Still with me? Great. If you missed Part 1, go read it or you’ll be lost like Bilbo in Mirkwood.
To understand how Sauron can help us succeed in life, we have to understand Sauron. And in understanding him, we might just understand ourselves better.
In the beginning, Mairon (aka Sauron) was “on the side of the angles,” as Moriarty would say. What’s more, he was an angel. He was created as a good being, but Eru also gave him free will.
What’s interesting is that he didn’t side with Melkor right away when that Ainur rebelled. If there’s one virtue Sauron possesses in spades, it’s loyalty. If you aren’t familiar with his history, it’s odd to think of him as being loyal.
He remained loyal to Eru until after being assigned to Aulë the Smith. I think it was being out of Eru’s direct presence cooled Sauron’s allegiance. Sauron has always been a fan of order and organization, and perhaps seeing how Eru let others do his will bothered Sauron. Many of the other spirits were probably less interested in efficiency and precision than Sauron thought appropriate. If Eru was so great, why would he let these incompetents execute his will?
The next factor that I think influenced Sauron’s flipflop was being absorbed in the act of craftsmanship himself, something that before the material world existed had been the domain of Eru only. Now Sauron could imitate Eru by crafting his own creations.
Pledge allegiance to the dark side:
When Melkor came on the scene, the soil of Sauron’s heart was ready for planting of the evil seed that would corrupt him. Unlike Eru, Melkor effected “his designs quickly and masterfully.” Sauron admired those traits, as well as honoring Strength in general.
One wonders if Sauron would’ve sided with Melkor if he’d known the corruption that would come? Remember, Sauron wanted to make order and bless the earth’s inhabitants. At this point, the power had yet to blind him. Power wasn’t an end in itself for him yet.
As Sauron became chief lieutenant, he worked tirelessly for the triumph of Melkor. Sauron truly “adored” his lord. Sauron’s schemes topped even Melkor’s. This had to be a boost to the ego!
I picture Melkor as being rather two dimensional. He worked with “the furious haste of his malice.” He might have been powerful, but he wasn’t too bright if that was his main MO. That’s an unsupportable tactic. Speaking of tactics, did he even have a strategy? The Valar captured Melkor, but not Sauron. This lends weight to my theory.
Even Dark Lord feel loss:
What did Sauron feel when he lost his beloved master? I’m willing to speculate… Confusion about what to do now. Anger at the Valar for stopping a force for progress. Emptiness at losing a master. Loss at having his efforts rendered useless.
I’m going out on a limb and suggesting the Kübler-Ross model, also known as the Five Stages of Grief, would fit. They’re not just for dealing with the death of loved ones or the diagnosis of a terminal illness. The stages apply to most loss/trauma. They’re good to keep in mind when you face bad times.
Denial — Melkor the great Dark Lord couldn’t be defeated!
Anger — Why would this happen? How dare the Valar do this!
Bargaining — Maybe the Valar will be willing to undo this if…
Depression — What’s the point? He’s gone and I’m in hiding.
Acceptance — With enough skill and cunning, nothing is impossible for me.
Sauron coped by breeding orcs and preparing for Melkor’s return. See the loyalty I was talking about? He could have decided to usurp what remained of Melkor’s power and deny his lord. But no.
Melkor returned with power, then left to apply his wily ways to Men. During this, Sauron operated from his Isle of Werewolves as he fought the Elves. He didn’t stay lord for long, though. When Luthien and Huan defeated him, he chose to abandon the Isle rather than being shamed in front of Melkor. What would Melkor want him to do, I wonder? Is this the first slipping of loyalty from Melkor?
Exiled again, Sauron couldn’t help his lord anyway. Melkor fell during the War of Wrath and was pretty much banished into the Shadow Realm.
Sauron is by this time an escape artist 1000x better than Houdini. But here he changes up his tactics. He’s running out of options, so he swings from the vampire bat end of the spectrum to the angel of light end. While it didn’t help in this situation with the Valar, it worked wonders when he applied it to the Elves and Men. Sauron is adept at transforming failed plans into successes. Sometimes you just have to change audiences. You can’t please everyone. You need to find a niche. (Critical if you’re running a business, but also useful in daily life.)
Gray, going on pitch black:
Even now, though, he isn’t “wholly evil.” His heart is in the right place as he works for “the reorganizing and rehabilitation of Middle-earth.” That’s fine. We need that in society. But power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The fatal flaw: he began “lusting for Complete Power.” Victory became an end in itself. The need to win is a strong one, and it calls to all of us. Sometimes it’s better to lose, though, if winning would mean compromising our moral code or being counter productive to our goal. Eyes on the prize is a saying for a reason! Yes, the journey is as important as the destination, but if you don’t know where you’re going goal-wise, any way will get you there. Or in this case will take you to Hell.
Sauron uses his lovely form as Annatar, “Lord of Gifts,” to co-opt the Elves. He’s discovered that force and werewolves aren’t always the best means to his end. He’s learning his audience. His manipulation and deception abilities are evolving. Level up!
As is often the problem with authorities who want to protect their people and make them prosper, Sauron decided that controlling the leaders of the people would be the best option. The logic is sound: people screw up because their leaders screw up. Make sure the leaders “do the right thing,” and the people will follow. Peace, protection, and prosperity will blossom! That’s a breath away from a prison, too. Security and freedom must be balanced.
Sauron reinforced his plan with the rings by making the One Ring to further control them. It’s like a fail-safe.
Not surprisingly, this all backfired when the unwittingly controlled discovered their situation. Rebellion followed. We see this in history: an overbearing authority squeezes the people until they push back.
When Numenor came into the picture, Sauron realized he was outclassed. This takes perception to recognize and courage to admit. People are destroyed when they keep fighting losing battles. Sauron takes the “I surrender” tact again.
Sun Tzu would approve: “Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.“
Sauron has discovered one of the most effective tools to defeat a foe: working from the inside. A cancer is much harder to eradicate than a rabid racoon chewing on your leg. People will often try to gain your trust only to stab you in the back later. To put it in a positive light, often the best way to reform a broken system is to work on it from inside the belly of the beast.
Sauron aimed for hearts and minds, targeting the people’s religion. We see that tactic all the time in real life. That’s why it’s important to know what you believe. The Dark Lord shows more of his corruption as he decrees human sacrifices. This is a good way to motivate the Numenoreans into subduing other races.
This all harks back to Sauron’s turning from Eru to Melkor. He wants the same for “his people.” Melkor’s ways were efficient, after all. And where’s Eru through all this anyway? Well, he finds out soon enough. His careful scheme to have the last block to his domination throw itself on his other enemies’ swords goes to waste when Eru intervenes. This is totally unexpected.
Good on paper:
Let’s break this down: The plan to have enemy defeat enemy was good. Getting other forces to do his work for him was genius. It’s all part of 3-D Negotiation*, which advocates setting up the pieces on the board long before meeting at the negotiating table. (It’s a great read and relevant to your interests no matter who you are.) We see again Sauron’s tactics are improving.
Again, Sun Tzu would approve: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.“
The problem came when out of the blue Eru shows up. Things happen in life that no one can foresee. Acts of God, some people call them. Sauron rolls with the punches, though, and escapes. Again. He’s nothing if not adaptable!
Next problem: the Alliance. Sauron was on a roll before they dropped caltrops. His mistake was facing them personally. He didn’t have a choice, though. I’m sure his pride didn’t help either. He put all his power, all his cards, on the table. Double down! His failure to hold anything in reserve or to have a contingency plan lost him the Ring, a finger, and all but a fragment of his power. Don’t be Sauron.
You shall not pass!:
In the main The Lord of the Rings* plot, Sauron seeks the Ring covertly, but he doesn’t realize, or doesn’t acknowledge, Gandalf is around. Now, it’s easy to underestimate Gandalf. He’s not throwing fireballs or commanding undead. But the Wizard has knowledge. Intel about the Ring and Sauron’s desire for it are deadly weapons. They keep the Hobbits on the run, create the Fellowship, and send Frodo on his quest.
Going back to 3-D Negotiation, Gandalf achieved the holy grail: knowledge of what his opponent’s true goals and the extent of their willingness to achieve them. Sauron’s “no deal option” – what he would be left with if he deserted his plan to get the Ring – was defeat. That alone meant a win for Gandalf. Sauron had to fight. He had to get the Ring. With the Ring as a hostage, the Fellowship could manipulate the great Dark Lord. And they did just that.
The Fellowship made Sauron so nervous that he launched his forces before he planned. He played the Fellowship’s game. Desperation led him to desperate measures. They failed. After millennia of thinking outside the box for solutions/escapes, he fell into their trap. His all or nothing bid destroyed him.
Sauron “outlived” a more powerful spirit, Melkor, and ruled on Middle Earth in various forms for millennia. He was supposed to be an unstoppable Dark Lord. The creator Eru had even intervened to stop him. Sauron had a toolbox of excellent tactics, all of which he used well. But what destroyed him? A couple Hobbits? No. It was a series of small defeats, and I don’t just mean the ones that weakened him over the years. He lost the element of surprise, which is the first domino. Then he lost the initiative, letting others call the shots.
♦ What does Sauron represent?
Villains embody themes, morals, warnings, dangers. They are symbols and parables that help us live better.
So what about the Dark Lord Sauron? This is just my opinion, but I believe he embodies a number of themes:
- The dangers of worshiping organization and efficiency alone.
- The danger of losing sight of the end goal.
- The temptation to be corrupted by power.
- The cost of progress without concern for humanity/life.
- The Devil.
- The corruption of good.
- The danger of pride.
This isn’t exhaustive, of course.
♦ What the Dark Lord Sauron teaches us about how to succeed in life:
Use 3-D Negotiation: set up the pieces and players before the meeting, know their goals and your goals, know their no-deal option and your no-deal option. Go read the book. Seriously.
Slow down and think things through when you’re in desperate situations. Try not to get in them in the first place, but when you do, don’t play your opponent’s game. Make them play yours.
Don’t let victory become an end in itself. Remember what you’re striving for.
Find a niche. Not everybody will love you and/or what you do. Find the ones who do and stop wasting time.
Be adaptable. Security really comes from ability to evolve with the times. Adapt or die.
Knowledge is power, and it goes both ways. Be careful who you tell things to. Use your knowledge about others wisely. It can build them up or destroy them.
Be careful who you throw your lot in with. Everyone has enemies, especially someone powerful. So remember this before you side with somebody.
Efficiency and organization are good as long as they don’t become all-consuming. Don’t let OCD take over!
Power corrupts easily. Do a self-check on your use of it if/when you are blessed enough to hold it.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. And we’re great at rationalization! Reality check required.
Making a good impression works wonders. People judge by appearances first. Three seconds is all it takes for somebody to judge you and your motives.
Sometimes a retreat is the best option. Strategic withdrawal gives you a chance to regroup.
Work from the inside for change. It’s always easier to work from inside the defenses. It’s still not easy, but it’s better than the alternative.
Keep your eyes open. Opportunities are everywhere.
♦ Mach(iavelli) Tip:
“Men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, for everyone can see and few can feel. Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are.”
♦ Tzu Tip:
“He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.“
♦ Further reading:
♦ TV Tropes:
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments. Perform your own villain assessments with the Villain Matrix. Use the Villain Matrix spreadsheet that comes free when you join the Research Team, where you’ll also get our newsletter with its exclusive updates and content.
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Sauron – Lord of the Rings, Hobbit, Silmarillion
♦ Silmarillion, Hobbit, Lord of the Rings synopsis/summary:
Sauron, The Lord of the Rings* namesake! He’s one of the most powerful and dangerous villains around. In short, he’s an analog of Satan.
To really understand the Dark Lord, you have to start at the beginning. Sauron’s most active time is in JRR Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, which is a prequel to the LotR that reads like the Book of Genesis in the Holy Bible*. The book covers thousands of years of history. If you enjoyed LotR, you need to read this. You’ll appreciate the trilogy 100x more. Go get The Silmarillion* now!
Since I’m covering…5 books, this will be a longer post. Stay with me, though, because it’s worth it. I wager you’ve never heard a lot of this, since most people haven’t plowed through The Silmarillion. It’s been awhile since I tackled it, so I’m relying heavily on Wikipedia, repository of all human knowledge.
Time before times: Pre Material World
Sauron was an Ainur: an angel of sorts to the supreme being and creator Eru. Sauron was a minor spirit, a Maiar, of the Ainur. He didn’t start out evil. As Elrond stated, “Nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.”
The Valar (a more powerful type of spirit) Melkor caused rebellion against Eru. Melkor tried to usurp the Music of the Ainur, which was originally for Eru’s praise. “Straightway discord arose around him … some began to attune their music to his rather than to the thought which they had at first.”
The Music illustrated the fight between good and evil until Eru ended the Song of Creation. Eru made the music physical, creating the material World, Eä.
Land ho!: First Age
The spirits tried to organize the world for Eru. Sauron served Aulë the Smith and learned craftsmanship. Sauron’s original name was Mairon (the Admirable), but he became Sauron (putrid, foul, abhorred) after he joined Melkor.
Sauron “loved order and coordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction.” Enter Melkor: “It was the apparent will and power of Melkor to effect his designs quickly and masterfully that had first attracted Sauron to him.” Later, “because of his admiration of Strength he had become a follower of Morgoth [Melkor] and fell with him down into the depths of evil.”
Sauron became chief lieutenant, “desiring the triumph of Melkor, whom in the beginning he had adored.” He could pull off schemes Melkor never imagined or “did not or could not complete in the furious haste of his malice.”
Thus, “when Melkor was made captive, Sauron escaped and lay hid in Middle-earth.” There he bred Orcs like some people grow orchids. Meanwhile, Melkor feigned reform, but eventually escaped back to Middle-earth with the Silmarils of Fëanor. Sauron had repaired Angband and stocked it with Orcs for Melkor, aka Morgoth the Black Enemy.
The Elves warred with Morgoth because of the Silmarils. In that war, Sauron was master of illusions and shapeshifting. Werewolves and vampires were his servants.
When Morgoth left Angband to corrupt Men, Sauron directed the war against the Elves. He conquered the island of Tol Sirion and its watchtower Minas Tirith, renaming it Tol-in-Gaurhoth, the Isle of Werewolves. (I want a movie about this.)
Soon afterward, Lúthien and Huan the Wolfhound arrived, hoping to rescue Beren. Sauron unleashed werewolves and Draugluin, Father of Werewolves, but Huan killed them. In the form of a wolf Sauron attacked but failed.
Eventually, Huan had Sauron held by the throat. Sauron could either surrender to his control over Tol-in-Gaurhoth, or be destroyed and wander as a ghost before Morgoth. It’s the angelic equivalent of pantsing.
Sauron fled in bat form to the woods of Taur-nu-Fuin.
In the War of Wrath later, the Valar finally defeated Morgoth the Dark Lord and exiled him into the Outer Void.
But Sauron escaped. He put on his most beautiful form to meet Eönwë, emissary of the Valar. Although Sauron’s repentance was as real as an apprehended theif’s, he was too ashamed to stand trial. Escape #2(?) followed.
The Rings’ birth: Second Age
About 500 years into the Second Age, Sauron reappeared, imitating Melkor. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, though: “Very slowly, beginning with fair motives: the reorganizing and rehabilitation of Middle-earth, ‘neglected by the gods,’ he becomes a reincarnation of Evil, and a thing lusting for Complete Power.” Tolkien states he “was not indeed wholly evil, not unless all ‘reformers’ who want to hurry up with ‘reconstruction’ and ‘reorganization’ are wholly evil, even before pride and the lust to exert their will eat them up.”
“Though the only real good in, or rational motive for, all this ordering and planning and organization was the good of all inhabitants of Arda … his ‘plans’, the idea coming from his own isolated mind, became the sole object of his will, and an end, the End, in itself. ”
The Rings of Power: we’re not summoning Captain Planet
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
To co-opt Elves, Sauron again wore a lovely form: Annatar, “Lord of Gifts.” No more Spikes of Villainy. He counseled them in art and magic. Sauron pretended to work for Aulë, a favorite of the Elves. But Galadriel and Gil-galad, the High King of the Noldor, distrusted him.
Sauron helped the Elven-smiths forge the Rings of Power. Ah, now we’re in familiar territory! He created the One Ring in the volcanic Mount Doom in Mordor. This “One Ring to rule them all.” The Rings of Power were wild, forcing Sauron to invest the One Ring with much of his own power. But this acted to amplify his power.
The Elves discovered the One Ring’s power. This blew his cover. They removed their Rings. So Sauron waged war. This began the Dark Years. Sauron seized his Seven and the Nine Rings of Power. The Númenor arrived, defeated Sauron, and drove him back to Mordor. The Numenor lived on the island of Númenor and ruled the most powerful kingdom of Men.
Resurgence from Mordor: Ringwraiths’ birth
Sauron became known as the Dark Lord of Mordor. Sauron fortified Mordor and completed the Dark Tower of Barad-dûr. The Seven and the Nine Rings went to lords of Dwarves and Men. Dwarves were too hard headed to control, but Men were easily enslaved. These are the Nazgûl. Sauron gained power over the Men in the East and South as their god-king.
Destruction of Númenor: Deus ex machina, anyone?
In a show of force, Númenórean king Ar-Pharazôn attacked Middle-earth. Sauron took the cunning route: he surrendered and went as a prisoner to Númenor. The plan: to corrupt Númenór from inside. He steadily got into the king’s head and corrupted many of the Númenóreans. Through the power of the Ring, Sauron soon became an adviser and undermined their religion. He became high priest, weakening belief in Eru, introducing the worship of Melkor, and instituting with human sacrifice. Check and mate.
Sauron convinced the king to send a great armada upon Aman to seize immortality from the Valar. The goal: con the Valar into destroying Ar-Pharazôn, taking out Sauron’s last obstacle in ruling Middle-earth. Instead, the Valar appealed to Eru. Deus ex machina, anyone?
Eru destroyed the armada and flooded Númenor. Sauron’s body was destroyed, but you just can’t keep an evil Dark Lord down.
War against the Last Alliance: Another fall
Sauron was back in black, coming in like a wrecking ball. He captured Minas Ithil. Then Elendil and Gil-galad made the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. They would hang together or hang separately.
A battle ensued. This is the flashback in The Fellowship of the Ring*.
The Alliance won and invaded Mordor, besieging Barad-dûr. Finally, Sauron fought the Last Alliance himself. During the final fight on Mount Doom, Sauron was slain by Gil-galad and Elendil, who also died. **Spoiler: Lot’s of people die in this book series** Elendil fell, his sword Narsil breaking. Elendil’s son Isildur used the remaining blade to cut the One Ring from Sauron’s hand. Again Sauron’s “spirit fled far away and hid in waste places.”
Isildur refused to destroy the Ring by casting it into Mount Doom.
Third Age: The age of movies*
Losing the Ring weakened Sauron. He spent the first thousand years of the Third Age dormant.
A few years after the War of the Last Alliance, Isildur’s army was attacked by Orcs in Rivendell. Isildur put on the Ring and swam into the Anduin. But the Ring had its own idea: return to Sauron. It jettisoned Isi, who Orcs killed.
The Ring was lost for thousands of years.
The Necromancer of Dol Guldur: Evil by another name
Sauron finally reappeared with increased strength in 2460. Hobbit Déagol found the Ruling Ring, only to have Sméagol murder him for it. Corrupted by it, Smeagol became Gollum and lived in the Misty Mountains.
Sauron’s power regenerated enough to make another stab at ruling Middle-earth. The Eye of Sauron, a manifestation of his will and attention, became his symbol.
The War of the Ring: Return of the King, fall of the Dark Lord
The Lord of the Rings tell the story of Sauron’s last attempt at achieving world dominion, as the Third Age reached its climax
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf explains the Ring: “The Enemy still lacks one thing to give him strength and knowledge to beat down all resistance, break the last defences, and cover all the lands in a second darkness. He lacks the One Ring… So he is seeking it, seeking it, and all his thought is bent on it.”
Sauron captures and tortures Gollum, who blurts out “Baggins.” Sauron dispatches the Nazgûl to the hobbit Shire to fetch the Ring, but Bilbo and Frodo had left.
Read the books and watch the movies to see the Fellowship’s struggle across Middle Earth. I still agree with How LotR Should Have Ended, though.
The Return of the King*: Aragorn, a Ranger and future king, led Sauron to think he and not Frodo had the Ring. The Dark Lord had to move his timeline up and attacked Minas Tirith, capital of Gondor, sooner than he wanted.
Aragorn responded by marching to the Black Gate of Mordor. The 7,000-soldier force was a distraction so Frodo and Sam could reach Mount Doom. Only the fires of Mount Doom could destroy the Ring, as they had birthed it. Aragorn and Co. had a bad go of it, though.
At the last moment, Frodo reached Mount Doom’s interior. Gollum attacked Frodo, chomping off Frodo’s finger, Ring and all. But in a fitting ending Gollum falls over the edge with the Ring, right into the magma.
The One Ring’s destruction dispelled the power Sauron had invested in it. This broke Sauron’s power in Middle Earth. His spirit towered above Mordor in a black cloud, but wind from the West – the direction of the Valar’s Blessed Realm – drove it into oblivion.
Gandalf sums it up: “If it is destroyed, then he will fall, and his fall will be so low that none can foresee his arising ever again.”
Continue to Part 2 for a better understanding of Sauron’s motives and actions. Oh, and how the Dark Lord can help us succeed in life. Also check out his Villain Matrix score.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments. Perform your own villain assessments with the Villain Matrix. Use the Villain Matrix spreadsheet that comes free when you join the Research Team, where you’ll also get our newsletter with its exclusive updates and content.
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Jareth the Goblin King – Labyrinth
Jareth the Goblin King, master of the Labyrinth, controller of the Crystals, and generally stylish fellow
♦ Labyrinth synopsis/summary:
Teenager Sarah is stuck watching her baby brother Toby, much to her chagrin. She’s a highly imaginative girl, who’d probably be going to renaissance faires and LARPing nowadays. Her room is crammed with fantasy art and toys. Babysitting Toby is interfering with her busy social calendar, which consists mainly of cosplaying in medieval garb in the park. As Toby bawls, she tells him a story about a Goblin King who falls in love with a young woman. Then she wishes the goblins would take Toby away. Unbeknownst to her, there really are goblins, and they really are listening.
Enter Jareth the Goblin King, our main villain, though he rates more as an antagonist. He first appears in his barn owl form, then shifts to his glorious blond human form. He fulfills her wish. When she experiences wisher’s remorse, he reminds her that “what is said is said.” She has 13 hours to get to Jareth’s castle in the middle of the Labyrinth, or Toby will be “one of us forever.” He offers her a crystal ball that will reveal her dreams, but the catch is she must abandon Toby. She refuses.
Watch the movie if you want to know what Sarah plows through to reach her objective. As for Jareth, he shows his pleasure at having new blood in the castle by singing and dancing with his goblins and chickens. After hearty entertainment, Jareth use crystal balls to keep tabs on Sarah and the motley crew she’s assembled as companions.
Jareth uses Hoggle, a dwarfish guy with a face only an ogre could love, to lead Sarah back to the Labyrinth’s start. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Of course, Hogwart falls for Sarah’s charms and starts leading her to the castle. Jareth counters by cutting time off the clock and sending the Cleaners, a giant drill, through the tunnels after them.
After that fails, he gives Hog a drugged peach. Eventually Higgle gives it to Sarah. The LSD in the fruit sends her into a second dream world/vision with the help of the crystal balls Jareth dispatches. In the dream, Sarah is at a masquerade ball. She and the Goblin King are the only people not in masks. He sings “As the World Falls Down” and dances with her. She escapes the dream, however, and instead of wanting to submit to Jareth, she learns that materialism is a trap.
At the castle, Jareth uses the Escher Room to delay Sarah. All the while, he sings “Within You.” In it he reveals that everything he’s done – taking Toby, reordering time, turning the world upside down – was for her. He’s done just as she asked. He’s lived up to her expectations. Now he only wants her to obey him, fear him, love him. Do so, “and I will be your slave.” She dumps him with the line from the magic book we see at the movie’s start: “You have no power over me.”
♦ Analysis (Limited to the information in the Labyrinth* movie):
To understand how Jareth can help us succeed in life, we have to understand Jareth. And in understanding him, we might just understand ourselves better.
We first meet Jareth in the title sequence. We don’t know it’s him, though, as he’s in (CG) barn owl form.
Depending on the culture, an owl can portend doom or symbolize wisdom. Owls are also seen as being evil, associated with witchcraft, and not just the Hogwarts type. I think owl = wisdom/wise is appropriate, as he’ll help Sarah understand what matters in life, even as what matters to him slips through his fingers.
He flies to the accompaniment of “Underground.” This is a musical, at least partially, so the lyrics throughout the movie reveal Jareth’s thoughts. Listen carefully to the lyrics, not just to the late David Bowie singing. I suggest getting a copy of the Labyrinth original soundtrack*, because there’s no such thing as too much Bowie.
The lyrics show Jareth’s motives:
No one can blame you for walking away
Too much rejection
No love injection
But down in the underground
You’ll find someone true
Down in the underground
A land serene
A crystal moon
Owl!Jareth lands in the park, where we meet Sarah in her ren fest garb. He’s evidently been watching her. The spin-offs and other stories in the Labyrinth-verse, such as the manga, Return to Labyrinth*, go into more detail.
Next we see him, he’s already fulfilled her wish. In owl form at first, he returns to human and explains what happened. This is our first impression of him: He’s apparently a human, not goblin, which tells us his motives will be different from a goblin’s, which I assume would involve eating Toby. Human form also means he operates on an intellectual level and can be reasoned with. Also, since he’s handsome and well dressed, we assume he’s refined in his conduct. We trust him to keep Toby alive – more than we trust a “monster,” anyway.
The way he speaks to Sarah is interesting. He’s dignified and slightly smug. Even when warning her she’s no match for him, he treats her with mild respect, aside from lobbing a corn snake at her when she refuses his offer of the crystal ball. He lays everything out for her, then opens the Labyrinth world.
Jumping back to the crystal ball offer:
I’ve brought you a gift. … It’s a crystal. Nothing more. But if you turn it this way and look into it, it will show you your dreams. But this is not a gift for an ordinary girl who takes care of a screaming baby.
A major theme of the movie is “relationships, not things, are important.” On the surface, Sarah desires her personal fantasy world. Fame, glamour, and escape await there. Jareth is a pro at using desire to manipulate people. He knows her well enough to believe that the offer of seeing her dreams will be tempting. Does he think she’ll accept it? Hard to say. It’s a test, at the very least. The crystal will “show you your dreams,” much like the Mirror of Erised in Harry Potter. Some people spent their whole lives staring into it and forgetting to actually live. Heck of a warning against TV, eh? The fact that the ball turns into a snake is a way of showing its true, deceptive nature. Like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, it offers empty promises that will lead only to suffering.
Meanwhile, in the castle:
Sprawled over his throne, Jareth looks serious and contemplative as he gazes at the clock.
Thirteen hours ticks away. As the goblins antagonize chickens, he launches into the “Magic Dance.” First musical number! He looks like he’s having a blast during the song. Toby yowls through the first bit, but then gets in the spirit, especially when Jareth starts tossing him in the air. The kid’s supposedly the subject of the song. But is he? They’re dual-use lyrics.
I saw my baby, crying hard as babe could cry
What could I do?
My baby’s love had gone
And left my baby blue
I saw my baby, trying hard as babe could try
What could I do?
My baby’s fun had gone
And left my baby blue
Sounds like Sarah, no? Here’s the second place we see Jareth believes his actions are “helping” her.
Society for the Promotion of
Elfish Goblin Welfare:
We don’t know how Jareth got his title as Goblin King. Is he self-proclaimed? Does he come from a long line of beautiful blond rock stars? He rules the dumpy Lord of the Rings rejects with an aluminum fist: tossing them in the air for fun, ordering them to laugh at his jokes, using them to do his dirty work. But they seem cheerful enough, laughing at chickens and each other. Their single-digit IQs might have something to do with this too. They don’t seem afraid of Jareth, as they congregate to chill in the throne room with him. Looking back at the many goblin cultures I’ve studied, I must admit this is typical behavior for their troops. They respect force. Maybe it’s a bit early for a movement like Hermione Granger’s SPEW.
Jareth disguises himself as a poor beggar rag creature. He intercepts Hoggle and Sarah, confronting Higgle about siding with Sarah. Jareth threatens him with the Bog of Eternal Stench. But deep down, Jareth wants to see how far she can get, I think.
Then Jareth asks Sarah how she likes “my Labyrinth.” Again, it’s vague how much control he has over it , I can say “my office,” but I only control a little of it. Is it “his” in the sense that he holds the deed, lives at its center, or controls its machination?
She boasts that “it’s a piece of cake.” Again she’s surprised him with her fortitude. In response, he chops a few hours off the timer. Later we see that doing so wasn’t as simple as running the clock hands forward. He “reordered time.” The magic of the Labyrinth world apparently sets the 13-hour limit, as well as the spell Sarah uses do defeat him in the finale. (And again, we’re going on the movie’s info only.)
Sarah complains about it not being fair. Here she reverts to an immature response. Jareth sees complaints about fairness as excuses.
You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is?
Then he tosses a crystal ball down the tunnel, summoning the goblin-powered drill, the Cleaners. I doubt this was meant as a real attempt to kill them. He could have killed them all easily enough. Then again, is there Labyrinth magic that prevents him from outright killing a human? Even if there is, I highly doubt he wants her dead. He’s doing all this for her.
Jareth finds Hedgewart alone and confronts him again. Jareth obviously doesn’t buy Hog’s story, but it doesn’t matter. Threats and intimidation follow, with Jareth disregarding Hoggle’s personal space. Hog is afraid, making me think the Goblin King follows through on his threats. This behavior is standard procedure for Jareth. Demeaning people comes as easily as dancing.
Next tactic: drugged peach. Jareth assures Hog that it won’t harm Sarah. Again, he has the chance to kill her but doesn’t. He has a bigger plan.
Continue to Part 2 to learn the fate of the peach. Oh, and how Jareth can help us succeed in life.
But before you do, grab a copy of the Labyrinth from Amazon. It’s what I did. You could buy a Starbuck’s with that $4, but this is zero calories and lasts longer.
(*Affiliate link, meaning you get a movie, I get a few pennies, and everybody’s happy!)
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Jareth the Goblin King – Labyrinth
“It’s a crystal. Nothing more. But if you turn it this way and look into it, it will show you your dreams.” – Jareth the Goblin King, Labyrinth
Limited to the information in the 1986 Jim Henson Labyrinth movie. Jareth is the enigmatic Goblin King, who despite his title does not resemble a goblin in any way. I appreciate that, since this was an option:
Jareth is a shapeshifter, capable of transforming into a barn owl. To cross into the real world he must use the owl form – unless he’s summoned. So perhaps his human form isn’t his true form. He may be fae, as he controls crystal balls that exhibit an array of apps: transforming into Cleaners, showing dreams, providing security camera coverage of the protagonists, and generally looking impressive as he performs contact juggling with them. In the world of the Labyrinth, nothing is as it seems, so we can’t go on face value. The movie doesn’t give us any backstory for Jareth, forcing us instead to go to the associated stories in various media (games, manga, movies, books).
He lives in his goblin- and chicken-filled castle at the center of the Labyrinth. The Labyrinth functions as a mote on steroids, and probably harbors more life forms than a rain forest. How much control His Majesty Jareth holds over the Labyrinth isn’t 100% clear.
He presides over the cheerful but stupid goblins like a young Saruman who uses a riding crop rather than a staff. They’re disposable in his view, and he demands total obedience from them. It’s never mentioned if Jareth is the first of his line or how long he’s reigned.
In addition to his ruthless treatment of the goblins, he’s quite happy to throw potentially fatal obstacles at the protagonist. He boasts he can be cruel, but though he’ll sick a giant drill down a tunnel in hopes of crushing the opposition (I think he knew Hoggle would find the way out), his tactics are mainly designed to put Sarah back to square one, the Labyrinth’s start. Killing her would be easy, but he doesn’t want her dead.
He does not personally attack his opponents, though he’ll toss the goblins around. For face to face confrontation, he prefers to use his tongue to lash anyone in his way. No riding crop needed to bring the burn. Insulting and demeaning others is another way he elevates his own status.
Even with all his powers and his goblin “friends,” he evidently wants the companionship of someone more like himself. He takes Toby at Sarah’s request/wish, then leverages him to get Sarah to come to the castle. In his serenades, it’s clear he wants her to obey and serve him. But in return he promises to be her “slave” and give her whatever she wants.
Cheating at his own game.
Using the Labyrinth’s “nothing is as it seems” nature against his opponents.
Using long-range methods for achieving goals: other creatures, poisoned peaches, crystal balls, goblins. Intimidating people to get his way.
Offering a subject the desires of their heart in exchange for service/sacrifice.
Appealing to people’s baser desires.
Putting his own desires into verse.
Appearing when least expected to confront both friend and opponent.
Using crystal balls to increase the power of both his intimidation and enticement. Delivering crushing tongue-lashings.
Intimidation, Shapeshifting, Singing, Dancing, Childcare, Contact Juggling, Scrying, Fashion, Flying, Goblin Management, Crystal Ball Control, Snake Summoning
Underestimating the strength, fortitude, and intelligence of his opponents.
Stocking his minion ranks with idiots who can’t even perform a decent weenie rush.
Probably rain, considering his ‘do.
Anger at defeat.
The magical rules of the Labyrinth and real wolds.
♦ Notable achievements:
Ruling the Labyrinth and goblins.
Fulfilling a wish by taking a human baby.
Manipulating crystal ball magic.
Being impeccably dressed and sporting perfect hair in a medieval world.
Turning a whiny teenager into a responsible young person.
♦ How Jareth can help us succeed in life:
Never underestimate your opponents.
Know what people want.
Remember that nothing is as it seems. Be ready for change.
Choose your friends wisely. Don’t be afraid to find new friends who help you achieve your goals. Just don’t try to turn their brothers into goblins, even she asks you to. And don’t ask for their obedience. Use some tact, genius.
Dance. Get some exercise, get the heart rate up.
Sing. It’s great for your mood and your lungs.
♦ Jareth the Goblin King Quotes:
“I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”
“Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for you. I move the stars for no one.”
“Everything that you wanted I have done. 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. Isn’t that generous?”
♦ Further reading/reports:
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