its origins on the midway to its use by wrestlers, rappers and children at play. The text is accompanied by 30 fascinating photographs of a Depression-era travelling carnival.

Available directly from Createspace, from Amazon.com, or from your local independent or major bookstore. Signed copies plus postcards and prints of the original photographs available at the Carnival Talk Etsy Shop.

Find out more at carnivaltalk.wordpress.com. You can also play with an English-to-Carny translator, view bonus photos, and more!

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!

51HQWHGVX6L._SL160_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.

51oQXhgDH3L._SL160_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.

ksbdThanks 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.

51QkZ7yuSiL._SL160_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.

51twmRogpUL._SL160_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.

61urbL5Q4vL._SL160_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.

517LG7B6X8L._SL160_“Stop opening doors that are meant to be closed.”

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.

“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.


  • 34,532 journeys underground

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