LABYRINTHS - TRAPPING AND TESTING CHARACTER

I have developed a bit of an obsession with ‪‎Labyrinths‬ and as a writer they seem to filter into my stories in all sorts of weird ways. Obviously there’s a natural, thrilling drama inherent in being enclosed in a maze, of being compelled to follow a path that is confusing, disorientating and which around every corner there may lurk a monster! 

From a story point-of-view Labyrinths are a powerful devices that immediately deliver a clear escape Goal for a character, an going and sustainable series of Obstacles, and an emotional state for an audience of being a aligned with a character who is Trapped. But beyond the ability of Labyrinths to produce good story mechanics, there is something even more compelling that speaks to metaphor and big thematic ideas.

Theseus and the Minotaur of Greek myth is obviously the seminal Labyrinth narrative and it goes something like this: 

Theseus goes to the island of Crete to face and kill the Minotaur, to prove his worth to his father and the subjects of his kingdom, and save them from being enslaved to King Minos of Crete. Theseus says if he is victorious he will return with White sails, if he fails the sails will be Black.

The Minotaur lives in a labyrinth so even if you kill the minotaur you cant find your way out of the maze. So it’s both a test of Strength and of Skill and hence the best possible test of a being a ‘Hero’ - Brains and Brawn.

When Theseus gets to the island, the Daughter of the King of Minos - Aridnae - falls in love with him and she gives him the knowledge and tools he needs to defeat the Minotaur and escape the labyrinth - weapons to fight the monster and string to guide his way out. In doing this Aridnae betrays her father the King and Theseus promises to marry her if he survives.

Theseus slays the minotaur and escapes the maze then sails away from the island with Aridnae. But, perhaps carried away with his success and praise of his heroism, Theseus leaves Aridnae behind on a remote island and abandons her, breaking his marriage promise. (Some versions say the Goddess Athena told him to leave Ardinae behind, but that’s a cop-out added to the story later to absolve him of responsibility. It’s much more fitting with the fatally flawed heroes of Greek myth that he suffers an attack of hubris, rather than divine instruction.). Then, as Theseus sails back home, he forgets to change his sails and his father, watching for his return, sees the black sails and assumes his son is dead, to which he then throws himself off a cliff in suicide.

Theseus proved his Strength and Skill but failed the test of Honour and he suffers tremendous guilt over his father's death at his mistake.

What this story tells us is that the Labyrinth itself is fundamentally a grand and holistic test of character as much as brains and brawn - a test that extends far beyond just the walls of the maze - Aridnae, Thesus’ father, the King of Minos, they were all part of the test that gave the Labyrinth purpose.

In the interesting from Phillip Coppens - The Labyrinth Way - explores the wider history of Labyrinths that span cultures and civilisations. He also makes an observation that is central to the idea of the Labyrinth in ‪‎Gothic‬‪‎Horror‬and Weird Fiction. 

“In folklore, across the world, it is said that the soul travels in a straight line. A labyrinth, however, is anything but straight and it was therefore said that a labyrinth could both catch the soul and keep it in one location.

This idea was at the heart of the Labyrinths I tried to construct in the three books of ‘The Transgressions Cycle’. Not just physical puzzle-spaces which gave good dramatic mechanics, but the labyrinth as a concept for a soul trapped in a purgatory as far from the straight-line travel their ‘soul’ might naturally travel. From a basis in ‪#‎historical‬ ‪#‎fiction‬ the Labyrinths of the Transgressions books where grown out of the periods and places of the story’s setting - the catacombs of a quarantine station in the late 1800’s, the twisted, rusting, dilapidated buildings of an island whaling station in the 1930’s depression, and the underground crypts of a colonial cemetery about to be deconsecrated in the 1950’s. These labyrinths are story ideas that not only give plenty of opportunity to deliver on the gothic, thrill the genre promises to the audience, but more importantly provide the narrative means to Trap a Soul and Test it. 

And that’s what my characters became; people for whom there is no way forward to atone for their transgressions until they have found away out of the labyrinths they have stumbled into. And the only way out is to pass the test - a test that, as with Theseus and the Minotaur, will be greater and more wide reaching that just finding a way out of the dark…