My latest column for Strange Horizons is up!

“Girl Wonder: Lawn Dogs, Hard Candy, and the Age of Innocence” is an attempt to examine, in specific, two sides of a dynamic that has a particular place in film canon — that precocious young girl just shy of sexual maturity, who can only really be understood by the grown man beside her.

This one was one of those that opened up in front of me as I went, and the more I thought about it the more nuances emerged in the pattern, partially due to just how many takes on it there have been. The Girl Wonder isn’t necessarily a coming-of-age story; most coming-of-age stories involve a girl’s relationships to other women as a key component. It isn’t quite the Lolita complex — Lolita, like Hard Candy, is a more unflinching take on what can often underlie this dynamic; it just makes intentional what is often accidental. And a Girl Wonder isn’t always a detriment of the film in question, especially if the dynamic is somehow addressed – there have been very good films with this relationship at their center, or adaptations that portrayed this same relationship while being aware of its pitfalls (James McAvoy’s Mr. Tumnus, for example, was much more self-aware in that first teatime than the text would indicate).

However, there’s a Little Red Riding Hood aspect that’s hard to ignore, the dynamic does happen often enough to be notable, and its signposts are relatively fixed; rarely do we see a Girl Wonder partnered with a grown woman, for example. (Part of this might be because the Girl Wonder in specific needs to have the man beside her; part of this might just be because the movies take for granted that a man is more dramatically compelling than a woman.)

So I looked at Lawn Dogs and Hard Candy — a Girl Wonder unexamined, and a dark mirror of one, both using Little Red Riding Hood tropes as crucial setup — and started to think about it. (I’ll be thinking about it for a while.)

Read the whole thing at Strange Horizons!