young girls journey into adolescence: a comparative essay

Fairy tales and folktales have enlightened people for countless generations. Along with these tales, films build our library of knowledge and in many cases share numerous parallels with the fairy tales we love. We have taken the fairy tales of childhood with us into maturity, chewed but still lying in the stomach, as real identity (Zipes, 126). The following films are examples of fairy tale inspired creations that do just that. Take us on a journey of three young girls coming into there self and finding their own identity. Jim Henson’s The Labyrinth (1986) follows Sarah on her journey through the Goblin City to save her brother, who she had ‘wished away’ from Jareth, the Goblin King. In Dave Mckeen’s MirrorMask (2005), Helena’s mother falls sick and in order to get home Helena must travel through the City of Light to find the MirrorMask. Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves (1984), details young Rosaleen’s voyage of self discovery, and her trip to her Grandmother’s. Before she departs she is repeatedly warned not to stray from the path.The films take on significant morals. They warn women to resist curiosity, which equals trouble. The morals nostalgically look back to a time of innocence and absolute male power and both blame women for the change (Bacchilega, 105). These films all follow a young girl’s journey abandoning childhood and coming into adolescence.The films detail the three girl’s journey to reach a destination. The girls find their way and the unknown territory they have not encountered before is dangerous and unfamiliar. Sarah has to solve the Goblin King’s labyrinth in order reach the Goblin City to save her brother, Toby. Helena travels through the City of Light trying to find the MirrorMask. Rosaleen ventures along the path through the woods to find her Grandmother’s house.All three girls are fore warned about the risk of their journey and the luminous threat of the evil of others. Jareth, The Goblin King, warns Sarah about the dangers of the labyrinth. He tells her “Go back, you don’t have to do this”. Sarah carries on anyway; this is the first step in her transformation to adulthood. The shadows haunt Helena’s journey through the City of Light, which is slowly being consumed by darkness. Rosaleen is repeatedly told over and over to stick to the path and that beyond the path is a forest that can bring great evil. The journeys that these young girls travel force them to take into consideration the danger of the unknown and apply all of the tools they have been provided with growing up to guide their way.Along the way the girls all find magic helpers who guide them to their destination. Though they prove to be traitors at some point along the way. Sarah meets Hoggle right before she enters the labyrinth. He eventually becomes her true friend, but along the way he is discovered to be a ploy of Jareth’s and Hoggle poisons Sarah with a peach. The third performer that Helena meets is Valentine, he helps guide her to safety. Like Hoggle and Sarah, Valentine and Helena end up true friends however; valentine is also blinded by the jewels of the Dark Queen and betrays Helena along the way. Rosaleen meets a wolf on the path to her Grandmothers. She talks naturally to the wolf because she is unaware of any danger (Zipes, 123). He appears to be nice, but deceives her and eats her Grandmother. After Rosaleen is turned into a wolf, the pair runs off together. The girls’ innocence and naivety is demonstrated in their trust with strangers, they learn their lesson and come out with a dear friend. Even in Rosaleen’s case, she runs away as a wolf with her new wolf companion.
Throughout the films the girls have to become independent and leave childhood behind them. The girls are all sheltered in very child like surroundings and attitude. The girls all have very childish rooms, their haven from the adult world. Sarah’s room is filled with toys, stuffed animals, costumes and dolls. She loves to act and play dress up, a very child like pastime. Helena’s room has drawings all over the walls. Just as Sarah’s toys foreshadow her magic helpers, Helena’s drawings end up saving her in the end. Rosaleen sleeps in a single bed in the same room as her parents. At one point she hears her parents having sex. This sleeping arrangement is an extremely common for a young child, but not for a becoming woman like Rosaleen. Their rooms symbolize their childhood, it is time for them to grow up and move on from the comfort of their childish lifestyle.
The girls have attitudes that mimic those of a child and or a pet. Sarah is extremely full of rage and has a child like tantrum when she returns home at the beginning of the film. Her stepmother makes her put the dog in the garage because he is soaking wet. Sarah is horrified at her actions and calls her stepmother “cruel”. Sarah’s closest relationship she has is to the family pet, so she empathizes when he has to stay out in the garage. The Dark Queen treats Helena as a pet and puts up posters looking for the lost princess; “People do it for lost pets” the Queen defends herself. In place of Helena at home, there is a doppelganger who represents herself as a child, defiant and disobeying her father. Rosaleen’s mother calls her ‘pet’ has a nickname. Pets are forever obedient and loyal. When the girls come into their adolescence they begin to question the world around them, become their own person. They are no longer anyone’s pets.The transformation from young girl to woman evokes within the girls and we begin to see them as sexual beings. This sexuality can be realized through dress and costume. All of the girls at some point are transformed from their plain asexual clothing into beautiful young women through some kind of costume. Sarah wears pants, a blouse and a vest through out the majority of the film. She is transformed to look like the Princess from her music box at the ball, where she dances with Jareth. Helena wears a plain shirt, pants, and bunny slippers for most of the film until The Dark Queen notes, “You need a pretty frock and a happy smile”. The Dark Queen’s clock people transform Helena into a beautiful gothic like beauty. Rosaleen’s Grandmother gives her a red shawl to put over her bland daily clothes; For a village girl, in Perrault's story to wear a red chaperon signified that she was individualistic and perhaps nonconformist (Zipes. 122). Not only does this awaken Rosaleen’s individuality but also it illuminates her blood red lips.
Applying lipstick is a womanly signifier; all three of the girls use lipstick at some point during their adventure. Sarah continues to use her costume lipstick throughout the labyrinth, drawing arrows, trying to help her go the right way. At one point Jareth tries to detour Sarah from finding the Goblin City “Go back to your room. Play with your toys and your costumes. Forget about the baby”. It is Sarah’s test of maturity to do the right thing and find her brother. The Dark Queen’s clock people put lipstick on Helena when she is having her make over. Rosaleen’s sister yells at her the very beginning of the story for stealing her lipstick. Again Rosaleen re applies the lipstick after she climbs the tree and looks in the mirror in the nest with eggs. The eggs are symbolic of fertility and the bold red lipstick could symbolize menstruation. The girls transform visually as well as internally to young women.
Mirrors are used to reflect one’s image. All of the three girls appear vain at first glance. When we first meet Sarah she is distressed that she is stuck babysitting. “Practically a slave” she mutters to herself as her father and stepmother leave. She looks in the mirror and wishes the Goblin King would come and take her away. Sarah trudges around the labyrinth trying to find the Goblin City. In great frustration after realizing nothing is what it seems, yells, “It’s not fair!” Jareth replies, “You say that so often Sarah, I am beginning to wonder what your basis is for comparison. The Dark Queen mistakes Helena as the Princess of Land of Shadows. This is an affirmation that how she carries herself gives off an appearance of royalty. Rosaleen’s mother warns her daughter ‘that her Granny spoils her too much…making you think you are something special… running around in that red shawl’. All the girls appear as spoiled, defiant children before they begin on their journey.Mirrors can also symbolize inner reflection, the girls except Rosaleen are given the opportunity to reflect on the journey and safely return home a new woman. A bad peach poisons Sarah and she falls into dream like trans at a ball. She smashes the mirror; symbolizing her growth from the vain young child she was prior. After Sarah has arrived at the Goblin City she tells Jareth “You have no power over me” and the castle falls apart, letting her wake up in her bed at home. Helena in the end apologizes to her parents for her horrible behavior. Helena being able to admit she has done wrong shows how she has matured. Sadly Rosaleen does see her self in the mirror that she finds in the bird’s nest however it does not help her reflect and change her path. Rosaleen unlike the other girls, does not leave the nightmare, but wakes up into a real horror.These films all follow a young girl’s journey abandoning childhood and coming into adolescence. Sarah comes into her own person and grows up realizing the importance of her family. She causes the castle to crumble to pieces when she has a revelation and reiterates the script to Jareth, “You have no power over me” repeatedly. Helena uses the powers of the MirrorMask and her own powers from her drawings to banish the Princess. She realizes what an ungrateful witch she has been to her parents and apologizes, in true adult form. Rosaleen is the one of the three girls who is probably is guided most throughout the film. Sadly she does not get a second chance to right her wrongs. Rosaleen turns into a wolf in her dream, only to awake to her German Sheppard coming at her. Fairy tales have the ability to take on a much deeper meaning than would appear on the surface. These films have that power in being a lot more significant than simply a few lost girls. They take on issues of femininity, coming in adolescence, and finding identity.

Works Cited
Bacchilega, Cristina. Postmodern Fairy Tales: Gender and Narrative StrategiesUniversity of Pennsylvania PressPhiladelphia, 1997. 61-62.
Farrer, Claire R. Kay Stone. Woman Hating. “Things Walt Disney Never Told Us." Wonten and Folklore. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1975. 42-50.
Kolbenschlag, Madonna. Kiss Sleeping Beauty Good-Bye New York: Doubleday, 1979.
Zipes, Jack. “Breaking the Disney Spell.” Fairy Tale as Myth: Myth as Fairy Tale. Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1994.
The Company of Wolves. Dir. Neil Jordan. Perf. Sarah Patterson. DVD. Cannon, 1984.
The Labyrinth. Dir. Jim Henson. Perf. David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly. DVD. Tri Star Pictures, 1986.
MirrorMask. Dir. Dave McKean. Perf. Stephanie Leonidas. DVD. Destination Films, 2005.

She treats me like a wicked stepmother in a fairy story, no matter what I say.

- Sarah’s Stepmother in 
The Labyrinth