It seems right that my first post to this blog should be about Labyrinth as it was this beloved movie that gave me the idea for Girls Underground in the first place, many years ago, and it is the story on which I modeled the most important parts of the archetype. Perhaps it was because I’ve lived Sarah for so long that it was the first to occur to me.
Since I first saw it in the theater at the age of 8, I have been obsessed with this movie – by now I have watched it hundreds of times. I have fallen in love with Jareth, identified with Sarah, and have come to see my entire life as a similar adventure. I have analyzed every second of this film, created elaborate background stories, a history never mentioned in the movie. I’ve solved the riddles, found the discrepancies, but more than anything I have wished over and over for a different ending – Sarah stays with Jareth in the Labyrinth. But every time, in the end, she defeats him. Such a pity.
With each entry to this blog, I’m going to go through and briefly describe the plot points to show how they fit the Girls Underground archetype. So here goes…
Sarah is around 16, on the older end of the spectrum (and as such there is a romantic tension with her adversary, Jareth – one that has been exploited to no end in fanfic). Her mother is gone, her father re-married and she feels neglected by him and her stepmother, electing to spend most of her time in a fantasy world in her own mind. One night, babysitting her half brother, she makes a foolish wish, that the Goblin King would come and take the baby away – and it happens. So she must enter this otherworld – the labyrinth – in order to rescue him. Her first helper and guide, the gatekeeper, is the dwarf Hoggle, although she also acquires two other male creatures as helpers along the way – Ludo and Sir Didymus. Through her journeys she must frequently battle either Jareth or his goblins, and solve riddles. At one point, she is drugged and has a vision of dancing with Jareth at a ball – a nod to the sexual overtones of their relationship. (Hoggle drugging her is a good example of the betrayal by a companion, although he redeems himself later.) When she comes to, she temporarily forgets her mission, distracted by a cunning replica of her room at home, and then almost drowning in the junk that piles up around her. As her time runs out, she finally reaches her goal – the castle in the center – and must face Jareth alone, without her companions (this is a classic element, and she knows it – when the creatures ask why she is venturing on alone, she says “because that’s the way it’s done”). While confronting her adversary, she refuses his seductive offers and reveals that his assumption (or perhaps, it is her assumption) of his power over her is false (“you have no power over me!”) and this statement undoes his very essence, and returns her to her home.
Obviously, as it was the inspiration for the theory, Labyrinth encompasses almost every single aspect of the Girls Underground archetype. Other stories are not always as precise, though a remarkable number hit all the major points, as will be shown in future entries.
While most will point to Labyrinth as a “growing up” story – Sarah puts away her childish things in the end, and has learned to stand on her own – I believe there are many other layers to it. Like many Girls Underground stories, I think it portrays a specific and real kind of quest that some girls will undertake – whether metaphorically, or more literally on a spiritual level. The interactions she has in the otherworld are reminiscent of old stories of faeries and similar beings, with the lessons learned applicable as well: Don’t eat the food there. They will tempt you with empty or tricky gifts (Jareth offers her a crystal that will show her her dreams, which if you think about it isn’t really that great – it doesn’t give her anything). Your friends may help you, but you have to face the beast alone. Remember who you are. Believe in your own power. For those who have steeped themselves in fairy tales, these should be familiar. For those who have actually had dealings with such otherwordly creatures, or known someone who has (less common these days than it used to be, perhaps, but it happens), they are crucial pieces of advice.
One last thing – I named it Girls Underground not only because many of the girls do make an actual journey beneath the earth in some way, but because their journeys are often deep and chthonic in nature, regardless of the physical landscape. I find it interesting that although the labyrinth is not located underground (the only time she spends below is when she falls into the oubliette), the main song that begins and ends the movie is nonetheless called “Underground” – as if David Bowie understood something more subtle and true than was obvious from the plot.