Another world, another time, in the age of wonder. The Dark Crystal finally returns with a prequel series, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. The Jim Henson Company has been cautious about expanding the lore of ‘80s classic The Dark Crystal, only authorising a couple of books, some graphic novels and a cancelled manga. But those few pieces, along with the film, tell a deep and complex saga.
The Dark Crystal is a fantasy story about Jen, a Gelfling who’s tasked with restoring balance to the world of Thra by repairing the titular Dark Crystal, which had lost a shard a thousand years ago. During his quest, he comes across the only other surviving Gelfling, a young female named Kira, and together they fight the evil Skeksis and save the world. It was a sweet story set in a rich and detailed world and featured some of the greatest puppetry feats in film history.
Finding myself curious about the larger world of Thra before diving into Age of Resistance, I pored over some of the expanded lore (except for The World of the Dark Crystal, as it’s out-of-print and come on guys I’m not made of money that’s what the encyclopedia is for).
What I found was a deep and beautiful world that most of us don’t realise exists, because all we know is that one movie that came out when we were kids. The Dark Crystal universe is full of amazing myths, powerful legends, and of course Fizzgig, the fuzzy loveable icons of love.
I’ve pared it down to some of the most interesting facts and mythology of Thra, to help get you ready for Age of Resistance (feel free to comment with your favourite details). This includes the surprising importance of Aughra, how the Skeksis and urRu came to be, and whether that weird rock child will matter in the new show. Spoilers: probably not.
[Editor’s Note: If you’ve only seen the 1982 film, a lot of this information will be new to you! - Jill P]
Thra is the world where The Dark Crystal is set (it was originally called Mithra, but Henson shortened it after learning that was the name of the Iranian god of light). It’s described as a lush and diverse world, designed to exist in perfect balance because of the crystal. There are no other known planets in Thra’s solar system, although there are countless universes (and crystals) outside of it.
In the mythology of Thra, the world started with a song — the idea being that the word “universe” means uni (one) and verse (song) — which started a fire that created the three suns Thra rotates around: the Great Sun, the Rose Sun, and the Dying Sun. From there came a single planet, with a powerful crystal at the center of it, deep underground. The crystal was the heart of Thra and the source of all life, and every living thing was connected to it.
In The Dark Crystal, Aughra is presented as a Yoda-type figure who lives in isolation and gives Jen the help and motivation he needs to complete his quest. But Jen not recognising her name in The Dark Crystal is kind of tragic because there is so much more to the character of Aughra, who is returning for Age of Resistance. In short: Aughra is Thra’s closest thing to a god.
The graphic novels describe her as the Great Mother. The planet and its crystal created her out of a tree thousands of years ago to bring knowledge, language, and understanding to the many races of Thra. Aughra was revered, though not worshipped. Just like Adam in the Bible, she travelled the world revealing the names of every rock, tree, and creature that inhabited it. She took a special liking to the Gelfling, and taught them how to farm, hunt and build a society, as well as more complex subjects like the nature of death. In exchange, the Gelfling taught Aughra how to dreamfast (which I’ll explain in a bit).
After completing her journey across Thra, Aughra chose to focus on astronomy. She would spend time crafting detailed planetary trajectories to predict future events. For 1,000 years, everything was in balance. This time was known as the Age of Innocence.
The Gelfling are Thra’s version of humans, and they are the most advanced beings on the planet — although there are other intelligent beings native to the world with their own languages and societies, like the Podling. Gelfling are described as kind, non-violent, and pretty naïve, as they tend to be too trusting of others and hand over power accordingly. This comes into play with how they come to trust and even revere the urSkeks, and later the Skeksis.
The Gelfling society is matriarchal, with each clan being ruled by a female leader called a Maudra. During the 1,000-year Age of Harmony, which happened between the first and second Great Conjunction (more on that in a bit), there were many different clans. By the time of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the Gelfling had seven under the rulership of the All-Maudra, who was chosen by the Skeksis. Before the events of the movie, the Skeksis had killed nearly all the Gelfling, save for Jen and Kira.
There are two things that make Gelfling distinct. First is that females have wings and the ability to fly, while males do not. It’s not clear when or how Gelfling women got wings, although there is a legend that Aughra gifted the first pair to a young woman who sought her aid. The other is their ability to dreamfast, which is the act of sharing memories and dreams through touching hands. It’s believed this was connected to a larger dream world they shared with each other and Aughra.
Skeksis and urRu
One-thousand years before the events of The Dark Crystal, a mysterious group of people called the urSkeks were split apart when the crystal lost its shard and turned dark. This was called the Great Division and set in motion the millennia-long Age of Division.
This event turned the 18 ukSkeks into two races: the wise and gentle Urru, and the terrible Skeksis. This represented their good and evil natures splitting apart, with parallels to the id and super-ego. The races remained spiritually connected, as they were two parts of the same whole, and the injury or death of one creature instantly affected its counterpart. At the time of The Dark Crystal, there were only 10 beings left on each side.
The Skeksis serve as the main villains of the film, having taken control of the crystal and established themselves as rulers of Thra. They look like a mix between vultures and crocodiles and were designed to represent the Seven Deadly Sins. Their bodies are small and frail, so to make themselves look bigger they adorn themselves with extravagant furs, feathers, and other finery. Their headpieces are usually made from the bones or body parts of creatures, to show their dominance and cruelty.
The Skeksis used the Dark Crystal’s powers to keep themselves young but eventually, it stopped working. So, they turned to sacrificing creatures like the Gelfling and Podling to the crystal, using it to steal their life essence. Around 200 years before the events of the film, the Skeksis learned of a prophecy that a Gelfling would reunite the shard and save the world. Desperate to hold onto power, they created the crab-like creatures called Garthim and started the Garthim War, which killed almost all the Gelfling and decimated their society.
The urRu lived in seclusion and awaited the day they could reunite their bodies with the Skeksis and become whole beings once again, which happens at the end of the film.
The urSkeks and Raunip
OK, so this last entry is where things get complicated, as it’s unclear how much of this history will come into play in Age of Resistance. But I’m going to give it to you anyway — not only because knowledge doesn’t hurt but also because it’s weird as hell.
So, Aughra had a rock son who was basically Jesus.
The graphic novel series The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths — by Brian Holguin, Brian Froud, Alex Sheikman, and Lizzy John at Boom Studios — is told from the perspective of Raunip, Aughra’s son, who was formed from an alien material that fell from the sky. This happened right around the time of the first Great Conjunction (a total eclipse), about 2,000 years before the events of the film, which saw the arrival of the urSkeks. That’s right: The urSkeks were aliens.
Specifically, the urSkeks were hyper-intelligent beings whose people held an advance knowledge of Thra’s crystal and all the other crystals throughout the known universe. These 18 urSkeks had been kicked out of their society for “heresy” and chose to settle on Thra, as it was a primitive planet they thought they could improve... getting them back into the good graces of their own homeworld. Side note: Their arrival caused Aughra to lose one of her eyes, as she was blinded by the crystal’s power they wielded.
The urSkeks served as guardians of the crystal for 1,000 years, during the Age of Harmony. During that time, they gave Aughra the observatory she could use to explore the cosmos, which led her to ignore the needs of Thra for decades at a time. The urSkeks also helped the Gelfling advance their society and culture. In return, the Gelfling grew to revere the urSkeks, with some of them worshipping them as proto-gods. This kind of explains why the Gelfling trusted the Skeksis against better judgment, as they were used to following the ukSkeks.
However, there was one person who had a big problem with the urSkeks: Raunip. You see, he had the ability to see a side of the urSkeks that no one else could — they had a divided nature they were having trouble controlling — and he was the one who learned of their banishment. He tried to convince the Gelfling to reject them as outsiders who were trying to change their way of life, even going so far as to pelt one of them with rocks.
In response, the urSkeks announced they were ready to go home during the next Great Conjuncture. Sadly, they failed. One of the urSkeks had darkness in their heart, leading the crystal to reject all of them. This is the moment the crystal shattered, the world fell out of balance, and the urSkeks were divided into two races. Both Raunip and Aughra witnessed this and saw firsthand how evil the Skeksis were when they savagely killed an urRu and seized control of the crystal.
The pair spent decades underground trying to find the lost shard amid a pile of crystals, to return to a world that had largely forgotten about them. Aughra ended up losing some of her memory, hence why she didn’t warn the Gelfling about the evils of the Skeksis. Raunip ended up leaving everything behind to help some of Thra’s displaced creatures find a new home. It’s unclear if he’ll be part of Age of Resistance.
It’s been decades since The Dark Crystal first came out, but in some ways, it feels like this world is just beginning. There are so many places for this story to go just based on all the fantastic places it’s been. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to seeing the next chapter in the history of Thra.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance arrives on Netflix August 31.