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!)


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.

“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.


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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