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“Not once did it occur to her that she might give up the Magic Forest. People who are fortunate enough to have found the Magic Forest are also not foolish enough to give it up.”

Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I recently discovered a classic fantasy book from 1969 called The Gruesome Green Witch by Patricia Coffin. I had to get a copy through interlibrary loan because they go for around $100 online. The illustrations are fantastic – in black and green – and even the text is in green ink. The creatures are based on Scandinavian folklore.

Puffin, age 10, is at her family’s summer house with her friend Mole when they find that a closet in the upstairs Green Room (a room painted all green) opens up into an otherworldly forest. They go in and immediately meet a tumpte, like a dwarf, who explains that they’ve reached the Magic Forest, only open to children. He helps them and introduces them to other denizens of the Forest. Then Puffin returns alone, with only her dog as company, and encounters a perilous fairy (specifically a huldra) known as the Gruesome Green Witch. Puffin sees the terrifying hollow back of the Witch, and is now a target. When she brings her older brother Matt to the Forest to help him, the Witch enchants him and turns him to stone. Puffin must go into the otherworld alone in search of the Witch, trick her into consuming a magical potion which will destroy her, and rescue her brother. Her parents are, of course, oblivious to any of this. Puffin enters a hollow tree and goes underground to the lair of the Witch, defeats her, and wins not only her brother back, but all the men the Witch had ever enchanted.

While the back-and-forth nature of Puffin’s visits to the otherworld give this a slightly different tone than other GU books, it does qualify as the “return to home in the middle of the journey” trope, and overall the story fits. There are even a few Alice in Wonderland references to seal the deal!

514uLnH9PnL._SL160_I’m only through Season 2 of Orphan Black right now, but it’s shaping up to be a nice Girls Underground story. It even has one of the common plot points (being an orphan) in the title! While actually featuring a number of cloned women (all played amazingly by the same actress), the clear protagonist GU is Sarah, who is pulled into a whole new world of craziness when she discovers her true identity as a clone. She spends the series trying to save her daughter from nefarious and mysterious scientists, along with her clone-sisters as companions, as well as her foster-brother Felix and possibly-not-to-be-trusted Siobhan. They seem to have done a classic feint with the identity of the adversary, first making it appear to be Leakey, but now resolving into Rachel… which makes an interesting GU/Adversary pairing, since Rachel is yet another clone. Will have to keep watching to find out if it culminates in the traditional GU ending.

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After recently re-watching New Nightmare, I thought I might re-visit some of the other installments of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and ended up on 4: The Dream Master. Terrible movie, really, but what’s interesting from a Girls Underground perspective… the main character is named Alice. Now, I’ve noticed over time that Alice in Wonderland references pop up in a lot of GU examples. In this case, it’s not just the name – Alice is a pretty solid GU (no mother, useless father, trying to save friends and brother, faces adversary alone, etc.), but more importantly, she enters the otherworld through a mirror. And in fact, manages to defeat Freddy by showing him his reflection in a mirror. I always wonder if these allusions to Alice are intentional on the part of writers with GU stories.

dreammaster2

516tu0CkmML._SL160_“No magic words, no cure-all potion, no ultimate key that unlocked the prize door, no sorcerer’s sword or special super latent power inside her waiting to burst free to save herself and her mother’s life and everyone else in all three Realms. Everything hinged on choices. Her choices.”

I found Half World by Hiromi Goto thanks to the Down the Rabbit Hole page (alternate name: Girls Underground!) on TVtropes. And so glad I did, because not only is it a textbook GU story, but a truly unique and often disturbing one at that. The otherworld here is frequently compared to a Hieronymous Bosch painting, just to give an idea of the visceral horrors involved. And the adversary, the disgustingly named Glueskin, is thoroughly shudder-inducing.

Melanie is 14 and lives with her mother, who is loving but almost like a shadow of herself, barely there. One day Melanie’s mother disappears, and as she sets off in pursuit, she discovers the dark and tragic backstory of her existence – that her parents came from another world, the Half World, a realm that exists for souls to work out their issues before becoming spirits. Melanie’s pregnant mother had escaped but now the evil Glueskin has sucked her back in, threatening everything she holds dear. Helped along the way by a kindly grocer and her magical rat (who is sometimes a jade amulet), Melanie enters the Half World to rescue her mother.

While one of her companions appears to betray her, Melanie still ends up finding the adversary and her mother – and also discovering the story behind the Realms, and why she herself has the power to heal them all. She must shake her mother out of the trance she’s been put in, and somehow defeat the slimy Glueskin who has everyone there in his thrall (which she does in a wonderfully practical and inventive way). Not only does she triumph over her adversary, she transforms him into the very thing that will save the worlds.

One thing I found to be an extra nice touch – Melanie encounters the common GU trap of almost forgetting herself on the way back to her home…. after defeating the adversary, when most stories just wrap everything up in a neat bow. It’s refreshing to see a story acknowledge that sometimes the return journey can be just as treacherous.

61MWiQ9VnEL._SL160_The Final Girls is probably just an Honorable Mention as far as the GU archetype goes, but worth mentioning, as it cleverly references the old slasher movies that are often themselves Girls Underground stories. I will also note that early on, there is a mention of the Persephone myth, and GU examples often will reference other GU stories (most often Alice, but sometimes older myths and fairytales).

Max loses her mother in a car crash, and years later tries to connect with her memory by going to see a showing of the movie that made her momentarily famous, an 80’s slasher film called Camp Bloodbath. Max and her friends get magically transported into the world of the movie, complete with killer on the loose, and Max finds herself trying to rescue her “mother” (really the character played by her mother). They become the “final girls” once all of Max’s friends and the other characters are killed off. But it is only when her mother sacrifices herself that Max gains the power to defeat the adversary – which somehow magically rescues all her friends and sends them home…. or so it seems.

51RrDRx3ZEL._SL160_I picked up Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty on the hopes that it was another example of the Titular Girls rule, and it was!

Serafina, 12, lives secretly in the basement of the Vanderbilt mansion with her father, who repairs their machines. She has never known her mother. One night, she sees an evil man in a black cloak kidnap – and possibly kill – a little girl staying at the mansion. It turns out many children have gone missing lately. Serafina resolves to stop the man, and finds unexpected help in Braeden, the young nephew of the Vanderbilts, who befriends her despite her strange appearance and poor background.

As Serafina tries to discover the identity of the man in the black cloak, she uncovers the story of her true origins, and learns she is more unusual than she ever expected. Braeden becomes the next target and she must rescue him by defeating the adversary. In doing so, she finds out the real adversary is not the man, but the cloak itself, and it tries to seduce her to its side (a common sub-plot in GU stories). But with the help of the animals she has befriended along the way, Serafina manages to conquer the cloak and save everyone.

51yyfiaCQkL._SL160_“They’ve changed the rules of the fairy tale. Now I’m not just the wicked stepmother. Now I’m the evil queen.”

Here’s another horror movie sequel that is a GU story in its own right: Hellbound (Hellraiser II).

Like the first movie, Kirsty fights both human and otherworldly adversaries. Having been put in an asylum, she must escape the machinations of her evil psychiatrist, who has summoned back her evil stepmother from the Cenobites’ dimension, as well as the Cenobites themselves (led by Pinhead). She is also trying to rescue her father, who may still be trapped there. She is helped by a much saner psychiatrist, and by a fellow patient who has been mute for years. Together they must navigate the labyrinthine (and carnivalesque!) otherworld.

Like many Girls Underground, Kirsty manages to defeat her adversary through clever trickery – however because this is the Hellraiser universe, it involves donning the bloody skin of her stepmother. Ew.

 

41Q-uPsfFsL._SL160_I mentioned Nightmare on Elm Street all too briefly in one of the earliest posts on this blog, and it remains the gold standard in my mind for GU horror movies. But I realized that I should make a separate post for the seventh film of the franchise, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which takes things to another level.

In this “metafilm,” the actors mostly play themselves – the protagonist is Heather Langenkamp, who played Nancy in the original movie. Heather begins to have nightmares about the adversary, Freddy Krueger, coinciding with a pitch to make a new film in the series. Her husband is killed (by Freddy, althoug she doesn’t know it yet) and her son begins to exhibit strange behavior, and is unwilling to sleep because he is afraid of Freddy. So therefore Heather falls into the common adult GU role of having to rescue her child from the adversary.

The theory in this film is that there is a real evil spirit who predated Freddy but was sort of “captured” by the character… and then released into the real world when the series ended, still embodying the famous Freddy Krueger and still coming after his old prey by attacking the actress who played her. There is a sort of “betrayal by a companion” when one of Heather’s co-stars (who played her father and still acts as a father figure to her) is sort of possessed and becomes his character, instead of helping her.

Freddy takes Heather’s son to his realm in the otherworld, and she follows, going underground to his lair. In the end, she manages to defeat him for good. After returning to the real world, she finds a screenplay detailing everything that’s happened, including her defeat of the adversary, which she reads aloud to her son.

Aside from being a solid version of the GU horror trope, this is also a striking and somewhat chilling example of The Power of Story. Additionally, it’s interesting to note that Craven shows the evil entity behind Freddy was also the one behind the witch in Hansel & Gretel, another GU connection.

51u68zdhqQL._SL160_At the Devil’s Door is a fairly mediocre horror movie but with an honorable-mention level GU plot. You might think that the first character you meet, a teenage girl, is the Girl Underground, but it’s a bit more complicated. This girl is tricked into letting the devil take over her body, but the adversary hardly stops there.

Fast forward a couple decades, and there’s a real estate agent showing a house, when she sees the first girl in the hallway, and thinks it’s the missing daughter of the house’s owners. After finding out that the girl she’s seen is actually the first girl, the one who supposedly committed suicide in the house in the 80’s, the real estate agent confronts the devil-possessed girl and is killed. Another potential Girl bites the dust.

The real Girl Underground here is the agent’s sister Vera, who begins to uncover the story behind these events. She finds out that Hannah (the first girl) was pregnant when she died, although a virgin. Apparently the devil has been trying to bring forth a supernatural child to inhabit. Vera confronts the devil but is thrown out a window and goes into a coma for eight months, after which she discovers she is about to give birth to a baby. Vera is understandably freaked out, and gives the baby up for adoption.

Six years later, Vera decides to find her daughter, presumably possessed by the devil, and kill her. She confronts the little girl, who technically doesn’t confirm anything but acts creepy enough that you know she’s right. But Vera cannot bring herself to kill her, and so she takes the girl with her instead. This suggests another “girl loses” version of the archetype, which seems to mostly be present in the horror genre.

61O5iIRRjYL._SL160_“It’s just a neighborhood,” said Penelope with a shrug. “Lots of people live there.” “But these houses,” pressed Dill, “they’re beautiful estates with grounds and gardens?” “It’s not like that,” Penelope insisted. “All the houses are the same with small yards.” Dill stopped stirring for a moment. “And you want to go back?”

The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt is a very classic Girls Underground story, with a lot of fun elements, but ultimately a little too “clever” for my tastes, in that everything from the title to character and place names to major concepts are basically all puns on common phrases. The otherworld is the Realm of Possibility, the evil adversary who controls time is Chronos, if you get anxious there you break out in worry warts all over your face, etc.

Penelope, a middle school student, wants to be a writer but is trapped in a restrictive and boring existence by her mother’s insistence on doing everything on a precise schedule. Her mother is oblivious to her needs and her father is useless. Her only hope is her friend Miss Maddie, an older woman who lives in their neighborhood and allows Penelope to indulge a bit of well-earned idleness. When Penelope’s mother forgets to schedule anything for one day, Penelope escapes to Maddie’s house where she laments her recent inability to write or come up with new ideas (likely stifled by her mother’s attitude).

Unexpectedly, Penelope suddenly falls into a rabbit-hole like chasm created by the empty space of her day planner’s blank page, and finds herself in the Realm of Possibility. She meets an interesting denizen named Dill, who explains the dark history of the realm – a heroine called the Great Moodler (moodling is like letting your mind wander to come up with ideas) has been banished by the evil Chronos, who has turned everyone into Clockworkers to serve Time. With the help of Dill and a bird named Coo-Coo, Penelope must find the Great Moodler, save the Realm of Possibility, and hopefully in the process reinvigorate her own creativity.

On her adventures, Penelope falls into an underground dungeon, and navigates a labyrinthine passage, and also rescues one of her companions. In the end, she faces off against Chronos and breaks his hold on Time. Turns out, she had the power all along.

As the quote above illustrates, Penelope’s world is hardly attractive compared to the newly restored Realm, and as with many Girls Underground, one wonders (as Dill does) why she would even want to go back. But Penelope understands that her world, bound as it is by rules and structure, needs creative, free-thinking people like herself, more than the otherworld does.

“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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