Review: Jim Henson’s Labyrinth Bestiary

Published: June 3, 2022
Categories: Feature, Reviews

This guest review was written by ToughPigs pal Zach Woliner! Thanks for geeking out with us, Zach!

If you’re like me, you enjoy the works of Jim Henson and his collaborators. I am guessing you fit the bill, since you’re on this website. Now, if you’re ESPECIALLY like me… …well, nobody is especially like me. I’m kind of like Gonzo in that way, but that’s another story. Still, if you’re more like me than other Henson fans are, you really like the movie Labyrinth.

That classic 1986 fantasy masterpiece left an indelible mark on me from my youth, when I rediscovered it after a Blockbuster rental in my teenage years, and ever since. I just recently turned 40, so you can see it’s been quite some time. I’m a big collector, and if I had the time, money, and space, I’d probably buy every piece of Labyrinth merchandise available.

My 40th birthday was much more low-key than I’d have expected, but here we are. Still, I got some cool gifts. Among them was the new book, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth Bestiary. I had originally posted on Facebook when it was first announced that it would be nice if someone got it for me as a belated birthday present, and what do you know? It worked! My younger brother pre-ordered it for me, AND it came two whole weeks before the official release date. Sometimes, you just have to put things out into the universe, and they may bear fruit (just hopefully not a peach that causes you to hallucinate masked ballroom dancing).

So, the day it arrived, I immediately pored over it. I was engrossed by the contents and I pretty much finished it within the day. I say pretty much because the book even covers the Coronation prequel comic book series. (Nothing about the manga sequel, so I guess that one’s either not truly considered canon or they had to draw the line somewhere and it didn’t make the cut in the end.)

I must say that this is a wonderful book, obviously especially for Labyrinth fans, but even someone who just likes fantasy worlds and art could appreciate it for what it is. The art is really incredible. From the title, I expected it would just cover the creatures that inhabit the Labyrinth, but the book also delves into locations and the human cast, where the likenesses are so spot on, you could probably be seduced by David Bowie’s Jareth if you stare too long.

Of course, the book does leave out two crucial human characters, Sarah’s father and step-mother. I mean, come on! If not for their treatment of her, she’d probably never have wished Toby away and gone on the whole adventure in the first place. Still, those present are represented quite impressively, among the various other inhabitants of the Labyrinth.

Artist Iris Compiet’s work here can sometimes look simultaneously like a painting and as if a given character could jump right off the page. Quite frankly, some of her more sketch-type pieces look quite Froudian (not to be confused with Freudian), in that they would fit right in alongside the works of Brian Froud, the conceptual designer for both Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. Honestly, this book would make a great companion to the Goblins of Labyrinth book, by Froud and Terry Jones. Neither makes the other redundant. They compliment each other, with each giving some details not necessarily in the other.

Speaking of details, this is not just a series of images. They are all accompanied by highly descriptive text by S.T. Bende, who is able to take bits and pieces from within the film itself and speak of them in more general terms of who or what one might encounter in an adventure of their own through the Labyrinth, rather than simply recounting the story of Sarah’s (which us Labyrinth die-hards are already quite familiar with, thank you very much!).

It all serves to make it feel like a real place you could visit, and this is sort of a travelogue for potential tourists. It’s full of lush detail in both words and art, and I was surprised that even I could learn something new. Did you know that the other halves of the door guards, Alph and Ralph, have names, too? I’ll give you a hint: One’s could very well be a tribute to the man who created all the stuff talked about on this very website. Also, the other one rhymes with that.

The book even gives closer looks at some creatures that you might not pick up on all of the details of from the movie alone, even if you own the latest 4K edition (along with the several other DVD and Blu-Ray copies in your collection). For instance, the swamp creatures and spiders felt completely unfamiliar to me, not to mention the horrifying faces and Boris Johnson hairdos of the tiny brick-keepers. Beyond all of the creatures brought to life in the film, there are some simple chickens spread throughout the pages, so keeping a look out for them could be a fun game to add to the experience.

All of this and even a foreword by the babe.  What babe?  Toby Froud, himself, who played the fittingly named Toby in the film.  In the end, I can’t recommend this book enough).  It’s really a wonderful collection of fantastic art, and text to go with it, that expands upon what was established within the 101 minutes of film.  (Now if they would just give us that 3-hour cut that Neil Gaiman saw when preparing to make Mirrormask!)  I imagine you could fill a whole second volume with what’s contained in that.  Maybe for the next in the long line of home video releases.  Long story short, if you love Labyrinth, like Labyrinth, or even are just okay with Labyrinth, you should add this book to your Henson collection, ASAP.

Click here to get lost in a book on the ToughPigs forum!

by Zach Woliner

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