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Well, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase is certainly a case of a titular girl, though to be fair, all of the Nancy Drew books have her name in the title – for all I know, they often fit a GU theme too (it’s been ages since I read one). But still worth mentioning this adaptation, which was a fun little movie.

16 year old Nancy has recently moved to a small town after her mother’s death. Her father has become involved in local politics and they are both being threatened by a man from the opposition.

When she learns that an elderly neighbor’s house is supposedly haunted, Nancy is on the case, along with her best friends (mostly helping remotely). She finds a secret passageway in the house and various methods that someone has been using to fake the haunting and scare the woman into moving. Meanwhile, her father is abducted. Nancy ties the two together and chases after the Adversary, only to find he has a secret accomplice which constitutes a deep betrayal for her.

On somewhat of a side note, the GU plot element of spending time drugged is expressed here by the use of concentrated nutmeg by the Adversary to disorient Nancy and her companions during their time in the “haunted” house. An odd, obscure choice, and perhaps a dangerous one as the psychoactive effects of nutmeg are real, but the perils of using it are not shown or discussed in the movie. As someone who is generally a proponent of entheogenic exploration, let me just say, do not try this at home. Negative side effects of large doses of nutmeg are severe and definitely not worth it.

Many moons ago, I discovered – via the magic of Twitter – the existence of a “Girl Underground” tabletop role-playing game. The author was kind enough to send me a copy, and I’ve been sitting on this for much too long, but finally got a chance to look it over now that I’ve got more time on my hands! Turns out they were inspired by my work here, but did not realize I had been the one to identify the story archetype originally and coin the term Girls Underground; they thought it was already something known to academia, which to my mind means I’ve done something right.

Now this won’t be a proper review, because I have absolutely zero experience with or knowledge of RPGs and am really not qualified to comment on the construction of such. As much as I love Story, I have never felt myself to be a storyteller even in a collaborative or informal way. But I still enjoyed reading through the playbook and imagining how such a game might unfold.

“Inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Labyrinth, The Wizard of Oz, Spirited Away and similar tales, Girl Underground helps you tell the story of a curious girl and her strange companions as they travel through a wondrous world, complete a quest, and find the way back home. Throughout the journey, the Girl learns about herself, discovers the values that are important to her, and challenges the world around her.”

As the above quote shows, the game hits most of the major Girls Underground elements, including her growth and transformation as a part of the journey. But there are differences too (as there should be, since they have created their own expression based on the various source materials). I noted for instance that while antagonists can definitely be part of the play, there is no requirement to have one major Adversary, something that is pretty crucial to the archetype as I’ve defined it. I think this may be partly due to it being a PG-rated game with a very positive bent, so perhaps not wanting to dwell on some of the darker or harsher aspects – just like some GU stories are meant for kids or families, whereas others are in the horror genre.

I very much enjoyed the different types of companions they came up with, and can guess at some of the book/film inspirations for them. The locations were also great, including the evocative “Hall of Ten Thousand Masks,” and a bazaar which reminds me of the junk shop motif I’ve noticed in several GU stories. The Girl herself is 12 years old (though you can choose pretty much every other characteristic about her), and that’s prime GU age from my research. She encounters a selection of “Manners” that are basically societal rules of behavior for girls that she will challenge, making this game even more overtly feminist than the general archetype and, I’m sure, a very empowering experience especially for female players (or really, anyone who has had to confront restrictive cultural norms).

In the “Playbook Advice” section, one note for the Girl is: “When she pines for home, show how the wonders of the underground can fulfill her dreams. When she wants to stay, turn up the danger and highlight elements that make her miss home.” I love this as I feel it recognizes the internal conflict so many GUs go through on their journeys, being pulled between a longing for the home they left, and a love of the magical otherworld they have found. Most go home in the end, but will forever leave part of their heart behind in the underground.

You can buy the Girl Underground RPG here.

Just stumbled upon this fantastic video showing an unboxing of my Girls Underground Story Oracle by Sparkle Divine Tarot (one of my Kickstarter supporters – thank you!). Watch it if you want to get a better idea of what the cards are all about!

ETA: Another video from the same creator (below) includes the Girls Underground Story Oracle in her Top 5 Oracle Decks of 2018! Mine is the first one reviewed, take a look –

51mzgr5m+hl._sl160_Just watched M. Night Shyamalan’s movie Split for the second time, and not sure how I missed it last time (maybe just too mesmerized by McAvoy’s many characters and defaulting to viewing him as the protagonist) but it’s definitely a Girls Underground story as well.

Teenaged Casey, already set apart from her peers due to her childhood trauma, and an orphan, is kidnapped along with two other girls and held underground in a labyrinthine network of tunnels. While it may seem that her kidnapper is her adversary, in a way all of the other personalities are merely minions to the true adversary, the Beast. She is drugged and must fight to remember who she truly is, and the lessons of her past. She is sometimes aided by someone from this otherworld (Hedwig) but cannot trust him. She loses her companions one by one and ultimately must face the Beast alone, equipped with only a boon gifted to her by a wiser, older lady. In the end, while she prevails, she may not want to go home again.

img_6711The packages have all gone out to my wonderful Kickstarter backers, and it’s finally time to release The Girls Underground Story Oracle to the rest of the world!

I have created a page for the Oracle here on the GU site, which has links to purchase it in various configurations from Etsy (its home base), Amazon and eBay. I am so excited to share this with more people!

As often happens with projects like this, soon after I had finalized all the printing and there was no turning back, I had one more idea that could have been added to the guidebook, so I’m going to share it here. This is yet another use for the cards, beyond divination (or magic, or storytelling, as detailed in the guidebook already).

It occurred to  me that one could make a fun little game out of choosing a potential or confirmed Girls Underground example (movie or book, although I think movies would be easier, especially for group participation), and counting how many of the plot points and lessons from the cards img_6715show up in that example. I’m pretty sure nothing hits all of them (especially since two different possible endings are included), not even Labyrinth, but maybe you can prove me wrong! I’m going to start playing this game myself when I watch (or re-watch) GU movies – I’m curious to find out which ones include the most of these elements.

Please help spread the word about the Story Oracle if you can, and I’d love to hear from anyone who’s been using it!

I am working on a very special project involving the Girls Underground archetype (stay tuned for an announcement coming in the next couple months!) and as part of the preparation, I decided to do a little statistical analysis of the GU examples I have covered so far on this blog – almost 250 of them now! Thought I would share some results here in case anyone else is interested.

I have covered 160 books, 73 movies and 12 TV shows/series (about a quarter of which I classified as Honorable Mentions). Books are obviously the primary GU medium, and as I already knew, most are in the young adult/middle grade fantasy category. About 75% were written by female authors. Well over half of the movies are in the horror genre. Looking through the titles across mediums, I found 31 examples with “titular girls” (name of the girl in the title) and 8 more that simply had the word “girl” in the title.

The girl goes literally underground in at least a third of the stories (I didn’t always note this, especially early on, so I bet the percentage is even higher), and the story takes place entirely in an underground world in 11 of them. Twice as many as that take place mostly within a single house. While the archetype is based on the idea that the girl travels to another world, this is only technically true in little over a third of the examples – it’s almost as common for magic to bleed into this world, or for her to live in an already magical world (though in those cases, she often will still travel somewhere different within that world).

The girl is most often either a pre-teen (10-13) or teenager, though about 20% are adults, and a few are younger children. The Adversary is a male in 59% of the total examples, and female in 23% – the rest are either a group or ambiguous. But the ratio of male to female Adversaries is highest among older teens, and lowest among children and pre-teens.

There are a few names that are especially popular for the protagonists of Girls Underground stories. Alice is the most frequent, but this is probably due to the connection with Alice in Wonderland – as I’ve said before, a lot of GU authors are clearly aware of the archetype on some level, and the similarity of their work with the classics of the trope. Particularly exciting for me personally was finding that there are 5 Sarahs and 5 Kates (along with 3 Katherines) – which account for both my first and middle names! Laura/Laurie, Lily/Lilian, and Sophie/Sophia also make 5 showings each. And Claire/Clara, Lisa/Liza, Meg, Alex, Hannah and Heather have 3 or 4 each.

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.

A GUIDE FOR YOUNG LADIES ENTERING THE SERVICE OF THE FAIRIES by Rosamund Hodge

(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!

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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