Detailed Pedia


Jareth the Goblin King
Created byJim Henson
Designed byBrian Froud
Portrayed byDavid Bowie
TitleKing of the Goblins and Master of the Labyrinth
OccupationMonarch, magician
NationalityGoblin Kingdom (the Underground)

Jareth the Goblin King is a fictional character and the main antagonist of the 1986 fantasy film Labyrinth. Portrayed by David Bowie, Jareth is the powerful ruler of an otherworldly maze who grants the wish of protagonist Sarah (portrayed by Jennifer Connelly) to have her baby brother Toby taken away, and whose kingdom Sarah must journey through to win Toby back again. Jareth also appears in the film's adaptions, including the Marvel comic books, story book, graphic novel, novelization, computer game, coloring books, and photo album.


Jareth is the king of the goblins and ruler of the Labyrinth, a vast kingdom within a magical realm referred to as "the Underground" in the film's theme song, "Underground". Though the Goblin King, Jareth is never said to be a goblin himself, appearing as a handsome human. In the first draft of the script, however, he turned into a goblin when Sarah rejected him, thus suggesting that he was a goblin to begin with. His powers include the ability to form crystal orbs in his hands, which can create illusions of all types or to view things from a distance. Jareth uses his magical crystals to show dreams and offers the crystals to Sarah as a symbol of dreams. Another inspiration for the idea of Jareth's magical crystals is Hand with Reflecting Sphere by M.C. Escher, i.e. the inspiration for the mirror properties of the crystals and their power to show reflections of dreams.[1]

Jareth is also a master of disguise. He can transform into a barn owl. In the movie, he disguised himself as a blind beggar.

Jareth resents his position as Goblin King and yearns for a different life, probably somewhere down in Soho according to rock legend David Bowie,[2] who first portrayed Jareth in 1986. He has a great deal of angst that only grows when he falls in love with Labyrinth protagonist, Sarah, as revealed through David Bowie's songs from the film.

In the novelization and according to the song "Within You" part of what Jareth wants from Sarah is for her to believe in him. Though Sarah renounces the power Jareth holds over her it does appear she actually gives him what he wants. The line "I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave," embodies what Jareth feels for young Sarah Williams.

Concept and creation

According to Labyrinth director Jim Henson, Jareth was originally conceived as a creature in the same vein as his goblin subjects,[3] which were all played by puppets produced by Jim Henson's Creature Shop.[2] After Labyrinth score composer Trevor Jones proposed the idea of a rock score for the film, Henson decided he wanted a big, charismatic pop star to sing and act as the Goblin King. Several contemporary musicians including Sting, Michael Jackson and Prince were considered for the role before Henson's sons Brian and John convinced him to offer it to David Bowie, who they believed would have the most lasting appeal with audiences.[4] Familiar with his music, the Hensons had also seen Bowie act on Broadway in The Elephant Man in 1980, and felt that his "other-worldliness" and confidence as both a singer and an actor made him the ideal candidate for the role.[5][6]

Bowie's costume as Jareth and masks from Labyrinth at the Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle

Jim Henson met with David Bowie on 18 June 1984, where he outlined his basic concept for Labyrinth and showed Bowie some of conceptual designer Brian Froud's concept art to pique his interest in the film. "That impressed me for openers," Bowie later said, "but he also gave me a tape of The Dark Crystal, which really excited me. I could see the potential of adding humans to his world of creatures". Henson continued to pursue Bowie for the role of the Goblin King, developing the character with him in mind and sending him each revision of the script for his comments. Bowie formally agreed to take part on 11 February 1985.[5][6] "I loved the magic, the mystery," Bowie explained as to why he accepted the part.[7]

In an interview with French magazine Ecran Fantastique, Henson explained his decision to pursue Bowie for the role. "I wanted to put two characters of flesh and bone in the middle of all these artificial creatures," Henson said, "and David Bowie embodies a certain maturity, with his sexuality, his disturbing aspect, all sorts of things that characterize the adult world."[8] He told Dutch magazine Veronica, "the character must have something attractive and menacing about him at the same time. David Bowie has that quality."[9] Brian Froud similarly felt that Bowie was the perfect choice to play Jareth, noting that his "protean persona" made him well-suited to the role, as "Jareth needed to be a mercurial figure who would constantly throw Sarah off balance emotionally".[10]

According to Froud, Jareth is "Sarah's inner fantasy, a figure made up of her daydreams and nightmares".[10] The concept behind the character is that Sarah, reaching the age of sexual awakening, creates Jareth in the image of her musical and literary idols. Jareth therefore appears not only as a Bowie-like pop star, but Froud designed the character's outfits to reflect the leather jacket of "leather boys on motorbikes" and the armour of a medieval knight as well as the tights of a ballet dancer.[11][12] "Romantic but dangerous", Jareth reflects Sarah's adolescent desires.[12] Froud's son Toby, who as an infant played Labyrinth's character of the same name, stated that the Goblin King is meant to be a sexual icon and a temptation to Sarah. This fact was accentuated by a codpiece in the costume design. Jareth's deliberate sexual allure alludes to "the dark fairy in folklore [who] are meant to be tempting," Toby said.[13]


Brian Froud has stated that the character of Jareth was influenced by a diverse range of literary sources. In his afterword to The Goblins of Labyrinth, Froud wrote that Jareth references "the romantic figures of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and a brooding Rochester from Jane Eyre" and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Bowie's costumes were intentionally eclectic, drawing on the image of Marlon Brando's leather jacket from The Wild One as well as that of a knight "with the worms of death eating through his armour" from Grimms' Fairy Tales.[10] In his audio commentary of Labyrinth, Froud said that Jareth also has influences from Japanese Kabuki theatre.[14]


Jareth the Goblin King has become a cultural icon[15] and is one of David Bowie's most popular performances. Writing for AXS, Michelle Lavallee said, "Bowie combines a theatrical flamboyance and a sinister style that makes for one of the most memorable villains of the 1980's".[16] In 2002, Bowie told an interviewer, "a lot of kids are brought up to me and their mums say, 'This is Jareth from Labyrinth!' ".[17] Pop culture website The Portalist listed Jareth as one of 50 "best fantasy characters ever", stating that "his fashion sense, musical abilities, and magnetism make Jareth one of the most iconic characters to come out of the dark fantasy films of the '80s."[18] According to Into Film, Bowie's costume featured "one of the most remarkable wigs in movie history".[19]

A fan favourite, Jareth is the subject of fan art, cosplay and fan fiction.[20] Since 1997, the Labyrinth of Jareth Masquerade Ball, an event taking its name from the character, has been held annually in various cities, including San Diego, Hollywood, and, most recently, Los Angeles.[21]

In other media

Music videos

Bowie portrayed Jareth in two music videos for the songs "Underground" and "As the World Falls Down" from the Labyrinth soundtrack. Produced by Steve Barron in 1986, both videos were released on the 1993 VHS tape Bowie - The Video Collection and the 2002 two-disc DVD set Best of Bowie.[22] The videos feature footage of Bowie (as himself) performing the songs, appearances by various Labyrinth puppet characters, and footage of Bowie as the Goblin King taken from the film.

Comic books

Return to Labyrinth

Jareth appears as one of the main characters in Return to Labyrinth, a four-volume original English-language manga sequel to the film that was published by Tokyopop between 2006 and 2010. In the series, Jareth has ruled the Labyrinth for 1,300 years, and is not a goblin like his subjects but had decided to rule them out of boredom. In the manga, which is set more than a decade after the events of the film, Jareth establishes Sarah's then-teenaged brother Toby as his heir, leaving him in charge of the Labyrinth, which is in a fragile state. Jareth then returns to the human world to entice Sarah, with whom he is still in love, into creating a new world with him using the power of her dreams.

Labyrinth 2017 Special

Jareth makes several appearances in the Labyrinth 2017 Special, a single-issue comic book published by Archaia, an imprint of Boom! Studios. Released on 29 November 2017, the comic is a collection of six stories by multiple authors set in the world of Labyrinth. Jareth mainly features in the fifth story, Beauty or the Beast (by Roger Langridge), in which he shows the captive baby Toby some of the wonders of his world and informs him that he will inherit it someday.[23]

Labyrinth: Coronation

Jareth is the central character in Labyrinth: Coronation, a 12-issue comic series published between 2018 and 2019 by Archaia which details the history of the Goblin King as well as the history of the Labyrinth itself. Written by Simon Spurrier and illustrated by Daniel Bayliss, the series takes place within the timeline of the events of the film, framed as a story told to baby Toby by Jareth during their off-screen time together.[24] Beginning in 1790s Venice, the story revolves around an infant Jareth who has been stolen by the previous ruler of the Labyrinth, known as the Owl King, and follows the quest of Jareth's mother, Maria, to rescue her son.[24][25]

Labyrinth: Under the Spell

Jareth appears in the ongoing 12-issue comic series Labyrinth: Under the Spell, a multiple-authored collection of stories set in the Labyrinth universe. Published by Archaia, the first issue was released on 28 November 2018.[26]

Action figures

In 2008, NECA released three Jareth action figures: a 12-inch speaking doll, dressed in black, speaking lines from the film, and two 7-inch versions, one of which comes with a figure of Hoggle.[27]

In October 2017, McFarlane Toys released an action figure, in his Ballroom dream outfit, including a mask and a crystal orb.[28] In June 2019, McFarlane released another Jareth figure, in his "Dance Magic" outfit.[29]


  1. ^ "LABYRINTH: by Laura Phillips and Terry Jones". Internet Movie Script Database (IMSDb).
  2. ^ a b Des Saunders (director), Jim Henson (writer) (1986). Inside the Labyrinth (Televised Documentary). Los Angeles: Jim Henson Television.
  3. ^ Pirani, Adam (August 1986). "Part Two: Into the Labyrinth with Jim Henson". Starlog. Vol. 10 no. 109. pp. 44–48. Archived from the original on 4 March 2000. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  4. ^ Jones (2013), p. 370
  5. ^ a b Block & Erdmann (2016), pp. 50–53
  6. ^ a b Henson, Jim (February 15, 1985). "3/28/1983 – 2/15/1985 – 'Bowie's deal is set". Jim Henson's Red Book. Archived from the original on August 19, 2012. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
  7. ^ "A Loveable Villain". Bravo. January 1987. Archived from the original on 1 May 2018. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  8. ^ Schlockoff, Alain (February 1987). "Interview with Jim Henson". Ecran Fantastic. Archived from the original on 1 May 2018. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  9. ^ Smets, Els (20 December 1986). "New Film From Jim 'Muppet' Henson: 'Puppet Movies Are Not Just For Children'". Veronica. Archived from the original on 1 May 2018. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  10. ^ a b c Froud (2006), pp. 139–153
  11. ^ Williams, Owen (2012). "Dance Magic Dance: 25 Years Of Labyrinth". Empire. No. 272. pp. 100–103. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  12. ^ a b Fletcher, Rosie (18 October 2016). "9 gorgeous Labyrinth secrets – told to us by the man who made it". Digital Spy. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
  13. ^ Bradley, Bill (22 September 2016). "30 Years Later, The Baby From 'Labyrinth' Is Now A Real-Life Goblin King". Bustle. U.S. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  14. ^ Brian Froud (2007). Audio Commentary by Conceptual Designer Brian Froud (DVD special feature). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
  15. ^ Hurley, Leon (28 June 2017). "31 years on - How David Bowie made Labyrinth's goblin king a cultural icon". GamesRadar+. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
  16. ^ Lavallee, Michelle (12 January 2016). "David Bowie's 5 most memorable performances". Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  17. ^ Bowie & me (2002) - How David Bowie changed the face of modern music (Documentary). 60 Minutes Australia. 2002. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
  18. ^ "50 of the Best Fantasy Characters Ever". The Portalist. 29 April 2019. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  19. ^ "Labyrinth". Into Film. Retrieved 8 September 2019.
  20. ^ O'Connel, Mark (11 January 2016). "Jareth, The Wizard of Odd's Greatest Movie Role?". Out.
  21. ^ Feinblatt, Scott (21 August 2018). "Delving Into the Labyrinth of Jareth With Its Goblin King, Shawn Strider". LA Weekly.
  22. ^ Pegg (2016)
  23. ^ "Jim Henson's Labyrinth 2017 Special #1". Comic Book Resources. 26 November 2017. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  24. ^ a b Spry, Jeff. "Exclusive: Writer Si Spurrier On Boom!'s New Labyrinth: Coronation #1". Syfy Wire. Syfy. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  25. ^ Knight, Rosie. "New LABYRINTH Comic's Creators Talk the Origin Story of the Goblin King". Nerdist Industries. Retrieved 1 May 2019.
  26. ^ Hilgenberg, Josh (30 October 2018). "BOOM! Studios Shares First Look at Jim Henson's Labyrinth: Under the Spell #1". Paste. Retrieved 9 May 2019.
  27. ^ "Labyrinth (Neca) Action Figure Checklist". Figure Realm. Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  28. ^ "Jareth the Goblin King". McFarlane. Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  29. ^ ""Dance Magic" Jareth". McFarlane. Retrieved 6 September 2019.

External links

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