Characters and races of the Dark Crystal
The Characters and Races of the Dark Crystal were created by puppeteer Jim Henson and concept artist Brian Froud for the 1982 cult fantasy film The Dark Crystal and its expanded universe in books, comics, artwork, games, and proposed sequel. Notably, most of the information about specific character and race names comes from supplementary material such as Froud's book The World of the Dark Crystal, rather than the film itself.
|Dark Crystal character|
|Home||Mystic Valley, also known as the Valley of the Stones|
|Affiliations||Mystics of Mystic Valley, also known as the urRu|
|Performed by:||Jim Henson
Kathryn Mullen (assistant)
Kiran Shah (body)
|Voiced by:||Stephen Garlick|
Jen is a young male Gelfling and the protagonist of the film. Jen's family and people were killed when he was young. Jen was raised by the urRu, also known as the Mystics, in their valley, believing that he was the last survivor of the Gelflings. Jen was educated by the Mystics. When his dying master, urSu, sends him on the quest to find the shard of the Crystal and to heal the Crystal with it, he discovers that he is not the only Gelfling alive. Having obtained the shard and being uncertain about what to do with it, he wanders through the swamp and is startled by Fizzgig, Kira's dog-like pet. Kira, who emerges from behind a nearby shrub, apologizes to Jen, befriends him, and learns of his quest, on which she joins him.
In the deleted scene, while the other Mystics are participating in urSu's funeral, the Ritual-Guardian urZah gives Jen a hint that Aughra has one of the crystal shards that belong to the crystal and her home is up on the hill.
Jen wears a pale, cream-colored tunic. His skin has a brown complexion and his hair is dark with fair (almost silver) streaks and grows to shoulder-length. He carries a flute around his neck, an urRu token known as a firca. When the urRu/Mystics chant and Kira vocalizes, he plays it and it makes one of the crystal shards glow. He also does the same thing with the musical Podlings.
|Dark Crystal character|
|Performed by:||Kathryn Mullen
Rollie Krewson (assistant)
Kiran Shah (body)
Steve Whitmire (assistant)
|Voiced by:||Lisa Maxwell|
Kira survived the slaughter of her people, the Gelflings, because she was hidden by her mother in a hollow tree trunk. After witnessing the death of her mother at the claws of a Garthim, Kira was later found and raised by a village of Podlings, who became her adopted family. Taught by the Podlings, Kira learned to speak with the animals and developed a respect for the natural world. Accompanied by her pet, Fizzgig, Kira often wandered through the swamps and forests around her village, learning the ways and the speech of the flora and fauna.
One day, Fizzgig startled Jen, who was wandering the forest, baffled by his mission and by the mysterious crystal shard that he now possessed. Kira and Jen then befriended each other. Kira would join Jen on his quest to heal the Crystal and restore the vitality of their world. Though the quest cost Kira her life, she was revived by an urSkek.
Kira wears a golden-brown dress and a brown cloak. She has a fair complexion and her hair is long and fair, almost white. As a female Gelfling, Kira has segmented bat-like wings that unfold from her shoulders on command, a physical feature not shared by male Gelflings. Kira is not shown flying or gliding, although she is able to use her wings to break the impact of the fall from a great height.
|Dark Crystal character|
|Affiliations||Kira and later Jen|
|Performed by:||Dave Goelz (performer)
Rollie Krewson (assistant)
|Voiced by:||Percy Edwards|
Described as "... a friendly monster" in the initial draft of the screenplay, the character of Fizzig evolved into a cuddly and loveable character as the pet of Kira. Fizzgig shares some qualities of a dog, such as his distinctive yap and growl. Fizzgig is unlike a dog in that his facial features are tiny and his entire body is more or less simply a brown/red/gray ball of fur, about the size of a basketball. Fizzgig moves by rolling, though he does appear to have at least two legs. His mouth, when open, appears to encompass most of his size and possesses two sets of sharp teeth.
He is fiercely loyal to Kira, has an aggressive temper, and is wary of unfamiliar things. Fizzgig is at first wary of Jen, but becomes his friend.
The name of Fizzgig's species is not mentioned, nor are any more of his kind seen, although Fizzgig's species are said to be native to Thra. Fizzgig is the only major character represented in the movie by a puppet with immobile eyes.
Fizzgig later made a cameo in the Fraggle Rock episode "Gobo's Discovery." He was seen as one of the background cave creatures.
|Dark Crystal character|
|Species||Unknown (said to be born of the essence of the planet Thra to be its "eye")|
|Gender||Often mentioned as "she" and has a female voice; yet is also said to be of two sexes, whereof the male side is said to be "withered", leaving the female side the dominant.|
|Home||High Hill Observatory|
|Affiliations||Often indifferent to other creature's affairs.|
|Performed by:||Frank Oz
David Greenaway (assistant)
Kiran Shah (body)
|Voiced by:||Billie Whitelaw|
Aughra is a main protagonist and a one-eyed wild-haired seer with the horns of a goat. Aughra is the sole member of her (unidentified) species. She is known as the Watcher of the Heavens and the Keeper of Secrets. A keen astronomer, she maintains her observatory set upon a cliff's edge atop a mountain, known as High Hill, which houses an enormous, working orrery that shows all the worlds that surround Thra's Three Suns. This orrery is said to have enabled Aughra to predict the coming of the Great Conjunction. Aughra holds the Shard of the Crystal, for which reason urSu, wisest of the urRu, sends Jen to find her.
In the movie, Aughra is portrayed primarily by Frank Oz in a costume. Oz also voiced Aughra originally (making her sound similar to a combination of Fozzie Bear, Yoda, and Miss Piggy), but later her lines were re-dubbed by Billie Whitelaw.
According to the book The Song of Aughra (alternately titled The World of the Dark Crystal), Aughra is the essence of Thra itself. Responding to the need of the rocks and trees to have an eye to see the world, the roots made the rocks split, producing Aughra. The novel The Dark Crystal mentions that Aughra is both male and female. The part of her that has withered is male, and the part that remains is female. Because she is the essence of Thra, she possesses the power to control tendrils, bushes, tall grasses, and other flora. Aughra can remove her heavily bloodshot eye from its socket and hold it in her gnarled hand for extended view or place it in another location and move it by mental command. Her brisk voice is harsh, broken, and short of breath. The novel describes her breath as "loud, rasping, rheumy, and [having] a dank stench".
Her exact age is not given, though the novel says that Aughra is three times three ages old. Aughra can recall life before Mystics and Skeksis evolved their separate codes. She studies the movements of planets in the heavens and lost an eye one thousand years earlier observing the last Great Conjunction of the Three Suns, which burned her severely. During this time she witnessed the arrival of the urSkeks, who healed her and built her observatory and orrery upon High Hill.
It is possible to construe that Aughra is at first neutral in the conflict between the Skeksis and Jen. It is only after her home is destroyed by the Garthim and she is kidnapped that she demonstrates a dislike of the Skeksis. When facing the Skeksis, she indignantly rebukes them for pillaging her home, calling them "fools" and the Garthim "stupid". She also exclaims, "You want Gelfling? Why not ask me? No; easier to send your crab-brained soldiers, burn my home!" implying that she might have given Jen to them if they had asked her.
Aughra is mean and cantankerous and prone to mood swings. An example of this is described in the novel: When Jen reaches for something out of curiosity in Aughra's observatory, she angrily holds his hand to the table and growls at him not to touch anything. She then proceeds to behave as if nothing had happened. She is shown saying dramatically that the Great Conjunction is the "end of the world", and then adding, in a different tone of voice, "or the beginning! Hmf!" before dismissively remarking that ends and beginnings are "all the same" (each being a form of change). She seems well-acquainted with what most of Thra's inhabitants would view with awe, but is herself overawed when the urSkeks assume their true forms. When she asks Jen the location of his urRu mentor, and hears that the latter is dead, she becomes wary and says "Could be anywhere, then". Contrastingly, she appears blasé regarding the possibility of her own death. Aughra was allegedly to appear in the sequel to The Dark Crystal, titled The Power of the Dark Crystal, though Jim Henson's daughter Cheryl mentioned in September 2011 that the sequel was on hold.
Her creature and costume designer was Brian Froud and her Design and Fabrication Supervisor was Lyle Conway. The Fabrication Team for Aughra were David Barclay, Jeremy Hunt, Paul Jiggins, Graeme Galvin, and Steve Court.
Gelflings are slender humanoid beings with pointed ears and protracted facial structures who originally populated much of the world of Thra. Gelflings have similarities to both elves and hobbits. Their hands have three long fingers and a thumb. Female Gelflings have bat-like wings that can be folded to fit easily under clothing. These wings can be used to slow a long fall to allow for a safe landing, even with the added weight of a second Gelfling holding onto the first. The Marvel Comics adaptation of the movie states that in the past, females could fly; but the wings have become vestigial.
The Gelflings once had a flourishing civilization, as seen in the ruins of one of their cities in the film, and had a system of writing similar to hieroglyphics. Jen and Kira are the only two known survivors of a massacre upon their race masterminded by the Skeksis. Upon physical contact with one another, Gelflings can share thoughts, memories, and emotions by a process called dreamfasting. Jen and Kira were instrumental in fulfilling the prophecy that restored the Dark Crystal to its natural state. Other Gelflings had been introduced in the Dark Crystal universe, but only for Tokyopop's OEL manga Legends of the Dark Crystal:
- Lahr -
- Neffi -
- Belleg -
- Kelsee -
- Smeeshun -
- Jana -
The urRu/Mystics are benevolent, hunchbacked counterparts of the malevolent Skeksis (see section below). Whenever one member of either race dies or is injured, his counterpart in the other is similarly affected. The urRu have four arms, elongated heads, white hair and tails, in a manner that concept artist Brian Froud described as being "... between a dog and a dinosaur". The urRu look similar to the Skeksis in body shape and also in that they are gnarled with age; yet the urRu are not hideous and are very wise and in tune with nature, hence their longevity and also their title of "Mystics". They often perform enigmatic rituals which has also given them the title of "chanters". There are ten urRu at the beginning of the film who include:
- urIm the Healer (performed by David Greenaway) -
- urSol the Chanter (performed by Simon Williamson) - urSol is the chanter who had two different voices: one light and gentle for speech and the other one being deep and resonate for song that could calm thunder or make waterfalls still.
- urTih the Alchemist (performed by Toby Philpott) - urTih is the alchemist who was forever lost in his experimentations. He would seek to change the forms of things, solids into liquids, liquids into solids again. He spontaneously combusts when his Skeksis counterpart skekTek falls into the pit beneath the Dark Crystal.
- urNol the Herbalist (performed by Swee Lim) - urNol is the herbalist who was often working with urAmaj.
- urAc the Scribe (performed by Hus Levant) - urAc wrote the simpler thoughts of his comrades on unwound cloth spirals.
- urYod the Numerologist (performed by Robbie Barnett) - urYod is the numerologist who kept track of time with moving strings of stones.
- urUtt the Weaver (performed by John Pierre Amiel) - The weaver who weaved the blanket coats that are worn by the others.
In Tokyopop's OEL manga Legends of the Dark Crystal vol. 1, a new Mystic is introduced:
- urSen the Monk - The narrator of the manga.
In the Dark Crystal Author Quest, a new Mystic is introduced:
- urVa the Archer - A skilled archer and master of martial arts.
The Skeksis are the antagonists of the film. The Skeksis are the ten "evil" versions of the ten "good" urRu (see section above). The word "Skeksis" serves as both singular and plural form for this species, with the singular pronounced // and the plural //. They are described by concept artist Brian Froud as "... part reptile, part predatory bird, part dragon". Like their urRu counterparts, they have four arms; but in the Skeksis the two lower arms have become weak and atrophied, and are rarely seen. The Skeksis have kept themselves from dying of old age by draining the vitality from other beings, yet remain hideous in appearance. In the film, the Skeksis are represented by puppets engineered under the direction of Jim Henson. Jim Henson has said that in the development of the Skeksis, the creators drew inspiration from the Seven Deadly Sins, in that each Skeksis represents a different kind of evil, such as cruelty, selfishness, greed, unchecked ambition, treachery, and wrath.
The Skeksis were full-bodied puppets operated in a very similar way to Big Bird. The puppeteer's secondary arm was in the arm of the Skeksis and the puppeteer's primary arm was held up over the puppeteer's head and the hand operates the jaw. A monitor inside the suit allowed the puppeteer to see what he or she was doing.
The Skeksis include:
- skekZok the Ritual-Master (performed by Jim Henson and voiced by Jerry Nelson) - The Court High priest. His status amongst the Skeksis was gained through lies and invented prophecies. It was his ritual dagger that caused the temporary death of Kira.
- skekUng the Garthim-Master (performed by Dave Goelz, assisted by Rollie Krewson, and voiced by Michael Kilgarriff) - The General who becomes the new Emperor. He represents the Deadly Sin of Wrath.
- skekSil the Chamberlain (performed by Frank Oz and voiced by Barry Dennen) - The Chamberlain who is exiled after unsuccessfully challenging skekUng's claim to the throne. He was later reinstated after he captures Kira.
- skekTek the Scientist (performed by Steve Whitmire) - The Scientist whose job was to drain the life essence out of the Gelflings and Podlings. SkekTek later met his death when the animals in his laboratory retaliated with the help of Kira, pushing him into the shaft of the Dark Crystal where he fell to his death. skekTek's death caused urTih to combust.
- skekAyuk the Gourmand (performed by Louise Gold and voiced by Thick Wilson) - The Gourmand. SkekAyuk commands a host of slaves to create complex meals for the Skeksis including Roast Nebrie (a Skeksis favorite). He represents the Deadly Sin of Gluttony.
- skekNa the Slave-Master (performed by Mike Quinn and voiced by David Buck) - The Slave-Master who oversees the enslaved Podlings at the castle and is the most evil of the bunch.
- skekOk the Scroll-Keeper (performed by Bob Payne and voiced by John Baddeley) - The Court Scroll-Keeper who is the smallest. He is often picked on and laughed at by the other Skeksis. He would often write and rewrite the events in Skeksis history.
- skekShod the Treasurer (performed by Tim Rose and voiced by Charles Collingwood) - The Court Treasurer.
- skekEkt the Ornamentalist (performed by Brian Muehl) - The Ornamentalist that makes the outfits of the Skeksis.
In Tokyopop's OEL manga Legends of the Dark Crystal vol. 1 and 2, 4 new Skeksis are introduced:
- skekLach the Collector -
- skekVar the General -
- skekEer the Spy-Master -
- skekCru the Mariner -
In the Dark Crystal Author Quest, a new Skeksis is introduced:
- skekMal the Hunter - A wild, sadistic Skeksis feared by other Skeksis.
The UrSkeks are the original species from which the urRu and the Skeksis are derived. The UrSkeks are the "whole" of their urRu and Skeksis halves coming together, although implied to be greater than the sum of their parts. The UrSkeks are seen at the end of the film when the Dark Crystal is made whole again, where they are depicted as tall, luminescent beings of vaguely Gelfling-like shape. They sported large craniums and slim bodies. Only eight appeared in the end of the film, with UngIm as their representative. They include:
- UngIm (voiced by Joseph O'Conor) - The combined form of Garthim-Master skekUng + Healer urIm.
- SilSol - The combined form of Chamberlain skekSil + Chanter urSol.
- ZokZah - The combined form of Ritual-Master skekZok + Ritual-Guardian urZah.
- AyukAmaj - The combined form of Gourmand skekAyuk + Cook urAmaj.
- NaNol - The combined form of Slave Master skekNa + Herbalist urNol.
- OkAc - The combined form of Scroll-Keeper skekOk + Scribe urAc.
- ShodYod - The combined form of Treasurer skekShod + Numerologist urYod.
- EktUtt - The combined form of Ornamentalist skekEkt + Weaver urUtt
Two more UrSkeks were mentioned but did not appear, due to the deaths of their urRu and Skeksis counterparts:
- SoSu - The combined form of Emperor skekSo + Master urSu. Both died of old age.
- TekTih - The combined form of Scientist skekTek + Alchemist urTih
TokyoPop's Legends of the Dark Crystal Vol.1 introduces two new Skeksis (SkekLach the Collector & SkekVar the General), and one new mystic (urSen the Monk), producing:
- LachSen - The combined form of SkekLach the Collector + urSen the Monk
SkekLach and urSen are counterparts, but SkekVar's counterpart is not introduced in vol. 1. It is expected volume 2, which is scheduled for publication in August 2010, and is due to include more new Skeksis and Mystics.
In the Dark Crystal Author Quest, the new urRu and new Skeksis are counterparts, resulting in yet another UrSkeks:
- MalVa - The combined form of SkekMal the Hunter and urVa the Archer.
According to The World of the Dark Crystal, the UrSkeks originated on a world where moral imperfections were found intolerable. The UrSkeks, of which there were originally 18 led by SoSu, were banished from their homeworld and entered the world of Thra via a portal opened by the shining of the three suns on the Crystal of Truth. Their world had an equivalent crystal. Once on Thra, they encountered Aughra, who had been badly burned by the intense heat given off by her close proximity to the Conjunction. They healed her and together made exchanges of knowledge, Aughra teaching them the ways of the planet's nature and ecology while the UrSkeks taught her astronomy. They hollowed out the mountain containing the crystal that brought them to the world and created a magnificent castle. Thereafter the UrSkeks sought to rectify what they had been taught to believe was their curse of self-impurity.
Creating a network of mirrors around the crystal, the UrSkeks sought to trap the light of the next great conjunction to burn out the imperfections on their souls. For another thousand years they waited till finally it arrived. Upon entering the light, rather than being cleansed, the UrSkeks were splintered into separate species; the Skeksis, commanded by skekSo and the urRu led by urSu. A fight broke out, resulting in the crystal receiving a blow, which chipped off a shard. The shard disappeared and the UrRu left the castle to the Skeksis.
Despite the separation, there was still a sympathetic bond between each Skeksis and its urRu counterpart, a constant reminder that they were only halves of the same being. If either is wounded, the other feels the pain and suffers an identical injury. If one dies, both die in the same manner, preventing the feasibility of war. By the time of the film only ten Skeksis and UrRu pairs remained. When the story begins, both skekSo and urSu perish, leaving skekUng and urIm to succeed them respectively. By the upcoming conjunction, the process that created the two races was reversed and the UrSkeks were reformed. Their new leader, UngIm, revived Kira before the UrSkeks, then they departed into a higher level of existence and left the Gelflings as the keepers of the Crystal. Because skekTek was killed during the course of the film, destroying his urRu counterpart urTih, the UrSkek 'TekTih' never appeared.
Minor characters and races
The Podlings are a race of gentle "earth-people" native to Thra and affiliated with the Gelflings. They are called so because they tend all things that grow, above all the giant Pod plants in whose vast seed-pods they made their villages. The Podlings are dwarf-like in stature yet with very rounded, circular-shaped, bulbous heads and small round eyes. They have a love of music and parties. In tune with nature, they can speak to animals and beasts and teach the female Gelfling Kira this trait. One of the most important Podlings is Ydra, the adoptive mother of Kira.
Many of the Podlings have been either killed, or have been kidnapped by the Skeksis by whom they are used as slaves. The Skeksis rejuvenate their decaying bodies by draining vitality from the Podlings, and have kept themselves alive for a thousand years by doing so, although it does not stop the constant deterioration. This process reduces the Podlings to weakened and zombie-like states which also helps the Skeksis use them as slaves. The Podling slaves of the Skeksis appear withered, and their hair has turned white or fallen away. At the end of the film, the Podlings regain most of their youth and knowledge. According to The World of the Dark Crystal by Brian Froud, many Podlings were lured to the Castle of the Crystal by the Skeksis.
The Creature and Costume Designs for the Podlings were done by Brian Froud and the Design and Fabrication Supervisor was Sherry Amont. The Design and Fabrication Team for the Podlings consisted of Bob Payne, Amy Van Gilder, Mike Quinn, Cheryl Henson, Marianne Harms, Nick Forder, Sarah Monzani, Peter Saunders, and Debbie Coda. Polly Smith, Barbara Davis, and Ellis Duncan were associate costume designers.
The Garthim are imposing, tall, bulky, crustacean-like creatures (designer Brian Froud has claimed a fascination with lobsters) protected by a tough exoskeleton or carapace, who shamble on tentacles and brandish sharp crab-like claws. The Garthim also appear to be at least partly mechanical in structure, although this is unclear. They make a series of clicking noises which could be either organic or synthetic. Their eyes glow purple and are in a way related to the Dark Crystal. In the film, they are destroyed immediately following the Conjunction and the healing of the Crystal, disintegrating along with the black stone that coats the castle's silver walls.
The Garthim seem to exist only to kill, and it is hinted at that the Garthim are not actually native to Thra but were in fact either created or bred by the Skeksis. The Garthim serve the Skeksis, and on the orders of the Skeksis the Garthim have all but exterminated the Gelflings. This is in accordance with the prophecy that Gelflings would bring about the downfall of their masters the Skeksis. The Garthim also kidnap the Podlings in nets or cages constructed on their shells to hold captive Podlings. Given the weakened and decaying state of the Skeksis, it is unlikely they could do much of their own work, and so the Garthim serve an essential purpose for them.
According to The World of the Dark Crystal by Brian Froud, the Skeksis created the Garthim from the memories of sea creatures native to their ancestral world, quickened by the light of the Dark Crystal through the skill of skekTek the Scientist and the power of skekUng the Garthim-Master. The Garthim are said to have been immensely strong and stupid creations whose only purpose is to destroy. The Gelflings understood this and lived in fear of them; but the Podlings did not.
The Crystal Bats are winged creatures similar to bats, but with unnatural stick-like bodies. The Crystal Bats are used by the Skeksis to find the shard of the Crystal, and which also act as spies for the Skeksis. According to The World of the Dark Crystal by Brian Froud, the Crystal Bats were bred by the Skeksis to carry lenses of artificial crystal that sent images of all they saw back to the Crystal in the Skeksis' castle. At first the bats flew only in the dark, after the manner of their kind; but the Skeksis bred from the bolder and hardier strains, till no corner of the World was unknown to them.
Landstriders are bizarre creatures native to the forests of Thra, having white skin, vaguely anteater-like faces, long ear-like appendages, and extremely long and powerful limbs with which they are able to move very fast and cover vast distances. Landstriders have always enjoyed a content and symbiotic relationship with the other creatures of Thra. Over a thousand years ago, Landstriders were used as a primary means of transportation in the same manner as a horse by the now almost extinct Gelflings. In recent times, Podlings have also ridden Landstriders. Given that Podlings are in tune with nature and can speak to animals, the Podlings are able to communicate with the Landstriders. The last female Gelfling named Kira who was raised by the Podlings, is also able to use this trait and speak with the Landstriders.
Landstriders are very tough and their limbs can be used as formidable weapons. As a result, Landstriders are perhaps the only natives of Thra able to hold their own against the Garthim for any length of time.
The long, ear-like appendages on the Landstrider are actually an extension of the scapula, their purpose unknown. Given the length of the front legs and their style of gait, it may be possible that these extended shoulder appendages could be balance weights for the front legs to help with locomotion, or may serve as both hearing and balance organs.
In the production of "The Dark Crystal," the Landstriders were performed by professionals who are good at operating on four stilts. The Landstrider were performed by Robbie Barnett, Swee Lim, and Hugh Spight.
The Nebrie are large grub-like creatures that have some amphibian qualities. The Nebrie dwell in marshes and swamps. Although they appear menacing the Nebries are not especially aggressive and appear to be vegetarian. A Nebrie first appeared when Kira commanded it to get Jen out of the bog.
A Nebrie infant is seen roasted on the dining table of the Skeksis in the Castle of the Crystal and the novel depicts Nebries as being the Skeksis' food of choice where the Nebries are cooked into a dish called Roast Nebrie.
The Nebrie was designed by Brian Froud and the Design and Fabrication Supervisors were Tim Miller and John Coppinger.
Despite its dark times, Thra seems to have a flourishing ecosystem. Many other creatures are seen briefly, including plants which are able to fly; flowers able to retract their petals; thick tree-like stalks that expand and compress, giving the impression that they can breathe; a gigantic predator that disguises its mouth as a hole in the ground and closes its mouth when prey enter, much in the same manner of a venus flytrap; vine-like or grass-like creatures which are able to move; rodent-like animals; and birds with a large horn instead of a beak, among others.
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- Hill, J. (October 12, 2011). "Jim Henson's Family and Fans Aim to Honor and Extend His Creative Legacy – Part 2". HuffPost Entertainment. New York City, NY: The Huffington Post.
- The Gelfling Gathering - Author's Resource