Reviewing: Labyrinth by A.C.H Smith

Content warnings: Some sexualisation of a minor

My Rating: 4 books out of 5


  • Everything boils down to Sarah and her fear of growing up, of growing apart from her mother, of being replaced. All realistic fears for a young girl of a divorced family. 
  • My god you can tell this book was written by a man. 
  • The Goblin King is so entirely done with everyone’s shit and I can RELATE

“Everything. I have done everything you wanted…You asked that the child be taken. I took him. You cowered before me. I was frightening…I have reordered time…I have turned the world upside down…And I have done it all for you.

I am exhausted from living up to your expectations.”

I love Labyrinth. I actually discovered it as an adult, at university, but the combination of glitter, fantasy, Bowie and Jim Henson puppets won me over instantly. I realise there are problematic elements (especially reading this, she is fifteen years old) and I acknowledge those, but I love it all the same. So when my fiancée bought me this book for my birthday I was delighted! It’s a beautiful book, with sketches from the designing of the puppets used in the motion picture, and notes about how the story itself came to be.

At its heart, Labyrinth is about a young girl growing up, coping with her parents divorce, her new half sibling, and her inability to let go of the comforts of her childhood. Then, add a big old scoop of glitter, goblins and stinky, stinky bogs (and the fucking fieries which continue to haunt my nightmares) and you get an 80s legend of a story with a banging soundtrack and the most insane combination of human beings, puppets and rock stars imaginable. God I love it. 

Sarah accidentally wishes her baby half-brother away to the Goblins and then faces a race against the clock to get him back before her father and step-mother return home. There’s a lovely discussion of what ‘half-brother’ means (“Then what is the other half?”) and Sarah coping with feelings of replacement after her father remarries and her mother leaves to travel and act with her co-star and lover. She clings to her mother’s things, to her childhood toys, keeping her bedroom a perfectly preserved time capsule of the years before the divorce. She loves Toby, she does, but she also despises him. Because both his parents are here and her mother is so far away without her. So when she’s left to babysit and he won’t stop crying, Sarah – a young and dramatic actress in training – reads from her favourite book, The Labyrinth, an excerpt in which the goblins take a child away. 

All well and good and dramatic until they actually do and a flamboyant supernatural royal appears in the room to taunt her about it. 

When Sarah begs him to return her brother, he makes her a deal. If she can get through the labyrinth to her brother in the time he allows her, he will let Toby go. 

And away we go!

The Labyrinth itself is a twisting and dreamlike series of riddles and places both vast and claustrophobically small. With doors leading to oubliettes below the ground, mazes and forests and what seems to be a giant fae landfill. The cast of characters within echo figures in Sarah’s life from time to time, such as her dog Merlin, and consistently teach her a lesson that is as old as time: Life isn’t fair. Once that sinks in, and Sarah stops acting as though it should be, she can progress in defeating what she cannot change. She matures as the story moves along, emerging from the Labyrinth ready to move forward in her life and leave the trappings of her childhood to the past – or to Toby. 

My one main complaint with this book is not the bulk of the writing, which I found to be of excellent quality and written in such a way that it felt like an expansion on the movie script rather than a straight up copy with directions and descriptions added to make up for the lack of visual element, but moments of it where the author (who was at the time of publication in 1985, 50 years old) seems to forget or ignore the fact that Sarah is a fifteen year old minor. Moments where the narrative slips from the cute little worm at the start of the Labyrinth inviting Sarah in for a cup of tea with his wife to things like this:

“He relished her face, then her white shoulders, her breasts, hips, and legs, and moved closer to her.” 

Like, there’s moments in the movie where you go ‘this is a CHILD’ but it’s not smack you in the face romantic, I just felt that there was no need to write things like this into the book and it did kind of take me out of the narrative a little. I have a fifteen year old brother, and the knowledge that a girl his age was being discussed like this did make me pull a face. 

Despite this one setback, I loved the rest of this book. It was a comforting visitation to a story that makes me happy in a time where the world was very unhappy. I highly recommend it to fans of the movie for some quality nostalgia and a good old-fashioned coming of age adventure with added glitter – and Ludo, who I will adore forever. 

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