This post is intended to initiate discussion, so after reading please do respond/re-blog with your thoughts.
The main thing I would like to discuss here is how Sarah has been sidelined and otherwise mistreated since Labyrinth first came out. I don’t know about you, but I have always found Sarah to be far more likable and admirable than she is generally given credit for. Sure she whines and complains at the start of the film, but she’s also clever and damn good at solving riddles. Her admirable qualities come through more and more strongly as the film progresses. She wishes her brother away, but has enough of a heart to know that was wrong and fight to get him back. She was offered her dreams, but rejected them for the sake of her family.
Overall, I feel Sarah’s a great role model and a fully-realized character in her own right. She’s deeply flawed yet deeply admirable, and she ultimately makes the right choices.
My point off the back of this is a question - why is Sarah treated so badly outside the film? There are three key elements to this, which I will outline below.
1.) In official licensed spin-off media, Sarah has been consistently ignored and relegated to the sidelines. In Return to Labyrinth, she is mostly passive and exists to be pined after and desired by Jareth. Her presence feels like something of an after-thought, which I can’t help but believe it probably was. Instead of Sarah, our ‘hero’ in Return to Labyrinth is Toby - yes, in the manga we get the archetypal bland teen boy protagonist. Although now indefinitely postponed, the planned Archaia prequel graphic novel was going to ignore Sarah entirely and focus on a young Jareth instead,
2.) In official licensed merchandise, Sarah is hardly ever represented outside of narrative-based tie-ins. There is no Sarah figure, for example, while there have been several of Jareth.
3.) While not ignored in fanfiction (serving as the heroine of the majority of stories), Sarah is often treated abysmally. She is subject to cruelty, abuse and out-right rape. She is frequently rendered passive and utterly subservient to Jareth’s will. While there are numerous excellent stories (and webcomics) with great and nuanced characterisations of Sarah, stories which disempower her (normally to further Jareth’s interests) appear to predominate.
So, why is this? While there are a multitude of reasons, I would put a large share of the blame on the fact that Jareth has caught the fandom’s collective imagination. Instead of focusing on the hero of Labyrinth, everyone focuses on its villain. The reasons for this are clear - he’s attractive, he’s powerful and intriguing, and he’s played by David frickin’ Bowie. Jareth is the character that is explored and discussed endlessly, since he can be whatever you want him to be - a Fae prince, an entrapped human, a force of nature etc., etc.
By contrast, Sarah is just human. And worse - from the perspective of marketing executives - she’s a young female human. There could hardly be a character less marketable to the core money-making audience of teenage boys which, I can only presume, the Return to Labyrinth manga was intended to reach. Why focus on an ordinary teenage girl - albeit a teenage girl with some strong and admirable character traits - when you’ve got a Bowified, marketable Goblin King with ready-made appeal to lavish attention on instead?
I really admire Archaia as a publishing house (now, I believe, a subsidiary of Boom Studios), and would really like them to reconsider the direction they take with any future Labyrinth tie-in books they have planned. Labyrinth has a ready-made audience largely formed of young women. It is heartening for young women to have works of fiction that make young women heroes, not side characters or motivators for men. There are countless properties out there which feature male heroes, and we need more female heroes to redress the balance. Labyrinth was conceived as the story of a young woman, and I am disappointed that that initial focus has been consistently ignored by both official bodies and the film’s fans.
I’m not saying to ignore Jareth or make him weak and pliable. Jareth should still be a powerful and well-shaded figure, but there is no need to make Sarah a simpering and pathetic contrast to him. Make her brave and clever and determined. Make her strong-willed and adventurous. Make her the hero.