Pulp Consumption: The Dark Crystal

Image result for jen the dark crystal
The hero of the Dark Crystal.

“The Dark Crystal,” for anyone that doesn’t know, was a 1982 film by Jim Henson that follows Jen, the presumed last of the Gelflings, as he tries to fulfill a prophecy. The prophecy in question relates to the titular Dark Crystal, and how a Gelfling would be the one to heal it after it had cracked. The original split of the crystal, which happened one thousand years before the events of the film, caused two races appear on the planet Thra, the evil and scheming Skeksis and the peaceful to the point of doormats Mystics.

As a result of the prophecy, the Skeksis engage in a genocide against the Gelflings, including Jen’s family. As a result, he is taken in by the Mystics and raised by them until the day he is told about the prophecy. Along the way, he encounters another Gelfling orphan, Kira, who was raised among the peaceful Podlings, a small race that lives in constant fear of raids from the crab-like servitors of the Skesis, the Grathim.

Jen isn’t what you would consider the epitome of the heroic figure. He doesn’t know how to fight, he doesn’t really know what’s expected of him, and doesn’t have much in the way of useful skills (except for his flute playing, which does prove key to the plot). If it weren’t for him running into Kira, his quest would have been over almost as soon as it started. Kira is the one who can talk to animals, who knows how to fight back, and is overall more resourceful than Jen. All of that is attributable to her upbringing among the Podlings.

Image result for jen the dark crystal
Kira, the one who actually gets things done.

I think its fair to say that “The Dark Crystal” along with other ‘80s classics such as “Labyrinth,” “The Neverending Story” and “Legend” helped shaped an entire generation of writers and filmmakers. From the idea of the duality of the Skeksis and Mystics (quite literally one cannot exist without the other), to the idea that standing up against evil is worthwhile in an of itself, to even Kira’s simple declaration that Jen isn’t a girl when he wonders why he doesn’t have wings has seeped its way into the cultural subconscious. While there are aspects of it that, in hindsight, I don’t care for as much (I have come to loathe prophecies and the idea of raising Jen just to go fix the problem the Mystics can’t is highly problematic), overall the story is well crafted and there is a wealth of detail included in the world that exists as background material[1].

Image result for skeksis chamberlain
The vile Skeksis. Seriously, I had more than one nightmare about these growing up.

 What is also interesting is that “The Dark Crystal” wholly relied on puppets, without the addition of human actors. While initially it can be off putting, it is a credit to Henson’s team how well the movie came together with the inhuman elements[2].

While “The Dark Crystal” is not what I would consider pulp, it is well worth looking at as a way to structure a story and imbue worldbuilding elements without resorting to a data dump.

And one of these days, I’ll get around to watching “The Dark Crystal: Resistance” as well.

[1] Yes,that includes the new Netflix series, but there was also a novelization and a comic book series that picked up where the movie left off. A full-length movie sequel has languished in development hell for years.

[2] Either that, or we’d all been preconditioned by “Sesame Street.”

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