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A GUIDE FOR YOUNG LADIES ENTERING THE SERVICE OF THE FAIRIES by Rosamund Hodge
(It’s all true.)
So 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!
“Deliberately undertaken physical journeys into and back from an underground locale are apparent in a significant number of often highly celebrated works for young readers, and undergrounds as backdrops, other forms of subterranean journey, and more metaphorical forms of katabasis*, are present in many more.”
Came across an interesting book recently – Uncharted Depths: Descent Narratives in English and French Children’s Literature by Kiera Vaclavik. I read it hoping that it would cover some Girls Underground territory, but unfortunately there wasn’t much overlap, other than the inclusion of Alice in Wonderland. Vaclavik’s scope is somewhat too narrow for my interests – comparing a small selection of stories from the 19th century or earlier to the classic narratives of the Odyssey, Aeneid and Inferno. When, during a discussion of gender, she finally looks at the differences in the stories featuring specifically female protagonists (which fall under the fantasy/fairytale heading rather than adventure), the verdict is relatively grim. The girls still require courage and strength for their journeys, but they almost always set out on instruction from others, and exhibit passivity throughout (the notable exception being Alice herself). And, only young girls seem suitable for such stories, not older ones. But, at least they exist, considering the culture in which such stories were written.
“Always young and often dreaming, the female travellers are largely passive and their behaviour circumscribed. Nevertheless, to cast female figures in such a role at all is remarkable, and, given that adult literature would lag far behind in this respect, fantasy for young readers can be regarded as a privileged space in which to reconfigure or at least to rethink the gender roles and relations of traditional katabatic narratives.”
It would be interesting to see what Vaclavik would make of the many Girls Underground examples from more recent children’s and young adult literature. As my exhaustive coverage has shown, modern Girls Underground most definitely exhibit volition in their adventures – and indeed, can be any age. The one such example she does touch upon – the Philip Pullman series His Dark Materials – has been mentioned here already.
*A katabasis is a journey to the underworld or underground.
Just found a couple of Girls Underground mentions out in the blogosphere recently….
In Things That I Like: Lesser-known plots and archetypes at White Marble Block, Ryan Gauvreau profiles a number of interesting concepts, including the Maiden’s Tragedy and the Künstlerroman, as well as Girls Underground!
Over at Kelly in Development, which charts the progress of a new musical, one of the writers goes through the entire Girls Underground archetype, comparing the various plot points to his own creation and finding a lot of commonality, in a post called Kelly Underground. I love this!
The online literary magazine Paper Tape has just published an interview I did with them awhile back on the Girls Underground concept. It kicks off their Underground issue, which I’m looking forward to. Go read the interview, and while you’re there, check out some of their other posts!
Well it’s finally happening, I’m nearing the end of my very long list of potential Girls Underground books to read. While I still often find one or two when browsing the YA shelves at the library, I’m betting there are some gems out there I might never come across.
So I’m appealing to my readers: does anyone have a suggestion for a GU book (or movie) that I haven’t covered so far? The list of examples I’ve already discussed can be found here. I’ve done about 150 of these but I’d hate to think I’m at the end. Please email me with any ideas.
Just a logistical note: you can now find a comprehensive list of every Girls Underground example I have covered so far on this blog right here: EXAMPLES. (There’s a link to this page in the blurb on the left-hand column too.)
I will do my best to keep this updated as I go forward. I still have about a dozen examples I’ve read/seen but not written up yet, plus another couple dozen suggestions from readers and possible titles to investigate, so there’s no end in sight!
I recently re-watched V for Vendetta with an eye toward how it might fit the Girls Underground archetype. I think it is definitely an example of such, but a complex and multi-layered one. [Note: this post only refers to the movie, not the original graphic novel, which I haven’t read yet.]
The setting is Britain, in a dystopian near future. Evey is a young woman whose parents were killed for political reasons. One night, she is saved from a brutal attack at the hands of the secret police, by a mysterious masked man called V. He invites her to go with him for an interesting experience, and she makes the choice to follow, not knowing what she is getting herself into (but probably glad for any distraction from the horrible world in which she lives). It is the night of November 4th, which means that at midnight it will be Guy Fawkes Day, an important symbolic date (it also means that this movie begins on the exact same month and day as does Through the Looking Glass, which is interesting). V sets off a major explosion while Evey watches.
Evey’s second significant choice comes the following day, when V takes over the television studio where she works, and she helps him to escape, getting hurt in the process. V takes her to his home underground to protect her, but her involvement with him means she must stay there for a year for her own safety (from the government forces who now believe she is a threat).
SPOILER WARNING: There is no way to discuss the intricacies of this plot without them.
In one sense, V seems like her companion, guiding her into the labyrinth, and fighting with her against the forces of evil (in which case, the Chancellor would be the adversary, and the secret police his minions). But from a different perspective, V himself is the adversary, kidnapping her… and much worse. In this scenario, her friend Gordon is her companion, who she turns to when she discovers V is a killer (he is also burned, and masked, much like the Phantom of the Opera, another GU adversary). But Gordon’s home is raided, and Evey is captured and tortured for information on V.
This is the most powerful part of the story. Because no matter how Evey is broken down, she holds firm to her convictions, and she is willing to face death rather than betray V (making it seem like V is her companion, again, and the government her adversary). However, at the final moment, it is revealed that none of it was real, and her whole time in prison was created by V, including the intense physical and psychological torture that showed her who the true enemy was (the corrupt government) and who she truly was at her core. When Evey explodes in rage at V for what he has done to her, he simply replies, “You said you wanted to live without fear. I wish there’d been an easier way, but there wasn’t.” (This is very much like what Jareth says to Sarah at the end of Labyrinth – “Everything that you have wanted I have done.”) Are these the actions of a terrible adversary, or a helpful companion? It kind of depends on your perspective, and it’s why I find this so fascinating not just as a story but as a Girls Underground example.
Although Evey leaves V after that, she has clearly been converted to his cause (like Darkness converts Lily for a time in Legend). And in the end, she returns to him, and she loves him, as Girls Underground sometimes fall for their adversaries (with varying results). And when he is killed, she is left with the choice to continue his work and destroy the government, and carries out his plans (with a final confrontation of the inspector who’s been tracking them, but slowly coming to realize that they are not the bad guys). The relationship dynamics here are not as simple and straightforward as they are in most other GU stories, but they ring true on many levels.
For the Wizard of Oz fans reading… here’s a great video compiling almost 60 instances in tv and movies of someone uttering some version of the phrase “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” Just goes to show how deeply embedded Oz is in our cultural consciousness.
I would love to see the same thing done with the phrase “down the rabbit hole.”
I recently found the video below on YouTube, which is of a young woman talking about her interest in stories that fit this archetype, and she’s found the Girls Underground site because she uses the term and links back to me. It’s nice to see the next generation continuing the obsession, and I hope it spreads further.