“Well, if we have disappeared, can we assume that this place is – somewhere else? Like a horrible sort of Narnia? Not our world at all?”

I devoured Small Spaces by Katherine Arden in a single day, and I think some of the eerie scarecrow imagery seeped into my dreams that night. Weirdly, this just happened to be another book-within-a-book example like the last post.

Ollie (short for Olivia), 11, is set apart by the recent tragic loss of her mother, and her behavior since has only further alienated her from her classmates. One day she comes across a lady about to throw an old book (called, of course, Small Spaces) into a creek and impulsively steals it before it can be destroyed – a decision that seems to doom her but actually is the key to her survival. In this book she reads the apparently true story of a family that was granted a miracle – with a terrible price – by an entity only referred to as the Smiling Man.

The next day she discovers that the school field trip to a local farm intersects with this strange and sinister history lesson. When their bus breaks down and Ollie receives disturbing warnings from both the freakish bus driver and her broken digital watch, she decides to take matters into her own hands and escapes to the forest, with two classmates in tow as unlikely companions. They are quickly surrounded and pursued by animate but voiceless scarecrows all seemingly in thrall to the same Smiling Man, and it appears that they have stumbled into some kind of parallel otherworld (which they amusingly keep calling “Bad Narnia”).

The other students on the bus have been captured by the Adversary, and Ollie must use all her cleverness and bravery (and information from her useful book) to rescue them and make it back home to her own world with her companions. This journey culminates in a dangerous corn maze where she loses her friends, makes a bargain with one of the Adversary’s minions, and eventually uncovers the true identity of the Smiling Man. In the final confrontation, he preys on her deepest desires to tempt her to his side but she stays strong. She exposes a fraud, tricks her Adversary, and uncovers the key to breaking the spell.

In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey is not a Girls Underground book. It is a story about a man who, having lost much, becomes obsessed with uncovering a mystery behind the author of a strange Victorian fantasy tale called, of course, In the Night Wood. And that story, the book-within-a-book, appears to be a Girls Underground story.

“What would she do now? she asked herself as the fell King spurred his horse into a gallop and hurtled down the corridor of trees. She recalled too late the words the Knight of Ice had imparted to her at the end of his Tale: When you come to the end of your own Story, he had said, you must remember the thing that you have forgotten. But how could you remember the thing you had forgotten when you had forgotten to remember it? she wondered.

And then the Horned King was upon her.”

As you can see from this excerpt from the book-within-a-book, there is also a deep awareness of The Power of Story running through these recursive tales, which also grabbed my interest. And then, of course, there’s the gorgeous, very GU cover:

nightwood

We don’t really get enough of the Victorian story to be 100% sure of its details, but there is a girl, and a journey into an otherworldly forest, and an Adversary. We get just enough tantalizing morsels to make me hope that Bailey will some day reveal the whole thing, much like Catherynne Valente spun out The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making after fans begged her to expand on its mention in another of her books.

Bailey’s book is well worth reading beyond any GU connection. It handles the intermingling of folklore and the everyday very deftly, with an understanding of how mythic reality can manifest subtly at first, starting in the caverns of the mind and slowly bleeding out to take physical form. And how terrible and bloody it can be.

61Mr62JjbZL._SL160_“She was afraid, and she was brave, and she would not let her father be harmed.”

Because I loved her first book, Summer and Bird, so fiercely and deeply, I read Katherine Catmull’s next book The Radiant Road the minute it came out. But for some reason, I didn’t profile it here at that time, despite it also being a Girls Underground story (and yet, completely different than her first book). I can only chalk that up to my being totally absorbed in the magic of this story, so much that I didn’t set aside a part of my mind to analyze it in the context of the archetype. Which says a lot about the power of this book!

Clare, almost-fifteen, has returned to Ireland, the land of her birth and of her mother’s early death, with her father. They move back into her ancestral home, an ancient stone structure built around a living yew tree (and oh, how I will ever after dream of living in such a place!). And very quickly, Clare begins to learn, and to remember: about the fairy road that passes through her home, about the fairy “makings” – the art they create in our world, echoing her own hidden art – about her childhood friend Finn who is not wholly human or fairy, about her sacred heritage and duty as guardian of the tree. And of course, there is a looming threat – an Adversary who is out to destroy the fairy gates so that he can avert his prophesied doom.

Clare must learn to accept fairy (or, as she prefers to call it, the Strange), and move within it with volition, in order to save her father, and to preserve the connection between fairy and our world. She is helped by Finn, and by an intimidating fairy Hunter who gives her instructions and a boon, but is harsh when Clare appears to fail.

After making a terrible mistake, Clare journeys below to the center of the labyrinth to confront her own beast. As time is running out, she discovers her own inner fortitude. When the Adversary attacks, she stands against him.

Like her first book, what makes this one stand out from all the other GU books I’ve read is the arresting beauty of the language, the way the author can convey a very particular feeling so precisely through unique and often haunting metaphors and descriptions. In addition, this one is close to my heart because of the way it speaks about art, and the collaboration (though often long-distance) between human and fairy, with us making in our dreams and sometimes with our words and hands, whereas they bring their magic into our world due to the poignancy of its ephemeral nature, creating art out of the very stuff of our reality. That each sacred gate to the otherworld must be unlocked through a specific act (playing, singing, dancing) also rings very true to me, echoing my own experiences at such sites, which often speak very clearly what they want from you, if you are silent and still enough to listen.

“And back then, in waking life, fairy-makings abounded. Her world was the broad refrigerator door where the Strange posted their art, just like she posted hers at home.”

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.

next_genThe new animated Netflix movie Next Gen fits the Girls Underground archetype quite solidly, and was enjoyable although not spectacular (I especially appreciated the little dog companion Momo).

Teenager Mai lives in a futuristic city where everyone seems to own a robot. Her father left when she was a child, and her mother is now extremely distracted by technology (a very modern and relevant take on the classic GU distracted parent). After being dragged along to the launch party of a new robot, Mai wanders off and finds a secret lab and makes a connection with a special robot, 7723, before being separated from it. We are also introduced to the CEO of the tech company, who is clearly the Adversary and has nefarious plans for his robot minions.

SPOILERS BELOW

Eventually 7723 tracks Mai down and she strikes a bargain with it, hoping to use its powers to vanquish her enemies at school, but as time goes on they develop a friendship, and she comes to realize 7723 is damaged and cannot keep all the memories they are creating together. Meanwhile, the Adversary is searching for his lost prized robot.

When the Adversary finally strikes and kidnaps Mai’s mother, 7723 is unable to help, having deleted his weapons systems in an attempt to create more memory space. Mai views his inaction as a betrayal and goes off alone to rescue her mother. She confronts the Adversary, only to discover a fraud and the true Adversary is revealed.

7723 makes a big sacrifice in order to help defeat the Adversary but at the last minute is disabled, and Mai must face it alone. She saves the day, but her companion now has no more memories of their time together, and they must start from scratch.

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!

nutcracker

It’s interesting to note that sometimes, an adaptation of a Girls Underground story ends up being even closer to the archetype than the original. Shows that at least subconsciously, people understand the Story they are working with. I covered The Nutcracker (ballet based on a novel) briefly, many years ago. Now the new Nutcracker and the Four Realms (movie very loosely inspired by ballet based on a novel) has taken the GU symbolism up a notch.

Clara, a young adolescent girl, receives a mysterious locked egg-shaped box as a gift from her recently deceased mother. At a lavish Christmas party that night, she is guided by a magical thread placed by her godfather, through his labyrinthine house and straight into the Otherworld – ostensibly to find the key to the box, but of course there’s much more going on. She meets a guardian at the gate (the titular Nutcracker, a live boy on this side of the looking glass), who leads her to the palace where she learns that she is a princess, and her dead mother was the queen of this land (and in fact, made everyone in it real when before they had only been toys).

But of course, not all is well in the Otherworld – of four sumptuous realms, one is controlled by the dangerous Mother Ginger and her army of evil mice. Clara must find her key, defeat the adversary, and save the realms. As her companions, she has the loyal nutcracker, and the regents of the other three realms.

This is all pretty standard GU fare (especially once she gets sucked underground in the dark forest), but it gets even more on point when there is a betrayal, and a revelation, and a whole new adversary and minions to battle. And of course, because in the end Clara prevails due to the strength of her own spirit, believing in herself, and being clever. She returns home much greater than she once was.

This movie has been getting pretty bad reviews, but I found it quite charming with a few truly magical touches (and I didn’t go into it expecting anything more than a visually-appealing, fun adventure). There are some wonderfully sinister clowns and carnival sets in the Land of Amusements. The Mouse King is a creature made up of a million swarming tiny mice, which was pretty effective. The ballet performed in the Otherworld was striking. And of course, I love that she is guided like Ariadne by a golden thread through a labyrinth, with the hallways of the house transitioning around her until she exits from a hollowed out tree trunk.

She’s the coolest girl around, she’s the girl from underground

magicmirrorMagic in the Mirror is a 1996 kids film produced by Charles Band (who has done hundreds of very cheesy, very weird horror movies for adults) featuring anthropomorphic duck animatronics reminiscent of Howard the Duck, which just about tells you everything you need to know about this movie.

Mary Margaret, a little girl with very distracted parents, receives her grandmother’s antique mirror as an inheritance, and manages to walk through it into another world. For some reason, this world seems almost entirely populated by creatures called Mirror Minders and the aforementioned anthropomorphic ducks (who have human-like arms instead of wings and fly by flapping their capes). The evil duck witch queen likes to drink tea made from boiling people alive (so it’s one of those kids movies, not pulling any punches to shield young minds from horror). Mary Margaret meets some guides/companions, is captured, rescued by her imaginary friends (who are pixies on this side of the mirror), and encounters the true Queen who is some kind of fairy or something, and while not as evil as the duck queen, not very nice either. The Queen punishes Mary’s companions by “planting” them and will only reverse the process if Mary defeats the duck witch.

In the end, Mary’s mother is really instrumental in defeating the Adversary, demoting this one to an Honorable Mention in my book – along with the fact that both of Mary’s parents realize, in the end, how distant and distracted they’ve been, and resolve to be more attentive, which is also somewhat contradictory to the Girls Underground story. However, in a final nod to the archetype, Mary discovers that she is part of a line of Mirror Minders herself (her grandmother being the previous one), and returns home with a new sense of sacred duty.

There is apparently a sequel (Magic in the Mirror: Fowl Play) but I think I can skip that one.

51yh6Ff0uaL._SL160_It’s October, which means I try to watch as many horror movies as possible, and am always searching for decent new ones. The Hollow Child was not excellent – it relied on a lot of tired makeup and special effects and could have benefited from some more compelling young actors – but I did appreciate the reliance on dark fairy folklore.

Sam, is a troubled teenage foster kid living with a family who already has one younger daughter of their own, Olivia. One day Sam neglects her responsibility to walk Olivia home through the woods, and the girl disappears. She returns after a day or so, but something is clearly wrong – well, clearly to Sam at least, although the adults don’t seem to notice anything. Her foster parents are distant at best, blaming her at worst. Sam finds out that there is a strange lady living in the same town with a chillingly similar experience (her own sister disappeared and returned when she was a kid, and she went so far as to burn the house down with the “sister” inside). Of course, everyone just assumes she was and is crazy, but Sam begins to suspect there is more to it. The lady provides some guidance and clues as to the nature of the threat. (I don’t think they ever say the word “fairies” but it is obvious if you know the signs. And later on when the creature emerges, it is angry at humans for destroying nature.)

Along with a male companion she knows from school, Sam begins to piece together what’s going on. She tries to trick the monster who looks like her sister, but manages only to endanger her companion. Her few supporters are dropping like flies. She must track down her real sister in the dark, scary woods, helped only by an apparition of a long-dead girl. Eventually she rescues her sister, exposes the true nature of the creature, and defeats the adversary.

A typical¬†“or did she?” final image, though, implies that she may not have won after all.

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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