Labyrinth – 1986 – dir. Jim Henson
“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child that you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours and my kingdom is as great. You have no power over me.”
The speech is intriguing mostly because of the foreshadowing it does; much like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” did for Dorothy in the film version of The Wizard of Oz, an inspiration for Labyrinth. Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a teenager who is trapped within a self-created fantasy world, accidentally wishes her younger brother away to the Goblin King Jareth (David Bowie). When the clock strikes thirteen, the baby will become a goblin—unless Sarah can solve the labyrinth, fight her way to the castle through the Goblin City and save him.
“Through dangers untold…” The labyrinth itself presents these dangers. It changes; it is rarely what it seems to be; it houses all sorts of strange and interesting creatures (both friend and foe); it is deceiving at every single twist and turn. How does one conquer the labyrinth when you cannot trust what you see before your own eyes? Take nothing for granted and see beyond what’s apparent.
“…and hardships unnumbered…” While navigating through the labyrinth, Sarah is tested in several ways; most obviously in her problem-solving skills; which often leads her down the wrong path. She’s dropped into an oubliette; betrayed; deceived; nearly maimed by the Cleaners; almost had her head pulled off; drugged. Wait a second; aren’t these hardships supposed to be unnumbered?
“…I have fought my way to the castle beyond the Goblin City…” The word ‘fought’ is intriguing because Sarah is quite a contrary young lady. If she had her way in the first place, she would not be on a quest to save her brother from the Goblin King. No, she would still be pretending to be a heroine, dressed in her costumes, repeating lines from her favorite book. It is only when she realizes that she cannot conquer the labyrinth alone that the fight becomes heroic. No longer does she argue and disagree and lament, “It’s not fair!” Instead, she realizes that it is not about what is fair to her; the young lady finally realizes that the world is more than fantasy, her words and actions do have an effect on others. Upon this realization, Sarah and her companions fight their way through the Goblin City.
“…to take back the child that you have stolen.” Not an easy task by any means. After calling in the rocks to help clear a path to the castle door, Sarah chases after the Goblin King and is faced with a maze of staircases that rivals the labyrinth itself.
“For my will is as strong as yours…” The Sarah that entered the labyrinth was not the same as the one that stood before the Goblin King inside the castle. Before her journey, Sarah just spoke these words as one would quote a favorite poem or a sonnet. By the end, once inside the castle, she finally breathed life and energy into these words. It took that strong will to conquer the labyrinth; in spite of all of the obstacles. It had to be unshakable will, nothing else would do.
“…and my kingdom is as great.” Hers is a kingdom of friends who helped her find her way; who fought beside her; who were willing to face the Bog of Eternal Stench and defy their King.
“You have no power over me.” Before she began her journey, Sarah could remember the entire entry from her favorite book, except this last line. The fantasy that she loved did have power over her; it possessed her every thought, it even overtook the decorations in her bedroom. The only thing of importance to Sarah—at the start of the film—was her fantasy world; a place she could get lost in and escape from reality. Then, while telling her brother Toby the story of the Goblin King, she wishes that the goblins would come and take him away, “…right now.” When they do, much like the Dorothy’s tornado did in the Wizard of Oz, the line between Sarah’s fantasy and reality merge.
As she made her way through the labyrinth, she began to rely less on the fantasy and more on herself. Her evolution is evident with every turn she takes; but never more evident than at the end. The Goblin King offers to make her fantasies come true; to exist with him in this altered state, to belong to him. Sarah searches for the one line she could never remember: “You have no power over me.” Upon this realization, the fantasy world fades away. She is home once again (minus the Good Witch of the North and the ruby red slippers) and all is right with her reality; though the fantasy and reality to mix together again in the last scene.
She learns that she can no longer take everything for granted—including her little brother; she can no longer allow her fantasy world to have power over her. But, every now and then, “I need you all…for no reason.”
To bring the fantasy into reality for a moment, the lesson is quite clear: though there will be struggles, times of grief and frustration in your life (as illustrated by the labyrinth), do not allow yourself to shun these experiences. Face them, learn from them and grow; understand that there will be others (like Hoggle and Sir Didymus) around to help you see the light at the end of the tunnel. Nothing is as bad as you think it is, and eventually the labyrinth will have no power over you.