img_6711The packages have all gone out to my wonderful Kickstarter backers, and it’s finally time to release The Girls Underground Story Oracle to the rest of the world!

I have created a page for the Oracle here on the GU site, which has links to purchase it in various configurations from Etsy (its home base), Amazon and eBay. I am so excited to share this with more people!

As often happens with projects like this, soon after I had finalized all the printing and there was no turning back, I had one more idea that could have been added to the guidebook, so I’m going to share it here. This is yet another use for the cards, beyond divination (or magic, or storytelling, as detailed in the guidebook already).

It occurred to  me that one could make a fun little game out of choosing a potential or confirmed Girls Underground example (movie or book, although I think movies would be easier, especially for group participation), and counting how many of the plot points and lessons from the cards img_6715show up in that example. I’m pretty sure nothing hits all of them (especially since two different possible endings are included), not even Labyrinth, but maybe you can prove me wrong! I’m going to start playing this game myself when I watch (or re-watch) GU movies – I’m curious to find out which ones include the most of these elements.

Please help spread the word about the Story Oracle if you can, and I’d love to hear from anyone who’s been using it!

nutcracker

It’s interesting to note that sometimes, an adaptation of a Girls Underground story ends up being even closer to the archetype than the original. Shows that at least subconsciously, people understand the Story they are working with. I covered The Nutcracker (ballet based on a novel) briefly, many years ago. Now the new Nutcracker and the Four Realms (movie very loosely inspired by ballet based on a novel) has taken the GU symbolism up a notch.

Clara, a young adolescent girl, receives a mysterious locked egg-shaped box as a gift from her recently deceased mother. At a lavish Christmas party that night, she is guided by a magical thread placed by her godfather, through his labyrinthine house and straight into the Otherworld – ostensibly to find the key to the box, but of course there’s much more going on. She meets a guardian at the gate (the titular Nutcracker, a live boy on this side of the looking glass), who leads her to the palace where she learns that she is a princess, and her dead mother was the queen of this land (and in fact, made everyone in it real when before they had only been toys).

But of course, not all is well in the Otherworld – of four sumptuous realms, one is controlled by the dangerous Mother Ginger and her army of evil mice. Clara must find her key, defeat the adversary, and save the realms. As her companions, she has the loyal nutcracker, and the regents of the other three realms.

This is all pretty standard GU fare (especially once she gets sucked underground in the dark forest), but it gets even more on point when there is a betrayal, and a revelation, and a whole new adversary and minions to battle. And of course, because in the end Clara prevails due to the strength of her own spirit, believing in herself, and being clever. She returns home much greater than she once was.

This movie has been getting pretty bad reviews, but I found it quite charming with a few truly magical touches (and I didn’t go into it expecting anything more than a visually-appealing, fun adventure). There are some wonderfully sinister clowns and carnival sets in the Land of Amusements. The Mouse King is a creature made up of a million swarming tiny mice, which was pretty effective. The ballet performed in the Otherworld was striking. And of course, I love that she is guided like Ariadne by a golden thread through a labyrinth, with the hallways of the house transitioning around her until she exits from a hollowed out tree trunk.

She’s the coolest girl around, she’s the girl from underground

magicmirrorMagic in the Mirror is a 1996 kids film produced by Charles Band (who has done hundreds of very cheesy, very weird horror movies for adults) featuring anthropomorphic duck animatronics reminiscent of Howard the Duck, which just about tells you everything you need to know about this movie.

Mary Margaret, a little girl with very distracted parents, receives her grandmother’s antique mirror as an inheritance, and manages to walk through it into another world. For some reason, this world seems almost entirely populated by creatures called Mirror Minders and the aforementioned anthropomorphic ducks (who have human-like arms instead of wings and fly by flapping their capes). The evil duck witch queen likes to drink tea made from boiling people alive (so it’s one of those kids movies, not pulling any punches to shield young minds from horror). Mary Margaret meets some guides/companions, is captured, rescued by her imaginary friends (who are pixies on this side of the mirror), and encounters the true Queen who is some kind of fairy or something, and while not as evil as the duck queen, not very nice either. The Queen punishes Mary’s companions by “planting” them and will only reverse the process if Mary defeats the duck witch.

In the end, Mary’s mother is really instrumental in defeating the Adversary, demoting this one to an Honorable Mention in my book – along with the fact that both of Mary’s parents realize, in the end, how distant and distracted they’ve been, and resolve to be more attentive, which is also somewhat contradictory to the Girls Underground story. However, in a final nod to the archetype, Mary discovers that she is part of a line of Mirror Minders herself (her grandmother being the previous one), and returns home with a new sense of sacred duty.

There is apparently a sequel (Magic in the Mirror: Fowl Play) but I think I can skip that one.

51yh6Ff0uaL._SL160_It’s October, which means I try to watch as many horror movies as possible, and am always searching for decent new ones. The Hollow Child was not excellent – it relied on a lot of tired makeup and special effects and could have benefited from some more compelling young actors – but I did appreciate the reliance on dark fairy folklore.

Sam, is a troubled teenage foster kid living with a family who already has one younger daughter of their own, Olivia. One day Sam neglects her responsibility to walk Olivia home through the woods, and the girl disappears. She returns after a day or so, but something is clearly wrong – well, clearly to Sam at least, although the adults don’t seem to notice anything. Her foster parents are distant at best, blaming her at worst. Sam finds out that there is a strange lady living in the same town with a chillingly similar experience (her own sister disappeared and returned when she was a kid, and she went so far as to burn the house down with the “sister” inside). Of course, everyone just assumes she was and is crazy, but Sam begins to suspect there is more to it. The lady provides some guidance and clues as to the nature of the threat. (I don’t think they ever say the word “fairies” but it is obvious if you know the signs. And later on when the creature emerges, it is angry at humans for destroying nature.)

Along with a male companion she knows from school, Sam begins to piece together what’s going on. She tries to trick the monster who looks like her sister, but manages only to endanger her companion. Her few supporters are dropping like flies. She must track down her real sister in the dark, scary woods, helped only by an apparition of a long-dead girl. Eventually she rescues her sister, exposes the true nature of the creature, and defeats the adversary.

A typical “or did she?” final image, though, implies that she may not have won after all.

“Suddenly the world she thought she knew had opened up as if stage curtains had been yanked back to show her that there was so much more than what she’d imagined. There was magic. Secrets crouched in the dark. Characters from stories, like the ones she’d been told all her life, were taking off their masks and saying, I was never a tale, but a truth.”

I plucked Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi off the shelf in the library because it featured a titular girl – always a good sign that it might be a Girls Underground book. And it was! And, refreshingly it draws on Hindu mythology rather than the more common European myth and folklore one usually finds in these books.

Aru, 12, lives in a museum with her very distracted and often travelling mother. One day she makes a tragic mistake while showing off for some friends, and awakens a destructive being called the Sleeper – simultaneously freezing her mother in time, so that her quest becomes both common GU tropes: to save the world, and to rescue a family member. And time is running out, as she has to accomplish this before the new moon. She is guided from the outset by a talking pigeon who is much more than he seems. She also acquires a companion named Mini who is almost more like a co-heroine; together they complete many tasks and trials in their journey to the Kingdom of Death (not technically underground, but close enough in spirit). They are pursued by the Sleeper along the way. They must cross a Bridge of Forgetting at one point, where they start losing parts of themselves. There is a revelation about Aru’s identity. And in the end, she confronts the Sleeper alone, who tries to tempt her to his side. It is not really a spoiler to say she defeats him only provisionally, as there is already a sequel slated for publication next year.

“Heroines usually are the Kingdom of Death’s worst nightmares. They’re always barging in, waving scraps of metal around, and demanding things. No manners whatsoever.”

I’ve created a playlist on Youtube of music and videos related to the Girls Underground archetype. Most have been featured here on the blog at some point. Enjoy!

“Ordinary life had been infected by an otherworldly menace that had struck down Finn’s friends with terrifying ruthlessness and left Finn alone. Alone, she planned a rescue.”

Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour is a pretty standard “dark faerie” take on the Girls Underground trope, which I felt was rather uneven. There was definitely some magic in this, and a good dose of folklore, but it got bogged down at times by endless descriptions of the characters’ outfits and repetitive imagery – it would have benefited from a better editor (and proofreader, since a publisher’s mistake replaced every instance of the word “ivy” with the name “Emory”… and there were a lot of mentions of ivy, including on the very first page! Hard to understand how they all missed that).

Finn, who lost her mother and more recently her sister, moves with her father to a new town to attend college there – a town which turns out to be half populated by relatively malevolent fairy folk. She immediately falls for Jack before she knows what he is, and spends most of the novel trying to rescue him from the clutches of their dark queen Reiko (the Adversary). Finn’s friends are eventually collateral damage in this struggle, and then she must save them too. She discovers along the way that she has an ancestral connection to all of this. At one point, she forgets everything that has happened, and must remember in order to move forward. In the end, she is the one who may be sacrificed, and Reiko attempts to seduce her to their side, but she prevails – unfortunately not entirely on her own, which I always feel detracts from the climax of a GU story.

I see that the third book in this series (of which this is the first) has Finn journeying to the land of the dead, in keeping with the katabasis theme of the archetype, but not sure I’m invested enough in the books to get there.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is an animated movie in the style of the famed Studio Ghibli but in my opinion not quite up to those standards, missing some of the true magic, but nonetheless at least an Honorable Mention as a GU story.

Mary, a young girl with distant parents (who never show up during the story) is staying with her great aunt when one day she follows a cat into the woods and finds a magical flower that only blooms once every seven years. When she picks it, she ends up being transported to a college of magic run by a sinister headmistress, who believes Mary to be an unusually powerful witch, and her companion cat a familiar. She returns home in the middle of the story, and makes a mistake that results in a village boy being stolen away and transformed. She must rescue the boy and stop the headmistress – but she never has an actual confrontation with the Adversary. Ultimately it is revealed that her great aunt set things in motion long ago, as often happens with Girls Underground and family legacies.

 

“I did it because a girl doing nothing in a fairy tale ends up dead or worse, but a girl who makes a decision usually gets rewarded.”

I had a bit of a meaningful synchronicity happen around reading The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. I had found it during one of my regular searches for GU books online, and reserved a copy at the library. The very day my hold came in, a close friend told me about a book she had found quite randomly which she thought I’d really resonate with – The Hazel Wood! I knew right then this was likely to be something special, and it was. I read a lot of GU books of course, and most of them are enjoyable enough, but only a few stand out enough to earn a permanent place on my bookshelf, and this is one of them. Not only does it follow the archetype beautifully, it delves into the Power of Story in a world where the stories are mostly dark and cruel and perilous – something I noticed a few other reviewers balking at, but which suits me very well.

Alice Proserpine, 16 (and what a nod to the GU archetype right there in her name, with references to both Alice in Wonderland and the myth of Persephone – called Proserpine by the Romans) has lived an unstable life, being dragged from one town to another by her mother, constantly seeming to be on the run from who-knows-what. Her grandmother Althea was the infamous author of a rare book of fairy tales, but Alice has never met her, although she has tried to connect with her by reading every fairy tale she could find. Shortly after Althea dies, their normally unlucky, difficult life gets even stranger, and Alice’s mother is stolen. Alice must team up with a boy from school who’s obsessed with Althea’s book, to uncover the secrets her mother had hidden – secrets about the fairy tale world called Hinterland which is more real than she could have imagined.

They receive cryptic warnings and directions along the way, there is strange magic afoot, and Alice suffers a devastating betrayal. She discovers that she is deeply connected to the Hinterland, and is able to find it where others failed. She meets the Adversary, who causes her to forget herself for so long it seems there is no hope. But with some help from her companions, she wakes up and manages to tell a new story that not only liberates her, but everyone else in that world. Because ultimately, it’s a world built on Story, and once she understands that, she truly knows herself and gains volition. These are some of the most important themes of the Girls Underground trope, which is part of what makes this book so special to me.

I’ve tried to keep this vague because I don’t want to spoil anything, and this book is really worth discovering for yourself, so I highly suggest you do that!

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.

The Oracle


THE GIRLS UNDERGROUND STORY ORACLE - tapping into the Power of Story for guidance and insight. Learn more here.

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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