The episode “Trouble in Lumpy Space” begins with a title card picturing Finn and Jake, depicting Finn shouting and running, trying to reach Jake, as Jake is dragged backward into a cave by numerous shadowy, lumpy, and not necessarily hostile but certainly angry looking figures. As in the previous episode‘s card, the paper is made to appear torn and worn, and the two fonts used in the text of the card evoke alternately a pulp danger theme, and a pulp romance theme. The adventure in this episode is not so much a physical monster threat or villain to overcome, but the emotional threat of the loss of a friend or the loss of the self as one changes. In effect, this episode of Adventure Time successfully marries the genres of Fantasy Adventure (while still drawing on Pulp Adventure) and Teen Romance Drama in three key ways; by making the episode’s “quest” as much an internal emotional journey as a physical journey, by setting the majority of the episode in a location more conductive to emotional drama than to fantasy adventure, and by requiring the main characters to travel with a character who does not fit well within the Adventure genre.
This episode introduces the character of Lumpy Space Princess (or LSP), a purple, roundish, floating creature who speaks and acts like a Valley Girl caricature. During a tea-party accident Lumpy Space Princess falls and unintentionally bites Jake’s leg, causing a large lump to form. LSP informs the heroes that this is the first stage of “The Lumps”, and following the same logic as a werewolf bite leading to werewolf transformation, her bite will cause Jake to become a “Lumpy Space Guy” if he is not cured before sunset.
This conundrum frames the “quest” of this episode; preventing Jake from becoming lumpy. The problem faced is not a mere physical transformation, as lumps form on more parts of Jake’s body, his personality and mannerisms begin to mimic the Valley Girl shallowness. LSP indicates that an antidote for the condition exists in her home dimension of Lumpy Space, and she agrees to escort Finn and Jake to the cure (which is found in the form of a magical orb found at “Make-out Point”. On the journey, Jake believes himself to be holding off the transformation with sheer willpower, but begins to quickly become even more lumpy. He suffers more outbursts of lumpy mannerisms, which cause him to be taken aback by what he is becoming, gasping “Gracious! That was terrible!”. Jake begins to make a request of Finn, saying “if you can’t save me from the lumps if I do turn…” which Finn interprets as having to come to terms with the death of his friend, but Jake responds that he only meant that Finn would need to “get used to lumpy Jake”. Through Finn’s expression, the viewer is let in on the sad reality that as Jake becomes completely lumpy, it is extremely unlikely that they would still be together or remain friends. Finally, Jake apparently completes his transformation as he “turns his back” on Finn and leaves him alone and stranded. Inevitably, since the quest is both physical and emotional, just arriving at the destination and winning the physical object for the cure is not sufficient. Finn is required to take the emotional steps of turning enemies to allies, “We were drawn back by your plaintive wail. We dig your directionless fury.” sacrificing himself for his friend (even though his friend just abandoned him), and taking a leap of faith (though it also involves a physical leap) to complete the quest and save Jake.
When the characters transition from the familiar land of Ooo to LSP’s home dimension, Lumpy Space is portrayed as a surreal floating lumpy-cloud type space-scape, made of unconnected lumps of land, and the lumpy inhabitants are portrayed as somewhat self-absorbed and immature. In effect, Lumpy Space serves as an allegory for the pains of adolescence. Even LSP’s offhand comment, “you have to travel by car in my world”, seems to indicate a “cool” and “not cool” dichotomy and social stratification. LSP has a hostile and unhealthy relationship with her parents which hampers the quest. She indicates that to reach the antidote, they will need a car, and then in a fit of frustration and immaturity she yells at her parents, causing them to deny her the use of that car. She proceeds to badmouth her parents, calling them “horrible idiots” though to an outside observer such as Finn or the viewer, the antagonism from both sides seems foolish, and could have easily been prevented with civility and maturity, but these are portrayed as qualities that Lumpy Space inhabitants clearly lack. The tropes and genre conventions of Fantasy Adventure are bent to breaking as LSP is forced to call her friend Melissa for a ride, but Melissa is currently dating LSP’s ex-boyfriend Brad, and LSP becomes more interested in a “Weekly Promcoming Dance” than in helping Jake reach the antidote. LSP is forced to face “romantic tension”, jealousy, and relive the despair of rejection on the car trip with Melissa and Brad to “Make-out Point”, where the antidote is to be found. The juxtaposition of Finn and Jake, hardy adventurers more suited to delving a dangerous dungeon or battling an evil wizard, on a quest to “Make-out Point” truly drives home what is at stake in this adventure. In this realm of adolescent angst, “Make-out Point” has as much danger as any monster’s lair. In any fantasy quest, the objective or MacGuffin is protected by guardians. In this case, the antidote is an orb being guarded by three “Smooth Posers” who appear to be Lumpy Space inhabitants using the power of the antidote to temporarily become “smooth” (and under its influence become somewhat human-shaped). The Posers appear dissatisfied with the lumpy lifestyle and come off as what would be seen as social rejects by mainstream lumpy society. So, as adolescents are wont to do, they in turn reject lumpiness and experiment with dangerous substances; in this case the magical orb. In this dimension, Jake’s peril and the need to complete the quest is quite real, but the quest itself is left waiting while the emotional problems take center stage.
The character of Lumpy Space Princess is an unlikely adventurer. She is not suited to the physical perils of fantasy questing, but since this adventure takes place in an entirely different universe that is not a hindrance. Unfortunately, she is also emotionally ill-equipped to handle the negotiation and societal pressures required to navigate this “Teen Drama” adventure. Her saving grace, if anything, is that she does understand and value true friendship, which is a valid theme of the episode and of the series. As the adventure takes place in her home, she is entirely essential as a guide, but her erratic personality and emotional outbursts derail the quest again and again. She forces Finn and Jake to delay going to “Make-out Point” to retrieve the antidote because she wants them to “check out (her) house”, and her outburst at her parents causes her to lose access to the car, which is needed to travel. Once again, after reaching the orb and convincing its guardians to allow Jake to use it, LSP interjects and is more of a hindrance than a boon companion, as she insults the orb guardians and they leave, taking the orb with them. Finn confronts her, blaming the loss of the orb on her, which causes an emotional scene in which she exclaims that she was trying her best to help, and that Finn and Jake are her real friends, not the “fake ones (she has) here”. She leaves for the Promcoming dance with Jake.
To conclude, since the episode’s “quest” required both physical and emotional journeys, since the location of the episode was largely in a world where social and emotional dangers were more terrifying than physical obstacles, and by forcing Finn and Jake to “team up” with Lumpy Space Princess, this episode of Adventure Time was able to straddle genre lines of Fantasy Adventure and Teen Romance Drama to create an entertaining story, and serve as a good introduction episode of the recurring character of LSP.
Next: Prisoners of Love!