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“Do you think I chose to be like this? Do you have any idea how lonely it is, how dangerous? I would love to be upstairs watching TV or gossiping about boys or… God, even studying! But I have to save the world. Again.”

While the whole series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (let’s forget the original movie for now, since the television show is so much better) could be seen as an extended Girls Underground plot, I think the first season in particular exemplifies it best.

Buffy is 16 when she moves to the Hellmouth (a gateway to demon dimensions that exists – where else – underground, beneath the city of Sunnydale). Her mother is distant due to Buffy’s violent past in her previous school, and her father is absent entirely. She soon meets two companions, Willow and Xander, as well as her guide and Watcher, Giles. Together they battle the forces of darkness, led initially by the Master, an ancient vampire hoping to open the gates of the Hellmouth, and his many vampire minions. Buffy faces her adversary alone and is even initially killed, but is revived and eventually victorious.

Later seasons follow similar patterns, with a new adversary each time. An important element of the show is that Buffy is destined to be the Slayer; she is special and must save the world again and again.

Also see: The Slayer’s Journey: Buffy Summers and the Hero’s Life

In addition to all the varied and interesting Alice in Wonderland movies, Alice has shown up in many television shows over the years.

One of the most famous is the “Shore Leave” episode of the original Star Trek, where the crew lands on a planet and starts seeing things that come from their own minds, and I guess one of them has Alice on the brain:

Would love to hear about more of these, as I’m sure there are many.

Perils of Punky

Alright, this one may seem a bit silly, but it fits. In Season Two of Punky Brewster, originally aired in 1985, there was a bizarre two-part Halloween episode called “The Perils of Punky.” (You can usually find this broken up into several parts on Youtube.)

While you don’t have to be familiar with the tv show to appreciate the episode for its Girls Underground qualities, it does help to know that Punky is an orphan (like many other protagonists) and that she has three regular companions/friends, plus her dog (again, in keeping with the archetype).

In this episode, Punky and her friends go on a camping trip. Her dog Brandon chases a rabbit away and they follow, eventually getting lost and coming to a cave. As they explore the cave (underground!), her friends begin to disappear, one by one, and she must rescue them, and fight the Spirit that is her adversary (whose minions include a giant spider with glowing red eyes that gave me nightmares as a kid). She is also helped by a spirit guide who is the ghost of an Indian princess (please ignore the terrible representation of Native Americans, it was an 80’s children’s program after all), who just happens to also look exactly like Punky. In the end, she defeats the evil spirit with love and goodness – which may seem overly sappy, but actually shows up in a number of Girls Underground stories.

This episode was bizarrely disturbing and dark and stuck with me over the years, which is why I remembered it when thinking of potential Girls Underground examples. When I watched it again, the things that scared me as a child didn’t seem so bad anymore, but instead other elements became much more noticeable, like the scene where she finds her friends dismembered and embedded into the rock of the cave, all still alive. Truly horrifying in a way that only kids programs seem to accomplish.

Alice in Wonderland

`Who are YOU?’ said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, `I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

When I mention the Girls Underground concept to people, they often immediately make the connection with Alice in Wonderland. This book and its sequel, over 100 years old, are probably the most widely-known examples of the storyline. And yet, in some ways it does not precisely fit the plot points, falling somewhere between the earlier fairytale examples and modern fiction and film. (Although, interestingly, Lewis Carroll’s first version of the story was actually called Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, emphasizing the journey down the rabbit hole.)

Alice is seven years old, pretty much the youngest age on the spectrum. Her parents do not come into play in the story at all, and her sister doesn’t watch her closely enough to keep her from following the white rabbit into the otherworld on a whim. While aided (and thwarted, harrassed, threatened, etc.) by various creatures along her way, Alice doesn’t really have any companions as such, which is a key element of the Girls Underground archetype. She is pretty starkly alone in that world. And while there is an adversary (female, as is usually the case in young-protagonist versions), it is not the main tension of the story. Rather, the focus is on Alice’s journey and all the strange things and beings she encounters.

However, there are several important plot points present: She spends time forgetting herself in the wood of forgotten names, as well as having drug-like experiences with the cakes and mushroom which make her change size and lead to a tenuous grip on reality and her own self-awareness. She has a showdown with the Red Queen, revealing that all of her court are merely a pack of cards. There is the episode in the sheep shop, which echoes many “junk store” vignettes from other examples. And in the second book, she becomes greater than she once was, a queen of that world.

I think, however, what fascinates me most about the Alice stories (and I am quite the fan) is what has happened since Carroll wrote them, how they have captured people’s imaginations in so many varied ways. Some people seem to see them as quaint, silly stories, while others note the drug imagery and darkness hinted at throughout. This is most explicit when looking at the myriad film and television versions of Alice that have been produced in the past century (a list of those I’ve seen, with comments, can be found here). Everything from cartoons to stop-motion animation to live action to opera to stage theatre to even a porno can be found in the Alice genre, ranging from dark and terrifying to light family-oriented entertainment. Personally, I prefer the darker versions, but that may say more about me than it does about Alice.

Each year, I celebrate all of these films and many other manifestations of the Alice books with a holiday I created called Alice Days. With thematic decorations, food, costumes, intoxicants, music, movies, games and activities, it is a surreal and terribly fun event that has only gotten better with time. I encourage others to pick this up and tailor it to their own view of Alice.

Alice is indeed a literal girl underground, descending into the earth in pursuit of the white rabbit and finding much more than she bargained for. Little fazes her. She accepts the strangeness she finds and enjoys it. Which may sometimes be the only way to deal with such a journey.

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

Some interesting Alice books:
Alice’s Journey Beyond the Moon by R.J. Carter
The Art of Alice in Wonderland by Stephanie Lovett Stoffel
The Annotated Alice edited by Martin Gardner
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Pop-Up by Robert Sabuda
Wonderland by Tommy Kovac
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt
All Things Alice by Linda Sunshine
Lewis Carroll in Wonderland by Stephanie Lovett Stoffel

Other links:
Alice in Wonderland, an interactive adventure
Lewis Carroll homepage
Lenny’s Alice in Wonderland site
Lauren’s Alice in Wonderland site
The White Rabbit
Alice’s Shop

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.


  • 74,044 journeys underground

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