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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.

 

“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.

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.

 

Tabula Rasa (the Belgian tv series on Netflix) is perhaps the defining example of the sub-trope of “forgetting herself” in the Girls Underground archetype – its protagonist Mie has retrograde amnesia; she can’t remember anything, and it may be her downfall.

Mie, an adult, has suffered memory loss due to a car accident. As she sits in a mental hospital, suspected in the disappearance of a man she can’t remember, she slowly pieces together the events that led there. Her family can’t be trusted – she is on her own. Her daughter has been acting disturbingly since the accident and she may have to save her. Her companion in the present is a pyromaniac who befriends her on the ward – in the past, it is the man she may have killed. Time is running out as we find out that he may still be alive, and she must remember in order to help him.

Because of the mystery angle to this show, we don’t discover who the real adversary is until the last episode. And unfortunately, Mie does not defeat them herself, meaning that this is more of an honorable mention, all told. But there is a betrayal by a companion, a return to home (in the form of many flashbacks, and when Mie briefly escapes), and of course, she forgets herself. Not to mention, it is a pretty engaging story, and pretty terrifying to imagine being that adrift from moment to moment.

NB: I highly recommend watching the MST3K version of this movie if you feel some strange desire to watch it at all, because then at least there will be comedic commentary alongside this utter dreck. This ended up being only an Honorable Mention, so not really worth the agony – but I’m here to take the bullet by watching all potential GU movies in the interest of research!

Alien From L.A. (1988) stars Kathy Ireland as Wanda, a resident of Los Angeles with an inexplicable and extremely annoying squeaky voice. After being dumped by her boyfriend, she finds out that her archaeologist father has died while exploring in North Africa. She travels there to sort out his affairs only to discover his notes about Atlantis (which was apparently a UFO which crashed and sunk). Wanda finds a hidden chamber underneath her father’s apartment and down she goes into the underground!

Deep beneath the surface, she discovers her father is being held and tortured as a spy. She enlists the help of a miner named Gus and a rogue named Charmin to help rescue him. She also manages to go from supposedly “nerdy” to supposedly “hot” along the way, completing the most ridiculous and superficial of GU transformations. Wanda herself is also now being pursued by the same Atlantean government agents who are holding her father, as well as minions of a crime lord (played by future Oompa Loompa Deep Roy!).

Eventually she is captured by a general, and her companions fight the evil forces so she and her father can escape (so, no real one-on-one showdown with a singular Adversary). She returns to L.A. and hangs out at the beach in a bikini (because now she is hot).

The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart makes a promising start as a Girls Underground premise, but ultimately only registers as an Honorable Mention due to the fact that most of the time, she is separate from her “companions,” and the lack of a definitive one-on-one showdown with the Adversary (in part because there are too many Adversaries!).

Emmeline’s world changes one day when her distant, negligent parents disappear, presumed dead, and she is shipped off to Paris to live with a relative. On the boat there, she encounters a plucky street kid named Thing, who becomes a companion of sorts, though they are soon separated and he goes on a parallel journey toward the same goal. Emmeline discovers that her parents were involved in a secret organization, attempting to thwart a madman who is trying to raise the kraken from the northern ice so he can control it and rule the world. She encounters allies and many new adversaries (each also trying to gain control of the kraken) as she repeatedly escapes and is recaptured on her way to rescue her parents. There is a moment at the end where she realizes that she has the power, but overall I still felt that it wasn’t quite a full GU story. Entertaining, but a bit too much going on as well, so many interesting concepts (like the Northwitch, made of ice) were not fully explored.

As Above, So Below is really only an Honorable Mention as a Girls Underground film, especially as there is no singular defined Adversary, but considering how very underground it is, I felt it fitting to include here.

Scarlett is on a mission to finish her late father’s scholarly work on the philosopher’s stone, which brings her on a quest through the Paris catacombs with several companions. But down in the deep below, all of their fears and past tragedies come back to haunt them, in a very material form. Hidden doors appear while others vanish just after being used. They end up trapped in a labyrinth of chthonic tunnels, and not many make it out alive. But in the end, Scarlett finds the magic she was looking for.

 

I just re-watched The Girl With All The Gifts (so good it merited a second viewing), and decided it qualifies as at least an Honorable Mention as a Girls Underground story (there’s a lot more going on in this film, so the GU aspect is somewhat secondary). However, can only give some broad strokes here as any more would be spoilers.

Melanie, an orphan (though from causes more grotesque than normal), is locked in a military base, but makes friends with a teacher and eventually also some of the soldiers, who are her companions. The adversary is the doctor who wants to dissect her brain for a cure to the zombie outbreak. She has to navigate a post-apocalyptic world (made even more otherworldly, I’m sure, by the fact that she’s probably never been outside of that base before), and try to rescue her friends. She has a final confrontation with the adversary that is very much a “you have no power over me” situation, and discovers her destiny to be something More.

A Cure for Wellness is a movie with a lot of potential to be something truly original and creepy, and it has some stunning visuals, but ultimately it was very disappointing for me, especially in the last third or so of the film. I kept thinking it was becoming a pale copy of Phantom of the Opera, and was gratified to see a reviewer point out the same thing. However, perhaps that is an even more apt comparison considering the Girls Underground angle.

This is one of those “If the Story Were About Her” situations – I didn’t notice it at first, but if one imagines the whole scenario from the point of view of Hannah (who doesn’t even appear to be a major character initially), it’s at least an Honorable Mention. Dr. Volmer is the Adversary, of course, who she defeats, and Lockhart is her companion, who even betrays her in a way by succumbing to the waters. The climax takes place underground, and almost the entire story happens within one “house” (okay, a large sanitarium, but a nicely labyrinthine one at least).

Dig Two Graves was unfortunately less creepy and supernatural than the trailer made it seem, but nonetheless it’s at least an Honorable Mention as a Girls Underground story.

Jake, a young teenage girl, loses her brother when they decide to jump off a high cliff into a quarry, and she hesitates at the last minute – he jumps without her, and disappears into the water forever. Her parents seem to quickly move on, distracted by a new baby on the way, so it is up to Jake to seek a way to get her brother back from the dead. One day she is approached by some strange, anachronistically-dressed men (led by one who might be called the adversary) at the entrance to a tunnel, who promise they can bring her brother back, provided someone is sacrificed in his place. She then must decide if she can bear to push a school friend off the cliff.

Like Forbidden Game, it turns out that a lot of what is going on had its start with something her grandfather was involved in many years before, coming back to haunt them all. Unfortunately as far as the GU archetype goes, it is largely the grandfather and not Jake who deals with, and ultimately defeats, the adversary.

“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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