labyrinthAs long-time readers will know, this whole Girls Underground idea started with the movie Labyrinth – my favorite movie of all time, which I’ve seen hundreds of times. As I was watching it again recently, it occurred to me to write down some of the lessons from the Story, ones that are actually quite applicable to many spiritual and magical journeys.

If that is the way it is done, then that is the way you must do it.

Say your right words.

The way forward is sometimes the way back.

You can’t look where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re going.

Quite often it seems like we’re not getting anywhere, when in fact we are.

You get a lot of [false alarms] in the labyrinth, especially when you’re on the right track.

You can’t take anything for granted.

No, it isn’t [fair], but that’s the way it is.

51If8a4ttRL._SL160_Just a quick note on an “Honorable Mention” – the movie Nightbreed based on a Clive Barker story. This is an example of “If the story were about her” – the protagonist’s girlfriend Lori goes in search of answers about her supposedly-dead boyfriend, and ends up discovering the strange world of Midian. She saves a child and is subsequently allowed into the otherworld, goes literally underground, and eventually unites with the so-called monsters there against an evil police captain and psychiatrist. Since it’s not her story, she doesn’t get the final confrontation and certain other necessary GU elements, but from her perspective, it comes close to qualifying.


“Jem, remember who you is. You’ve waited your whole life for this!”

The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff is a pretty solid GU story, with a decently intelligent protagonist, wise guides and helpers, a nicely complicated set of adversary figures…. and the best part, a pair of golden-furred rats named Noodle and Pie. I couldn’t quite get over those names through the entire story, they are just too wonderful.

Jemma is the youngest child of the Agromond family, who rule their land with cruelty and darkness. She is about to turn 13 when her world is blown apart – she discovers she is not their child after all, and rebels against their evil ways. She flees the castle, with the help of servants and animals, and is accosted in the forest by the spirits of children the Agromonds have killed. They want her help, but she must save herself first.

Eventually, Jemma makes it through the perilous forest and is helped by her friend Digby. They set off to find her real parents, though she temporarily ends up having to rescue Digby before they can move on. Once with her birth family, Jemma’s full history and ancestry is revealed, and she begins to learn how to harness her innate magical abilities, for she is the answer to her whole country’s prayers.

Before she is ready, Jemma is forced to confront the Agromonds when she must rescue Digby’s siblings who have been stolen. She returns “home” and pretends she is on their side, but things fall apart and she is almost defeated. In the end, she must face off against the demon the Agromonds have been working for – alone, of course – and then with her companions’ help, take care of the rest of the family. Then she is able to release the spirits of the children, and dispel the evil Mist that had ruined the land.

Interesting in that the adversaries are her “parents” (distant parents, indeed), and that she feigns a conversion to the dark side the way some other Girls Underground actually succumb to it (Helena in Mirrormask, Lily in Legend).


How will you celebrate the day Alice fell down the rabbit hole?

Whenever I’m in the YA or Intermediate section of a bookstore or library trying to find potential Girls Underground stories, I’ll usually check out anything with a girl’s name in the title. There’s a good shot it will be what I’m looking for. At the very least, it indicates that a girl is the protagonist. Here are the Girls Underground books I’ve covered so far which use this convention (although some might not immediately seem like names):

And of course, anything that simply refers to a “Girl” also bears investigation:


“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, 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 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.

“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.


  • 35,609 journeys underground

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