Today, we have author Anita Grace Howard to review–okay, not gonna lie, one of my favorite fae movies of all time: Labyrinth. Take it away, Anita–and for the rest of you, enjoy Labyrinth day tomorrow!
Thank you, Katey, for the invitation to review one of my favorite movies. One thing saddens me after watching Labyrinth again for the first time in years: the realization that it has become a cult classic with the main audience being adults rather than teens or children.
I’m a writer of young adult fantasy who has a penchant for faery lore, and after watching this movie once more, it struck me that it has much to offer teens, even those of the Net Generation who cut their teeth on CG and 3D. The Labyrinth storyline was ahead of its time, lending it a timelessness in spite of dated special effects and music (not to say I don’t personally love said effects and music, because I do…muppets rock and the 80s had all the best songs).
More than just a fantasy, The Labyrinth stands on its own as a surreal coming-of-age tale imbued with many of the qualities in successful YA novels today.
First, there’s Sarah, the young and naïve heroine—one part troubled, one part spoiled—who needs a taste of real drama so she can grow into her own, learn to appreciate what she has, and leave the diva days behind.
One of the current YA fantasy trends is “love triangles”, so next we have our two heroes, or in this case, anti-heroes, who will accompany/guide/confuse our heroine on her journey to self-realization: Hoggle and Jareth.
Hoggle isn’t your typical YA hero, which works because he’s not there in a romantic sense. He’s there to pose a challenge for Sarah. He’s a gnome and isn’t sexy hot, (Jareth has that covered) or even looking out for Sarah’s best interests … at least, not in the beginning.
Jareth, our resident goblin king, is the real anti-hero of the tale; the swoon-worthy bad boy—typical only in that he’s sensual, selfish, and motivated by one thing: master the girl at all costs. He’ll pull out any stops to win her. In fact, her stolen brother, Toby, is only a pawn played to lure Sarah into his Labyrinth kingdom. And in true anti-hero form, Jareth has a soft spot that he hides from our heroine by saying belittling things like: “Sarah, go back to your room. Play with your toys and your costumes.” But upon the MC Escher-esque staircase in his castle, as he watches Sarah master each challenge he throws in her path, he’s given to moments of respect and tenderness toward his opponent: “How you turn my world, you precious thing.”
YAs tend to teach lessons in subtle ways, and Labyrinth is no exception. Case in point: the fairies. People assume tiny little winged fairies are all sweetness and fun and games, but the fairies of the Labyrinth are not.
Sarah: Ouch! It bit me!
Hoggle: What’d you expect fairies to do?
Sarah: I thought they did nice things, like grant wishes.
Hoggle: Huh, shows how much YOU know.
Lesson learned: Appearances can be deceiving, for sometimes those who seem least intimidating may have the most vicious bite.
Hoggle proves the same lesson himself in the story, by betraying Sarah’s trust. But then there’s redemption, another universal theme often used in teen based stories. Once Hoggle gets past caring what Sarah can do for him (in the beginning, she bribes him for help with a toy bracelet), he overcomes his bad nature for the sake of true friendship. This film also shows endurance, courage, the importance of telling the truth, and never giving up.
Speaking of telling the truth, one quality that Jareth shares with the faeries we’re celebrating this month is his skill with words and riddles; taking everything said as literal, and twisting it this way and that, making it mean what HE wants it to mean. Faeries are masters of weaseling deals through word manipulation.
Case in point:
When Sarah first loses her baby brother to the goblin king, it’s with these words: “I wish the goblins would come and take you away…RIGHT NOW!” Jareth points out several times throughout the film that he only did as she asked: “What’s said is said.” How can you argue with logic like that?
Their final exchange at the climax also conveys his talent for word wizardry:
Sarah: Give me the child.
Jareth: Sarah beware. I have been generous up till now. I can be cruel.
Sarah: Generous? What have you done that’s generous?
Jareth: Everything! Everything you have wanted I have done. You asked the child be taken, I took him. You cowered before me, I was frightening. I have reordered time. I have turned the world upside down, and I have done it all for you! I am exhausted from living up to your expectations of me. Isn’t that generous?
And then of course, every YA fantasy must have some adventure and an eccentric bevy of secondary characters who help or hinder along the way. Labyrinth has both in spades. Ludo, a huge, hairy monster who is loyal to a fault, and Sir Didymus, a tiny creature with the face of a fox terrier and the heart of a knight, step in as Sarah’s friends. As for adventures, many of the twists and turns in the maze lead Sarah into seemingly random and senseless scenes … but if you look closer, there’s underlying symbolism, which is another trait of a good YA. For example, the junk scene could be considered a metaphor for the baggage you collect in life which can distract you from successfully meeting your present goals. Sarah almost gets derailed from looking for her brother by the junk lady and some childhood toys, but comes to her senses in time to abandon nostalgia, and finds her way out to fight for her and Toby’s futures once more.
Last and most importantly, YAs have romance. Often, it’s the journey to womanhood for the heroine, including a hint of sexual awakening. Sarah experiences this most obviously in the Ballroom Scene (my personal fave).
David Bowie is perfectly cast for the role of seducer. Who better to be a tempting, teasing, experienced adversary than a rock star? The added bonus is he courts Sarah through sensual songs which we get to hear him sing. What teen girl isn’t attracted to a talented musician? At different times throughout the film, Sarah wavers between wanting and rejecting the goblin king. In the process, she masters the labyrinth’s lessons, realizing the importance of her little brother over material possessions, and comes into her own. When Jareth makes a final appeal for her to abandon her quest and stay with him she defeats him by reciting her monologue from the beginning of the movie, incorporating the telling line that had so often eluded her when she pretended to be a princess at home: “You have no power over me!”
Everything falls away. As the clock strikes midnight (symbolic of the first moment of her life as an independent young woman, perhaps?), Sarah finds herself at home. Jareth, in owl form, flies away, banished. Though I’d like to think, in my romantic little heart, that maybe they find their way to one another again a few years down the road when Jareth has learned some humility. J
In closing, I pose the argument that Labyrinth still has what it takes to entertain today’s generation of teenagers. It’s a young adult novel in cinematic form, the best of both worlds. Much like a maze itself, it’s twisted and slightly zany at some turns, poignant and thought-provoking at others—a charming meandering of emotions children and adults can appreciate and relate to, from age 9 all the way to 90.
Trivia bits and linkage:
Since 1997, an annual two-day masquerade ball called the “Labyrinth of Jareth” has been held in Hollywood, CA, where revelers come dressed in costumes inspired by the film Labyrinth of Jareth Ball: http://www.labyrinthmasquerade.com
The official “Labyrinth” day is the 13th of June (13 being based on the 13th hour on the clock and June as the movie was released in June).
Labyrinth movie files: http://www.astrolog.org/labyrnth/movie.htm has everything from transcripts and trivia to sound clips and the soundtrack along with links galore.
Anita Grace Howard writes YA and adult literary fantasies with a romantic slant, and is represented by Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency.
Presently, she and her agent are shopping a YA fantasy with publishers. Entitled SPLINTERED, the book is a funky and gothed-up YA Alice in Wonderland spin-off about sixteen-year-old Alyssa Gardner, a direct descendant from Alice Liddell — real life inspiration for the original Lewis Carroll novel. The book’s anti-hero, Morpheus (Alyssa’s sexy-but-enigmatic guide through a warped Wonderland landscape who may have wicked motives all of his own), was inspired in part by Jareth with a blush of The Crow thrown in for good measure.
Please visit her website for a glimpse at the blurb and book trailer.