You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Honorable Mentions’ category.

51Af5Rr2VbL._SL160_I just watched the movie Housebound, and while it wasn’t quite a full GU story, it was at least worth an Honorable Mention here.

For one thing, it all takes place in a house (like so many of my favorite GU examples), and that’s actually a main plot point, because the protagonist is under house arrest and cannot leave the grounds. And because it’s her childhood home she’s confined to, there’s the whole “return home” aspect – even though in this case it begins the tale rather than being an interlude in the middle.

Upon arriving, Kylie’s mother tells her the house is haunted, but Kylie dismisses this – until strange things begin happening. Kylie’s parole officer ends up being a companion, as he is an amateur ghost-hunter. There are two feints as to the identity of the adversary (and one of the initial suspects becomes essentially a companion, helping Kylie here and there). The main hauntings occur in the basement, which is of course underground (and in the walls of the house, which was rather creepy). In the end, there is no real ‘final confrontation’ with the adversary, but it still has many of the elements in the right places. Not to mention, a wonderfully original combination of horror and comedy.

bfdd53926f969f5222951e6fa7311d1aThis is another example of “If the Story Were About Her“. If you watch the first season of the television show American Horror Story from the perspective of the daughter, Violet, it appears to be a Girls Underground story. Warning: SPOILERS ahead, I can’t talk about this without them.

First of all, the entire show takes place in a house, as many GU stories do – an extremely haunted house. In fact, Violet can’t even leave the house by the end, once she has died there (returning to her life as if everything is still normal after that transition mimics the “returning home in the middle of the adventure” trope common to GU stories). She certainly has the classic distant and distracted parents – so much so that they don’t even realize she is dead! When she is dead, her body is literally underground, in the crawlspace below the house.

Violet’s relationship with Tate is the most interesting part. He is both adversary and companion. As a companion, he watches out for her and tries to save her life, and helps her cope once she is a ghost. But as her adversary, he lies to her, tries to control her, and ultimately she must face off against him and banish him (“Go away, Tate!”).

Not quite a full GU example, but worth mentioning.

61g5izigvVL._SL160_The Riverman by Aaron Starmer isn’t a GU book, but it deserves a mention here – and not just because it was so unique and riveting that I was literally unable to put it down, and read it all in a single sitting last night. It isn’t a GU story – but it’s the story of a GU companion, essentially, and provides an interesting perspective on that role.

Alistair, 12, gets a visit one day from a childhood friend, Fiona, who tells him an unbelievable story. Since the age of four, she has been visiting a magical otherworld called Aquavania, where everything is created by the imagination. But there is a sinister threat – a figure called the Riverman has been invading children’s self-created worlds there and sucking out their souls. Fiona fears she will be next.

Alistair never journeys with Fiona, and for most of the book he is doubtful that any of her story is real – assuming instead that it is a cover for a more mundane but still awful trauma. But as things escalate, the horrible truth of the Riverman is revealed, and Fiona disappears, leaving Alistair to figure it all out. I can’t really say  more here without spoiling it, and this is a book that hinges on the mystery, so I will leave it at that.

But what fascinated me along with the plot was to read a first-person narrative by a Girl Underground’s companion, to see him as a protagonist in his own story, with the Girl’s adventures being only related second-hand, and taking a secondary role. And there is no doubt that Fiona is a Girl Underground – the author’s website even gives this description, linking her with several other GUs:

“Fiona Loomis is Alice, back from Wonderland. She is Lucy, returned from Narnia. She is Coraline, home from the Other World. She is the girl we read about in storybooks, but here’s the difference: She is real.”

While I felt that this book stood on its own even with a somewhat unresolved ending (not everything, after all, needs to be neatly tied up in reality), it turns out there are two more books planned, and I will have to give them a shot despite my skepticism about series, since this one was so engaging.

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“But this was the way the world was. It was deeper and stranger and scarier than she’d ever imagined, but it was real. To forget, to give up now, would just be giving in to her fear. And Alice’s father hadn’t raised her to give up.”

The Forbidden Library by Django Wexler is a good illustration of how certain plot elements are essential to a Girls Underground story – without them, it’s not just a matter of the story not “qualifying” by my standards, but it often falls flat when it has all the other ingredients but is missing something essential. This “honorable mention” is missing a strong adversary and final confrontation, and it made the ending quite disappointing for me. (Not surprisingly, I see there is a sequel which drags out the main mystery some more, and maybe will solidify an adversary… but I prefer books that can stand on their own.)

Alice, 12, spies her father talking to a fairy one night, and her entire world is turned upside-down. Not only is reality not what she supposed it to be, but the conversation spurs her father on a trip from which he never returns. Alice is sent to live with an uncle, who is not really her uncle, in a strange house with an even stranger library. She meets a talking cat, and a mysterious boy living secretly in the library, who become companions of sorts, though neither of them very helpful. After being transported into a book and having to fight her way out, Alice is informed by her “uncle” that the world has magic in it, and she has great potential to be a powerful magician.

Alice tries to find out what really happened to her father, but the issue is never resolved. There are several potential adversaries, but in the end it seems no one can be trusted, and it’s unclear who – if anyone – is her primary foe. Therefore, while the book was entertaining enough, in the end it was not particularly satisfying.

51Kba192q2L._SL160_This one is really just an Honorable Mention, but I’m featuring it because of how influential this series was to me when I was younger – I rediscovered it at the library recently, and realized it was, generally speaking, a Girls Underground story too!

Witch’s Sister is the first of three witch books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, written in the 70’s. Lynn believes her sister Judith is being turned into a witch by their mysterious old neighbor Mrs. Tuggle. She and her friend Mouse spy on Judith and see all manner of strange happenings, and Mouse begins reading an old book on witchcraft, and matching up the legends with Judith’s actions. It appears that the witches are specifically after Lynn’s baby brother, so like a typical GU she must rescue him. The climax of this particular book happens during a stormy night when Lynn’s parents have gone away, and she is left with the witches to defend her brother. She confronts them alone, and manages to foil their plans. But, things are obviously not over, and the story continues in the following books.

This book features the creepy little cantrip that I loved so much I memorized it, and still use it to this day:

From the shadows of the pool,
Black as midnight, thick as gruel,
Come, my nymphs, and you shall be
Silent images of me.

Suck the honey from my lips,
Dance upon my fingertips,
When the darkness tolls the hour,
I shall have you in my power.

Fast upon us, spirits all,
Listen for our whispered call.
Whistling kettle, tinkling bell,
Weave your web and spin your spell.

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“‘I don’t want to be in a new world,’ Lillian said. ‘Maybe so,’ the crow said, ‘but you don’t want to go back to the old one just yet, because over there you’re a dead little snakebit girl.'”

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest – written by one of my favorite authors, Charles DeLint, and illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Charles Vess – is an expansion of their previous picture book, A Circle of Cats. It is perhaps just an Honorable Mention as far as GU plot goes (no overall adversary), but it’s a lovely book worth mentioning.

Lillian is an orphan who lives with her aunt on a farm far from anything else. One day while in the forest, she is bitten by a snake. As she lays dying, the wild cats of the woods gather around her and use their magic to transform her into a kitten – something that won’t be dying. With a fox as her companion and helped by other animals along the way, she visits the possum witch to regain her human shape. The witch undoes the events of the day, but with a warning that other things may also be changed – and when Lillian returns, she finds that her aunt has been snakebitten instead, and has died.

After weeks adjusting to her hard new life, Lillian decides to try to fix what she has inadvertently done, although by this time she believes it to all have been a dream. She seeks the counsel of a native elder, who sends her to the frightening bear people, where she serves the elder in hopes she will help her. (There is a man there who is somewhat of an adversary, but she never really confronts him and he’s not the final barrier to her goal.) But when she finds a potion that enables her to talk to animals, they (including her previous fox companion) help her figure out the truth, and she escapes the bear people to return to the possum witch again.

Once more a kitten, and her aunt alive, Lillian must find one more ally to help her return to her human life with everything intact.

51If8a4ttRL._SL160_Just a quick note on an “Honorable Mention” – the movie Nightbreed based on a Clive Barker story. This is an example of “If the story were about her” – the protagonist’s girlfriend Lori goes in search of answers about her supposedly-dead boyfriend, and ends up discovering the strange world of Midian. She saves a child and is subsequently allowed into the otherworld, goes literally underground, and eventually unites with the so-called monsters there against an evil police captain and psychiatrist. Since it’s not her story, she doesn’t get the final confrontation and certain other necessary GU elements, but from her perspective, it comes close to qualifying.

(Edited to add: Having recently viewed the newly released Director’s Cut of this movie, I noticed that Lori is given more background and screen time in this version, and it makes the whole thing a bit more of an authentic GU story.)

61urbL5Q4vL._SL160_I’ve mentioned the Miyazaki film Kiki’s Delivery Service a couple of times already on this blog, as an example of what I call “reverse Girls Underground” – that is, when the protagonist starts out in an otherworld type setting and travels to the “real world” – but haven’t actually given it its own entry yet. This is because it’s really more of an Honorable Mention, especially since it lacks an adversary;  however, it’s still worth talking about.

Kiki is a 13-year-old witch, and it is the custom for young witches to strike out on their own for a year in the rest of the world (where magic is known, but not common). She takes her talking cat Jiji with her, and makes friends with a baker who gives her a room, as well as a young boy Tombo obsessed with flying. She sets herself up as a delivery girl on her flying broom. However, her insecurities about her abilities hit her hard after a bad night, and she loses her magic powers.

When Tombo is in imminent danger due to a dirigible accident, Kiki must quickly overcome her problems and believe in herself in order to save him.

513UydbkTyL._SL160_They, directed by Robert Harmon, begins with the night terrors of a small boy named Billy in 1983, but quickly fast-forwards to the present day and focuses on Julia, a graduate psychology student who was close friends with Billy and also experienced night terrors as a child. When he comes to her ranting about a vague “they” who are after him (and have been since his childhood), and then kills himself in front of her, Julia is thrust into a nightmare of her own.

She meets other friends of Billy who all had night terrors as children. All start showing strange marks on their bodies that seem to indicate they are about to be collected by the creatures who dwell in the dark. As Julia goes from skeptical to downright scared, she is betrayed by her other companion, her boyfriend, who believes she is simply crazy and tries to drug her so she will sleep. Julia escapes alone underground to the subway, where she seems to be attacked by the creatures, but then is seen to be fighting off normal people who are trying to calm her down.

She ends up in a mental institution, where she is quickly taken by the creatures to their otherworld, unseen by those trying to help her.

This is really only an Honorable Mention, since Julia doesn’t really do anything to propel her into the adventure, nor is there a singular adversary or any kind of real stand-off between her and her demons. However, it follows the plot enough to be worth mentioning here, especially as it’s yet another horror genre example.

61j5Ns+RbgL._SL160_“She felt like one exiled from fairyland – a stranger in a world she didn’t know. It was all sliding away, going faster and faster as she tried to pursue it, to recover the lovely feeling of utter rightness, of unutterable, quiet joy that said without words all is well, everything is in place, this is how it is supposed to be. And then it was all gone beyond recall and the loss and the emptiness were more than she could bear.”

Pig Tale by Verlyn Flieger is a pretty intense GU story, unflinchingly showing the consequences of not belonging in a close-knit society, as well as recognizing the inexorable hand of fate even when it seems incredibly unfair. There are also some wonderful mythological undertones that are never fully explained, which actually gives it a more authentic and ancient feeling.

Mokie (meaning “pig girl” – she was never given a real name) was abandoned in a field as a baby, and is brought up reluctantly by villagers who think nothing of her. She is put to work by the village pig-keeper, who becomes more and more threatening as she transforms from girl into young woman. Her only friend is an unwanted piglet she names Apple and raises herself. 

One day Mokie is attacked in the most brutal way and flees the village. She takes up with a group of gypsies performing at the local harvest festival, but she has seen that they are not actually what they seem, but rather come from the Crystal Country, a sort of fairyland. It has been a bad year agriculturally, and there are hints that a sacrifice must be made in order to ensure better farming, but Mokie is mostly unaware of this. She slowly lets herself become part of the strange folk who take her in, finding a place for herself after never belonging. After an arrest and daring escape, the group wanders for awhile, eventually coming back to the scene of Mokie’s attack, where she recovers her repressed memories. Apple is captured, possibly as the needed sacrifice, and Mokie risks everything to rescue her, but it may be too late for both of them. (Her companions all know more than they can tell her – which from one perspective is a sort of betrayal.) In the end, Mokie’s true origins and nature are revealed. 

There is no clear adversary here except perhaps the horrible pig-keeper, unless one looks at the entire village together as the adversary, since they all collude against her. Considering the final act of sacrifice, that might actually be appropriate. 

“Anywhere there’s an edge, the worlds meet – if you’re in a doorway, or between sleep and waking, or going into a wood or coming out of it – you can touch both worlds….Some people – not many, but some – live their lives right on the edge. They don’t belong to either, but they can see both.”

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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