Last week, The Dark Crystal Author Quest to write the first novel of The Gelfling Gathering finally ended. Twenty-five excellent writers were given honourable mention and five were chosen as finalists. It still really disappoints me that I couldn’t find the time to enter the story that I had planned. I was working on another submission at the time and I had to make a choice. Suffice to say, it was not an easy decision to make and, hopefully, I will be able to show all of you the fruits of that decision one day soon enough.
However, I did manage to do something during that time. As a treat and in honour of the Author Quest’s success, I want to show you the introduction that I created to start off my Dark Crystal Gelfling Gathering tale. I hope you will take it in the spirit that it is given and enjoy. Its working title was Dark Crystal: For Crystal and Castle.
It was over ninety trine ago that the Great urSkeks, wonderful, luminous, glorious beings from the highest realms who had come to bring wisdom and enlightenment to our beautiful world of Thra, finally left us. They had come to our home for contemplation and, having gained the revelation of their true selves from the divine Crystal of Truth, they left us with one final task.
Before the urSkeks, we were small and lowly. It was not until their blessing that were chosen as Stewards of their Castle of the Crystal: to guard it, Gelfling, Podlings and all of Thra from the evil that still surfaces to this very day.
For the soul stealers, ugly, twisted monsters that would take Gelfling children in the night for their shadowy sorceries were locked away: banished to their prison in the Mystic Valley from which they shall never fully escape. Our Adversaries were held back and imprisoned behind the wards of the urSkeks, whose power we still maintain and they cannot ever fully escape: let alone dare approach the Sacred Crystal to see what cowards they truly are inside.
Nevertheless, the soul stealers are crafty and clever.
To this very day, led by their dark and insidious Master, these cruel wizards still lure Gelfling victims to their Valley. And sometimes it is even worse. Sometimes, some–not all, but some–of the soul stealers find ways out from the barriers that seal them their infectious nature from the rest of Thra and seek to interfere with, and corrupt, our great and glorious realm.
This was the reason why the paramount of our kind, the beloved and enlightened Emperor skekSo First and Only of His Name, created the elite Castle Guard and made his Empire of all Gelfling civilization and Podling principalities. This is why we have decided to teach those worthy among you Gelfling the arts of war and defence.
And while a soul stealer cannot be destroyed by Gelfling or Podling hand, with your help we can capture and contain the menace of the wizards–to keep the dread Sixteen from liberating their entire body–until that great and glorious day when a thousand trine shall pass and the Third Great Conjunction brings glory to the Empire, peace and order to its loyal citizens, honour to the Guard that defends our Lordly Stewardship and the Crystal of Truth, and eternal oblivion to the soul stealers and their corrupted followers.
Until that momentous day we must remain forever vigilant. Everything is connected and it will only be through our sense of connection and our trust in his Imperialness the Great skekSo that we will all find true harmony.
This is our duty and our gift. This is our peace to all of Thra.
Remember the oath of our Guard: “For Crystal and Castle.”
— written by skekLi, Noble and Humble Poet Laureate of the Skeksis Empire
This was, sadly, as far I officially got. But I had plans. I’d written a whole lot of notes asking myself questions about the Skeksis, the urRu Mystics, and the Gelfling, their different Clans and what kind of plot I could make out of all of it.
But as the second part of my treat, I will tell you what I roughly had in mind.
I really planned on writing about Rian, the Woodlander Gelfling Guard slowly discovering that his beloved rulers were in fact some of the most evil monsters that he has ever met. I wanted him and his Spriton friend Jul to be rivals in the Guard and when Rian finally did defect away from the Skeksis, he would have to face his best friend until, finally, the latter saw the truth and came to his side.
During this time, the Guard are actually trained and led by three Skeksis: skekVar the General instructs the Gelfling in land-based combat, skekSa the Mariner drills them in naval war, and skekMal the Hunter teaches the Guard survival skills and the art of stealth and, well, hunting. I wanted to make three things clear. First, skekGra the Conqueror was once a leader and instructor of the Guard before he was exiled by the Emperor along with skekLi the Satirist. The second is that Emperor skekSo sometimes displays his martial prowess during Castle Festivals and the Guard are in awe of his speed and sheer power. And, third, that all the Guard feel very uneasy about skekMal. He has this way of looking at them as though they are just pieces of meat. Sometimes, some of the Guard go missing during the night. Not always, but occasionally and while the “soul stealers” are blamed, some of the Guard wonder.
Of course, it is revealed later that skekMal basically trains the Guard to hunt only to hunt them down, in return, much later after he puts on his mask and tracks them. It is basically a sport to him to “play with his food.” Even the other Skeksis find that somewhat disturbing. He comes and goes whenever he feels like it and he supports the two Skeksis in exile when it suits him. I was also toying with the idea that it is on a mission to “find” the exiled Skeksis that Rian discovers more about them.
Basically, this side story, or first book even was going to have the Emperor send the Guard to stop skekGra and his associates from attempting to make their own rebellion with Gelfling followers. If skekHak the Machinist hadn’t been killed in the second volume of Dark Crystal Creation Myths, I would have used him to create a makeshift essence-extractor: a cruder version of skekTek’s. However, perhaps skekMal had his own portable device made when he threatened skekTek. Remember: the Gelfling Gathering takes place before the Emperor had sole access to essence, so it is possible that something like this could have happened.
But in any case, I saw Rian and the Drenchen Gelfling Gurjin as childhood friends. Gurjin, for a swamp-dwelling Gelfling, was the more scholarly of the two in my mind and he wasn’t a part of the Guard. When they weren’t playing Jarra-Jen and Creghel the Tyrant, they played Three Suns and the Moon: each of them was one of the suns and an old childhood female friend was the moon. I picture her as a Vapra and perhaps, in their minds, the future Queen of the Gelfling Clans.
Eventually, Rian discovers that there is a Gelfling Resistance led by the hidden Gelfling Queen. As it turns out, almost a century ago, the Sifa Gelfling Gyr and the Vapra Lady Kel witnessed the actual creation of the Skeksis and the urRu. Kel, becoming the next Gelfling Queen, secretly passed on the knowledge of what happened through dreamfasting with her successor and a select group of loyal Gelfling. They didn’t know what to make of what they saw and so they waited. They waited for a few generations: knowing that they didn’t have the power to oppose the Skeksis directly and that their own pacifist nature, with the exception of perhaps the Spritons that were so close to the Skeksis’ corruption, would limit whatever they could do for now.
I decided that Rian first acts as their spy in the Castle and then he finally just can’t stay there anymore. Maybe I will tell that story one day: though it will definitely be fanfiction unless the Henson Company or Grosset and Dunlap are ever looking for short stories. That story was going to be my entry. And if the third Dark Crystal Creation Myths book doesn’t destroy its continuity, then it definitely will be a fanfic.
But as for the rest … Rian sees the beginnings of the proto-Garthim developing in the cave tunnels of the Castle: supervised by skekUng the Garthim Master who wants to supplant skekVar as General and skekTek who hopes to get more prestige out of helping him. I see them as red and raw without their organic carapaces at this stage. Rian and his friends run into the real Gelfling Queen: a young and mute Dousan Gelfling. She has mastered Dream-etching: the precise ability needed to bring something from dreaming into physical being. She will become the central architect of the Wall of Destiny. They attempt to mobilize the other Gelfling, but they need resistance and disbelief. But gradually, they would pass on what they have learned through dreamfasting.
At this point, the Skeksis become aware of what is going on. As they pass the cover story of there being missing shards of the Crystal, as the Gelfling group has revealed that it is damaged, the Castle Guard is led by Emperor skekSo himself, along with his minions, to take care of the Rebels. Unfortunately, for the Skeksis, the Guard are all converted to the Rebels through dreamfasting. I planned, at this point, for the urRu to get involved: as the protagonists were staying in the Valley: having realized that the Skeksis’ accusations against them are obviously false and the Skeksis are the ones kidnapping and “draining souls” from Gelfling.
There was an epic duel between the four-armed combatants: urSu the Master and skekSo the Emperor. These are not the decrepit beings we saw in the film, but two powerful opponents in the prime of their lives. Each blow they land on each other also affects the other one and they gain cuts and injuries that match each other’s own. SkekSo only retreats when he realizes that his Guard have defected and his other Skeksis are facing similar problems. SkekSo vows revenge and flees. The Gelfling either do not notice this phenomenon or simply do not understand and it is understated. It is also during this time we are introduced to urVa the Archer: the one Mystic who seeks to actively destroy his counterpart in the form of skekMal.
UrVa spends much time teaching Rian and the others how to fight, as he is a martial arts master, and when the time comes to leave the Valley and go to organize the other Gelfling, he chooses to go with them: being the only urRu who can actually find it in himself to actively interfere in what is going on. Later, as they get to the site where the Wall of Destiny will be built, this is when the Skeksis get nasty and they send the three militaristic Skeksis with a mass of essence-drained Gelfling husks, literally zombies, to destroy the Rebellion.
By this point, it is a bloodbath. And what is worse is that skekMal starts picking off Gelfling from the shadows of the Vapra’s trees (I assume this their territory is close to where they are building the Wall) with his crossbow. He and urVa have a standoff. UrVa hates everything that skekMal stands for, representing the aggressive side of him he despised as an urSkek, while skekMal hates urVa for being that weak and hesitant part of his original self whose deliberations cost lives back on the urSkek homeworld. In the end, they both shoot each other at the same time: a former whole being in conflict with its dual aspects.
Rian holds urVa’s dying form in his arms. UrVa asks Rian to kill him, but Rian doesn’t understand and refuses. He then goes and finishes off skekMal: who had killed his father not too long ago. Both Skeksis and urRu die. Then the seven Gelfling Clans, all knowing what the Skeksis truly are, congregate and the Wall is created.
It awakens the essence-drained Gelfling husks from their living death and the remaining Skeksis are forced to retreat. But Rian, the Queen and the others all know that this far from over. Nevertheless, there is still hope and wonder in Thra.
This is, sadly, as far as I got in my notes. And there are so many gaps. I still have difficulties describing our world’s geography, never mind Thra’s and its unique solar system. There is also so much story there and many story lines that I could have done with the mariner Sifa, the desert-dwelling Dousan, and the underground Grottan. I did plan on having each chapter dedicated to, and function from, the limited third-person perspective of the character: Skeksis, Gelfling and perhaps even an urRu. You know: much in the same that George R.R. Martin structures his chapters in A Song of Ice and Fire.
But I didn’t get to it. Nevertheless this process of world-building kept my mind occupied and got me into some good discussions on The Dark Crystal Community Forums. I’m also pretty sure I learned something and, in the discussions themselves, I even suggested corrections for their entries into the Encyclopedia. And what is even more awesome is that the other authors that didn’t get into the finals have a similar idea to mine and have posted links to their stories in the Forums and in the Fanfiction section of the Dark Crystal website.
The fact is that my experiences in the Quest, for all I didn’t make a story, deserved its own honoured place in my Mythic Bios and it is excellent way to show you how my creative process and, well, my mind works.
I will say it again: everything is connected. Everything is connected and I am glad I connected my creative mind to the world of Thra. Therefore I salute my fellow writers and posters, as well as the Henson Company, and my story that could have been and in the words of the Castle Gelfling Guard I planned to create let me proclaim proudly, “For Crystal and Castle.”