Another World, Another Time: The Dark Crystal Returns

It seems strangely appropriate to write about this topic with yet another Christian prediction about the end of the world looming upon us. In both cases, the apocalypses are purely imaginary. But one of them fills us with wonderment, while the other only makes us roll our eyes. Join me for a rabbit-hole trip to the land of the Dark Crystal–and a look at why this newest prophecy of doom is, well, doomed to failure, just like all the other ones Christians have ever made about the end of the world.

In real life, the day after the Great Conjunction would go on as usual.
The Great Conjunction (or at least almost), from 1982’s The Dark Crystal.

There’s Always An Alien Battle Cruiser.

It’s a truth in Christianity, especially with the toxic kind we generally concern ourselves with around here: to be Christian is to be afraid of something. And the further into that toxic territory we travel, the more there is to fear and the more constantly the threats come at adherents. I honestly don’t know what fundagelicals in particular would even do with themselves if they didn’t have culture wars to fight and threats to cower before.

As if they’re pointing at that truth, some Christian weirdos are predicting that the world is going to end on September 23, 2017. The person mainly responsible for this prediction is a self-proclaimed researcher named David Meade. Naturally, he has no credentials whatsoever to be making these sorts of predictions. Indeed, I found one page where he claimed to have taken at least one astronomy class at the University of Louisville, but no degree is noted, nor the exact name of the class or even a description of what was covered in the class (much less what grade he received). Another site notes that his work is largely self-published rather than peer-reviewed.

Just try to read his explanation of what’s going to happen on Saturday. Just try. It is one of the most laughable and ludicrous waterfalls of gently-steaming horseshit that I’ve seen since Time Cube. Yes, it’s that gloriously bad.

A bunch of Christian-leaning websites are running with the prediction anyway. Among them we find Fox News (NB: loud autoplay) and Unsealed, which is run by Gary Ray, who also does not appear to have a single credential to his name regarding either religion or astronomy.1 They’re all saying that Nibiru, that “secret planet” so beloved of occultists and astrologers alike, is going to collide with the Earth this Saturday. Or something. It’s hard to figure out what he means. Mr. Meade arrived at that particular date by calculating a bunch of very improbable and arbitrary sets of numbers, then adding 33 days to his original prophecy after that first one didn’t pan out. He also apparently went on some Irish talk show to tell the folks there that “he can’t fathom a reality where Nibiru doesn’t change the world” on that date.

He told The Washington Post that he was “merging” astronomy and Bible verses. I’m sure the idea of that combination will quite perplex actual astronomers, who’ve done everything they possibly can short of hiring skywriters to reassure the public that Nibiru doesn’t exist and that there is no danger whatsoever coming to Earth from that direction or any other. In fact, they’ve already said very clearly back in 2012 that “there are no threatening asteroids as large as the one that killed the dinosaurs” coming our way. Then they repeated and expanded that statement to include “any other celestial object” in 2015. Maybe they should consider streaking at football games with those reassurances painted on their backs. Americans tend to pay attention to naked people.

Mr. Meade’s assertions might also come as a surprise to what appears to be a great many Christians who are aware that, as Ed Stetzer wrote recently, there are absolutely no such things as “Biblical numerologists” and could these nutbars please quit embarrassing the rest of them. And you’ve gotta think that’s something, coming from our old pal Ed Stetzer, given that he’s no stranger at all to surreally disconnected statements about reality.

Ed Stetzer informs us that David Meade has absolutely no education in theology or astronomy, only a bachelor’s in Economics and Astrology from “an unnamed institution.” If that’s true, of course, then Mr. Meade is a proud example of way too many Christians’ habit of trusting non-experts for their expert advice. And yes, that habit does embarrass the ones who like to think of themselves as much more sensible–but we’re really only talking about degrees of silliness here, as I’ve mentioned in the past. But we’ll return to this notion later on, don’t fear.

It’s always best when Christians don’t try to make specific predictions or claims of any kind. It’s way too easy to debunk those. For some reason, though, certain kinds of Christians simply can’t stop themselves.

And it’s really their loss.

The reality of our universe makes the puny Iron Age/Bronze Age myths that make up the Judeo-Christian Bible look, well, sparse and provincial, even ignorant. Once we get away from those myths, we can start creating works of true wonder–limited only by our skills, resources, and imaginations.

And of all those works we’ve made, there’s one that really stands out for me, one that captures everything I loved as a child, one that still resonates with me today:

The Dark Crystal.

The. Dark. CRYSTAL.

Kira: What are those funny marks?
Jen: This is all writing.
Kira: What’s writing?
Jen: Words that stay.

If you’ve never seen the 1982 movie The Dark Crystal, then don’t just stand there, go find it! My family saw it in theaters when I was around 12 years old. It wasn’t what you’d call a really big blockbuster when it first came out; we were the only family in the whole theater for that showing. But I remember staring at the screen, simply enrapt by the spectacle of it all.

It’s a timeless tale along the lines of a basic Hero’s Journey. Jen, an affable elflike fella called a Gelfling, is an orphan raised by the Heffalump-looking Mystics; his parents and indeed almost his entire race have been murdered by the rulers of that land, the vulture-like Skeksis, who send horrible crablike monsters out to find them. The wisest of the Mystics took the young Gelfling under his wing after rescuing him from those monsters and taught him to read and write, as well as to at least understand the basics of magic (though Jen doesn’t really do anything strictly-speaking magical in the movie).

But Jen’s gentle master is dying. He barely has time to relate a prophecy to Jen that the Gelfling must complete, or else the world as they know it will end. So, still mourning his now-deceased master, Jen sets off and has many adventures doing that. Along the way he meets a cute female Gelfling named Kira and a weird astronomer-hermit called Aughra, explores ruins from his race’s past, and encounters a huge variety of critters in that alien world.

As it turns out, the prophecy says that a Gelfling will fix the broken Crystal and basically destroy the Skeksis in the process, so obviously they’re very interested in finding and killing all Gelflings. This crystal-healing has to happen before the Great Conjunction, which is basically a triple eclipse where all three of that planet’s suns align perfectly in the sky. Jen has to fulfill the prophecy before that alignment happens.

Considering that the movie was made well before CGI became a regular thing for moviemakers (and often an annoyance for moviegoers), it’s a masterpiece in every sense of the word. The story might be kinda overused, but the set designs, puppet designs, puppetry skills themselves, and the overarching themes of love, hope, perseverance, heroism, and compassion all hit a chord with the movie’s fans. The villains of the movie are, themselves, kinda puppy-kicking caricature villains who appear to be nasty for the joy of it, but by the end there’s a decent rationalization given for why they are that way–and as their Crystal is healed, so are they. There are a lot of interesting philosophical ideas here, ones that I’m still mulling over decades later.

As one might expect of a movie like this, it’s actually a considerably darker and more grown-up movie than kids get nowadays; really, I’d consider it more of an all-ages film. Many of its scenes are incredibly intense–evil monsters raid villages and enslave innocent people, who then are “drained of their essence” by one of the Skeksis in an arcane procedure and thus turned into near-zombie slaves, and the heroes find themselves in several life-and-death struggles. Also, in addition to the genocide of the Gelflings there are some vast betrayals and counter-betrayals going on, plus some politicking of the most earnest sort. (I don’t have kids, but if I had to name an age range for this thing, I’d probably go 10ish and up. I was way into comic books by age 12, and I didn’t have any trouble at all with it.)


One of those intense scenes. 

But it’s really the worldbuilding that got my attention that day 35 years ago and has kept it ever since. I like older movies because I love seeing the ingenuity of moviemakers from a time before CGI. And there’s a lot of it here. It’s astonishing to watch any scene in the movie and think to oneself, Someone had to hand-create, sculpt, and arrange every single thing I’m seeing here. Every plant’s frond, every wrinkle in every face, every single home and temple and dining-hall, every creature from the squeaky mice to the breathtaking landstriders that Jen and Kira ride on the last leg of their trip, and every swamp and river and dribbling storm drain, all of it had to be done completely from scratch. And it was done properly and well.

Jim Henson’s crew did their usual spectacular job with the puppetry, of course; it seems like most viewers generally forget that they’re seeing puppets at all, as characters react to their surroundings and to each other. The moviemakers drew upon the artistic genius of the prolific English artist Brian Froud (who also did work for the 1986 movie Labyrinth and put out a number of art books, including a classic you might have heard of, Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book). He has a very distinctive style, one that the puppet- and set-designers took loving advantage of to create a world that looked nothing like anything we’d ever seen before back then.

There’s a real honesty in The Dark Crystal, both in spirit and in execution. Jim Henson himself called it “a work of art,” as well as the most difficult thing he’d ever done–and the work that made him feel the proudest.

AND GUESS WHAT?

Aughra: Who sent you?
Jen: My master, wisest of the mystics.
Aughra: Where is he?
Jen: He’s dead.
Aughra: Hmph. Could be anywhere then.

The Dark Crystal is returning!

Indeed, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is debuting soon on Netflix in a miniseries that takes place a few decades before the events of the movie.

From what I can see, both the Henson Creature Shop and Brian Froud are coming back too! They’ve already said that this new series will be mostly practical effects and real puppetry, with a little bit of CGI. Hopefully it won’t be a lot, though it may be simply an unavoidable evil at this point, I guess.

Me personally, I’m just waiting to see how 35 years of advances in animatronics and other technology are going to look with Jim Henson-style puppetry. The very little I’ve seen of it (like in trailers, like the one above here) indicate that it’s gonna be epic. It’ll concern three Gelflings who discover the dark secret of the Skeksis and try to organize a rebellion against them.

But it’s also gonna be a little while yet before it turns up on Netflix. Shooting begins soon, but you know how these things go.

Our Fascination With the Sky.

When single shines the triple sun,
What was sundered and undone shall be whole:
The two made one, by Gelfling hand or else by none.

–The central prophecy of The Dark Crystal

Astronomy has fascinated humans for many tens of thousands of years. La Wiki calls astronomy “the oldest of the natural sciences,” saying it tied directly into the very birth of our ideas about religion as well as the innovation of the calendar. One can certainly see why.

And humans’ first fumbling efforts to understand what they were seeing in the night sky now comprise many of the earliest artifacts we’ve discovered from their time: scratches on bones and stone, standing-stones built to surprisingly precise astronomical measurements, metal calendar discs set with moons and star-clusters, and even fascinating giant golden hats covered in astronomical symbols. When we rose up from all fours, we looked up at the sky, and it seems like we never stopped.

That’s perhaps why there are hundreds of fictional stories that hinge their plots on astronomical phenomena of various kinds. Pretty much as soon as we began making movies at all, too, we were putting astronomical events like eclipses into them (remember the one that broke the lovers’ curse in Ladyhawke?). So in that sense, The Dark Crystal is simply one of many movies that recognize our species’ tendency to see eclipses as bringers or portents of great change.

In the real world, though, a lot of us still see them that way. Since those earliest days of our history, eclipses alone have shown up in all kinds of ancient myths all around the world. Christianity is no exception to that observation, either; various astronomical events show up more than a few times in both the Old and New Testaments–and as this newest prophecy shows us, even today a great many Christians struggle with how to interpret these events.

This struggle leaves Christians wide open to being taken advantage of by all manner of hucksters, however. It seems like scams abhor a vacuum and will rush in to fill all available space in overly-trusting hearts.

Jim Bakker’s Quite Wrong. Again.

This blog has written quite a few times about Christian leaders’ wild-eyed predictions about the end of the world. It’s almost tiresome to see how many Christians get caught up in these panics–and endlessly annoying to see how readily hucksters prey upon these gullible sheep.

When I was at teenager and got tricked by the “88 Reasons” Rapture scare, I had no idea that there’d ever been previous scares like it. And indeed, I don’t think most of the kids my age knew that either. But now, it’s hard to escape the cringeworthy string of failures that are coming from the ranks of the false prophets of fundagelicalism. The debunks of those stories are easy to locate now, thanks to the internet and an age of worldwide news kept up on a near-instant 24/7 feed at our fingertips.

Jim Bakker recently gloated about how nobody lately has mocked him over his disgusting buckets of slop that he scams ignorant and terrified fundagelicals into buying to try to protect themselves from starvation after things go to pieces, but the truth is that we’ve never stopped mocking him over that. Nor have we forgotten the authors of the various similar scams who’ve come and gone through the news over recent years, their failed prophecies trailing along behind them like toilet paper stuck to their shoes. It was already hard enough for me in the 1980s to reconcile these failures with the Bible’s very clear pronouncements about false prophets–and harder still to reconcile those failures with the idea of Biblical inerrancy generally. It only takes one brick pulled from a wall to topple it, if the wall’s already shaky from other realizations that can’t be un-seen.

And these mountebanks don’t even care, as long as they retain a core group of followers to keep the money train going. Worse yet, the supposedly-more-sensible Christians can’t do a single thing about them.

Ultimately, each failed prediction reminds us, as it should, that nobody and nothing divine is giving any Christians any information about anything legitimate.

Prophecies are like the mountain of fake and exaggerated miracle claims that Christians also generate on the regular. The constant misses and failures in prophecy and miracle claims alike are (in my opinion) very good reasons not to buy into any religious claims from anybody.

And yet weirdly, the Christians who keep making and falling for these false predictions (and false miracle claims!) are almost always the very Christians who are the worst idolizers of the Bible. They are the people who claim to follow the Bible literally and to believe every single word it says without question or argument. Their behavior says something entirely different to the rest of us, however.

We’ll be looking into another aspect of Christian marketing next–and we’ll see you soon!


1 I mean, most of us don’t either, but we’re not out there making websites about the end of the world trying to frighten vulnerable people. So I guess there’s that.

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