Book Review – Labyrinth By A.C.H. Smith

Title: Labyrinth
A.C.H. Smith (story by Jim Henson and Dennis Lee, screenplay by Terry Jones)
Illustrator: Brian Froud
Published: 2014

As a long time fan of the film, I was very happy the Labyrinth novelization was reprinted as hunting used book stores had proved fruitless.  The novelization sticks fairly close to the plot and dialogue of the film with enough changes to make me wonder if it was written based on an early version of the script rather than the completed film.  For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, Labyrinth follows melodramatic fifteen-year-old Sarah who is discontent with her life and takes it out on her baby half-brother Toby by wishing him away.  To her dismay, the Goblin King Jareth from the book she’s reading (also called Labyrinth) does steal her brother away as she wished but refuses to simply give him back.  Instead Sarah has thirteen hours to make her way through the strange, shifting labyrinth populated by goblins and other fantastic creatures to save her brother.

While the film blurs the lines of reality to the point where it’s unclear whether Sarah has really been transported to another world or is simply having an elaborate dream/fantasy sequence, the book feels a tad more grounded in the fantastic.  Jareth’s motivations for kidnapping Toby are a little clearer and more ominous.  We’re given more backstory for Sarah and some hints at Jareth’s past, which make it harder to consider him purely a figure of her imagination.  However this world is densely packed with psychological and life metaphors, which make it a delightful reread (or repeat viewing) to catch all the nuances.

While Sarah starts out a bit whiny and self-centered in the film, she manages to start off even more petulant and cruel in the book.  I’m glad the film lacks her many jibes at Hoggle’s height, which were a bit uncomfortable and on the repetitive side.  But this is a coming of age story and transitioning from childish thinking to a more mature perspective is important to the story.

The book did impress me with how it dealt with the film’s musical numbers, focusing on the spirit and idea of the music rather than lazily reprinting the lyrics, which would have lost impact without the sound to go with them.  I think this approach worked much better for prose, particularly given the pop style of the music.

Labyrinth was YA before YA was cool.  While not crude, it does deal with themes of budding sexuality which make it a more appropriate to a teen audience than young children.  In some ways, the book is a little cleaner than the film, but in others, it’s more blatant about certain themes like desire and infidelity.  So YA but fairly tame on the YA scale.  And it’s certainly clever enough to entertain adult readers.

As a bonus, this hardback includes some previously unreleased sketches by Brian Froud, some notes on the creative origins of the film, and reprints of some of Jim Henson’s notebooks pages with early concept notes on it.  (For a writer, this is a bit like having your baby pictures shared with the general public, so I decided not to read them.  But a treat for dedicated fans and those interested in the creative process.)  Sadly, it’s not illustrated in the normal sense.  The story did not need illustrations but given the distinct visual nature of the film, they would have been fun.

Overall, I give it 5 stars.  There were a few changes that I wish had been done a little differently, but they were matters of preference rather than quality.

Writer Wednesday – William Dickerson



Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
I’m William Dickerson and I was born in Yonkers, New York, home of DMX and Mary J. Blige.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
I’m a filmmaker and author. My debut feature film, DETOUR, was just released nationwide, and my book, “No Alternative,” was recently published as a Paperback and eBook.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
“No Alternative” is my first novel. It is a coming-of-age story about teenagers in the grunge era of the early 90’s. The protagonist, Thomas Harrison, is determined to start his own alternative band, an obsession that blinds him to what’s either the mental collapse, or the eruption of musical genius, of his little sister, Bridget. Bridget boldly rejects her brother’s music, and the music of an entire generation of slackers, by taking on the persona of an X-rated gangsta’ rapper named Bri Da B.

…and what you’re working on right now?
I’m working on two books. One’s a memoir (of sorts) detailing my experience making an independent film in Hollywood – it’s part instructional, part anecdotal, with helpings of caution, acquired wisdom and humor. The other is a sci-fi thriller involving mind control, the Beat Generation…and maybe some Ninjutsu. My film-related activities involve post-production on my second feature, THE MIRROR, starring the Internet sensation known as “Taylor.” We are currently looking at a summer 2013 release date.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
“Animal Farm,” “Old Yeller,” and “Huckleberry Finn” are embedded in some of my fondest book-related memories. Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” is particularly special, as it was the first book I ever adapted into a movie. It was, in fact, the first movie I ever made. In 6th Grade, I asked if I could shoot a movie in lieu of writing a book report, and for better or worse, my teacher acquiesced to my request and the rest is history!

What are your three favorite books?
Questions like this are always so difficult to answer. It’s hard to say for sure, but three books that I often find myself going back to and that I admire greatly are: “Lolita,” by Vladimir Nabokov, “The Sun Also Rises,” by Ernest Hemingway, “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said,” by Philip K. Dick, and also, if I get to add one more, it would “The Great Gatsby,” because shouldn’t that book just be in any Top Three list by default?

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I don’t get to read as many books as I would like, which is unfortunate, but I’m currently reading “The Revolution Was Televised” by Alan Sepinwall, a terrific rundown on the way television has changed (for the better) over the past decade. It is also noteworthy for being the first self-published book to be reviewed by The New York Times, which is a terrific benchmark for indie authors.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
___ make sure to find a position in which I do not aggravate my herniated disc.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
Re-read. Unless it’s Proust’s “In Search Of Lost Time,” because there’s simply not enough time…at least, not at the speed that I read.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Depends who recommends it to me! Just like anything else, I suppose!

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
I’m extremely selective about the books I read, so I’m very likely to recommend them. I vet my reading material thoroughly before I dive in.

What do you look for in a good book?
I look for books that have protagonists with strong, subjective points-of-view; perspectives and views of the world that I can lose myself in and explore anew.

Why do you write?
As if there is any other choice?! In all seriousness, I find very little else as fully satisfying as the creative process. Writing a sentence, filming a scene, playing a drumbeat or a guitar lick; it is as freeing as a bird in the midst of flight, or that’s what I imagine it to feel like. It’s one of the few things that allows me to escape the world and enter another, and that is nothing short of thrilling.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Life experience and imagined life experience, and sometimes one informs the other.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
Writing has taught me to focus more on the details, the leaves not the tree; not that the tree isn’t important, but it’s the details that stick, that resonate, that float past your face, fall to the ground and crunch under your foot when you step on them.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
It’s been many years since I’ve embarked on a career in the arts, and I’ve had tremendous support from friends and family. However, and perhaps this is just me being hard on myself, I feel like it takes many years to earn the credential of a “professional” in the eyes of those around you. And perhaps that’s a good thing; it keeps you striving, it keeps you humble and hungry; it keeps you on your toes.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
That all writers are miserable. Okay, well, maybe that one’s true…

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
The publishing industry is changing exponentially; for someone to succeed in the business, he or she must treat it as a business, which is the last thing I (and others, I’m sure) want to do! First, you need to write a good book. If that wasn’t hard enough, you then have to market it, and you must do so with as much conviction, fiery passion and steely resolve as you direct to your writing.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
I will defer here to a quote by Charles M. Schulz: “I never made a mistake in my life. I thought I did once, but I was wrong.”

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
Yes, absolutely. I would very much love to adapt “No Alternative” into one of my next films.

How do you deal with your fan base?
Pepper spray.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
Whenever the movie LA BAMBA airs on television, I can’t turn it off – I must watch it until the very end.

Anything else we should know?
I’m kidding about the pepper spray.



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