Awhile back I wrote a post called “If the story were about her,” profiling several works that would be Girls Underground examples if only the girl in question were the protagonist. I left out one of my favorites, however, and aim to remedy that now.
Neil Gaiman certainly is in touch with the GU archetype – his Coraline and Mirrormask are both excellent examples. But before either of those, there was Neverwhere – first as a BBC miniseries, then as a book (one of the few times the film version came before the book; each are special in their own way).
What makes Neverwhere special in regard to the Girls Underground archetype is that it examines the situation from the companion’s point of view. The protagonist, Richard Mayhew, stops to help an injured woman on the street, and soon becomes entangled in her dangerous world of London Below, a world populated with assassins, mythical creatures, and even a real angel. She is trying to solve the murders of her family and simultaneously avoid the same fate. He just wants to get back home where everything makes sense. But by the end of the journey, like the Girl usually is, he finds himself irrevocably changed.
Door, the girl in question, already lives in the otherworld, so there isn’t that usual shift for her, but otherwise she follows the pattern: orphaned, accumulating companions, facing off against an adversary and his minions (although he is not revealed until the end), returning home briefly in the middle of the journey, navigating a labyrinthine path (in fact, there is an actual labyrinth, and a beast within it), betrayal by a companion…
However, we see this all from Richard’s perspective, and that POV adds depth to our understanding of the girl’s journey as well – the lives she changes, and sometimes even ruins, in pursuit of her goal.
As a side note, the TV version is really worth watching, especially because it was done on a low budget and has none of the usual slick Hollywood look to it. It feels more real than any similar stories I’ve seen filmed, using actual (often grimy) London locations for shooting, and bringing otherwise fantastical beings to life in a believable way. The vampire-like Lamia, for instance, looks like a girl you might meet at a goth club – until she sucks the life out of you.