Goblins as Guides: What The Labyrinth Can Teach Us About Maturity

“You have no power over me.”

This is the line that Sarah can never remember. It is the line that releases her baby brother from the Goblin King’s (aka David Bowie’s) evil grasp. It is the line that The Labyrinth, one of my favorite Jim Henson productions of all time, is centered around, and it is the line that I have carried with me since I first heard it at my best friend’s birthday sleepover in fifth grade.When I first watched The Labyrinth, I felt the way most people do when they watch this part puppet, part live action film about David Bowie kidnapping a baby in order to win the affections of a teenage girl: wondrously confused. Made in the 1980s, it has hair styles that defy gravity, an excessive glitter budget, poor green screen effects, and a set that looks like it was constructed from the trash of other movies. It also has some pedophiliac undertones, as David Bowie sings multiple love songs to Sarah, the movie’s teenage protagonist who must navigate his labyrinth after mistakenly wishing that he would take her baby brother away. Honestly, I’m surprised my friend’s very protective mother let us watch it.

Despite these more silly and disturbing aspects, I believe that The Labyrinth has many important messages about maturity and learning to become an independent person. It also provides an accurate, if somewhat satirical, depiction of what it’s like to be a teenage girl. Sarah is a girl who feels stifled by her parents, and she uses fantasy novels as a means of escape from her “wretched” life of babysitting and school. In the beginning of the movie, she is overly dramatic, as she screams things like, “Someone save me!” when she is asked to watch her baby brother, and she throws fits that involve random screaming. As a formerly angsty teenager, I can simultaneously cringe at and respect Sarah’s unrestrained anger over a minor inconvenience. However, Sarah’s time spent trying to solve the labyrinth teaches her a lot of lessons that bring her out of immaturity and introduce her to the realities of life.

In her first challenge, Sarah runs down a part of the maze that seems to stretch on indefinitely. She realizes that she doesn’t appreciate certain aspects of her life enough, and says that maybe she is taking the fact that the labyrinth goes on forever for granted. Sure enough, she is right and a friendly British worm guides her around a corner she hadn’t noticed before.Another favorite moment of mine comes when Hoggle, a goblin who slowly befriends Sarah, decides to help her get to the Goblin Castle at the center of the labyrinth. They pass through a series of large rock faces that spout dire warnings such as “Go back while you still can!” and “This is not the way!” After hearing this, Hoggle tells Sarah, “They’re just false alarms. You get a lot of them in the labyrinth. Especially when you’re on the right track.”

This scene really struck me when I watched it last night with my friends. It reminded me of the self-doubt that plagues me in so many aspects of my life, from my dreams of becoming a writer to the everyday worries about wardrobe choices. It reminded me of all the times I felt belittled for my status as an Indian woman who is generally outspoken about social justice issues. Mainly though, the animatronic trees showed me how far I had come in my own maturation. The fact that this scene resonated with me so much made me realize that I had not only overcome many challenges in my life, both external and internal, but I’ve learned to accept them as a part of my existence. Sure, there may be people who tell me I am not good enough or strong enough to accomplish all the things I want to, but in the end, I know I’ll conquer the labyrinth.

By the time Sarah defeats the Goblin King with the phrase she always used to forget, she is at the point in her life I believe I am at now. She has learned not to take things for granted, that friendships are invaluable sources of support, that life is unfair, yet wonderful, and, most importantly, that no one has absolute power over you. She may still be learning to cope with life’s challenges, but she has fought her way through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered and has come out a better person because of it. While those hardships include the Bog of Eternal Stench and fantastical dance sequences, they reflect the very real struggles we all go through to become independent people. To this day, I find affirmation and power in Sarah’s journey, and I think we could all benefit from the lessons found in this 80s masterpiece.


Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2