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.

The Girls Underground Story Oracle will definitely be happening, as the Kickstarter has now achieved full funding!

If you haven’t backed yet, there’s still a few more days to be part of the magic and pre-order a deck for yourself or a friend! They will be shipped out in time for the winter holidays. Come explore your personal Story.

“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!

“A hundred times she had learned the ways and turnings of the Labyrinth and had come to the hidden room at last.”

I read The Tombs of Atuan  – the second book in Ursula K. Le Guin’s original Earthsea trilogy – many years ago, but for some reason neglected to add it here. Re-reading it, I find that it is missing some of the common GU elements, but matches more closely the mythological versions of the story, which hadn’t yet developed some of the details we find in modern examples.

Tenar is taken at the age of five years old to be a priestess of the nameless gods who inhabit an underground labyrinth beneath a complex of temples. Her name is taken from her, her identity “eaten.” She spends most of her time alone. When the wizard Ged comes to steal a treasure from the gods, Tenar ends up helping him escape in defiance of both the temple priestess Kossil (a sort of intermediary adversary) and the Nameless Ones themselves (the real terror). She fights against becoming lost in the labyrinth, and the onset of despair. She also helps Ged restore a sacred artifact that might benefit the whole world. When she finally emerges from the underground tombs, with Ged’s help, the entire system crumbles into dust as the Nameless Ones are defeated.

I am working on a very special project involving the Girls Underground archetype (stay tuned for an announcement coming in the next couple months!) and as part of the preparation, I decided to do a little statistical analysis of the GU examples I have covered so far on this blog – almost 250 of them now! Thought I would share some results here in case anyone else is interested.

I have covered 160 books, 73 movies and 12 TV shows/series (about a quarter of which I classified as Honorable Mentions). Books are obviously the primary GU medium, and as I already knew, most are in the young adult/middle grade fantasy category. About 75% were written by female authors. Well over half of the movies are in the horror genre. Looking through the titles across mediums, I found 31 examples with “titular girls” (name of the girl in the title) and 8 more that simply had the word “girl” in the title.

The girl goes literally underground in at least a third of the stories (I didn’t always note this, especially early on, so I bet the percentage is even higher), and the story takes place entirely in an underground world in 11 of them. Twice as many as that take place mostly within a single house. While the archetype is based on the idea that the girl travels to another world, this is only technically true in little over a third of the examples – it’s almost as common for magic to bleed into this world, or for her to live in an already magical world (though in those cases, she often will still travel somewhere different within that world).

The girl is most often either a pre-teen (10-13) or teenager, though about 20% are adults, and a few are younger children. The Adversary is a male in 59% of the total examples, and female in 23% – the rest are either a group or ambiguous. But the ratio of male to female Adversaries is highest among older teens, and lowest among children and pre-teens.

There are a few names that are especially popular for the protagonists of Girls Underground stories. Alice is the most frequent, but this is probably due to the connection with Alice in Wonderland – as I’ve said before, a lot of GU authors are clearly aware of the archetype on some level, and the similarity of their work with the classics of the trope. Particularly exciting for me personally was finding that there are 5 Sarahs and 5 Kates (along with 3 Katherines) – which account for both my first and middle names! Laura/Laurie, Lily/Lilian, and Sophie/Sophia also make 5 showings each. And Claire/Clara, Lisa/Liza, Meg, Alex, Hannah and Heather have 3 or 4 each.

The City of Lost Children is such a strange, dreamlike movie that I had a hard time discerning the plot enough to decide if it qualified as a Girls Underground story. Ultimately I consider it an Honorable Mention, simply because the girl in question isn’t really the clear protagonist for much of the movie – in fact, it seems at first that this is more of a story about her companion, or that she is the companion. But, it also hit some salient points.

Miette, a young orphan, is part of a gang of child thieves living in a dark, disturbing urban landscape. One day she rescues a carnival strongman named One and gets pulled into his quest to find and save his adopted little brother, who has been kidnapped by an evil man who sucks the dreams from children. At one point, due to a mind-controlling poison, One turns against her, which is the classic betrayal-by-companion. She also acquires at least one other companion for a time. There are multiple smaller adversaries but I think the dream-stealer is the main one, and Miette ends up confronting him alone in the dream realm and defeating him.

 

“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.

The Girls Underground Story Oracle


Coming soon: an exciting new oracle deck based on the Power of Story! Made possible by Kickstarter.

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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