I fear I’m not quite smart or well-versed enough to quite wrap my mind around the layers that bellatrys is unpacking in this essay (partially) on Labyrinth. But as I’ve been thinking more and more about some of the things I loved when I was young, how well they hold up now, and the ways my personal experiences have affected my reading of them, this is as good a place to start as any.
Labyrinth was also brought up in the comments to Revena’s A Quest of One’s Own post at Hathor (by the same author, but with a somewhat condensed angle):
Sarah is both the Princess to be rescued and the Knight Who Rescues, she rescues herself from (again imo) the myth of Prince Charming, and the comforting illusions of traditional romance, without, and this is key, giving up her rich fantasy life or love of the heroic: she chooses to walk as a hero in the waking world, which is why it’s become an almost unsung cult classic among a whole generation of younger women
I love this reading. I’d already been going over and over in my head the climactic scene on the Escher staircase (quoted at length in bellatrys’ essay) culminating in Sarah saying “You have no power over me” and seeing the whole complex of destructive illusions come smashing apart with this simple statement. She says it with a mixture of assurance and awe at realizing that it is actually true, and that it’s true because she says it is.
I had an experience a couple of months ago that has left me traumatized. Without going into too much personal detail, I was victimized by a Prince Charming–in some ways, by the myth itself. Offering me everything I wanted, but only at a cost, only in so far as it fed his mythic impressions of himself, only if, as bellatrys quotes, I would ultimately let him “rule over me”. He was the hero is his story; in all honesty, I wasn’t part of the story at all, in his eyes.
It’s tough to describe without the specifics, but when I say that I’ve been left traumatized, I mean that I was experiencing symptoms often associated with PTSD and on every list of trauma-reactions I’ve seen. Numbness, feeling displaced in time, actually dissociating from my body, not being “present” in any given situation. I was wandering through a maze, feeling trapped, not seeing any possible way out of this mind-loop I was in, even though this particular Goblin King/Prince Charming is, in physical terms, long gone.
I want to insist that in talking about my own experience, and what’s helping me feel like I’ve escaped, I would in no way project that on to anyone else that may have experienced any kind of trauma. But I suddenly realized how much I was continuing to buy into the inescapable structure set up for me, seeing myself on the terms defined by my Prince Charming, still somehow needing that Prince Charming salvation imagery and therefore not being able to find the way out.
Until “You have no power over me”. And the illusions shatter, and I embrace the waking world, and I take up the quest. The fact that our Henson-heroine is named Sarah is convenient.
The Goblin King sees himself as a Prince Charming. He doesn’t fully realize he’s an abusive control freak because he thinks he’s the hero of the story, and he can’t possibly imagine the story in any other way. Labyrinth as a feminist treatise does, of course, have it’s serious flaws, but the way that these themes and images resonate with me is putting this one in the category of “childhood loves that actually get better now that I have a brain”.