You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category.

Today on a whim I decided to go through my list of GU examples I’ve covered so far, looking only at the books, and count how many were written by male versus female authors.

A quick tally shows a 3:1 ratio of female authors over male.

This isn’t exactly surprising, for a story type that focuses so much on girls’ journeys, but I do wonder how that stacks up againstthe larger world of fiction (and in particular the fantasy, YA, and YA fantasy subgenres). Has anyone done any studies on what percentage of authors write main characters of their same gender? I’d be curious.



(It’s all true.)

“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!

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.”

“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.


If you enjoy the Girls Underground concept, please help me keep reading and blogging by donating any amount!

Small Donate Button

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.


  • 59,835 journeys underground

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 158 other followers