It is kind of (really, totally) possible that I have a bit of a Labyrinth problem. I mean, my given name is Sara (aitch-less, but what can you do?), I have the entire soundtrack, including the instrumentals, memorized, and my apartment is possibly more than a little reminiscent of Sarah’s room from the movie. Add to the mix that I like owls a little too much and did before Harry Potter was even a thing. And I just know that, should I need them, a Muppet slumber party will erupt from my bedroom mirror. It just hasn’t happened yet because I haven’t needed them enough. Ahem. But that’s all beside the point. Somewhere along the way, I began to realize that maybe the reasons I love Labyrinth so much have more to do with the wisdom hidden within than they do with my desire to name my next pet Sir Didymus. And that will happen. Even if it’s a girl.
Without further revelation of the depths of my personal nerd-dom (oh, who am I kidding… there’s more), I present some important life lessons learned from Labyrinth.
What to do when life isn’t fair.
Sarah frequently exclaims, “It’s not fair!” It isn’t fair that she has to babysit when she would rather cosplay in the park. It isn’t fair that the denizens of the labyrinth keep messing with her to keep her from reaching the Goblin King. It isn’t fair that her parents just don’t understand. Throughout her journey in the labyrinth, Sarah learns that when life isn’t fair, sometimes you just have to suck it up and function. One of my favorite quotes from Jareth, the Goblin King, is when he replies to Sarah’s “It’s not fair!” with, “You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is?” That’s truth, people. Life-changing truth. Later, when she needs Hoggle’s help and takes his shiny things to force his hand, he protests that it isn’t fair, and Sarah says, “No, it isn’t. But that’s the way it is.” She’s grown as a character and is losing her adolescent selfishness and replacing it with resourcefulness and resolve.
It’s okay to cosplay in the park by yourself.
Sometimes, all you want is to put on your princess dress and hit the park. If you feel the urge, do it. Be yourself. It’s possible that Sarah didn’t have friends—that issue is not directly addressed in the movie. It’s equally possible that she did have friends and they also like to cosplay in the park. As a kid watching the movie, I remember this being a pretty big deal. Baby me was all, “I can do that… outside? Where the people are?” And now adult me is like, “Yeah, pumping gas in my steampunk ballgown. Bring it, world!” Sarah was my first concrete example of letting my costume nerd out to the world, and I thank her fictional self for being confident and awesome. And for making me irrationally obsessed with wearing peasant blouses with vests that look like they were shaved off the cushion of a couch. Yes, still. After all of this time? In the words of Professor Severus Snape—always.
There are some stenches that are VERY hard to shake.
I’m about to get metaphorical via some oddly literal examples. The Bog of Eternal Stench is a very real threat, a physical one, in the movie. It’s a disgusting, farty-poo-mess that gurgles and belches and will make you smell bad forever. Forever. I can’t take out the trash and smell dumpster without retching. I am cursed with an absolutely awesome sense of smell, which, as far as superpowers go, is just about the worst. I can smell skunk well before everyone else in the car, and well after they have ceased to suffer from nasal assault. So, as a kid who literally threw up from smelling bad smells, Sarah risking an eternity of the worst smells ever to brave the swamp was impressive. She was a total badass.
I remember being an introspective young teen and wondering, “Would I stink forever to save my friends and family? Could I?” Sarah’s bravery in plunging (pardon the expression) into the Bog of Eternal Stench was very real for me. For that matter, Hoggle’s terror of the swamp was something I totally understood. Stinking forever is a big deal, people. A big, hairy turd of a deal. Incidentally, the only other movie to make me question my life and devotion to my loved ones similarly was the scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where Willie had to stick her hand in that horrible bug-hole filled with millipedes and other crawly bugthings to save Indy. I still think, when I meet a gentleman of interest—could I stick my hand in that bug hole for you? Could I? Could I even do it for a much younger, hotter Harrison Ford? That’s how you gauge true love. If you would risk the Bog of Eternal Stench or the Temple of Doom Bug Hole—your love is real. Carry on.
Back to the metaphor—Sarah was willing to bear the literal stench forever to do what was right. Even if it stayed with her forever. This is applicable in real life. Doing the right thing often marks us. Whistleblowers and activists face those kinds of choices and lose careers, relationships, and dreams. Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons also leaves its mark. Sometimes we have to decide if we can live with the “stench” or live with ourselves.
Give people a chance.
Sometimes Hoggles need a chance to evaluate their own lives and make good choices. Not everyone you meet is going to start off amazing. They may not be physically attractive. They may not be entirely pleasant. There may be real reasons for that. We don’t know where people are coming from and how far they’ve come. At one point in the movie, Hoggle remarks, “You have to understand my position. I’m a coward. And Jareth scares me.” Hoggle thinks he knows himself, that he’s a coward and will always be so. He’s rightfully afraid of what the king of the land he lives in could do to him. Jareth has threatened and he has shown that he’s not squeamish about punishing those he perceives as traitors. Hoggle does not want to stink forever or be forgotten in an oubliette. Those are legit fears. Imprisonment and forever-stink would make me think twice about committing to a cause. Hoggle tried to play the double agent, and Sarah was justifiably upset when he betrayed her, but Hoggle came through. He grew as a character, overcame his fear, and stood strong when it really counted. No one is perfect, but sometimes the most imperfect among us pull some amazing out of a hidden reserve we didn’t even know we had. Don’t be a pushover, but give others the chances you’d like them to give you.
Oh, Ludo! Of course Sara friend! One of the best character-defining moments for Sarah is when she rescues Ludo from those little jerkweasels with the pointy spears. She’s past whining about fairness and well into taking decisive action. She sees bullies taunting and hurting a large creature who could be dangerous for all she knows, and she stops them. Not only stops them (that girl has some great aim with a rock!), but also gives comfort to the creature. Ludo is enormous and can apparently talk to rocks, but for all of his size and unique skillset, he found himself victimized. Ludo is a reminder that bad things happen even to the strongest people and that friendship is magic. Like, pony-magic. After Sarah rescues Ludo, he declares her his friend in one of the damn sweetest scenes in a movie ever. When she says, “Oh, you seem like such a nice beast,” and he’s like, “Friend?” There is just something about that exchange that makes my sarcastic jerk of a heart thump a little bit in there. Stop that, heart! I totally want my phone to say, “Sarah friend” in Ludo-voice when my besties call. I need this to be reality.
Sometimes, all you have to do is ask!
When Sarah and company need to cross the bridge guarded by Sir Didymus and his noble steed Ambrosius, Sarah again uses her noggin and comes up with a good solution. Ludo and Sir Didymus fought, and Sir Didymus is still not backing down, even though he was defeated. He swore not to let anyone pass without his… without his… his permission! Dang it. All they needed was his permission and they could carry on! Sarah gets to the heart of the matter by dissecting his oath like a lawyer looking for the loophole, and she finds it. There are two lessons here. First, Sir Didymus is a formidable foe in a tiny package. Not judging ferocity of heart by size/shape is the message he brings. Sir Didymus possesses bravery (even if Ambrosius doesn’t always) enough for a creature twenty times his size. And maybe more. He kind of reminds me of Rocket Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy, with all of his pocket-sized badassery. And now I want fanart of Didymus as Rocket and Ludo as Groot. Internet? Can you make that a real thing? Second, asking for what you need and being specific are really important. If you can avoid a huge fight, literally or figuratively, by just asking some questions? Try that first.
When a man in Magic Pants wants you to live underground and lord over a bunch of muppets with him, and you’re fifteen years old, you tell him no, even if the dress is AMAZING.
Once you turn 18, where you spend your time is your own business. That white owl flapping at your window? That owl does not have your Hogwarts letter. That owl is a shapeshifty Goblin King manchild who is willful, lonely, and totally a better babysitter than you, Sarah. Seriously, that kid was cracking up when Jareth sang to him. I’d cry too if my babysitter yelled at me for snuggling a teddy bear. Sarah was an awesome adventurer, but kind of a sucky babysitter. We can’t all be good at everything.
Sigh. That dress really was amazing. And I’m over 18. I’ll be chillin’ Underground should anyone need me.
Sara Goodwin has a B.A. in Classical Civilization and an M.A. in Library Science from Indiana University. Once she went on an archaeological dig and found awesome ancient stuff. Sara enjoys a smorgasbord of pan-nerd entertainment such as Renaissance faires, anime conventions, steampunk, and science fiction and fantasy conventions. In her free time, she writes things like fairy tale haiku, fantasy novels, and terrible poetry about being stalked by one-eyed opossums. In her other spare time, she sells nerdware as With a Grain of Salt Designs, Tweets, and Tumbls.