Saturday, January 27, 2018

Jim Henson's Labyrinth by ACH Smith

I go into reading novelisations of films rather warily, and unfortunately I was not exactly blown out of the water by ACH Smith's novelisation of the Jim Henson film Labyrinth. To give a little background, this film was hugely influential on me when I was younger – it ranked among productions such as The Neverending Story, Willow, and their ilk, that occupied a large part of my imagination.

I revisited the film Labyrinth quite recently, but because I'm the special kind of fantasy fan who wants to eke out the full experience over multiple media platforms, I had to get the book too.

I wish I could say that Smith's writing does the film justice, but it doesn't. At least not for me. I've always felt there's something a little deeper, grittier in Labyrinth, that the book kinda skates past. On the surface, it may appear a bog-standard quest, and with a strong female protagonist as well (which for its time was quite unusual). But Henson goes a lot deeper, especially pitting a young teen girl, Sarah, against the plotting Goblin King Jareth.

There is something uncomfortable in this May-December pairing, verging on the forbidden. Jareth is both creepy and sensual at the same time, and I could go all Freudian and Jungian at the same time, and spend reams and reams of pages unpicking the archetype and frothing about a young woman's awakening sexuality expressed in her opposition to her animus. But I'm not going to, and it's beyond the scope of this review, which is supposed to focus on Smith's writing.

Even if the novelisation of the movie was aimed at a middle grade readership, the writing itself feels simplistic even compared to some of the other books in this age group that I've encountered. Smith himself also takes liberties with the script that I feel are unnecessary deviations that don't progress or enhance the plot in any way. Language usage itself is somewhat twee (hence my thinking it might be aimed at much-younger readers ... but then That Scene in the ballroom between Sarah and Jareth is ... well ... not age appropriate and downright creepy.)

Smith aims for a near-limited third-person point of view, but he skips between characters randomly, which just annoyed me, along with clunky monologues without developing a strong enough voice for the author-narrator. Perhaps the story might work better if read out loud... I don't know. Just that I've enjoyed better YA literature that doesn't feel as if the author is being somewhat patronising to his readers.

(All right, it's my opinion that good YA fiction will appeal to both young and older people.)

Despite my misgivings, this is still a decent read. I'm glad I bought this particular edition because, well, duh, I'm a huge fan of the film, even if it's completely cringe-worthy whenever Bowie breaks into song. And those tights...that leave very little to the imagination.

I digress...

What I like about the book is that they've included some of Brian Froud's concept art as an appendix, along with some of Henson's notes, so for those who're interested in the behind-the-scenes details, these little additions are sweet. Also, it's a pretty hardcover, so will look great on my bookshelf right next to my first-edition English translation of Michael Ende's The Neverending Story... Because that's the sort of fantasy geek I am.

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