If I had to pick the people who had the greatest influence on my imagination as a child, there’s a trifecta of artists who stand above the rest: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Jim Henson. Lewis and Tolkien were definitely my literary influences and I’ll write about them in future posts. But even before I had read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or The Hobbit, I knew the Muppets. The Muppet Show, Muppet Babies, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock were constants in my childhood. Fraggle Rock especially loomed large. Partly because I could only watch it over at my aunt’s house (she had HBO), and partly because the world of the Fraggles, and Gorgs, and Doozers was a fantasy world, a secret world beyond our ordinary one.
I have always been fascinated by secret worlds, by places beyond the normal, by fairy lands and other dimensions. Which brings me to Labyrinth. When I watched Labyrinth as a young girl, I identified with Sarah completely. The storyline was what I hoped my life could be like: an imaginative girl, who longs to retreat into her fantasies, makes a wish and gets to have an adventure in a magical world filled with strange creatures. If only that could somehow happen to me! (Unfortunately, I didn’t have a little stepbrother that I could ask the goblins to take away, precipitating my entrance into the Labyrinth in order to rescue him. Alas!)
It’s the creatures and the world of the Labyrinth that captivated my imagination (they still do!). No one does fantasy creatures better than the Henson Creature Shop, and Brian Froud’s designs pretty much define “fantasy” for me. The fact that the movie uses puppetry and real sets to create its world is why I think it continues to hold up nearly thirty years later. Jennifer Connelly isn’t just interacting with a tennis ball on a stick in front of a green screen; she’s *really* interacting with the creatures we see. When I was a child, the world of the Labyrinth *was* real; I watch the movie now and think the same thing. Those creatures, that maze, the goblin city — they’re real. Perhaps they’re not really magical creatures in a magical world, but they are physically real. They exist just as much as David Bowie or Jennifer Connelly exist. Somewhere in a closet in the Henson Creature Shop is Ludo and Didymus and the Junk Lady.
I also love the film because it’s a mash-up of so many different influences, and mashing up influences and creating something new is what I strive to do with my own fiction. There’s the German/Northern European influence with the goblins and many of the creatures; the Dickens influence with the little worm at the beginning; there’s a bit of Wizard of Oz; a bit of Where the Wild Things Are; the Escher paintings at the end; there’s even a steampunk element with some of the contraptions the goblins use. I love that Labyrinth is a hodge-podge. Dark Crystal was more of a unified, cohesive world — and I think that movie is amazing — but my heart is actually closer to the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach of Labyrinth. I love surprise and variety, and Labyrinth never fails to give me those two things.