Let me set the scene for you.
Holy mother of Aughra, that trailer is something else.
Okay, so The Dark Crystal was a cult classic that came out in 1982. It’s not to be confused with The Labyrinth, which came out in 1986, though I understand where your wait a minute moment comes from watching that trailer. Both movies were done by the Jim Henson Company, both are seriously strange, and both were bizarrely VERY popular.
I was born in 1992. That means I probably didn’t watch this for the first time until I was at least five or six (so about a decade after its original release). And no, I’m not kidding. My mom tells this great story about the first night she left my dad home with me while she went back to work, and she was going on and on about “simulating the breastfeeding experience.” So, she gets home and peeks in the window, and he’s got me held like a football, bottle in my mouth and his tongue stuck out (that’s how he watches TV), and both of us absorbed in M.A.S.H. I was raised on Marvel comic books, old Godzilla, Polly Pockets, and American Girls. I don’t remember my first experience with The Dark Crystal, but I do know that it left an impression.
I mean, seriously, how could that movie, based purely on the trailer alone, not leave some kind of mark on a small child? One of my close friends was terrified of the puppetry and had a very negative reaction. But me? The weirdo who used to tell my mom exactly where we were in The Little Mermaid movie while we were doing nothing more than driving somewhere and listening to the soundtrack? (Yes, I was watching it in my head.)
Oh man, I didn’t know yet when I was a child, or even as a teenager, but The Dark Crystal grabbed onto my subconscious and did not let go. It wasn’t until I was an adult and in a bookstore that I happened to stumble on a young adult novel, Shadows of the Dark Crystal, and I had this moment of nostalgia. I couldn’t believe this world still existed, and even more, was creating new material! I excitedly bought it, and was intrigued enough after reading to buy the second one, and then I was hooked.
But what, exactly, is all the hype about recently?
Netflix, gods bless them, has teamed up with the Jim Henson Company to bring us back to the world of the Dark Crystal. However, unless you had a person like my dad in your life or you were around when the movie first came out, you’re probably scratching your head a little like okay but this looks really weird.
(You’re not wrong.)
And while you could actually just dive into this show without any previous knowledge (it’s a prequel, so you technically don’t need to have seen the original movie), I recognize that devoting time to something that includes puppets and these totally crazy looking beaked villains (Skeksis) and whatever in the world those other many-limbed hairy things are (urRu) and everyone’s fighting over a crystal (???) is a little bit of a stretch without any background.
I guess you could consider this a primer in The Dark Crystal universe? I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert, but I have read a lot in canon, and I did pause the trailer three seconds in because I wanted to cry over the triple moons, sooooo.
Let’s get started.
(Note: All artwork is by Brian Froud or others involved with the Jim Henson Company.)
What’s a Gelfling?
Before we get into the actual canon, let’s talk about the characters. There are a couple different races we need to chat about–Gelfling, Skeksis, urRu, Podlings, and Firelings.
Gelflings are basically hobbit elves. Those two are our main heroes, Jen and Kira (don’t worry, Kira’s okay), whom we meet in the film. Born as a peaceful people, the Gelflings go to war with the Skeksis when they realize the Skeksis are literally hunting and draining the life essence out of their people. The Gelflings are split into seven clans, and each one is more badass than the next.
Podlings have no gif because the only one I could find is one being drained, and THAT’S AWFUL. They’re portrayed in both the film & show, and they’re freaking adorable. According to the official Dark Crystal website (which I love, everyone go check it out), they’re actually called the Pod People, which is layman’s terms for a really long name that means “master gardeners who live in bulging plants,” and I think that’s pretty self-explanatory. They’re Samwise Gamgee, but as a race of people.
Skeksis are the worst, and everyone hates them. I’m not going to tell you how the Skeksis came to be BECAUSE SPOILERS, but they’re gross, they make this awful mmmmMMMMM sound (I’m so sorry if it’s now stuck in your head), they grossly overeat, and they like to deck themselves out in finery. They have no redeeming qualities, they’re literally The Worst.
urRu literally just sing a lot and have four arms. They’re monks, basically, and they’re really sad a lot of the time because they feel the pain of Thra, and I’m also not telling you how they came to be BECAUSE SPOILERS. They’re also fairly useless right up until all hope is lost, and then they’re like “oh hey here’s a hint.”
Firelings also don’t have a gif because they’ve not yet been in film or television. They live in the very core of Thra, and they sustain the fire that all planets need at their center. They’re super cute in that they’ve got fire for hair and they love each other so much. They’re kind of a parallel to the Gelfling race, too.
Aughra is not a race, and I don’t know what her race would be since I think she’s the only one (?) (Raunip doesn’t count, right? Because he was created by her?), but she’s kind of one the most important figures in the story. And look, she scares me in both the film and so far in the show. She’s a prophet, and she yells about the great conjunction a lot.
Fizzgig is only on this list because he’s the most important. His entire role in the story is to scream when he has emotions of any kind. I feel you, buddy.
What is the timeline?
The most confusing thing, I think, is where everything fits in. The World of the Dark Crystal on Tumblr has a fantastic list of everything in canon that’s a little more user-friendly than the one on the actual Dark Crystal website, but the website does put it in chronological order.
At the most basic, the 2019 Netflix show is a prequel to the 1982 film. And while that’s all well and good, I’m going to do my best to convince you to read a little, too. Why? Well, other than duh reading, one of the main characters in the show is a side character in the young adult novels. Not to mention that the two main characters of the film are side characters in a sequel graphic novel series. This isn’t like some spin-off series where things connect, but only in very basic things. The world of the Dark Crystal is interwoven throughout.
But it’s confusing! There is a lot of material out there. Let’s break it down, talk about what’s in each, what they have to offer, and where they sit in the history.
Okay, real talk, I was going to say that, of everything in this post, this could probably be the one you could skip if you wanted, BUT then I got to thinking, and though this is definitely set independently on its own as compared to how everything else weaves together, this is also the very beginning. Toward the end of the month, I’ll have another post up in my An Adventure in Tolkien series where I’ll be discussing The Silmarillion and why I am absolutely nerding hardcore over it. (GOOD GRIEF I LOVE IT) It’s a very similar reason to why I love the Creation Myths.
This is the beginning, guys. Are you wondering why the Skeksis are the way they are? You’re literally not going to find out unless you read these. The 1982 movie kind of touches on it, but not really, and it’s confusing, and you kind of feel like you’re on drugs while watching that part. But this breaks it down to the very first moment they arrive on Thra and how they become what they are.
And not only does it discuss the beginning of the Skeksis, we literally see the creation of Thra, how Aughra got her weird eye, what the Gelflings were like way back when, and very briefly nod at some legends. (Are we ever going to get the story of Jarra-Jen? I mean, come on, we literally have everything else. Give me just one book or graphic novel, that’s all I need.)
Truthfully, the Creation Myths are a staple in the Dark Crystal world. To understand the very basic workings of the universe, you need to start here.
Young Adult Novels
These are, without a doubt, the most important. Taron Egerton is playing a character named Rian in the Netflix show, who is a guard at the Castle of the Crystal that gets tortured by the Skeksis, though the Gelfling don’t yet know that the Skeksis have turned against them. How do I know this? He’s also the best friend of the brother of the main character in Shadows of the Dark Crystal, and the ENTIRE plot of that novel is Naia trying to find out what’s happened to her brother, Gurjin, who has been captured along with Rian, and discovering that the Skeksis are (shocking) evil.
Now, you’ll notice that I wasn’t hugely a fan of Shadows, but I promise you that it’s worth it. Song is amazing (and if they don’t eventually include Kylan in the show, I am going to be devastated), Tides opens up the world of Thra in ways I never expected, and I am out of my mind excited for the upcoming fourth in the series.
As far as I can tell, though, only the first book actually takes place before/during the show. If Rian is still actively a guard in the show, it’ll actually take place before the first book, but if he’s been officially captured, then the book and the show will coexist. We don’t have a full list of character names yet, so I can only speculate, but I suspect the show won’t be following the same characters as the book.
Alright, hang on. I’m looking at the character names we have. First of all, I am going to actually die over Deet, who is part of the Grottan clan, WHICH IS MY FAVE CLAN OKAY AMRI DESERVES ALL THE HUGS. The Gelflings, like any well done race, is split into different clans with different cultures, each of which also coincide with an element. The Grottans live in caves, and I don’t remember the name Deet from the books, but I’m pretty sure I remember Brea, who is listed as from the Vapra clan, who are big into flying and air and basically Lórien elves. If I’m remembering correctly, (and that’s a big if because I suck at names) Brea is sister to (see I can’t remember her name) one of the main characters in Song and Tides. The picture they have of her also makes her look like Gelfling royalty, so I think I’m right, which is leading me to believe that they may be following very minor characters of the books.
All that being said, though, I think the books are really neat to read before the show. I don’t doubt they’re going to make us emotionally connect to Rian, but you know what’s even better? Going into the show already stressed about him. Plus, the books, once they get going, are really fantastic, and they develop Thra in a way the movie never could, the graphic novels never attempt to, and the show hasn’t yet shown they’re going to. I mean, I literally can’t even find what the desert Gelfling clan is called, that’s how little they’re talked about in any of the canon outside of the books. I’M AN IDIOT THEY’RE CALLED DOUSAN IT’S ON THE WEBSITE DUH.
Truthfully, this series is the meat of the Dark Crystal universe outside of the movie. If you want to really sink your teeth in, this is where you go. The world of Thra has never been so vividly unraveled as it is here.
Legends of the Dark Crystal
I have to be absolutely honest and say I haven’t read these yet. I don’t know why? I don’t even own them. I’m going to remedy that.
From the website, these are all prequels to the movie and tell the story of the very beginning of the Gelfling resistance against the Skeksis. Now, it’s listed, chronologically, after the show, but again, I’m going to assume these kind of coexist together like the young adult books do.
Note: This section will be updated once I’ve read these.
Power of the Dark Crystal
Okay, this is the one you don’t have to read if you don’t want to, and that’s only because it takes place post-movie, so if you’re only interested in the show, you’re fine.
BUT THEN YOU’RE MISSING OUT ON THE FIRELINGS! AND THE MOST GORGEOUS ARTWORK EVER! AND KENSHOOOOO!
Seriously, the artwork in this is truly beautiful. And, if you love Kira & Jen, well, they’ve not only got cameos, they’re actual characters. And old Fizzgig! (He’s white and scruffy and somehow they conveyed that he’s got an old man scream now.) This takes place long after the final battle at the Castle of the Crystal has been fought and the Skeksis destroyed.
I’m not going to give it away, but I will say it’s not a repeat story of the movie. We get introduced to a new race, the Firelings, and the world of Thra is developed even more. So though you can skip them, you totally shouldn’t.
Why a crystal, though?
That, unfortunately, is a question I’m not going to answer. You’re just going to have to read/watch to find out. But I can promise you this–the crystal is a metaphor, and the reason I love this universe is largely in part due to what it stands for.
So? Were you already a Dark Crystal fan and found this helpful/fun? Were you not and still a little confused? Are you going to watch the new show? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below!