At Labyrinth Screening 30 Years Ago, David Bowie Helps a Little Boy With His “Invisible Mask”

When people who portray or embody beloved characters show themselves to be heroic in everyday ways, it’s always inspiring. But sometimes the ways in which they’re heroic are particularly moving — like they were to the person who told this story about David Bowie at a Labyrinth screening 30 years back…

The story going around Tumblr was told by novelist Paul Magrs, who is relating an encounter told by his friend, an autistic man. Magrs begins by explaining that three decades ago, it was rare to find people who would freely use the term “autistic” (which his friend does), that growing up his friend was often simply called “shy” or “withdrawn.” He then puts forward the story that his friend told him of attending a Labyrinth screening where children got to meet the Goblin King himself:

‘I was withdrawn, more withdrawn than the other kids. We all got a signed poster. Because I was so shy, they put me in a separate room, to one side, and so I got to meet him alone. He’d heard I was shy and it was his idea. He spent thirty minutes with me.

‘He gave me this mask. This one. Look.

‘He said: ‘This is an invisible mask, you see?

‘He took it off his own face and looked around like he was scared and uncomfortable all of a sudden. He passed me his invisible mask. ‘Put it on,’ he told me. ‘It’s magic.’

‘And so I did.

‘Then he told me, ‘I always feel afraid, just the same as you. But I wear this mask every single day. And it doesn’t take the fear away, but it makes it feel a bit better. I feel brave enough then to face the whole world and all the people. And now you will, too.

‘I sat there in his magic mask, looking through the eyes at David Bowie and it was true, I did feel better.

‘Then I watched as he made another magic mask. He spun it out of thin air, out of nothing at all. He finished it and smiled and then he put it on. And he looked so relieved and pleased. He smiled at me.

‘’Now we’ve both got invisible masks. We can both see through them perfectly well and no one would know we’re even wearing them,’ he said.

‘So, I felt incredibly comfortable. It was the first time I felt safe in my whole life.

‘It was magic. He was a wizard. He was a goblin king, grinning at me.

‘I still keep the mask, of course. This is it, now. Look.’

David Bowie certainly had points where he was known to struggle with his fame, with the outward face and public persona that he projected to the world. His penchant for reinvention spoke to that struggle often. This little tale gives us a glimpse into how he handled those moments, and how his understanding of that pressure made him the perfect confidante for a little boy who was too “shy” and “withdrawn” for the rest of the crowd. In that moment, a practical skill became a superpower that he handed over to a child, so that he could also move through the world a little easier.

Having a background in mime-work, you can imagine how effectively Bowie took that first mask off and handed it over, how deftly he would have constructed the second. As Magrs’s friend said, it was magic. And meaningful magic, too.

Just something to keep in mind the next time you’re watching Labyrinth. For the full story, head over to Tumblr.

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