(A one-off analysis, mullets and all…)
Jareth: The Sexiest Rumpelstiltskin of 1986
David Bowie’s portrayal of Jareth, the Goblin King, is stunning. In the film’s beginning we assume the Goblin King’s role is to simply steal children, giving their caretakers a chance to run the near- impossible maze in hopes of rescuing them. Much like Rumpelstiltskin, Jareth hashes a deal with Sarah, only instead of spinning straw into gold (in return, giving up her first-born child), she asks him to take her brother away. Thus the abduction, though Jareth presents Sarah with a choice: run the maze and defeat him, or abandon her brother to a life of goblinhood; a suitable set of options for a 15-year-old girl who just wished kidnapping on her brother. Eventually, the hardheaded Sarah insists on running the maze. In all likelihood, Jareth’s been a child stealer for centuries, as the movie depicts multitudes of goblins of varying species, shapes and sizes. He’s given each runner the same chance, the same deal, and all before Sarah have failed. Jareth never cheated anybody. Tricked them, sure, but technicalities are what the Rumpelstiltskins of this world thrive on.
Sarah: Alice, Dorothy or Belle?
Sarah encounters many fairy-tale tropes as she descends into the maze. Much like Dorothy in Oz, she is taken to a new and unfamiliar land to defeat a foe. She perseveres and befriends a menagerie of locals, outwitting the challenges thrown her way. Sarah’s white rabbit through all this is the dwarf Hoggle, who guides her through the maze, saving her from the Cleaners (weapons resembling the lovechildren of a lawnmower and kitchen drain). Like Alice’s white rabbit, Hoggle betrays Sarah’s trust, giving her a poisoned peach that sends her into a dream state (a glorious ball, not bad as far as fruit hallucinations go). If the movie’s ballroom scene doesn’t remind you of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, I don’t know what does. At its core, Sarah and Jareth’s relationship is Beauty and the Beastesque: Sarah, a beautiful, vain girl falls into the Goblin King’s realm, hoping to save her baby brother (much like Belle’s act that spares her father). Jareth is lonely and cruel, beastly in his actions. They dance together, bicker together, and yes, Sarah breaks his heart. He tells her, “Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for you. I move the stars for no one.” Um, if that’s not the tiniest amount of love…
Fee Fie Foe Fae?
We know Jareth’s title is the Goblin King, but come on, where are his goblin features? Actually, he looks rather fae. We know that fae exist in this movieverse because of the fairy depicted in the opening. Hoggle is seen clearing the area of pests, which are fairies. So another scenario is that Jareth is a sadistic fae master who manipulates others for his own entertainment. Watching them run the maze could be his version of Netflix. Fae lore tells of stolen babies replaced with changelings—creatures who look human, but are always in ill health. Suppose that instead of replacing the children, Jareth transforms them into changelings which he abuses for fun. Another supporting piece of evidence is found at the ball: Sarah is the only person who has no mask (Jareth has one, though he removes it). Is this because the attendees want to see the fear in Sarah’s eyes because they find it amusing? Or are they treating her as a dress-up doll to do with as they please? The ball may be Sarah’s dream, but the dream is induced by the Goblin King’s magic. The story takes a dark turn when viewed in that light.
Whether Labyrinth is a tale about a sexified Rumpelstiltskin, a girl who embodies many of our classic heroines or a fae experiment gone wrong, it never fails to entertain. Hypotheses aside, David Bowie’s wardrobe—Ziggy meets Jim Henson—is something we can all delight in. Oh that Iman, such a lucky bride.
This special edition of Fairy-Tale Files brought to you by intern Trisha Smith and Poetry Editor Jon Riccio.