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A reader just sent me a link to this post and I had to immediately share it:
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.
As 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.
I recently returned from a two-week trip to England with my mom. One of the highlights for me was getting to visit the park where they filmed the opening scene of my favorite movie ever (and inspiration for the entire Girls Underground idea), Labyrinth. This was not even my first attempt to find shooting locations for the film – I once dragged my father around Nyack, New York in search of the places in Sarah’s home town, but while the town itself seemed familiar (and indeed, was used in part for the scene where she’s running through the rain), the park I found was not right.
Then, a miracle occurred – while I was planning my trip to England, I stumbled upon this webpage, in which someone actually found the right location, as evidenced by their photo. It was in England, where the bulk of the movie was filmed on sets. Moreover, it was on an estate in a small town about an hour away from London called West Wycombe. A town which, despite its obscurity, I was already planning to visit, because the very same estate (belonging to an eccentric 18th century baron) was home to the Hellfire Caves, where notorious orgies were said to be celebrated in honor of Bacchus and Venus, and the entire property is covered in those pseudo-Greek temples to pagan gods so popular at that time amongst the nobles. (I’ve covered that aspect of my visit on my spiritual blog, here.) I just about fell out of my chair.
After a fascinating walk through the caves, my mother and I began to explore the Dashwood estate. It is quite beautiful – the lake, the buildings, the swans (just like you can see in the movie behind Sarah). Eventually we circled the lake and were just downhill from the grand house itself when I found the distinctive set of bridges I was looking for – I was in the right place. Here it is in the movie:
Thank you to the person who first found this! You made this possible. Glad to know there are other people just as obsessed with Labyrinth.
While I came up with the concept of Girls Underground, I certainly am not the first person to notice similarities between some of these stories. Especially between any of them and Alice in Wonderland (which may account for the high number of Alice references in GU books – consciously or unconsciously, the authors know what type of story they’re telling). Here’s a great visual examination of some of the parallels between the movie Labyrinth and Disney’s Alice (via Fuck Yeah, Labyrinth). It’s quite remarkable.
As I’ve mentioned before, the movie Labyrinth was the inspiration for the whole Girls Underground concept. I have been obsessed with this movie since I first saw it at the age of eight. As I’m a collector of body art, I figured it was finally time to get a Labyrinth-themed tattoo. But not just a picture of Bowie or goblins, because all of my tattoos are deeply spiritual in nature and this needed to get at the heart of why I resonate so strongly with this film. In the end, I decided on a quote, one that to me sums up the power of Story (which is what GU is all about, really), and the magic of words.
When Sarah starts telling Toby the bedtime story (her own story, in fact), she is looking into the mirror when she relays the goblins’ mandate to “say your right words” – a crucially important lesson for any Girl Underground, or indeed anyone dabbling in the magic arts (or dealing with fairies, for that matter). I decided to get this phrase tattooed along my arm, but backwards, so that it would only appear readable in a mirror. Sort of a nod to Alice as well – a sentence that only makes sense through the looking glass (and I had it inked on May 4, the day Alice went down the rabbit hole). Here it is:
One of the plot points of the Girls Underground archetype is:
She interacts with people or things that are somehow connected to her ‘normal’ life at home, or briefly returns home in the middle of the journey.
While this is found in many GU stories, it is exemplified best, perhaps, by the original inspiration for the whole idea: Labyrinth. Not only does Sarah return to her own bedroom again while still on her quest (via the Junk Lady’s deception), but many of the creatures and things she encounters during her stay in the labyrinth (including the labyrinth itself) are echoes of items she has in her room: dolls, stuffed animals, posters, books, games, toys. This is illustrated wonderfully by this amazing set of animated gifs, juxtaposing the childhood object with its manifestation in the otherworld (courtesy of the awesome blog FuckYeahLabyrinth):
Found a great article on the movie Labyrinth (the inspiration, originally, for this whole Girls Underground concept, for those who don’t know) over at Tor.com: “Suburban Fantasy, Gender Politics, plus a Goblin Prom: Why Labyrinth is a Classic” by Bridget McGovern (thanks to the Fuck Yeah, Labyrinth Tumblr blog for directing me there).
“But the reason I love it most is that it features a headstrong young female protagonist taking on the world in jeans and sensible shoes. If that doesn’t sound like much to you, then take into account the fact that the movie revolves around Sarah’s refusal to be treated as a princess (a word never once used in the script). One of the things that this movie does brilliantly is systematically reject the usual “princess” trope — Sarah’s happy ending isn’t going to be found on the arm of some fantasy heartthrob; her adventures in the labyrinth force her to abandon any such princess-y delusions. Her identity is her own, and she isn’t about to be swayed by any bedazzled, leather-loving, tight-panted gigolo with a castle, even if he is some sort of king. It’s an incredibly subversive approach to the usual fantasy heroine that seems to go unnoticed in the midst of all the muppetry and cleverness and stunning visuals, but to a kid raised on Disney and mediocre sitcoms, it was simply revolutionary….”
Yup, that’s a Girl Underground – not the usual fantasy heroine. Though, considering the number of examples of this archetype I’ve found (I’ve profiled almost 100 here so far, and I’m far from finished), predominantly in fantasy literature, perhaps she’s a growing favorite. Still, certainly not the usual Disney-type heroine.
I have plenty of new GU examples to share here soon, don’t worry, but at the moment I’m in the mood to look back at one of my favorites, and the inspiration for the whole GU archetype, the movie Labyrinth. My original post included some links, but I’d like to share with you here a couple videos that will be fun for Labyrinth fans.
#1 Did you know that David Bowie made a music video for “Underground,” the opening song from the soundtrack? And it features some of the characters from the movie! Plus a trippy, very 80’s sequence of him descending underground, done in shaky hand-drawn style. I love it.
#2 Amanda Palmer and friends do a scene from Labyrinth with AFP playing Sarah, a sock puppet playing the Worm, and a guest appearance at the very end by Neil Gaiman as Jareth. It’s ridiculous and low budget and extremely awesome, especially the end, which shows the Worm to be not so nice after all – as I always suspected.
#3 YouTube is also rife with fanvids related to Labyrinth – set, remarkably often, to Evanescence songs for some reason. Here are a few of my favorites. (That last one cleverly uses footage of the two actors from later movies to imply a continuation of the characters’ storyline into the future.) But the one I most want to highlight is this – a hallucinatory, slowed down version of the ballroom scene set to Lacrymosa (the one, of course, by Evanescence, not by Mozart), perfectly timed, and exquisitely conveying the dreamlike sense of time and space that belongs to Fairyland, where many Girls Underground travel:
It seems right that my first post to this blog should be about Labyrinth as it was this beloved movie that gave me the idea for Girls Underground in the first place, many years ago, and it is the story on which I modeled the most important parts of the archetype. Perhaps it was because I’ve lived Sarah for so long that it was the first to occur to me.
Since I first saw it in the theater at the age of 8, I have been obsessed with this movie – by now I have watched it hundreds of times. I have fallen in love with Jareth, identified with Sarah, and have come to see my entire life as a similar adventure. I have analyzed every second of this film, created elaborate background stories, a history never mentioned in the movie. I’ve solved the riddles, found the discrepancies, but more than anything I have wished over and over for a different ending – Sarah stays with Jareth in the Labyrinth. But every time, in the end, she defeats him. Such a pity.
With each entry to this blog, I’m going to go through and briefly describe the plot points to show how they fit the Girls Underground archetype. So here goes…
Sarah is around 16, on the older end of the spectrum (and as such there is a romantic tension with her adversary, Jareth – one that has been exploited to no end in fanfic). Her mother is gone, her father re-married and she feels neglected by him and her stepmother, electing to spend most of her time in a fantasy world in her own mind. One night, babysitting her half brother, she makes a foolish wish, that the Goblin King would come and take the baby away – and it happens. So she must enter this otherworld – the labyrinth – in order to rescue him. Her first helper and guide, the gatekeeper, is the dwarf Hoggle, although she also acquires two other male creatures as helpers along the way – Ludo and Sir Didymus. Through her journeys she must frequently battle either Jareth or his goblins, and solve riddles. At one point, she is drugged and has a vision of dancing with Jareth at a ball – a nod to the sexual overtones of their relationship. (Hoggle drugging her is a good example of the betrayal by a companion, although he redeems himself later.) When she comes to, she temporarily forgets her mission, distracted by a cunning replica of her room at home, and then almost drowning in the junk that piles up around her. As her time runs out, she finally reaches her goal – the castle in the center – and must face Jareth alone, without her companions (this is a classic element, and she knows it – when the creatures ask why she is venturing on alone, she says “because that’s the way it’s done”). While confronting her adversary, she refuses his seductive offers and reveals that his assumption (or perhaps, it is her assumption) of his power over her is false (“you have no power over me!”) and this statement undoes his very essence, and returns her to her home.
Obviously, as it was the inspiration for the theory, Labyrinth encompasses almost every single aspect of the Girls Underground archetype. Other stories are not always as precise, though a remarkable number hit all the major points, as will be shown in future entries.
While most will point to Labyrinth as a “growing up” story – Sarah puts away her childish things in the end, and has learned to stand on her own – I believe there are many other layers to it. Like many Girls Underground stories, I think it portrays a specific and real kind of quest that some girls will undertake – whether metaphorically, or more literally on a spiritual level. The interactions she has in the otherworld are reminiscent of old stories of faeries and similar beings, with the lessons learned applicable as well: Don’t eat the food there. They will tempt you with empty or tricky gifts (Jareth offers her a crystal that will show her her dreams, which if you think about it isn’t really that great – it doesn’t give her anything). Your friends may help you, but you have to face the beast alone. Remember who you are. Believe in your own power. For those who have steeped themselves in fairy tales, these should be familiar. For those who have actually had dealings with such otherwordly creatures, or known someone who has (less common these days than it used to be, perhaps, but it happens), they are crucial pieces of advice.
One last thing – I named it Girls Underground not only because many of the girls do make an actual journey beneath the earth in some way, but because their journeys are often deep and chthonic in nature, regardless of the physical landscape. I find it interesting that although the labyrinth is not located underground (the only time she spends below is when she falls into the oubliette), the main song that begins and ends the movie is nonetheless called “Underground” – as if David Bowie understood something more subtle and true than was obvious from the plot.