What is The Power of The Dark Crystal?

Back in 2013, it was my intention to participate in what was called the Gelfing Gathering Author Quest: a contest in which the Jim Henson Company along with Grosset & Dunlap would chose a writer who would become the author of the young adult novel prequel to The Dark Crystal. During that time, I had been an avid follower and participant in the official site’s forums where, under the handle of MaKir – my avatar being that of an urSkek – I shared information and notes with my fellow potential Dark Crystal authors. More specifically, it was during that time that the site’s world Encyclopedia was in the process of being compiled with much of the new information made specifically as prompts for the Contest from the site’s own Gelfling Gathering PDF.

I actually got to correct some discrepancies in the Encyclopedia based on what we learned from the PDF and the first two Dark Crystal Creation Myths prequel comics created by Brian Holguin, Brian Froud, and Alex Sheikman, but my research led me further back to the Dark Crystal film novelization by A.C.H. Smith and The World of The Dark Crystal visual history book by Brian Froud. I was basically trying to get any lore I could find from even older sources that could help me flesh out the world of Thra. However, during my research and immersion into Thra, including finding and reading The Legends of Dark Crystal prequel manga published by TokyoPop and created by Barbara Kesel, Heidi Arnold, and Max Kim, I also scanned through online sources. I remember thinking at the time that it was a pity that while there was so much work going into the history of Thra and the events that led to The Dark Crystal that there wasn’t going to actually be a foreseeable sequel.

Well, as it turns out, that wasn’t entirely true.

There was a sequel to the film originally planned called The Power of The Dark Crystal. It was written by David Odell, who had also written the original movie’s script, along with Annette Duffy his wife. It had an interesting premise that’s probably been talked about for a little while among fans old and new: basically one hundred years have passed since The Dark Crystal and a fiery subterranean species called the U-mun need to gain a piece of the Crystal in order to save their sun underneath the surface of Thra. It seems like a fascinating idea, until you realize that due to the Crystal getting broken again, the Skeksis somehow return.

And it was this point that, unfortunately, lost me. At the end of The Dark Crystal, those that remained of the urRu – more commonly known as the Mystics – and the Skeksis recombined back together into their original urSkek forms under a Crystal restored by the Gelfling Jen after seemingly losing his love interest the female Gelfling Kira. It was a perfect ending, with the revelation of the Skeksis and the urRu once being one slowly paced around throughout the film with the deaths of urSu the Master and skekSo the Emperor, and urTih the Alchemist and skekTek the Scientist respectively. In addition, once the urSkeks were restored, now fully balanced again, they healed Kira and passed on through the Crystal back into their own layer of reality: leaving the guardianship of the Crystal, the Castle of the Crystal, and all of Thra to Jen and Kira.

So how can the Skeksis and the urRu, who are part of the urSkeks, be brought back to Thra if they have left its entire realm? And isn’t it kind of interesting how the name of the fire species sounds … suspiciously like the name of another species that has no existence in that world at all? I’ll admit that I thought it was just as well that The Power of The Dark Crystal film that the Jim Henson Company, even with someone as brilliant and skilled as Genndy Tartakovsky at the directorial helm, didn’t really see the light of Thra’s three suns. Maybe, when with the excitement of long-time fans and eighties nostalgia, I thought maybe it was best that we missed this Great Conjunction and potentially another Shattering of the Crystal as it were: this time as a mythos. I guess you can tell by this writing just how much I actually got into this world.

The idea itself wasn’t completely gone, of course, or at least a possible earlier echo of such. I’m not entirely sure how the premise of the script got onto the Internet exactly, specifically through a Wikipedia page predating the official Encyclopedia, but a subterranean species that needed to exist in fiery environs did make it into the somewhat anti-climatic conclusion to The Dark Crystal Creation Myths series Volume III, written this time by Matthew Dow Smith some time after the Gelfling Gathering Author Quest for the prequel novel was decided. Essentially, during this time the Gelfling people and territories accepted the Skeksis as their guardians and rulers, only for a very unforeseen problem that crop up: apparently, a group of beings called “Miners” in the artist Alex Sheikman’s “Sketchbook” Afterward found themselves lost on the surface of Thra, becoming an unintentional threat to everyone around and it took some negotiation among the Gelflings, the Skeksis and the urRu (the latter of which you’d think the Skeksis would want to avoid at all costs), to decide what to do about them: only for Aughra’s son – Raunip – whom Aughra never talks about or seems to remember, to guide them to a more hospitable environment in the form of the Field of Fire: an act that eventually costs him his life.

The Miners themselves are large creatures with tiny eyes and antennae and don’t resemble the images of the U-mun or Firelings. They were originally conceptualized and created as puppets by Jim Henson and Brian Froud in the early stages and first draft of The Dark Crystal but their scenes were eventually abandoned according to Karen Falk of the Jim Henson Company Archives in “The Dark Crystal: Characters in Development” section of The Dark Crystal Creation Myths Volume III. So the conception of an underground realm in Thra already existed, along with even some of its denizens seemingly before The Power of The Dark Crystal was conceived. And I thought this was going to be the extent of it, especially with the idea of a sequel film seemingly abandoned by the Jim Henson Company.

What I didn’t count on, however, was that The Power of The Dark Crystal would become a comic.

When I eventually found out about this, and I will admit I remained oblivious to this development for a while, I felt a lot of trepidation. Again: how can the Skeksis and the urRu come back from the realm beyond the Crystal? And on another matter, how is there a new civilization of Gelflings with Jen and Kira having seemingly been the only two surviving members of their kind a century ago? And wouldn’t it make more thematic sense for nine hundred and ninety-nine trine – years – to have passed before something happens to the Crystal again: to make the setting one of another Great Conjunction and keep it in the continuity of the Shattering and the Restoration?

Still, what I’ve seen so far seems encouraging: especially after reading Issue #1 of the twelve-part series. Simon Spurrier, the series writer, has written Crossed: Wish You Were Here and was picked by Alan Moore to continue his Crossed +100 series. Suffice to say, he knows how to tell stories about stories and language: two very important elements when engaging in fantastic world-building. In addition, the artwork of the artist sisters Kelly and Nichole Matthews is ethereal, bright, and airily beautiful: signifying in the words of Simon Spurrier “Another time. Beyond the Age of Wonder.”

In order to begin to understand how Thra has changed since the Shattering, the tyranny of the Skeksis, and the Restoration of the Crystal, you have only to look at the Gelfling society that is introduced to us in Issue #1 and bear in mind what they used to be before the genocide of most of their species. According to the Gelfling Gathering PDF and the Author Contest winner J.M. Lee’s Shadows of The Dark Crystal, the Gelflings were made up of several different Clans that adapted to different environments: the ethereal Vapra, the warrior Spritons, the desert-dwelling Dousan, the Drench swamp-dwellers, the naval Sifa, and the subterranean Grottan. Gelfling society as a whole was matriarchal, ruled by priestesses and queens, and one All-Maudra: or High Queen. This might have changed after the Skeksis and their Garthim creations exterminated most of the race, leaving Jen with his urRu teachings and Kira with her time amongst the Podlings as the basis of a new civilization.

At this time in The Power of The Dark Crystal, Jen and Kira nominally rule Thra and their people as King and Queen respectively. It wasn’t uncommon before this point for male Gelfling to have their own power and responsibilities, but there seems to be no one High Queen any longer. In addition, the Gelflings have devised a new religion centred around the worship of the Crystal, and their King and Queen as the saviours of their race and world. It is possible that during the time of the Skeksis, there were Gelfling that managed to hide in smaller numbers in different areas of the world, coming back or being found by Kira and Jen only after the Crystal’s restoration. I mean, if we count Dark Crystal Legends as part of continuity, there were some number of Gelflings from different Clans that still hadn’t been captured or slaughtered by the Garthim some time before Jen came of age, so it is possible: that and Thra is a much bigger place than we see in the film.

Unfortunately, Jen and Kira – being over a hundred years old respectively – have been in an almost eternal meditative dreamfast with each other in front of the Crystal and do not interact with Thra or their people in the material sense as often anymore. This, even more unfortunately, seems to leave the governance of the Crystal of the Castle and perhaps the Clans to what seem to be the newly reestablished Gelfling Castle Guard – one not ruled nor trained by the Skeksis – and, more ominously, the priesthood developed around the Crystal’s worship. The Crystal Priesthood, suffice to say, have managed to establish a stratified hierarchy: with a Crystalline Eminence, priests and acolytes that only allow Gelfling and Podlings alike pilgrimage to the Crystal if they present the appropriate offerings. They seem to believe that the more offerings are given to the Crystal, the more powerful and stable it will remain. They even turn away a Podling couple who seeks to use the Crystal’s Ceremony of Healing to save their dying child because they have nothing of material value to offer. In addition, it is fairly clear that the Gelflings, at least the priests, look down on the Podlings and other creatures of Thra as somehow lesser than themselves: which is bitterly ironic given that the Podlings once saved their Queen from death.

From the get-go, it seems as though Thra has exchanged the casual worship and veneration of Aughra and her son, the advanced aid of the urSkeks, and the debauched tyranny of the Skeksis for a set of masters that insist on restricting access to the Crystal for its safety and tribute: playing off of, and being fuelled by the fear of the return to darker times if the Crystal is not placated by offerings and positive energy by pilgrims. It is unfortunate to see Jen and Kira’s sacrifices, their heroism, turned into another cold old elitist guard over something that should be freely made available to the people of Thra.

And then, we have the complication. The Fireling Thurma. She has been sent by her people, another matriarchal society that strangely look like Gelflings except for the flames they have on their heads and also use something like dreamfasting– which I originally thought was intrinsic to Gelfling – to communicate specific images into the mind of another. She has no idea how to interact with life behind her realm, the Firefast, and which lifeform is sentient and what a Gelfling even looks like. What makes her similar to the Miners is the fact that she unintentionally causes damage by being in the surface environment of Thra: her emotions making her flare up into gouts of explosive flame.

She eventually manages to get an audience with Jen and Kira, who have awakened from their dreamfast for the first time in a while, and explains that the Firefast’s sun – which looks awfully a lot like a Hollow Earth version of the Crystal surrounded by a sphere – is fading. What is also interesting to note is that Thra’s Crystal has also been periodically failing: something that the Gelfling priesthood seems to attribute to a lack of constant offerings. As The Dark Crystal film made clear to audiences, especially with regards to its alien yet symbiotic environment “Everything is connected.”

The ultimate problem, however, is that she wants to use the Crystal to heal her people’s sun and the only way she seems to think she can do it is to take a sliver of the Crystal. As you can see, this is going to create a whole lot of conflict between her, Jen and Kira who fought to reunify the Crystal, and all of the Gelflings of the surface…. except perhaps for one other.

The story so far follows the summary that I’ve seen from the script in a Dark Crystal Wikipedia and BOOM Studios’ press release as displayed in the following io9 article, whose imprint is Archaia that is the publisher for both The Dark Crystal Creation Myths and The Power of the Dark Crystal. Thurma comes from that earlier script along with a young male Gelfling named Kensho: who has not been introduced in Spurrier’s story by name yet, but who seems to exist as a kindly, but disfigured acolyte who trades his birthstone to allow the Podling family into the Castle of the Crystal. There are already some changes between what I could find on the original script and the comics story so far. For instance, thankfully the Firelings are just called just that and not U-mun, and Kensho seems to have changed from being some kind of vague outcast into being part of the priesthood with a scar on his face from “the Blight” that seems to have its own story. Whether or not he turns out to be a distant descendant of Jen and Kira remains yet to be seen.

But as I said before, I am a little more cautiously optimistic about where this story is going. And after reviewing all of this information about Thra again, I actually see a way Spurrier could plausibly bring the Skeksis and the urRu back. It all goes back to the very reason that the urSkeks came to Thra to begin with. According to both Creation Myths and The World of the Dark Crystal they had come from a reality with another gradation of the Crystal, and after being banished by their people for being “flawed with darkness,” they came to where the plane where the Crystal was strongest in an attempt to harness it to cure them of their “impurities.” After helping Aughra and the Gelfling people improve their technology, they were going to use the Crystal during the Great Conjunction to improve themselves and get home before Raunip antagonized an already brooding urSkek to corrupt the entire process and cause the Division of the urSkeks into the urRu and the Skeksis: the latter of which going out their way to break the Crystal.

It is possible that even though the surviving urSkeks managed to heal themselves, due to their experiences on Thra and the fact that their selves had been divided into two species living almost natively in Thra’s environment that they were not ever going to be accepted back by the rest of their people. The “Fallen urSkeks” as they are called would just not be considered “pure” enough. Perhaps, when they entered the Crystal at the end of the film, they simply went back in to power it or offer distant guidance to the Gelflings of Thra as penitence for what the Skeksis did to them. They could well be summoned back into their two species halves due to both the Crystal getting shattered again, and because of their ties to the world of Thra. Of course, it is possible that there is another explanation entirely and one that can hopefully be paced out and made plausible by Simon Spurrier.

Either way, I actually look forward to seeing what Spurrier and the Matthews sisters do next and what The Power of The Dark Crystal will ultimately prove itself to be.

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Matthew Kirshenblatt is a graduate from York University, Toronto, Ontario, and is a writer and blogger living in the city of Thornhill. He is a comics and mythology fanatic; having written his Master's thesis, "The Spirit of Herodotus in Gaiman and Moore: Narrative Spaces and their Relationships in Mythic World-Building," he also contributes science-fiction, horror, and revisionist short stories to Gil Williamson's online Mythaxis Magazine. Nowadays, he can be found writing for G33kPr0n, and creating and maintaining his Mythic Bios: a Writer's Blog, in which he describes his creative process and makes weird stories, strange articles, reviews, overall geek opinion pieces and other writing experiments.

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