Shadows of the Dark Crystal
by J.M. Lee
Stretched out in that high-pitched screech (Supplied by the inimitable Frank Oz), that phrase has been with me since my childhood. I loved the Muppets, loved Jim Henson’s creations; The Dark Crystal most especially. It was one of the most magical fantasies I can remember, and elements of it — Aughra’s massive astrolabe, the singing of the Mystics, Fizzgig, the Landstriders, and of course, the Skeksis — have never left me, never left my imagination.
And now I got to live them all over again. In Shadows of the Dark Crystal, by J.M. Lee.
First, for fans of the movie, let me say: the book lives up to it. It has very much the same feel, that magical, soft-edged fantasy world suddenly interrupted and fractured by deeply disturbing and grotesque nightmares; going from the sweet, pastoral life of the Gelfling, to the corruption of the land by the flaw at the heart of the Dark Crystal, which creates and unleashes monsters — the book is very much in line with all of that. It keeps the same essential storyline, as well; nothing in the book veers away from the original world. So if you loved The Dark Crystal, absolutely you should read this book.
For those who are not necessarily fans of the movie, let me say: this is a genuinely good book. It’s a young adult fantasy, with the perfect heroine for the genre: Naia is the daughter of the clan leader of a tribe of Gelfling who live in the Swamp of Sog; she leaves home on a quest to seek out her twin brother, who left home to be a guard at the Castle of the Crystal, and now needs help. She is strong and brave and capable, but she is young, and so she suffers self-doubt and frequent moments where she is not sure what is the right thing to do. But her kindness and her courage carry her through, as far as those things can; what happens then, I’ll leave for the book to reveal. The action in the story is exciting without being overly gruesome or violent; the language and the writing are interesting and well-crafted without going beyond the abilities of a young adult reader; the world is vast and beautiful and wonderfully described.
All that said: the book really does follow in the footsteps of the original movie, and so I would highly recommend watching that, first. If you like what the imagination of Jim Henson and Brian Froud created, you’ll like what J.M. Lee added to it; if the movie is too dark or disturbing for you to enjoy or allow your children to watch, then you’ll probably feel the same way about the book.
If I have any criticism, it’s that I wish the storyline had started farther back: not to spoil anything, but I’d be more interested in reading about how the villains of the movie became that way, how the original problem started, rather than how the situation that exists at the beginning of the movie got to be that way, which is essentially what this book tells. However, there will be a series — the novel isn’t a cliffhanger, but the story doesn’t end with the ending of this book — and perhaps we’ll find out more.
I am, without question, going to keep reading these books. And I’m going to go watch the movie again.