I just had a chance to watch the independent film American Fable, and while it’s not quite the classic GU story, it hits enough points (and the general tone) to warrant an Honorable Mention here. It is perhaps a less fantastical Pan’s Labyrinth, or a less grim Tideland, both of which have been covered here previously, and both of which feature an innocent and story-obsessed girl caught up in the harsh world of adults. The fantasy and dreamlike elements could have been turned up a notch in my opinion, though they were very well done.

11 year old Gitty lives with her family on their farm, her only friend a beloved chicken. While she is close with her father, her parents are both nonetheless distracted by the possibility of losing their farm, and some other intrigue she doesn’t understand. One day Gitty stumbles upon a man who appears to be being held prisoner in their old grain silo – although she intuits that her family has something to do with it, she eventually befriends the man, even going so far as to descend into the silo to spend time with him (not quite underground, but a journey down at least). In a way, everyone is a potential adversary for Gitty – the man himself, who turns out to be a threat to her family, her own parents who are hiding things from her, the strange woman they seem to be colluding with, and possibly most of all her older brother, who ends up in a final, violent confrontation with her when he discovers she’s been fraternizing with the enemy. The imprisoned man could also be seen as her companion, and/or the one she is trying to rescue in classic GU style.

Gitty sees the world through the lens of stories (The Power of Story), making sense of what she experiences by relating it to the tales she knows well. And so what is on the one hand a mundane situation – a farm being threatened by economic failure and the response of desperate people – becomes a fairy tale from a different angle, surreal and moving in its telling.

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

(It’s all true.)

crookedmirrorsKingdom of Crooked Mirrors (listed on Amazon Video as World of Crooked Mirrors) is a wonderful Russian allegorical fantasy film drawing heavily on Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Olya is a little girl living with her grandmother (so, presumably an orphan). When her cat dashes right through the mirror to another world, Olya naturally jumps in right after it (like any good Girl Underground). She meets her reflection Yalo (everyone living there has backwards names) who becomes her companion. Together they chase after their cats, but end up befriending a young mirror maker. This boy is imprisoned by evil leaders for the crime of making mirrors that actually reflect reality, rather than the warped mirrors that the government prefers.

Olya and her reflection must rescue the boy and defeat the evil Reptile, Toad and Kite adversaries, and return the mirrors in the kingdom to their proper function. They are helped by a kind chef, and Olya encounters doubles of things in her normal life (such as the King being named the reverse of the word for “parrot”, a bird belonging to her grandmother). The whole production is delightfully Carrollian with obvious political overtones.

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“What she didn’t know was that adventures are never neat little affairs like a trip to the amusement park, from which you emerge tired but unaltered. They are messy. They are dangerous. They are hungry, and what they take from you can never be recovered.”

The Key & the Flame by Claire M. Caterer unfortunately just didn’t ever really engage me in all of its 470 pages. It was a relatively by-the-book Girls Underground story, though. Holly, 11, has a boring life and yearns for adventure. Her family moves to England for a few months in the summer, and their house’s caretaker gives Holly a mysterious key which opens a door in a tree into another world. Holly is accompanied by her little brother Ben and their neighbor Everett, both of whom get captured immediately, and Holly must find a way to rescue them and return them all home.

She is helped along the way by several magical creatures from that realm, who are hoping she can help them in return, to fight against the anti-magic royalty. Theoretically the prince is the adversary, although a greater, evil adversary is hinted at – but Holly only interacts with him at the very end, and even then it’s more of an escape than a true confrontation or defeat. She does have a partial betrayal by a companion, and distracted parents, and the risk of losing herself, and guidance from an old wise woman. But even Holly seems to know at the end that, even with all her adventures, she didn’t really accomplish anything in that otherworld – she may have even caused more harm than good to the magical creatures there. So it wasn’t a particularly satisfying end for a Girl Underground.

61tdcxatixl-_sl160_I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young is a fantastic, sarcastic send-up of some of the fluffier tropes related to the Girls Underground story, especially the idea that fairyland is a fun, light-hearted place just waiting to welcome a young girl on an adventure.

Gertrude was 10 years old and wished to go to fairyland, and her wish was granted – she plummeted into the depths of a magic portal (going underground, it seems) and arrived beaten and bruised. She immediately set off on a quest to find the key to return home, accompanied by a guide given to her by the Queen of Fairyland. But 27 years later, she still hasn’t found it. And while her body has stayed young, her mind has aged normally, and she is not impressed with the frippery of this magical country and is really ready to get out of there.

SPOILERS While Gertrude battles every creature she encounters in a bloody path toward her key, the Queen is getting sick of this miscreant and trying to find a loophole to the rule that she cannot kill a guest of Fairyland – making her the adversary, but a somewhat understandable one. Eventually, Gertrude allies with a dark lord to acquire enough power to get the key, but at the last minute, just before opening the door, she decides it would be fun to kill the Queen on her way out. She easily defeats this adversary, but with a very unpleasant side effect – by law, she now cannot go home and must become the new Queen instead. And so, like a much, much grumpier version of Alice in Looking-glass Land, she puts on the crown.

(This is the first graphic novel in a series, and I do not yet know if the rest of them will continue the GU theme.)

51t3lj1pz-l-_sl160_I was excited for The Door by Andy Marino because the title so nicely alludes to “portal” part of Portal-Quest Fantasy (of which Girls Underground is an example), however it turned out to only be an Honorable Mention and – while interesting and ambitious – was ultimately disappointing.

Hannah, 12, lives with her widowed mother next to a remote lighthouse. Her inner world is complex and somewhat dysfunctional, in that she talks to people in her head and is crippled by certain OCD tendencies (which was an interesting and unique aspect for a protagonist, though it’s not fully explored). One day strangers visit, and events compel her mother to reveal that their family has a sacred duty – they guard the door to the city of the dead, a vast otherworld where all souls go after death. When her mother is murdered, Hannah goes through the forbidden door to rescue her.

In the city of the dead, Hannah’s “imaginary” inner people materialize before her, and become her companions, along with a couple dead souls who help her. She must avoid the ominous Watchers who patrol the city, and she has conflict with those who have betrayed her – but there is never really a firm Adversary working against her. She does start to forget herself, and the details of her life (a consequence of being in the land of the dead) but that is remedied. The city and its inhabitants are creatively imagined and described, but that’s not quite enough to sustain the book.

While Hannah manages to find her mother, and even her long lost father, and there are some tantalizing hints that she’s been to this otherworld before somehow, nothing is explained in the end, her final test is rather anticlimactic, and the resolution is vague and unsatisfying.

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“You could save more than your family. You could save the whole world! Or rather, this world.”

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova marks at least the seventh example I’ve profiled here that has “labyrinth” in the title and/or in which labyrinths or mazes play a prominent role. (The first of course being the movie that started it all, Labyrinth, and then there was Pan’s Labyrinth, and Libyrinth – a library labyrinth – and The Path of Names, the path being one that leads through a special hedge maze, and the mystical maze in The China Garden, and finally the labyrinth underground with a beast at its center in Neverwhere, referencing the mythical labyrinth in the story of Ariadne.) This one is extremely true to the GU archetype, and reminiscent of several other examples, but also stands out for its use of concepts and mythology inspired by Latin America.

Alejandra – or Alex – comes from a family of brujas (witches), but has been hiding from her own power her whole life, just wanting to be a normal girl. As she turns 16, her family prepares her “Deathday” celebration in which her ancestors will bless her magic, but at the same time, a malevolent creature comes looking for her. Instead of embracing her legacy, Alex decides (with the help of a mysterious and attractive brujo named Nova) to attempt to banish her abilities, and it goes horribly wrong. Her family is taken away to a strange otherworld, and Alex enlists Nova to help her rescue them. (They enter through a portal in a tree, and then fall and fall… two nods to Alice I think.)

In the otherworld, Alex learns more about her adversary – a bruja-turned-monster called The Devourer – as she navigates a terrifying landscape and battles the adversary’s minions to reach the labyrinth where her family is being held. She also acquires a second companion, a friend from home who followed her into the otherworld. She forgets herself at a fairy banquet. And she discovers that, like many GU, she has been chosen not just to rescue her loved ones, but to save the world.

There is a betrayal – common in these stories but still often excruciating to experience – and it seems for awhile like all is lost, when Alex surrenders her magic to the Devourer. But in the end, she discovers the real meaning of her power. She doesn’t quite defeat the adversary alone in this one, but she does reach her goal and become greater than she was.

mv5bmtcznzcyodcwn15bml5banbnxkftztcwmzc1mtuzmq-_v1_Midnight’s Child is a pretty mediocre made-for-tv movie from the early 90’s featuring Olivia D’Abo as the Adversary and a very cute young Elisabeth Moss as the girl she threatens. Since this was recommended to me as a potential GU story, at first I thought it would be the little girl who was the protagonist (especially since she’s the magic age of 7, and her parents are pretty self-absorbed and distracted), but in fact this turns out to also be one of the classic variations with an older, adult “Girl Underground” who is trying to save her child. And, in a way, the Adversary herself was clearly once a Girl Underground. So it’s a trifecta!

From the perspective of Kate, the mother, the au pair she hires to watch her daughter turns out to be using a false identity (that of a girl she actually killed to take her place), but worse, she is grooming the child to be the next bride of a dark entity – they keep saying it’s Satan toward the end, but all the imagery is reminiscent of the Erlking of folklore, which would make sense since the au pair is Scandinavian. This evil nanny seduces her husband (thereby making him a companion who betrays her) and is able to get the daughter right to the point of the ritual dedication, when Kate inexplicably manages to get through to her daughter and husband at the last minute (even though she does almost nothing right, and they were all entranced by the Adversary a moment ago), which somehow defeats her.

But the Adversary was once a child bride of the devil herself, who has grown old enough to find him new girls. One wonders if she might have had her own GU story, the rare kind that ends with the girl choosing to stay with her male Adversary lover.

alicereadingSo 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!

61QznurNdlL._SL160_Lilliput by Sam Gayton utilizes the foundation of Gulliver’s Travels to tell a Girls Underground story (or perhaps, a reverse GU story, in that the protagonist is taken from her magical world into our more mundane world).

Lily is a tiny Lilliputian, kidnapped by Gulliver and brought back to London to use as proof that his wild tales really happened. She is the equivalent of about 12 years old when she tries to escape. There is sort of a double-adversary situation here – Gulliver is unmoved by Lily’s plight, thinking only of his own, but he rents the attic where he lives from a much worse man, an evil clockmaker who has enslaved his own apprentice, Finn. It is Finn who finds Lily and becomes her companion, each rescuing the other multiple times. Finn and Lily enlist the help of a friendly chocolatier and make a plan to steal Gulliver’s map, free a bird from the clockmaker’s grasp, and fly her home. But a seeming betrayal by one of her companions might ruin everything. Eventually, one of the adversaries becomes an ally. Lily escapes, but she never really definitively defeats the remaining adversary, and she doesn’t do it on her own either, so it lacks that typical satisfying GU finale.

“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.

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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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