mv5bmtcznzcyodcwn15bml5banbnxkftztcwmzc1mtuzmq-_v1_Midnight’s Child is a pretty mediocre made-for-tv movie from the early 90’s featuring Olivia D’Abo as the Adversary and a very cute young Elisabeth Moss as the girl she threatens. Since this was recommended to me as a potential GU story, at first I thought it would be the little girl who was the protagonist (especially since she’s the magic age of 7, and her parents are pretty self-absorbed and distracted), but in fact this turns out to also be one of the classic variations with an older, adult “Girl Underground” who is trying to save her child. And, in a way, the Adversary herself was clearly once a Girl Underground. So it’s a trifecta!

From the perspective of Kate, the mother, the au pair she hires to watch her daughter turns out to be using a false identity (that of a girl she actually killed to take her place), but worse, she is grooming the child to be the next bride of a dark entity – they keep saying it’s Satan toward the end, but all the imagery is reminiscent of the Erlking of folklore, which would make sense since the au pair is Scandinavian. This evil nanny seduces her husband (thereby making him a companion who betrays her) and is able to get the daughter right to the point of the ritual dedication, when Kate inexplicably manages to get through to her daughter and husband at the last minute (even though she does almost nothing right, and they were all entranced by the Adversary a moment ago), which somehow defeats her.

But the Adversary was once a child bride of the devil herself, who has grown old enough to find him new girls. One wonders if she might have had her own GU story, the rare kind that ends with the girl choosing to stay with her male Adversary lover.

alicereadingSo I realize it’s been a couple months since my last post here. I have just been taking a break from reading Girls Underground books to read some other things – something I need to do now and then as I’ve been reading primarily GU books (not counting a vast amount of non-fiction of course) for probably a decade now!

I just went through my list of examples and so far here I’ve profiled 152 books, 67 films, 11 tv series and some music, comics, and assorted other media.

Still, I am always looking for more. I do have a few things on my To Read list that are potentially GU, but if you know of any books or movies I haven’t covered yet that might qualify, please do comment and let me know!

61QznurNdlL._SL160_Lilliput by Sam Gayton utilizes the foundation of Gulliver’s Travels to tell a Girls Underground story (or perhaps, a reverse GU story, in that the protagonist is taken from her magical world into our more mundane world).

Lily is a tiny Lilliputian, kidnapped by Gulliver and brought back to London to use as proof that his wild tales really happened. She is the equivalent of about 12 years old when she tries to escape. There is sort of a double-adversary situation here – Gulliver is unmoved by Lily’s plight, thinking only of his own, but he rents the attic where he lives from a much worse man, an evil clockmaker who has enslaved his own apprentice, Finn. It is Finn who finds Lily and becomes her companion, each rescuing the other multiple times. Finn and Lily enlist the help of a friendly chocolatier and make a plan to steal Gulliver’s map, free a bird from the clockmaker’s grasp, and fly her home. But a seeming betrayal by one of her companions might ruin everything. Eventually, one of the adversaries becomes an ally. Lily escapes, but she never really definitively defeats the remaining adversary, and she doesn’t do it on her own either, so it lacks that typical satisfying GU finale.

lightsoutJust got back from seeing Lights Out. It was not what you would call a “good” horror movie, but nevertheless it was Girls Underground, possibly from two different angles. I’m not going to tiptoe around spoilers here because really, this wasn’t worth it.

At first I thought the Girl Underground was Rebecca. After having moved away from home as soon as she could because of her crazy mother, she finds herself drawn back in order to rescue her little brother, who is the victim of the mother’s same old delusions…except of course they’re not delusions, she is keeping company with some kind of creature (not really a ghost per se, but a girl who was once alive and now isn’t, who was evil and abnormal even as a living person) who wants to destroy everyone in her life. Rebecca’s companion is her boyfriend, it mostly takes place in a house, she has a dead father and distant mother, so it all fits. But in the end, it’s her mother Sophie who ends up defeating the monster, and does so in order to save her own children. So if you look at it from her perspective, she might be the Girl Underground – the adversary attached itself to her at a young age, drove her even more mad, and is out to kill her loved ones. She can only defeat it by sacrificing herself.

strangerthingsAfter watching the whole Netflix series Stranger Things last week, it occurred to me that it is at least an Honorable Mention as a Girls Underground story, if you look at it from the perspective of Eleven (i.e., if the story were about her) rather than the boys being the main characters. (Warning for those who haven’t seen it yet, this may be considered a spoiler.)

Eleven has been taken away from her family. She goes back and forth between this world and an otherworld. She has one of those double-adversary situations: there’s the horrible Dr. Brenner who uses her powers for his own purposes (and has “minions” in the form of the other people from the lab who come after her), and then there’s the monster, the thing from the otherworld that eats people. Her companions, of course, are the boys. Eventually, her goal is to rescue their friend. She may have forgotten herself, as she doesn’t seem to know anything of her life (or even name) before she was taken for experiments. And she has a final showdown with the monster.

It’s an amazing show, worth watching on many levels, but it was nice to also see a nod to my favorite archetype in the mix.

ETA: An astute reader reminded me of the name of the otherworld, Upside-Down – while not quite Underground, it has the same connotations, so yet another point of connection with the archetype.

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“It’s not always what happens that is the most important thing. Sometimes it’s how you tell the story.”

Partway through The Wrinkled Crown I realized I had actually read another book by Anne Nesbet awhile back, and profiled it here (The Cabinet of Earths). I was delighted to discover that this one was just as engaging and original, as well as being another Girls Underground book (in fact, it even has a chapter named “The Girl From Underground”!).

Linny, almost 12, lives in the magical “wrinkled” hills in a village called Lourka, named after a special stringed instrument – an instrument that all girls under the age of 12 are forbidden to touch. Linny, however, not only touches one, she builds her own and plays it. But when the dreaded Voices (terrifying invisible entities that are never explained, making them more disturbing) come to exact their punishment, they take Linny’s friend Sayra instead, off to an unknown land called Away. Linny decides to embark on a dangerous journey to the Plain below the wrinkled hills, where magic is regarded with suspicion and anxiety, in hopes of finding a cure to retrieve Sayra’s spirit.

She is accompanied off and on by a village boy named Elias, and the strange Half-Cat she meets in the Plain. Together they keep getting captured, “rescued” and pursued by a variety of opposing forces in a complicated political landscape that pits the logical, technology-based Plain folks of a divided city against the more natural, magical wrinkled folks. Linny alone seems to be comfortable with both ways of being – and thus, contrary to my expectations from more typical stories like this, she does not seek to have magic and nature prevail, but rather to balance both sides (a nice change of pace!).

There is no singular adversary, but rather several, some of which seem helpful at first, but all of which have their own agendas (and she does defeat them, in various ways, though not in any really satisfying final confrontation). Linny does go literally underground at one point, in a harrowing trial through labyrinthine passages, some of which almost trap her beneath the earth. She also spends some time forgetting herself and her quest when she reaches the Sea which seems to take all thought and memory away.

Along the way, Linny discovers that she resembles a legendary figure that is supposed to save their divided world. In fact, it seems she is this person precisely because her mother journeyed to the wrinkled hills in search of that girl, and in the hills, Story makes reality. When Linny finally reaches her friend Sayra, they manage to return from the distant Away by telling the story of their adventures, over and over again, including an ending that brings them home again, until it comes true. An excellent example of the Power of Story!

One thing that is mentioned several times in this book that holds true for many Girls Underground – their companions often end up suffering quite a bit due to being in their sphere of influence, even though the Girl herself does not directly harm them. It is the consequence of being caught up in an important Story, I suppose, but significant to note that it’s not all fun and adventure. Linny spends a lot of time feeling guilty that every move she makes seems to endanger a friend.

“And then there was the great bang of the front door slamming shut – and Linny, whose friends kept being swallowed by dooms of her own making, found herself horribly, awfully alone.”

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“You’re off! You’re off! A story has got hold of you. There’s no denying the undeniable, no dillydallying with the undelayable. Off you go, then! Follow the words, my love. That’s what a writer does. Just follow the words.”

While the writing in Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks was a bit too juvenile even for a middle-grade book, in my opinion, I soldiered on because it was not only a GU plot but a classic (if simplistic) example of The Power of Story.

Tuesday’s mother is a famous writer, who disappears out an open window one day. Tuesday discovers a magical system of transportation via writing a story on her mother’s typewriter, and rushes off to find her (with her loyal dog in tow). She is led to a world where stories happen, to a place called The Beginning, where she meets a sometimes-companion boy named Blake and a sometimes-helpful Librarian. The twist is, while Tuesday is out adventuring, her mother has quickly returned home and is now frantic about her missing daughter!

Tuesday manages to conjure up her own mother’s story-world and ends up embroiled in her own tale with the protagonist, and the evil pirate adversary. She ends up having to rescue her new friend and her newly-magical dog. While she does not return home in the middle, she does briefly return to the Beginning before deciding to re-enter the story-world. She also faces an oubliette-like time where she loses the thread of her Story. (Says her companion: “Got all the way into your story before you had your own version of what I like to call the Swamp of Doubt – when you don’t know where you’re going or what will happen next, so you stumble about in a fog.”)

Tuesday eventually faces off with the Adversary in a rhyming contest, which she essentially wins by telling a powerful Story. Then she goes home and learns that she too was special, to be able to follow her mother, and is a writer herself (though at the very end, the reality of what she just experienced is casually weakened in a way that seems to undermine the magical aspect of the story, which was disappointing).

“It was cruel and cold and brutal and beautiful, and I would give anything to go back there. Maybe it broke me in some deep, intrinsic way that I am incapable of seeing….I don’t care. It was my home, and it finally let me be myself, and I hate it here.”

What happens to the Girl Underground after her adventure is over? Well, in a few glorious examples, she stays underground, but most of the time she ends up back in the “real world” either voluntarily (so many of them want so desperately to get home to their dull Kansas-like lands!) or as the natural conclusion to her journey. But what about those girls who never wanted to leave, and pine away for the magical world they left behind?

In Every Heart a Doorway, author Seanan McGuire introduces us to a boarding school made just for those girls (and a few boys) who stepped through a looking glass or went down an impossibly stairway inside a trunk, and ended up in a world they felt was truly “home” – only to get cast out again and be labeled “troubled” or even “insane” by confused parents.

Why mostly girls?

“Because ‘boys will be boys’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy…They’re too loud, on the whole, to be easily misplaced or overlooked; when they disappear from the home, parents send search parties to dredge them out of swamps and drag them away from frog ponds. It’s not innate. It’s learned. But it protects them from the doors, keeps them safe at home. Call it irony, if you like, but we spend so much time waiting for our boys to stray that they never have the opportunity. We notice the silence of men. We depend upon the silence of women.”

I don’t know that this is the full, true answer, but it may at least be part of it. Even more accurate, though, in my opinion, is her description of why the doors opened for these girls in the first place – and always into worlds that spoke to some deep, hidden part of themselves.

“Some doors really do appear only once, the consequence of some strange convergence that we can’t predict or re-create. They’re drawn by need and by sympathy. Not the emotion – the resonance of one thing to another. There’s a reason you were all pulled into worlds that suited you so well.”

She also speaks to how the journey changes a person. Those of us who understand the Power of Story and implement it in our lives will find this very familiar:

“The habit of narration, of crafting something miraculous out of the commonplace, was hard to break. Narration came naturally after a time spent in the company of talking scarecrows or disappearing cats; it was, in its own way, a method of keeping oneself grounded, connected to the thin thread of continuity that ran through all lives, no matter how strange they might become. Narrate the impossible things, turn them into a story, and they could be controlled.”

But no matter what they do, most of these girls won’t find their way back through their doors. Most Girls Underground return home and stay home, in the end. And for those who don’t want to, it must be excruciating. Especially as their memories and surety fade over time.

“My window is closing….Every day I wake up a little more linear, a little less lost, and one day I’ll be one of the women who says ‘I had the most charming dream,’ and I’ll mean it. [I’m] old enough to know what I’m losing in the process of being found.”

Every Heart a Doorway is a short and imperfect book (I always wince a little at authors who clearly think they’re very clever, even if they are), but it also cuts to the heart of this archetype in certain ways I’ve never seen before, and holds a lot of truth.

511pZqCjfWL._SL160_The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab is really only an Honorable Mention as far as the GU archetype goes, but well worth reading.

Teenager Lexi lives in a small village named Near (in some undefined time that includes rifles but not cars or modern technology) that appears to be very closed off to outside influences. There’s a story in Near of a witch who lived long ago, who was accused of killing a child and murdered in retaliation. History has become indistinguishable from legend at this point, but Lexi begins to suspect the Near witch is real, and not gone after all, when children begin disappearing from the village.

Unfortunately, the locals fixate on the stranger who has recently showed up, an enigmatic boy that Lexi names Cole (because he won’t divulge his real name), and who becomes her companion as she tries to discover the truth behind the missing children, while protecting her own little sister Wren from joining them (and, eventually, protecting Cole from the villagers). She is helped (and sometimes hindered) along the way by two elderly sisters that were once powerful witches, and may still have some magic left in them. As time runs out she must find the old witch’s bones to put her to rest, which involves entering a haunted wood and battling the witch’s spirit and her crows. (A sort of secondary adversary is Lexi’s uncle, who is one of the village elders and leads the hunt for Cole, refusing to listen to Lexi’s protestations.)

Lexi does defeat the Near witch, and saves her sister, but only with Cole’s help. There is not much interaction with the adversary until the very end, and there’s no big journey or otherworldly exploration. She does have absent parents, though, in that her father is dead and her mother has sort of faded due to grief. And the adversary does try to trick her at the last moment.

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“If you come willingly, you will lose nothing. You will have your own thoughts, your own will. You can do as you wish. And you will be powerful. We will both be powerful together.”

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste is a solid by-the-book GU example, made a bit more refreshing and unique by the use of Caribbean folklore rather than the more ubiquitous northern European fairy folklore.

Corinne, 11, lives with her father, her mother having died long ago. Villagers on her island have always warned of the jumbies, a wide array of spirits that are said to live in the forest and be dangerous to humans. Corinne nevertheless ventures into the forest one day and is spotted and followed by a jumbie. She turns to her new friends, and a local witch, to help her.

The jumbie has taken on the form of a woman and is trying to seduce and capture her father, so Corinne must rescue him – although her task becomes even greater when she learns it is also planning to destroy all the humans, and turn them into jumbies. The spirit, called Severine, tries to win Corinne to her side (a common adversary ploy) but fails. Time is running out to save her father, and Corinne must separate from her companions to find an object that will help. She then has a final confrontation with the adversary and must use her own newly-discovered magic to defeat her. Corinne discovers she is much more than she ever imagined.

“But whatever you choose will come with a price. You will lose something: your father, your friends, or your freedom.”

“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.

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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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