Jareth the Goblin King – Labyrinth
Jareth the Goblin King, master of the Labyrinth, controller of the Crystals, and generally stylish fellow
♦ Labyrinth synopsis/summary:
Teenager Sarah is stuck watching her baby brother Toby, much to her chagrin. She’s a highly imaginative girl, who’d probably be going to renaissance faires and LARPing nowadays. Her room is crammed with fantasy art and toys. Babysitting Toby is interfering with her busy social calendar, which consists mainly of cosplaying in medieval garb in the park. As Toby bawls, she tells him a story about a Goblin King who falls in love with a young woman. Then she wishes the goblins would take Toby away. Unbeknownst to her, there really are goblins, and they really are listening.
Enter Jareth the Goblin King, our main villain, though he rates more as an antagonist. He first appears in his barn owl form, then shifts to his glorious blond human form. He fulfills her wish. When she experiences wisher’s remorse, he reminds her that “what is said is said.” She has 13 hours to get to Jareth’s castle in the middle of the Labyrinth, or Toby will be “one of us forever.” He offers her a crystal ball that will reveal her dreams, but the catch is she must abandon Toby. She refuses.
Watch the movie if you want to know what Sarah plows through to reach her objective. As for Jareth, he shows his pleasure at having new blood in the castle by singing and dancing with his goblins and chickens. After hearty entertainment, Jareth use crystal balls to keep tabs on Sarah and the motley crew she’s assembled as companions.
Jareth uses Hoggle, a dwarfish guy with a face only an ogre could love, to lead Sarah back to the Labyrinth’s start. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Of course, Hogwart falls for Sarah’s charms and starts leading her to the castle. Jareth counters by cutting time off the clock and sending the Cleaners, a giant drill, through the tunnels after them.
After that fails, he gives Hog a drugged peach. Eventually Higgle gives it to Sarah. The LSD in the fruit sends her into a second dream world/vision with the help of the crystal balls Jareth dispatches. In the dream, Sarah is at a masquerade ball. She and the Goblin King are the only people not in masks. He sings “As the World Falls Down” and dances with her. She escapes the dream, however, and instead of wanting to submit to Jareth, she learns that materialism is a trap.
At the castle, Jareth uses the Escher Room to delay Sarah. All the while, he sings “Within You.” In it he reveals that everything he’s done – taking Toby, reordering time, turning the world upside down – was for her. He’s done just as she asked. He’s lived up to her expectations. Now he only wants her to obey him, fear him, love him. Do so, “and I will be your slave.” She dumps him with the line from the magic book we see at the movie’s start: “You have no power over me.”
♦ Analysis (Limited to the information in the Labyrinth* movie):
To understand how Jareth can help us succeed in life, we have to understand Jareth. And in understanding him, we might just understand ourselves better.
We first meet Jareth in the title sequence. We don’t know it’s him, though, as he’s in (CG) barn owl form.
Depending on the culture, an owl can portend doom or symbolize wisdom. Owls are also seen as being evil, associated with witchcraft, and not just the Hogwarts type. I think owl = wisdom/wise is appropriate, as he’ll help Sarah understand what matters in life, even as what matters to him slips through his fingers.
He flies to the accompaniment of “Underground.” This is a musical, at least partially, so the lyrics throughout the movie reveal Jareth’s thoughts. Listen carefully to the lyrics, not just to the late David Bowie singing. I suggest getting a copy of the Labyrinth original soundtrack*, because there’s no such thing as too much Bowie.
The lyrics show Jareth’s motives:
No one can blame you for walking away
Too much rejection
No love injection
But down in the underground
You’ll find someone true
Down in the underground
A land serene
A crystal moon
Owl!Jareth lands in the park, where we meet Sarah in her ren fest garb. He’s evidently been watching her. The spin-offs and other stories in the Labyrinth-verse, such as the manga, Return to Labyrinth*, go into more detail.
Next we see him, he’s already fulfilled her wish. In owl form at first, he returns to human and explains what happened. This is our first impression of him: He’s apparently a human, not goblin, which tells us his motives will be different from a goblin’s, which I assume would involve eating Toby. Human form also means he operates on an intellectual level and can be reasoned with. Also, since he’s handsome and well dressed, we assume he’s refined in his conduct. We trust him to keep Toby alive – more than we trust a “monster,” anyway.
The way he speaks to Sarah is interesting. He’s dignified and slightly smug. Even when warning her she’s no match for him, he treats her with mild respect, aside from lobbing a corn snake at her when she refuses his offer of the crystal ball. He lays everything out for her, then opens the Labyrinth world.
Jumping back to the crystal ball offer:
I’ve brought you a gift. … It’s a crystal. Nothing more. But if you turn it this way and look into it, it will show you your dreams. But this is not a gift for an ordinary girl who takes care of a screaming baby.
A major theme of the movie is “relationships, not things, are important.” On the surface, Sarah desires her personal fantasy world. Fame, glamour, and escape await there. Jareth is a pro at using desire to manipulate people. He knows her well enough to believe that the offer of seeing her dreams will be tempting. Does he think she’ll accept it? Hard to say. It’s a test, at the very least. The crystal will “show you your dreams,” much like the Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter. Some people spent their whole lives staring into it and forgetting to actually live. Heck of a warning against TV, eh? The fact that the ball turns into a snake is a way of showing its true, deceptive nature. Like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, it offers empty promises that will lead only to suffering.
Meanwhile, in the castle:
Sprawled over his throne, Jareth looks serious and contemplative as he gazes at the clock.
Thirteen hours ticks away. As the goblins antagonize chickens, he launches into the “Magic Dance.” First musical number! He looks like he’s having a blast during the song. Toby yowls through the first bit, but then gets in the spirit, especially when Jareth starts tossing him in the air. The kid’s supposedly the subject of the song. But is he? They’re dual-use lyrics.
I saw my baby, crying hard as babe could cry
What could I do?
My baby’s love had gone
And left my baby blue
I saw my baby, trying hard as babe could try
What could I do?
My baby’s fun had gone
And left my baby blue
Sounds like Sarah, no? Here’s the second place we see Jareth believes his actions are “helping” her.
Society for the Promotion of
Elfish Goblin Welfare:
We don’t know how Jareth got his title as Goblin King. Is he self-proclaimed? Does he come from a long line of beautiful blond rock stars? He rules the dumpy Lord of the Rings rejects with an aluminum fist: tossing them in the air for fun, ordering them to laugh at his jokes, using them to do his dirty work. But they seem cheerful enough, laughing at chickens and each other. Their single-digit IQs might have something to do with this too. They don’t seem afraid of Jareth, as they congregate to chill in the throne room with him. Looking back at the many goblin cultures I’ve studied, I must admit this is typical behavior for their troops. They respect force. Maybe it’s a bit early for a movement like Hermione Granger’s SPEW.
Jareth disguises himself as a poor beggar rag creature. He intercepts Hoggle and Sarah, confronting Higgle about siding with Sarah. Jareth threatens him with the Bog of Eternal Stench. But deep down, Jareth wants to see how far she can get, I think.
Then Jareth asks Sarah how she likes “my Labyrinth.” Again, it’s vague how much control he has over it , I can say “my office,” but I only control a little of it. Is it “his” in the sense that he holds the deed, lives at its center, or controls its machination?
She boasts that “it’s a piece of cake.” Again she’s surprised him with her fortitude. In response, he chops a few hours off the timer. Later we see that doing so wasn’t as simple as running the clock hands forward. He “reordered time.” The magic of the Labyrinth world apparently sets the 13-hour limit, as well as the spell Sarah uses do defeat him in the finale. (And again, we’re going on the movie’s info only.)
Sarah complains about it not being fair. Here she reverts to an immature response. Jareth sees complaints about fairness as excuses.
You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is?
Then he tosses a crystal ball down the tunnel, summoning the goblin-powered drill, the Cleaners. I doubt this was meant as a real attempt to kill them. He could have killed them all easily enough. Then again, is there Labyrinth magic that prevents him from outright killing a human? Even if there is, I highly doubt he wants her dead. He’s doing all this for her.
Jareth finds Hedgewart alone and confronts him again. Jareth obviously doesn’t buy Hog’s story, but it doesn’t matter. Threats and intimidation follow, with Jareth disregarding Hoggle’s personal space. Hog is afraid, making me think the Goblin King follows through on his threats. This behavior is standard procedure for Jareth. Demeaning people comes as easily as dancing.
Next tactic: drugged peach. Jareth assures Hog that it won’t harm Sarah. Again, he has the chance to kill her but doesn’t. He has a bigger plan.
Continue to Part 2 to learn the fate of the peach. Oh, and how Jareth can help us succeed in life.
But before you do, grab a copy of the Labyrinth from Amazon. It’s what I did. You could buy a Starbuck’s with that $4, but this is zero calories and lasts longer.
(*Affiliate link, meaning you get a movie, I get a few pennies, and everybody’s happy!)
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