img_6715This is just a quick request to any of you who have used the Girls Underground Story Oracle (whether you were Kickstarter backers or purchased it later) – I have a couple of reviews on my Etsy shop where I sell the oracle, but none yet on the Amazon page. If anyone is willing to go there and post a short review, it would be very much appreciated. I know I hesitate to buy something there – especially from a third-party seller – without any existing reviews to ease my mind that the product is indeed legit, of good quality, etc. Thanks so much!

kojoI actually decided to watch The Burial of Kojo simply because I love magical realism and the trailer drew me in. Didn’t actually occur to me to look at it from a Girls Underground perspective until 3/4 of the way through, when someone tells the protagonist that time is running out to rescue her father. click! Then I thought back through the rest of the film and ultimately decided that while this hits a lot of the right notes, it’s really more of an honorable mention, not only because she has no companions but because of the ending.

It’s hard to discuss this movie in a GU context without giving away too much. Suffice to say there is a distant mother, guidance from a stranger that propels her into a mythical realm of sorts, an otherworld that is upside-down, and an Adversary who shows up both in this world and that one, in different guises. Esi is special, for sure, although she only understands how when it may be too late.

On a side note, Girls Underground stories often reference others of their type. I have to wonder if this particular shot from Kojo (top) was a deliberate reference to an extremely visually-similar shot from GU classic Pan’s Labyrinth (bottom).

bkpl

37688226The Thorn Queen by Elise Holland was a fairly standard middle-grade GU adventure fantasy story. I have to say I almost gave up on it at first because it just felt like it was throwing a lot of “clever” world building at us all at once (so many new words for seemingly random invented creatures!) but I stuck with it due to the GU angle and it ended up being relatively enjoyable from that perspective, especially with a nice twist as to the identity of the Adversary (although for once, I did see it coming).

Meylyne, 12, a resident of the Between-World, foolishly trespasses into the forbidden Above-World, ignores a warning, and gets herself and her family into some serious trouble. The only solution, upon the advice of a wise well, is to embark on a quest ostensibly to heal a sick prince, but ultimately to save her entire world. She acquires an animal companion, and then a human boy after she rescues him. They discover that a figure known only as the Thorn Queen has been causing mayhem and weakening the entire land. When she finally uncovers the Adversary, it comes with a revelation about her own true nature – as well as the customary attempt at temptation. She then journeys underground to the Beneath-World where more is revealed about her history and powers. With time running out, she must heal a friend and save the world, after a final confrontation with the Thorn Queen.

“Well, if we have disappeared, can we assume that this place is – somewhere else? Like a horrible sort of Narnia? Not our world at all?”

I devoured Small Spaces by Katherine Arden in a single day, and I think some of the eerie scarecrow imagery seeped into my dreams that night. Weirdly, this just happened to be another book-within-a-book example like the last post.

Ollie (short for Olivia), 11, is set apart by the recent tragic loss of her mother, and her behavior since has only further alienated her from her classmates. One day she comes across a lady about to throw an old book (called, of course, Small Spaces) into a creek and impulsively steals it before it can be destroyed – a decision that seems to doom her but actually is the key to her survival. In this book she reads the apparently true story of a family that was granted a miracle – with a terrible price – by an entity only referred to as the Smiling Man.

The next day she discovers that the school field trip to a local farm intersects with this strange and sinister history lesson. When their bus breaks down and Ollie receives disturbing warnings from both the freakish bus driver and her broken digital watch, she decides to take matters into her own hands and escapes to the forest, with two classmates in tow as unlikely companions. They are quickly surrounded and pursued by animate but voiceless scarecrows all seemingly in thrall to the same Smiling Man, and it appears that they have stumbled into some kind of parallel otherworld (which they amusingly keep calling “Bad Narnia”).

The other students on the bus have been captured by the Adversary, and Ollie must use all her cleverness and bravery (and information from her useful book) to rescue them and make it back home to her own world with her companions. This journey culminates in a dangerous corn maze where she loses her friends, makes a bargain with one of the Adversary’s minions, and eventually uncovers the true identity of the Smiling Man. In the final confrontation, he preys on her deepest desires to tempt her to his side but she stays strong. She exposes a fraud, tricks her Adversary, and uncovers the key to breaking the spell.

In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey is not a Girls Underground book. It is a story about a man who, having lost much, becomes obsessed with uncovering a mystery behind the author of a strange Victorian fantasy tale called, of course, In the Night Wood. And that story, the book-within-a-book, appears to be a Girls Underground story.

“What would she do now? she asked herself as the fell King spurred his horse into a gallop and hurtled down the corridor of trees. She recalled too late the words the Knight of Ice had imparted to her at the end of his Tale: When you come to the end of your own Story, he had said, you must remember the thing that you have forgotten. But how could you remember the thing you had forgotten when you had forgotten to remember it? she wondered.

And then the Horned King was upon her.”

As you can see from this excerpt from the book-within-a-book, there is also a deep awareness of The Power of Story running through these recursive tales, which also grabbed my interest. And then, of course, there’s the gorgeous, very GU cover:

nightwood

We don’t really get enough of the Victorian story to be 100% sure of its details, but there is a girl, and a journey into an otherworldly forest, and an Adversary. We get just enough tantalizing morsels to make me hope that Bailey will some day reveal the whole thing, much like Catherynne Valente spun out The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making after fans begged her to expand on its mention in another of her books.

Bailey’s book is well worth reading beyond any GU connection. It handles the intermingling of folklore and the everyday very deftly, with an understanding of how mythic reality can manifest subtly at first, starting in the caverns of the mind and slowly bleeding out to take physical form. And how terrible and bloody it can be.

61Mr62JjbZL._SL160_“She was afraid, and she was brave, and she would not let her father be harmed.”

Because I loved her first book, Summer and Bird, so fiercely and deeply, I read Katherine Catmull’s next book The Radiant Road the minute it came out. But for some reason, I didn’t profile it here at that time, despite it also being a Girls Underground story (and yet, completely different than her first book). I can only chalk that up to my being totally absorbed in the magic of this story, so much that I didn’t set aside a part of my mind to analyze it in the context of the archetype. Which says a lot about the power of this book!

Clare, almost-fifteen, has returned to Ireland, the land of her birth and of her mother’s early death, with her father. They move back into her ancestral home, an ancient stone structure built around a living yew tree (and oh, how I will ever after dream of living in such a place!). And very quickly, Clare begins to learn, and to remember: about the fairy road that passes through her home, about the fairy “makings” – the art they create in our world, echoing her own hidden art – about her childhood friend Finn who is not wholly human or fairy, about her sacred heritage and duty as guardian of the tree. And of course, there is a looming threat – an Adversary who is out to destroy the fairy gates so that he can avert his prophesied doom.

Clare must learn to accept fairy (or, as she prefers to call it, the Strange), and move within it with volition, in order to save her father, and to preserve the connection between fairy and our world. She is helped by Finn, and by an intimidating fairy Hunter who gives her instructions and a boon, but is harsh when Clare appears to fail.

After making a terrible mistake, Clare journeys below to the center of the labyrinth to confront her own beast. As time is running out, she discovers her own inner fortitude. When the Adversary attacks, she stands against him.

Like her first book, what makes this one stand out from all the other GU books I’ve read is the arresting beauty of the language, the way the author can convey a very particular feeling so precisely through unique and often haunting metaphors and descriptions. In addition, this one is close to my heart because of the way it speaks about art, and the collaboration (though often long-distance) between human and fairy, with us making in our dreams and sometimes with our words and hands, whereas they bring their magic into our world due to the poignancy of its ephemeral nature, creating art out of the very stuff of our reality. That each sacred gate to the otherworld must be unlocked through a specific act (playing, singing, dancing) also rings very true to me, echoing my own experiences at such sites, which often speak very clearly what they want from you, if you are silent and still enough to listen.

“And back then, in waking life, fairy-makings abounded. Her world was the broad refrigerator door where the Strange posted their art, just like she posted hers at home.”

Today I had the great fortune to stumble upon an AMA on Reddit by GU author Melissa Albert (of the absolutely stunning book The Hazel Wood), and she delighted me by recommending a couple possible GU books I hadn’t found yet.

Which sparked me to make this post, another of my periodic requests to my readers – do you have any suggestions for Girls Underground books or movies that I have not covered? (Here’s my current list to check against.) Please comment!

For those of you may be interested in what I’m doing outside of Girls Underground (including blogs on mumming, mushrooms, and spirituality, my monthly cartomancy readings, my Etsy shops, book design, various books I’ve written or have yet to write, art I’m making, etc.), I’ve started a very basic Twitter feed just to keep everyone updated about my work. Find me at BirdSpiritLand on Twitter. You don’t even need an account to see my posts!

51mzgr5m+hl._sl160_Just watched M. Night Shyamalan’s movie Split for the second time, and not sure how I missed it last time (maybe just too mesmerized by McAvoy’s many characters and defaulting to viewing him as the protagonist) but it’s definitely a Girls Underground story as well.

Teenaged Casey, already set apart from her peers due to her childhood trauma, and an orphan, is kidnapped along with two other girls and held underground in a labyrinthine network of tunnels. While it may seem that her kidnapper is her adversary, in a way all of the other personalities are merely minions to the true adversary, the Beast. She is drugged and must fight to remember who she truly is, and the lessons of her past. She is sometimes aided by someone from this otherworld (Hedwig) but cannot trust him. She loses her companions one by one and ultimately must face the Beast alone, equipped with only a boon gifted to her by a wiser, older lady. In the end, while she prevails, she may not want to go home again.

next_genThe new animated Netflix movie Next Gen fits the Girls Underground archetype quite solidly, and was enjoyable although not spectacular (I especially appreciated the little dog companion Momo).

Teenager Mai lives in a futuristic city where everyone seems to own a robot. Her father left when she was a child, and her mother is now extremely distracted by technology (a very modern and relevant take on the classic GU distracted parent). After being dragged along to the launch party of a new robot, Mai wanders off and finds a secret lab and makes a connection with a special robot, 7723, before being separated from it. We are also introduced to the CEO of the tech company, who is clearly the Adversary and has nefarious plans for his robot minions.

SPOILERS BELOW

Eventually 7723 tracks Mai down and she strikes a bargain with it, hoping to use its powers to vanquish her enemies at school, but as time goes on they develop a friendship, and she comes to realize 7723 is damaged and cannot keep all the memories they are creating together. Meanwhile, the Adversary is searching for his lost prized robot.

When the Adversary finally strikes and kidnaps Mai’s mother, 7723 is unable to help, having deleted his weapons systems in an attempt to create more memory space. Mai views his inaction as a betrayal and goes off alone to rescue her mother. She confronts the Adversary, only to discover a fraud and the true Adversary is revealed.

7723 makes a big sacrifice in order to help defeat the Adversary but at the last minute is disabled, and Mai must face it alone. She saves the day, but her companion now has no more memories of their time together, and they must start from scratch.

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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