The Esoteric Messages In ‘Labyrinth’
By Jessie Desmond (aka GoldenAerie)
In this essay, I’m going to walk you through Labyrinth and examine all of the esoteric messages that I can find throughout the film. I am going to assume that you have seen Labyrinth. If you haven’t, then watch it before reading this. This is going to be a lengthy piece that you can read while watching the film. I’ve highlighted some key figures by giving them a header.
Before the story even begins we are presented with a barn owl. It flies through the credits until it leads us to a park where it watches Sarah, the heroine of the story, practice her play. Owls are associated with intelligence, wisdom, magic, darkness/evil, deception, and the ability to traverse worlds. This is almost universal throughout all world cultures. In Labyrinth, the owl (as we soon learn) is to be one of Jareth’s forms. The owl embodies all of the qualities listed because it is Jareth.
The owl form is how Jareth travels to and from the Underground to the Aboveground. Aboveground, this is how Jareth travels, revealing himself only to those to wish someone away.
Sarah is a young, naïve girl who is on the verge of growing up. She is the virgin, the blank slate, and the dreamer. Virgins are associated with purity, honor, self-restraint, sacrifice, and value. When we see Sarah she is dressed in white, pushing us further into accepting that she is playing the young maiden. This is a common theme that is often found in fantasy stories such as Lily from Legend. She lives in a dream world that other dreamers often pick up on quickly, this is noted by her reciting lines from a play called The Labyrinth to her dog, Merlin.
Merlin is, of course, one of the most popular wizards in all literature. It’s not long before we learn that Sarah really likes Arthurian legend, when she reveals that she has a collection of dolls that all have names of the knights of the round table, in particular “Lancelot”. This leads one to ask “Is Sarah a representation of Guinevere?” Oddly enough, the name Guinevere (French/Cornish/Welsh) translates into Jennifer (English) and Jennifer Connolly played Sarah.
Before we move forward too much, let’s go back to the park for a moment. The park is home to five obelisks that we can see and two swans. Swans are symbols of beauty, grace, love, light, and purity. The swans are a representation of Sarah, while Jareth is represented in the park by the owl. Obelisks are an ancient symbol of power, magic, and knowledge. It’s thought that the obelisk was created in reference to the sun god Ra, as a solid sun beam. Obelisks are thought to be rather phallic and in this case, we could interpret them as potential suitors that Sarah literally doesn’t notice and gives them absolutely no value – a hint at her naivety and innocent nature.
The park clocktower chimes 7 o’clock and Sarah hurries home. The number seven is associated with creation and is a number that connects humans to the divine. In this scene, the number seven is used to connect Sarah to Jareth, even without her knowing about it. The number 7 is a very powerful number and is associated with chakras, the rainbow, sins, virtues, sacraments, and the stages of alchemy.
Sarah’s stepmother takes the role of a slightly wicked stepmother and she instantly recognizes this. In fact, she tells her husband this, though he seems not to really care. The father is disassociated from his family on an emotional level. He “talks to Sarah”, but it’s not even an effort. He basically just tells her that they’re going out for the night and they’ll be back later. It’s very peculiar behavior. If the father was a card in the tarot deck, he would be Justice (from the major arcane). The Justice card is noted for temperance and strength. Strangely enough, often times in fan fiction, the father is given the career of lawyer. The stepmother, if she too were a tarot card, would be The Wheel of Fortune (from the major arcane). The Wheel of Fortune card symbolizes a 180-degree change. The stepmother is Toby’s loving mother and Sarah’s evil stepmother. She snaps at Sarah and then is calm around her husband. She is an adult, yet she is almost as dramatic as Sarah (a young girl).
When Sarah enters the house, two framed illustrations of what appears to be the same female frame Sarah and her Stepmother. These two drawings symbolize “the house of women”, meaning that this fight is typical between women. This also shows us that it’s the women who rule this household, whether we’re talking about Sarah or her stepmother. After this little skirmish, Sarah runs to her room.
Sarah’s room is her sanctuary. We understand that she must spend a bit of time in her room since it is overly filled with various things. Immediately, we are shown a firey doll, a Ludo doll, a music box with a spinning girl in a white gown, Where The Wild Things Are, Sir Didymus doll, a wooden labyrinth game, The Wizard of Oz, various fairy tales, Hoggle bookend, a scrapbook filled with photos and articles about Sarah’s mother and her mother’s boyfriend, a figurine of Jareth (near a moon sticker), and Sarah with her trinkets (near a star sticker). The obvious thing here is that we’re getting a preview of what is to come.
Jareth, in this scene, is being represented by the moon. In the tarot, the moon card is associated with fear, illusions, imagination, and bewilderment. The moon will guide you through the unknown depths of night. The owl and moon are associated with each other since the owl hunts at night and can see through the darkness.
Sarah, in the same scene, is represented by the star. In the tarot, the star card is associated with hope, generosity, inspiration, and serenity. In the darkest of nights, it’s the stars that reassure us, that help us navigate.
Sarah’s parents take off for the night and Sarah has to cull a screaming half brother, Toby. Sarah is not a big fan of Toby. She’s roughly 13 years older than Toby and has no real place in her life for Toby. The number 13 will play a big role in the film and I’ll pick up on it in a little bit. Toby is the replacement for Sarah. Toby already has had more parental attention in the film than Sarah, from both parents; on the flip side of this, Sarah is seeking out more independence throughout the film. Sarah is trying to figure out her life and herself; Toby is a bit of a nuisance, a hindrance, to this progressive effort. Aggravated, Sarah shares the nutshell version of her play with Toby. Sarah doesn’t understand her own words when she recites “Say your right words...” Sarah indeed says the “right words”, a wish for the goblins to take Toby away (right now), and her wish is granted.
We all know to “be careful what you wish for because it may come true” and, in this case, it’s surprisingly exactly what Sarah wants: a fairytale story. Goblins silently and effectively steal Toby away. They may seem silly in the film, but they are surprisingly awesome at their job. In a flash of lightning and burst of thunder, the white barn owl from earlier flies to the window, claws at it until it opens, and transforms (with a little glitter) into Jareth, The Goblin King.
Jareth is a beautiful blonde, otherworldly man who rules over the goblins. He doesn’t seem to be a goblin and there’s an overwhelming sense that he is not human. The best guess is that he is one of the Fae. He has wild hair and wild make-up, his clothes are also a bit wild. When he first appears, he in clad all in black and looks fairly menacing. There is an immediate sense that he is a sorcerer because he transforms from owl to man, he knows about the goblins in the room, conjures up a snake, and does some outlandish juggling with a crystal. He is also a representation of the horned shaman. This will be explained later - during the ballroom scene.
Snakes have been used in symbolic ways all through history. They represent fear and danger; they can represent the devil, evil, immortality, temptation, and medicine/health. For our purposes, Jareth’s snake is simply fear and danger since it changes into a scarf when Sarah touches it - a simple scare tactic.
As soon as Jareth realizes that she isn’t scared, he turns to negotiations. He pulls out a crystal, dazzles Sarah (and the audience) with some contact juggling, and then offers Sarah her dreams. This is another tribute to Jareth being represented by the moon since dreams come at night. What Jareth neglected to mention is that sometimes dreams are sour nightmares. Sarah is tempted by the crystal, but doesn’t take it. Crystal balls are an occult tool for scrying. Jareth gives her instructions on this “If you turn it this way, it will show you your dreams.” Does Sarah have the power to see her dreams? Would she really want to?
Sarah tells Jareth that she wants her brother back. It’s not very convincing and Jareth, trying one more time with Sarah, invites her to the game. He gives her 13 hours to solve the labyrinth before her baby brother becomes “one of us” forever. By “one of us”, we feel that he means a goblin, but he could just mean a citizen of the labyrinth/Underground. Changing one’s species seems like a bit of a challenge. This threat may seem a little light, but it is cloaked in fairy lore. The fae are known for stealing/abduction humans. It’s generally thought that, while the fae are said to be pretty sexual, they have incredible difficulty in reproducing with each other. Humans can aid them in conceiving children.
Before Sarah even realizes it, she is whisked away to the Underground, the labyrinth, this new magical fairy land. Jareth looms beside her, looking like a grim reaper next to a dead tree with a barren wasteland behind him. He emphasizes the 13 hours by conjuring up a 13 hour clock. 13 is the number of luck, whether good or bad.
When we look out at the labyrinth, which Sarah says “it doesn’t look that far”, we can see obelisks outside of the labyrinth walls. With obelisks being physical representations of the sun, we can see that the sun remains on the outside of the labyrinth since the labyrinth is ruled by the moon (Jareth). When we venture into the labyrinth, there are indeed obelisks in the labyrinth as well. You wouldn’t be able to see the moon if it wasn’t for the sunlight reflecting off of it.
Jareth gives Sarah one last chance to go home by telling her to “turn back before it’s too late”, but it is out of the question. Sarah doesn’t want to turn back, she wants to go forward, make progress, know the future. Jareth accepts this without question and fades away. Sarah hurriedly gets started on her journey.
Hoggle is a man who is not a man (not a human anyway). We assume he is a Dwarf, but in the novel he is called a Gnome. Regardless, he is a fae character with four faces. Hoggle, of course, has his own face, but his vest contains three faces. The first thing that comes to mind, in regards to four faces, are cherubim (from the Bible). Cherubim are a group of angels who are usually depicted as being a little chubby and small like infants or children. In the Bible, look at Ezekiel, you will find that they have four faces as well. Cherubim are protective deities, guardians of places, messengers, and were often used to depict storm winds.
When Sarah comes across Hoggle, we find that he is the guardian of the entrance to the Labyrinth. Despite this important job, he shows us a bit of humanity by peeing in the garden pool and taking care of the garden. He gives Sarah a bit of flack when she wants to get into the labyrinth. It’s all about saying the right words – again. As soon as she says “the right words”, Hoggle helps her out.
Hoggle doesn’t seem like a magical figure, but he definitely is. He isn’t a sorcerer, but he has some kind of low-grade magic. The labyrinth gates appear when he points to where they are – they weren’t there before. Hoggle follows Sarah into the beginning of the labyrinth, but when he leaves her alone, his power is shown again when he simply makes a gesture and the labyrinth gates shut on their own. Later on in the film, Hoggle will show us more of his low-grade magic.
If we take a good look at Hoggle, we find that he wears a poet shirt, a vest, breeches, shoes, and a skull cap. Did you notice that he also has a strap across his chest that holds a bunch of stuff? Let’s talk about Hoggle’s trinkets. Hoggle has a few pouches, a cornuto hand, a pipe, a canister, a few keys, and a belt purse. The cornuto hand, also called a “horned hand”, is often used to represent bull/devil horns. It’s a charm against the evil eye and for extra protection. It also has links to lunar deities since it can be a gesture to represent the crescent moon. Pouches, canister, purse, pipe…..ah, the keys. The keys are there to enforce his role as the gatekeeper and guardian.
Sarah is presented with two obvious directions, left and right. She goes to her right. The labyrinth itself has deep, ancient meaning. Labyrinths were seen as a sign of power, a trap for evil spirits, and a symbol for a long journey to commune with gods. In our modern era, Labyrinths are using in meditation and the journey to reach enlightenment. Many people will think of the Minotaur, the bull-headed man who was forced to live in a labyrinth by King Minos. The labyrinth, in the film, is magical, wild, alive, and has strong nature connections. This is depicted by the constant glitter, the constant changing walls, the groomed and ungroomed plant life, and insistence of dangers (constant spider webbing, the Forbidden Forest, and even the Bog of Eternal Stench). One could easily say that this is a metaphor for life, but I believe it’s more of a metaphor for a stint of personal growth. These dangers and the beauty is what Sarah can deal with at this point in her life. The dangers may be greater if she was older, which is hinted at by the ever-changing nature of the Labyrinth itself.
Sarah begins her journey and instantly has an epiphany – don’t take anything for granted. Throughout the labyrinth, because it is a labyrinth, Sarah has constant epiphanies throughout the film. Sarah’s next big concept to understand is - things aren’t always what they seem; she is told this by a little blue worm. In dream interpretation guides, worms are associated with low self-esteem, personal issues, and skewed self-image. The worm is wearing a bright red scarf and scarves are generally interpreted as being some sort of self-restriction or feeling muffled. At this point in the labyrinth, Sarah has these associated feelings, but facing these feelings pushes her forward on her quest. It’s a little obstacle, he’s a little worm, and as soon as Sarah continues on her quest she becomes more self-confident. She almost overcomes the worm as an obstacle, but doesn’t question him when he says “Don’t go that way!” It’s as if she second guesses herself, taking the longer route to the castle.
The Labyrinth is a challenge within itself of decision making. Many people in life have trouble making decisions that are worthwhile. After Sarah gains a little extra knowledge from the worm, she finds herself deep in the stone maze. Stones, as we know, are strong, hard, and lifeless. As we can see in the film, the color of the stone nearly looks identical, allowing us to reason that Sarah is wandering around a sea of tan-neutral. According to a variety of dream symbolism books and websites, stones generally have two meanings: 1. Some kind of obstacle and 2. A symbol of instability or a lack of foundation. In this case, this is just a small portion of the Labyrinth (small obstacle) that happens to all look the same, but once Sarah passes through this obstacle she will have a better foundation for everything – her quest, her life, etc. Sarah passes by a confusing stone post with knotty old man hands pointing in every direction possible.
Trying to figure out how to get through this confusing hard-space, she begins marking floor tiles with red lipstick. Red lipstick, since it has been around, has always seemed to represent female sexuality, while other colors such as pink is a little more feminine purity (or other meanings depending on color). As Sarah wanders aimlessly through the stone maze, little angry goblins that Sarah does not notice continue to change her marks – turning them or making them disappear. This is a statement that growing up too quickly, trying to become a sexual female is not always progression, as it can leave you wandering aimlessly. As soon as Sarah realizes that she’s been fooled, she continues on just as she is.
It seems as though Sarah, for the most part, deals with the path in front of her after the stone maze. She might ask for help, but she isn’t discouraged when she doesn’t get a solid answer. Oddly enough, it is Sir Didymus who seems to know the way to castle (see SIR DIDYMUS).
It’s no surprise that Jareth sings in this film since he is some sort of Fae and is also played by David Bowie. In Fae lore, songs can be used for musical entertainment and for spells. Jareth’s song is about Sarah, though with baby Toby present one might assume that he is singing about the literal baby in the room. The song, while entertaining, seems to keep his goblins in check. For one instant they all seem to be functioning as a unit instead of the rambunctious idle-handed goblins that the scene opens on.
The song itself reveals that Jareth has been watching Sarah for some time and that he wants to help her, but wasn’t sure what to do. He sings that she was “crying hard as babe could cry” because her “love had gone” leaving her saddened and no one knew how to make her happy again. Jareth, unable to figure out a spell that would instantly solve her problem, decides on a “magic dance” – a prelude to the future ballroom scene. Jareth actually sings “put that baby spell on me” and “put that magic jump on me” meaning that he is willing to take on Sarah’s sadness.
This might seem a declaration of love, it truly might be, but the Fae are known for being intense tricksters. He might feel something for Sarah, but opt to take whatever pains her leaving her indebted to him.
KNIGHT & KNAVE
It’s almost immediately after Jareth’s song that Sarah runs into Jim/Tim and Alph/Ralph. Jim and Tim reveal that they hold no answers to the puzzle that is presented to Sarah. There are two doors behind each shield-wielding double knight. One way leads to the castle and the other leads to “certain death”. When Sarah asks Jim and Tim which door leads where, she is told that they don’t know, but Alph and Ralph know. Alph tells her that she can’t ask both of them, only one of them. Ralph informs her that one of them always tells the truth and one of them always lies. Sarah is left to figure out who is the liar.
This logic puzzle is easily solved by figuring out who to believe. Ralph truthfully tells her that one of them always tells the truth and one of them always lies. These are the rules of the game. This means that Sarah could actually ask both Alph and Ralph questions, if she picked up on that. Again, like her moment with the worm, she misses this small opportunity to have a well-rounded answer. The banter between Alph and Ralph fits firmly into place if you follow this logic algorithm.
Jim, Tim, Alph, and Ralph are set up to look like living playing cards. In nearly all esoteric modalities, cards symbolize “taking a gamble” since you don’t usually know what is going to be played next or one might try to sway the outcome by holding cards close to themselves like in poker.
HELPING HANDS & THE OUBLIETTE
As soon as Sarah figures out the Knight & Knave puzzle, she utters that simple phrase “it’s a piece of cake” and, of course, nothing ever is. She falls down a pit and is caught by living hands, the Helping Hands. Most interpretations of hands will tell you that hands can serve many purposes: assistance, direction, and holding one back. Hands are also capable of making gestures of spell protection, spell casting, and curse/hex avoidance. There are other cases of special hand symbols like the Hamsa hand which features a hand with an all-seeing eye in the palm. Its general use is for protection, power, strength, and to avoid the evil eye. According to popular websites on graveyard symbols, clasped hands means “farewell to an earthly existence”, Cohanim hands (a gesture seen in some of the faces made by the helping hands) is reference to the Jewish tribe of Aaron, and pointing hands usually refer to an ascension or descension from Heaven.
The helping hands talk to Sarah by forming faces out of the hands. They ask her which way she wants to go, up or down. Choosing the path that she is already on, Sarah chooses down. Oddly enough, the hands laugh at her, as if they have some foresight as to what lies in both directions.
Sarah is dropped into an oubliette. Hoggle defines oubliette as being “a place to put people to forget about ‘em”. An oubliette, historically, is also known as a bottle dungeon since it’s shaped a bit like a bottle with the only hatch being high up. Before Sarah really has a chance to be good and scared by the oubliette Hoggle appears and uses a bit of magic to get them out of the dungeon. This is another reference to Hoggle’s natural low-grade magic. He uses a piece of wood to create two doorways! He opens it one way and it’s a closet, the other way is an entrance/exit from the oubliette. Hoggle leads Sarah to safety, taking her through an underground passage lined with False Alarms. The False Alarms provide false directions. Hoggle calls them on this and they respond that they know what they’re doing and it is just their job. The False Alarms are giant stone heads. They are fairly reminiscent of the Easter Island heads and Polynesian tikis. Could this be symbolism against “false idols” – false idols will lead you in the wrong direction? The False Alarms may also represent the heads of industry. They have been around for a long time, they want to do their job, they don’t care who they hurt or misdirect, and they have a flair for the dramatic. Another place we see “talking heads” is on the news. Perhaps we should take this as be weary of false news outlets, or check your facts before believing what is in front of you. Another thought is that Hoggle is a man of four faces, as stated earlier, so maybe faces/heads are his to exert power over. He does not cower before the false alarms, but simply waves them aside as if they are beneath him.
It’s during this time that Hoggle leads Sarah out of the oubliette and is supposed to be taking her back to the beginning of the Labyrinth as ordered by Jareth, but he is swayed by Sarah when she offers up her plastic bracelet. To Hoggle, the plastic bracelet is a rare item. We have seen nothing of plastic in the Underground. When Hoggle leads Sarah from the False Alarms to the underground tunnels, they run into a begging goblin. In an instant, the begging goblin is transformed into Jareth - who we can now understand is a master of disguise. Jareth is quick to notice the bracelet, Sarah’s object of bribery, around Hoggle’s wrist. Jareth, as we know, is able to travel between worlds, so we can understand that he is probably familiar with plastic items and would never be swayed by anything so...simple.
Once Jareth pushes Hoggle away, after his grovelling, Jareth moves in to challenge Sarah. Sarah has none of it and Jareth delivers the next threat: The Cleaners. The Cleaners is a circular device with spinning blades that fills the tunnel. Hoggle runs, Sarah follows, and we can see The Cleaners on a path of certain destruction. Perhaps those False Alarms weren’t completely lying.
Hoggle, using his low-grade magic, gets them through another doorway. As The Cleaners pass, we can see that it is powered by two armored goblins. Luckily, there is a ladder and they decide to head upwards.
Sarah and Hoggle emerge from a giant garden planter. A garden planter, as everyone knows, is where one would grow plants. The vase is empty and what “grows” is Sarah and Hoggle. They have grown together, becoming friends, facing danger with each other, and helping each other. They still don’t fully trust one another yet, but they appear to be on a path of friendship.
Once they climb out of the planter, they find themselves confronted with the Wise Man and his Hat. The Wise Man sits on a stone chair that looks like books. He is dressed in rags and looks fairly unkempt. As soon as Sarah approaches, the Wise Man gets excited that she’s “a young girl!” Even his Hat, really a bird of some sort, is excited. This is an obvious play on the theme of “recapturing youth”. Sarah asks a few questions and the Wise Man provides vague, mysterious answers that seem to have possibly inspired the character of The Sphinx from Mystery Men (1999). Both have formulaic responses for everything “If you want to go up, you must go down”, “the way forward is sometimes the way back”, etc. The Hat is actually a bird of bright colors, quite possibly a phoenix, and is very much a smart-aleck. If the phoenix burns up and dies, only to be reborn, is the Wise Man also tied to this fate? We will never know. The Wise Man “falls asleep” even though he conveniently rattles his begger’s box and Sarah pays him for the advice that she does not understand.
Sarah and Hoggle continue on their journey, only now they have broken away from the stone maze and have entered the hedge maze. Hedges are leafy shrubbery that provide excellent barriers and they can even be shaped into artisticly carved topiary. Plants and hedges can mean barriers, but also malleable barriers. The increase of plants, of wilderness, signifies an increasing unknown.
Sarah and Hoggle come upon a large beast hanging by one foot in a tree with goblins tormenting him with nipper sticks. While we have seen tree branches litering the ground, this is the first tree within the walls of the Labyrinth that we have seen. Hoggle takes one look at what is going on and runs away, leaving Sarah to deal with the situation. Ludo, the beast hanging from the tree, is in the same position as the hanging man on the twelfth tarot card of the major arcana. The hanging man of the tarot is supposed to depict a traitor being hung upside down for his crime, but is possibly the image of Odin who hung himself from a tree in order to gain knowledge. Most interpret the card as meaning the ultimate surrender, sacrifice, a potential gain of knowledge, and a possible breaker of bad habits. Did Ludo hang himself from the tree to gain knowledge, but found himself in an unfortunate situation when the goblins found him OR was he strung up by the goblins?
As Ludo howls, small rocks roll around, though Sarah doesn’t notice it. She does eventually see a rock and throws it at the goblins. The goblins attack each other in a classic slapstick routine and run off. Sarah manages to calm Ludo and free him from the tree. It’s actually Ludo who first declares Sarah his friend. Sarah asks Ludo if he knows how to get to the castle, but he does not.
THE DOOR KNOCKERS
It’s not long before Sarah and Ludo come across the two door knockers. One has a ring in his mouth, the other has one through his ears. For any Muppet fans, they are similar to Statler and Waldorf. While it can be said that door knockers might be keepers of the doors, I think there is something else going on; doors being symbols of wealth, new ideas, and epiphanies. According to a study on door knockers by the anthropology department at Brown University, door knockers symbolize “welcome” and hospitality. Could the door knockers be welcoming and proffering hospitality to loud mouths and to those stubborn enough not to listen to others?
There wasn’t a trick behind these doors as there was with the knight and knave doors.
FORBIDDEN FOREST & THE FIERIES
The Forbidden Forest (that’s the name given to it in the book) is dark and glittery with very large trees. While the forest seems to operate as any forest should, it houses the only real violent threat that Sarah comes across – the fieries. The Fieries make up the Fire Gang. The Fieries are weird creatures that have bright patches of fur and bare skin, huge ears, long fingers, and almost bird-like beaky muzzles. They appear to have reflective eyes, as a cat has, which indicates that they have some sort of night vision. The Fieries are able to set fires, as they demonstrate. They sing, they dance, and at first glance they seem a bit goofy – until they begin removing their body parts. They seem to think that playing with their body parts makes for a great time, so why not offer to remove parts of Sarah? As their song ends, they start to gang up on Sarah, telling her that they’re going to remove her head or her ears. Obviously, if the gang had proceeded to have “fun” with Sarah, she would have ended up injured or dead.
Most people assume that the Fieries represent “the wrong people” or “the wrong crowd”, but they don’t do anything that the “wrong people/crowd” do such as drink, smoke, or whatever else. They do manipulate their bodies, but they can restore themselves. I think they represent chaos and Sarah avoid this. It’s important to note that chaos is not synonymous with evil, but it can be. Chaos is simply the opposite of order and control.
It’s during Sarah’s time in the Forbidden Forest that she calls out to Hoggle – who isn’t too far away and hears her. Before he can get to her, Jareth appears and orders him to give Sarah a peach. It must be something that Jareth has done before since Hoggle is aware that it’s probably not an ordinary peach, but an enchanted one. He even states that he “won’t do nothing to harm her”.
Historically, peaches have had a great deal of symbolism associated with them. The Chinese have stories of the peaches of immortality. Buddhists have included peaches as one of the “three blessed fruits” and for them it symbolizes longevity. In ancient Greece, peaches were a symbol for a good marriage and were usually plentiful during weddings. It is also associated with good luck, keeping spirits away, the heart, and good health. In fairy lore, eating food of the fairies is a bad thing for humans. The magical food is said to forever keep humans in the fairy land or the human could suffer from madness that leads to death if they return home.
This particular peach induces a dream-like state in which Sarah becomes transported into one of Jareth’s crystals. (See Ballroom) After the ballroom, when Sarah escapes, the peach is shown to have a worm crawling out of it. Perhaps this is simply a symbol that the spell from the peach has ceased. Worms, though, can symbolize transformation and the body (or one’s self). Perhaps the worm symbolizes that a change has occurred.
BOG OF ETERNAL STENCH
Sarah and Hoggle get to the Bog of Eternal Stench (or BOES, as fans call it) after Hoggle rescues Sarah from the Fieries and she rewards him with a kiss. As most know, kisses have power. They might awake a sleeping princess or cure something that only true love’s kiss can cure. While Sarah’s kiss was only meant as a way of saying “thank you” to Hoggle, Jareth (always watching) is jealous of Hoggle’s friendship with Sarah and sends them to the BOES. Ludo is already there.
The BOES is a super smelly bog that we can imagine smells like a fart or bathroom smells or something akin to that. The bog does make fart noises, so it’s a safe assumption right? Hoggle fills us in that if you come into contact with the bog water, you will smell bad for the rest of your life. Hoggle, Ludo, and Sarah all seem to have problems with the stench of the bog, but as they make their way through the area it’s not hard to notice the large amount of birds – blackbirds and vultures.
Is it strange that the best threat Jareth can come up with, especially to Hoggle, is to throw him in the BOES? It’s not life-threatening, though one would assume that someone smelly enough would be shunned in society.
The two who seem immune to the smell are none other than Sir Didymus and his doggy-steed, Ambrosius.
Sir Didymus is usually referred to in fanfics as a “fox-dog” and looks a lot like a humanoid-fox with a white moustache, a patch over his left eye, a bushy tail, and clothing reminiscent of 16th century Europe. Ambrosius is a white sheep dog that looks exactly like Sarah’s dog, Merlin. Some could say that the dog is one in the same, as Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote stories of Merlin Ambrosius in his book Historia Regum Britanniae. Is Merlin/Ambrosius a magical protector for Sarah?
Sir Didymus is a knight. We gather this by his title “Sir”. If he lives in the Labyrinth, then he must be a knight for Jareth – since we have no other nobility presented to us. He is governed with the task of guarding a footbridge and he proudly states that “no one may cross without his permission”.
Sir Didymus can be seen as the ace of swords in the tarot deck. The ace of swords represents raw power, victory, and cold intellect. He is often thought of as a Don Quixote type of character since he is goofy and is apt to dive into a fight when they reach the Goblin City. (See Goblin City) I believe this is a misunderstood attribute. Sir Didymus follows the rules. In a D&D game, his character would be lawful good – an attribute that can lead to a cold intellect. We can watch him stick to the rules when he fights with Ludo, only allows bog passage after Sarah asks for his permission, and at the castle when Sarah tells the group that she has to fight Jareth alone, it’s the way that it is done.
As soon as Sarah asks for his permission, Sir Didymus and Ambrosius volunteer to go with them. Their initial task is finished and Sarah passed with flying colors. Sir Didymus is also very aware of where the Goblin City and castle are.
As the group of friends travel along, they get hungry. Hoggle takes the opportunity to give Sarah the peach once Sir Didymus and Ludo move ahead of them. She takes a bite and quickly realizes that something is not right with the fruit. Hoggle runs away ashamed of himself.
Sarah finds herself whisked away to what appears to be a fancy ballroom. The ball gowns, the masks, the décor, might all seem fancy, but when you really look at everything you realize that something isn’t right. The chandeliers are dripping so much candle wax that a mess is being made. The guests have been dancing for who knows how long and some even appear to be drunk and/or horny. How long has this ball been going on?
A crystal ball is an orb, not exactly a ring. Perhaps this is Jareth’s version of a fairy ring – an ongoing dance that fae folk can partake in. Humans who enter a fairy ring often lose time, even emerging as an elderly person, though they swear up and down that they were only gone for a short period of time. Sarah wanders around, dances with Jareth, and is taunted by the party go-ers until she is able to remember that she has an important task at hand – when the clock strikes twelve.
Sarah wears an iridescent white ballgown and spends the scene with a questioning look. She represents innocence and naivety. Jareth is clad in a gem encrusted frock coat of royal blue, the color of heroes. The crowd wears a variety of colors, but there is one that sticks out: the masked man in a billowing white shirt with a goblin skull mask and a tricorn hat. While Jareth is acting very charming and plays a short game of cat and mouse with Sarah, this masked man appears to be interested in Sarah. Is he another part of Jareth? Who is the masked man? With his skull mask, could he represent death? Jareth’s mask is red with horns, very devilish.
If Jareth is representative of Satan or the Devil and the other man representative of Death, is the ballroom Hell? The dancers display the seven deadly sins in various ways.
As soon as she shatters the crystal ball with a chair, Sarah falls into the junkyard which is just outside the Goblin City gates. It looks to be exactly that – piles and piles of junk that you might find at a landfill. Sarah climbs down from the pile she landed on and meets the Junkyard Lady, who is walking around with a pile of junk on her back like an exaggerated bag lady.
Sarah still isn’t right in the head from the peach and the Junkyard Lady takes advantage of this. The Junkyard Lady symbolizes holding onto the past, which is fairly obvious. She begins to hand stuff to Sarah until she shows Sarah a random door in the junk. The door leads to a replica of Sarah’s room and Sarah isn’t sure if she is having real experiences or if it’s all a dream. The terror behind the scene is that Sarah is being buried alive by her own junk. She has to literally climb out of the junk that has quickly built up.
Luckily for Sarah, Ludo and Sir Didymus are outside to help pull her free. It’s a short lesson to learn, but you cannot live in the past unless you want to carry all the burdens of the past.
The Goblin City is just past the junkyard. Sleeping goblin soldiers were encountered outside the outer gate, so there is the feeling that this isn’t an area that is frequently travelled. The second gate has automatic closing doors that end up forming a giant robot called Humongous. He calls out “Who goes?” repeatedly. He never does get an answer from the group. Instead the robot swings a giant axe at them and the defenses go up.
While there really isn’t any esoteric symbolism here, the lesson that Sarah is supposed to learn is completely ignored. She should have announced herself to Humongous the robot.
The Goblin City looks like a medieval city, but is also reminiscent of the city design from The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari. Streets are narrow, buildings are made for the goblins, and there are a ton of structures. Sarah and Ludo, the tallest of the group, are almost like giants. This could represent that they are both beyond child-size things, or childhood.
It doesn’t take long for the goblin army to be sent out. There’s the potential for harm, but it’s almost as if the army is trying to frighten them and wrangle them in a certain direction. Potentially fake a losing battle on their behalf. It’s only made worse when Ludo calls the rocks for extra assistance. Why is it not a true battle? The only things moving around the city are cats and chickens – the citizens have been moved out. The empty city could represent isolation in social situations.
We don’t see much of the castle interior. We do see an empty throne room and the Escher room. There is a severe lack of castle guards, if anyone is checking. The Escher room is a random assortment of stairs and doorways that lead all over the place. Gravity doesn’t work right, as Jareth and Toby demonstrates. Jareth sings and appears melancholy throughout the scene. Sarah can’t decide which direction to go and tries moving in what she interprets as the proper upright direction. We never see her walk on the walls or go upside-down or anything, though it’s possible since Toby is capable of doing it. In an effort to change the outcome, Sarah changes her perspective of thinking and jumps from a ledge.
Whatever jumping into the center of the Escher room affected, it’s apparent that things have done a 180-degree turn. Instead of a solid room, the room is broken apart. Instead of Jareth in black and wine-red, he is in white and grey. Instead of guessing at what she has to do, Sarah begins reciting the end of the play she was reading in the beginning of the film.
Jareth tries to entice her with the gift of her dreams and then makes the offer “fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave”, but Sarah refuses by ignoring him. Instead she says “You have no power over me”. The offering of dreams can be interpreted as being hypercritical over an important life issue and the need for personal reflection and alternate thinking. This being said, it is important to realize that dreams have connections to goals, desires, nightmares, and raw emotions.
Sarah immediately finds herself in the family living room back home. The clock is chiming midnight and Jareth, as an owl, flies away. Sarah rushes to check on Toby, who is asleep in his crib. After this, she goes to her room and is feeling a bit sad that she had to leave the Labyrinth.
Is this a dream state? Is she really back home? We hear her parents come home and call out to her to see if she’s home. While most might overlook this as the call of concerned parents, there is something not quite right. Toby is a baby, just learning to walk, and it is midnight. Why would Sarah not be home? Why would parents yell for their daughter and risk waking the baby? Is it a type of false awakening (dreaming that you awoke, but are still actually dreaming)?
Sarah turns to her mirror and is able to have a conversation with her friends. Mirrors are classically used for scrying, a similar practice of attaining new knowledge through a crystal ball. She reveals “I need you, all of you.” After the revelation, she turns around to find a menagerie of denizens from the Labyrinth in her room. We see Jareth, in owl form, outside her window, watching.