Spooktober is upon us, and it’s the best time to watch Labyrinth (1986), one of my favorite creepy cult classic films. From its deliciously dark humor to Henson’s legendary puppetry, the film is loaded with that uniquely 80s nostalgic atmosphere I can’t get enough of. While we wait for the sequel to come out, let’s unpack some of the layers of the original story.
In addition to the visual flair and incredible soundtrack, the story has inspired a number of fan theories. At its bare bones, the Labyrinth is the fantastical coming-of-age story of 14-year-old Sarah as she tackles “dangers untold and hardships unnumbered”, such as dungeon-like oubliettes and manic creatures like the Fire Gang. In order to win back her freedom and save her baby brother from King Jareth’s unfair games, it is ultimately spiritual barriers that test the strength of Sarah’s will. But what if we put a name to the so-called goblins (demons) Sarah must face? Whether or not it was the creator’s intent, the Seven Deadly Sins fit perfectly within Jareth’s sprawling labyrinth.
We’ve all got inner demons, but there are some really nasty monsters lurking in Sarah’s closet. Before we ever enter the labyrinth, Sarah’s envy goes on full display as she spins a tale of woe in which Toby gets all the affection and attention by their parents. Summoned by the scent of her jealousy, the goblins nearly spill out of the closet in anticipation. Spurned by envy, Sarah says the impulsive, flippant words that curse her brother to life as a goblin. It’s a moment instantly followed by regret. Ashamed by her jealousy, Sarah takes her first steps into Jareth’s labyrinth to save Toby.
In the opening of the film, a childish Sarah is shown in her room crooning over her toys. She throws a fit when Toby “steals” one of her precious stuffed bears. You can almost hear her internal scream of “MINE!” It’s fitting, then, that the first goblin Sarah meets is Hogwart—er, I mean, Hoggle, an embodiment of her greed.
Before Sarah can even enter the Labyrinth, she needs a form of payment for the rather grouchy, uncooperative goblin who only seems interested in his gems. In exchanging her plastic bracelet, Sarah symbolically let go of some of her materialistic ways and makes a friend in Hoggle. Like Sarah, Hoggle screeches like a toddler when she tries to use some of his treasures to pay another goblin, “THEMS MINE!” Again, Sarah gives a trinket of her own up to the hat-wearing goblin as payment. Hoggle himself is later tested when Jareth’s bribes ultimately fail to sway the goblin’s loyalty to his newfound friend.
Another demon Sarah must face is wrath. She flies into a rage at her step-mom and can be seen in other early parts of the film throwing a temper tantrum when she doesn’t get her way. But when Sarah encounters a bellowing beast named Ludo, there is a shift in her personality. Ludo, the representation of wrath, wails so fiercely he can call upon the very rocks (rocks fwiends). Much like a toddler in a tantrum, Ludo is unable to get himself out of trouble and he falls prey to the taunting goblins and their nasty biting sticks (technical term?).
It takes Sarah’s compassionate heart and a cool head, the opposites of wrath, to save Ludo. With kindness and patience, Sarah gently calms the savage beast and earns another ally. Good thing, too. Without Ludo’s help, Sarah never would have made it through the Bog of Eternal Stench!
Speaking of Ludo, it’s time we addressed his little “brother,” otherwise known as the sin of pride. With his coat of arms and a sheepdog for a steed, Sir Didymus prides himself as a heroic knight. Sarah sees a yappy fox-terrier with a Napoleon complex.
This character’s bite-sized frame sports a monstrous ego that presents another obstacle to Sarah. “None shall pass this way without my permission!” he barks and challenges Ludo to a duel. Although obviously outmatched by Ludo’s strength, Sir Didymus won’t back down. Sarah, now understanding the nature of Jareth’s labyrinth, changes tactics. She humbly asks for Didymus’ permission. “…Yes?” he replies, taken aback by her polite request. Didymous is humbled several times throughout the film, like when Ambrosious flees for cover in the midst of battle.
Goblins, by nature, are gluttonous little buggers. Just take a look at the full-bellied burping, lip-smacking underlings littering Jareth’s throne room in the Dance Magic Dance scene. But the most disturbing example of gluttony goes to the Fire Gang. These zany, cracked-out-looking characters have cast aside their worldly possessions and the clothes off their backs to live a life of hedonism. At first, the Fire Gang might not seem malicious, but there are clear pitfalls to their nonstop, mindless partying. When Sarah has the misfortune of stumbling onto their camp, these blokes attempt to swallow her up in their musical number—they literally try and steal her head. When it comes to overindulgence, these party animals (party goblins?) just don’t know when to stop. Sarah makes the correct choice and flees the party, but she can still hear their anthem even after she’s run away.
At first rub, the Junk Lady might appear as the chief sin of greed. But looking further at the context of the scene and the way Sarah breaks free clued me into another sin—sloth. Right before the junkyard scene, Sarah is given a magic peach that literally puts her to sleep. Then, when Sarah rejects the fantasy ball by shattering the glass of the dream prison, she wakes up in her room. Really, she’s landed squarely in the Junk Lady’s clutches.
At first, Sarah is relieved, thinking Jareth’s Labyrinth was all a dream. This temptation of the status quo—the return to normalcy for Sarah— would undo her resolve to conquer the Labyrinth and save Toby. When the Junk Lady piles on Sarah’s knickknacks, she is attempting to instill apathy and make her forget why she ever cared to leave her room in the first place. “It’s all junk!” Sarah shouts and the walls come down. Sarah escapes after waking to the realization that her “treasures” are burdens, distracting her from helping Toby and her friends.
There’s no question that the Goblin King is the film’s symbol of lust. The seductive David Bowie in his glamor and skintight spandex is certainly… striking.
We’ve all had a celebrity crush, so imagine how hard it would be for a teenager to resist a king who takes the form of her favorite Rockstar (see the clippings already plastering her walls). The movie outright states that Jareth is in love with Sarah, and there are repeated advances by him to fully captivate her. The age gap is meant to discomfort the viewer, as it emphasizes that Sarah is a child transitioning to womanhood—after all, the Labyrinth is ultimately Sarah’s coming-of-age story. It’s no wonder this lustful symbol was included in the film. In the finale, Sarah triumphs over Jareth by shattering the fantasy world he’s built for her. After facing all of the deadly sins, she finds strength inside herself to defeat Jareth and free Toby.
Thank you for journeying with me through the twists and turns of the Labyrinth, a movie I could happily gush about for pages more. Do you think my theory holds water? What are you looking forward to most about the sequel? Let me know if the comment section below.