Was Jareth a Bad Guy?
Hear me out.
Labyrinth is movie about a girl who struggles
to get her baby brother Toby back from Jareth,
the goblin king. Jareth came into
possession of Toby, because Sarah
gave him to Jareth. She said the right words to
have goblins show up, take Toby and send him to
the center of the labyrinth, the goblin king’s
perimeter defense system, filled with trickery,
pitfalls, and a set of rules that you soon learn
change with the wind. Goblins don’t just come and
take anybody. You have to really want them to
come, and say the right thing, with intention.
Here’s the thing, and spoilers.
One, it’s a kid’s movie, a parable with
a cautionary tale and lesson learned.
Two, the fantastical events of the movie with all
the fantastical characters all happen in a dream.
She falls asleep here: … she wakes up here….
If you notice, the characters and setting of the
dream are all in her bedroom. This is a trope done
before in movies such as Time Bandits. Both movies
have a similar beginning and ending, foreshadowing
characters that will appear after the main
character lies in bed, and then showing the main
character in the bedroom at
but both with a fun little thing that happens
suggesting maybe it wasn’t a dream after all.
This is not some real world analysis of a man in
our reality. This is the case for Jareth from his
POV in his fantasy world, a world dreamed up by
a girl. Think about it from his perspective. He’s
minding his own business one day as head
of the government of a town of goblins.
Then some wishes, truly wishes and demands, not
asks, demands that he come take someone away
to become a goblin. So he respects this wish and
take Toby. He treats Toby well, tends to him as
any babysitter would, and eventually he’ll
even let Toby stay and remain under his care
at the goblin city, His appearance might change
a little, but look how happy these goblins are!
But Sarah changed her mind, she claims that she
can unsay what was already said, and take it back,
and that life should be fair. Jareth was under
no obligation to give Toby back, but he allows
her one chance. She has just over half a day to
get to the center and then he’ll give Toby back.
Though it is difficult and the labyrinth
filled with peril and deception,
Sarah advances throughout the maze
and meets some friends along the way,
some friends, she learns, are
not always what they seem,
and she is sabotaged by Hoggle who gives her a
poison peach, which puts Sarah in a delusion.
A masquerade ball appears and masked
ball room dancers dance around Sarah,
who finds herself dressed for the occasion. She
dances with Jareth with a romantic curiosity.
She learns deep down, she wanted
him around to challenge her,
to hold her to a high standard and teach
her lessons. She is not repulsed by his
dancing and even seems somewhat attracted to
him, finding something alluring about him.
As the lyrics in the David Bowie song go, “don’t
tell me truth hurts, ’cause it hurts like hell.”
Sarah snaps out of her delusion, and continues
her search for Toby. She is sidetracked by one
of the many characters who attempt to sabotage
her and waste her time. She learns that the
trinkets she holds so dearly are merely junk
compared to what’s really important, like family.
The goblin king tries to prevent
Sarah from reaching the center,
but she overcomes all the obstacles and by the
end has the confidence to face off with Jareth,
where he once again gives her one more chance to
give in, to let Toby become a goblin and to join
Jareth as the eventual queen of the goblin city.
Jareth could have kept Toby, but he was a man
of his word and by the strike of the clock on
the 13th hour, Sarah had proven her confidence,
her gumption, and her willpower, to announce
that that Jareth, has no power over her, in any
way or any of his shapes or forms, and she wins
her brother’s freedom and the end of the dream.
She remembers what it was she always wanted
to say, but was always subconsciously blocking
herself from remembering it, “You have no power
over me,” as if to say, all that daydreaming
of antagonists trying to trip her up, have no
power of her in her real world, where she has
more important real world things to concentrate
on, like caring for her brother, living with her
loving family and getting along with her step
mother, and growing up I the real world. “You
have no power of me” becomes a line that she’ll
remember for the rest of her life, something
that can be used in her waking life when people
get in the way of her ambitions or her dreams.
The characters were merely
figments of Sarah’s imagination.
These characters reappear to promise
Sarah that they always can return,
any time she needs an escape, as
anyone would from time to time,
to play, to imagine, to have hope that the world
is more than meets the eye. All the characters
appear in her bedroom to celebrate Sarah’s
willingness to call on them when she needs them,
even the goblins celebrate this, as Jareth, now
in the form of a wise watchful owl, flies away.
In the end, Jareth was exactly as she envisioned
him to be, a dream character who she wanted to
turn her boring world upside down,
with control over time and space,
a magical being, a man who held her to her word,
gave her valuable life lessons. Sure, a baby is
kidnapped, a girl imprisoned against her will,
she is poisoned and shot at with goblin cannons.
But remember it was all a dream. Even though it
was a dream, Sarah has learned appreciation for
things she took for granted, which wouldn’t have
been possible without Jareth the Goblin king, who
deserves some credit for doing something good
for Sarah, serving as the dream character who
taught her that what is said can’t be unsaid,
that you should be careful what you wish for,
that her toys and belongings are not that
important in the grand scheme of things,
certainly not important enough to wish her own
brother would disappear, and that you shouldn’t
take things for granted, time is short, life isn’t
fair, and that she has the power, had it along,
to overcome her personal demons, to face life with
all its labyrinthine obstacles, with confidence.
Hats off to Jareth the Goblin king, the dream
character, who did a good thing for Sarah,
and at least in her waking life, the only
reality that matters, … did nothing wrong.