I did not see Jim Henson’s Labyrinth until I was in my teens. I knew of its significance in pop culture and it somewhat intrigued me, but when an old friend insisted that I finally watch it, I decided it was…okay. Yep: I found one of the most famous cult films in history to be just…okay.
After David Bowie’s death, though, the Internet exploded in tributes and remembrances of their beloved Goblin King, and it seemed Labyrinth got more attention in 2016 than ever before. I began thinking on my own experience with the film, and decided that, with all the love the film got, I must have missed something the first time I watched, and that it was time to try it again.
Long story short, with each viewing, I grew to appreciate the artistry and simple charm of the film. To the point that I am cosplaying as Sarah in her iconic ball gown this year. In fact, if you look at the backdrop for the picture below, you’ll see a preview of the ball gown in all its mother-of-pearl sequined glory. It was for reasons of hyping myself up to wear this cosplay at the end of August that I discovered the novelization of Jim Henson’s most infamous work.
15-year-old Sarah Williams thinks she is in a fairy tale: she lives with her father and overbearing stepmother, along with her baby half-brother, Toby. An aspiring actress, Sarah would rather play with her toys and costumes than babysit her bratty brother. One night, when Sarah gets particularly fed up with Toby, she wishes him away to the mythical Goblin City, ruled by the cruel but alluring Jareth. The only way Sarah can rescue Toby is if she solves Jareth’s massive and magical labyrinth in thirteen hours, otherwise Toby will be turned into a goblin forever.
Most novelizations are either not very well written or don’t add another layer to the visuals they are based off of. While A.C.H. Smith’s rendition of Labyrinth is not the symphony of language that Daniel Kraus’s The Shape of Water was, it still has that simple, endearing voice that you’d expect to tell you a fairy tale. It blends Sarah’s inner thoughts with her actions, providing more insight to a character whose past is only shown in glimpses.
I will be honest, though: I was mostly curious about how the ballroom scene would be written. That scene is intensely dreamy in the movie, with a curiously sexual undertone. The dreaminess is still there, along with Sarah’s strange attraction to this adult situation. It satisfied my curiosity, and is a nice companion to the movie.
Which, really, is all this book is supposed to be: a companion. You can enjoy it without the movie, but it might enhance the experience a little better to have seen it first.
That’s the tricky thing about any media related to Labyrinth. The visuals and masterful puppetry are integral what make it so intriguing to watch, not to mention the enigmatic and sexual lure of David Bowie’s Jareth. Part of that is lost in translation, since songs like “Magic Dance” and “Within You” are not part of the manuscript. Though, then again, it would have been strange to describe Jareth breaking into a rock song and dancing with a bunch of goblins, because he is a goblin king first, and a rock singer second—if, at all.
If you’re a fan of the movie, this book is still a good piece of Labyrinth memorabilia. I would really only recommend it if you’ve seen the movie first, so your exposure to the visuals can accompany you into it.