Warning: contains spoilers for the Labyrinth: Coronation Comics.
Maybe yours is the kind of mind that’s never worried about why in the 1986 film Labyrinth, Goblin King Jareth – ostensibly a human man, albeit one who can turn into an owl – rules a species with which he shares zero physical characteristics. If so, then go in peace, friend, and enjoy life. You likely already are. If, however, yours is the sort of mind that regularly lets you leave home in slippers because it’s busy wondering how they get the horses to the Olympics, then step this way. The Labyrinth mystery has been answered!
In March 2018, Boom! Studios published the first of Simon Spurrier and Daniel Bayliss’ delightful 12-part Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Coronation series. The solicitation trailed the books as the untold history of the Goblin King, offering “a striking look into the history of the Labyrinth itself, and what happens to the little boys who don’t get rescued.” That’s right, “little boys who don’t get rescued”. Prepare to forgive Jareth for kidnapping that baby and trying to get its teenage sister to be his slave; that poor puff-haired sexpot didn’t know any better.
Fans of Labyrinth should absolutely read the Spurrier/Bayliss series (Spurrier also wrote another Henson film sequel series for Boom! Studios in The Power of the Dark Crystal). Coronation cannily weaves itself around the film’s existing plot, retelling it from a different angle while layering a prequel story over the top. It’s an extremely pretty companion piece to the film, with glints of Labyrinth’s pythonesque humour (one of the characters, for instance, is a sentient rose bush) and brims with love for the original (there’s an evil Ludo!). Story spoilers for it start below.
Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Coronation is set in the Goblin Castle within the timeline of the film. It goes behind the scenes to show what Jareth was up to while Sarah was arguing with door knockers and getting down with the Fireys. As a framing narrative, Jareth tells baby Toby a story about another young woman who fought her way to the Goblin Castle to take back a stolen child. Only this one – Maria – wouldn’t succeed.
Jareth’s story starts in Venice in 1797, with troubled young English nobleman Lord Albert Tyton (‘Tyto’ is the genus of birds that make up the barn owl family, linking Jareth’s paternal line to owls. It also sounds pleasingly like ‘Titan’, suggesting the family’s social status). He’s spent the past year on a hedonistic gad around Europe, avoiding familial responsibility and his stern father, who is demanding his return home. Deep in gambling debt with nowhere to turn, Albert accepted a magical deal from the Goblins, who want him to live in their realm. The Owl King who rules the Labyrinth, is ancient, say the Goblins, and needs an heir. They covet Albert’s good looks and noble bloodline and want him to assume the Goblin throne.
In Europe, Albert had an illegitimate son with a taverna linen maid named Maria. In Venetian society, they’d been living as man and wife, count and countess, but it was all an unofficial fantasy. When Albert finally ran out of money and options, he made the desperate decision to return to England and leave Maria behind, knowing that his cruel father would never accept her. He told Maria that their son will be placed in an orphanage, so she won’t be able to use him to bring scandal on the family name, but instead offered the baby to the Goblins to rule in his stead. They transported the child in Maria’s arms to the Labyrinth, where the Owl King snatched him and sent Maria back to the real world.
Maria didn’t give up. She begged the Owl King, who relented and struck a deal: she has 13 hours to solve the Labyrinth until her baby son becomes one of them forever. Thus begins a packed adventure in which Maria learns about the Labyrinth’s cruelty and whimsy, and the extent of her own power, and finds herself a motley crew of companions to help her quest, just like Sarah in the film. It all plays out against the political backdrop of a simmering Goblin rebellion against the tyrannical Owl King, who stands for stifling control and surrounds himself with steampunk machinery, in contrast to the Goblins’ natural love of fun.
In the final issue, Maria makes it to the castle, where we see that the Owl King had no intention of making baby Jareth his heir. He uses a crystal orb device to start to drain Jareth’s youth, enabling the Owl King to rule forever. Maria and her companions manage to break the Owl King’s spell, but not before the clock strikes 13. She’s too late. The Labyrinth has already started to change Jareth, and it’s explained that if she takes him back to the real world, they’re destined for a tragic end in which Albert drowns and Maria and the boy are destitute until Albert’s cruel father snatches the child and raises him in his image, without Maria.
Maria takes baby Jareth through a portal, and he soon returns fully grown and ready to assume the Goblin throne. Some doubt is cast on the reliability of Jareth’s narrative, and a few fun options are suggested for what happened in the interim. We’re shown, however, that Maria and an ersatz version of Albert who’d been conjured by the Owl King as part of a trick to stop Maria from solving the Labyrinth, have spent their time living in a fantasy ballroom inside a crystal orb – the same fantasy masquerade ball Sarah escapes from in the film. They’ve been there, not ageing, for three hundred years, meaning that two of the masked dancers at Sarah’s masquerade ball are actually Jareth’s parents. Unlike Sarah, Maria failed in her quest, and so choose fantasy – and a fantasy version of the lover who’d betrayed and spurned her – over reality.
So that’s the story of the first time a wish was made to the Goblins and a baby boy was taken to the Labyrinth, and now we know Jareth’s full name: he’s the Lord Jareth Tyton, Goblin King. Unlike Toby, who probably grew up to be an accountant plagued by some really odd dreams, little Jareth was never rescued and was changed forever by the magic of the Labyrinth, where he’s lived for centuries. When Sarah wished for the Goblins to take her baby brother away, history repeated itself as Jareth attempted to trap Sarah and Toby in the Labyrinth with him. Read much more about it all in the Spurrier/Bayliss spin-off comics. And in case you were still wondering: they just put them on planes. The horses. For the Olympics.
Labyrinth is out now on Netflix.