Dark Crystal Contest to Revive Franchise

The evil Skeksis. (Image: Jim Henson Productions)

The evil Skeksis from The Dark Crystal. (Image: Jim Henson Productions)

You remember The Dark Crystal? Or perhaps you don’t.

The 1982 film, co-directed by Muppet-masters Jim Henson and Frank Oz, was a fantasy story featuring cutting-edge (at the time) puppetry and animatronics, largely designed by fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, best known for the book Faeries. The plot centers on several non-human races and creatures — the nasty, reptilian/vulture hybrid Skeksis; the wizard-like, big-nosed Mystics; giant beetle-like creatures called Garthim; the anteater-like Landstriders; and the elf-like (and most Muppet-resembling) race known as Gelflings.

The movie centers on a Gelfling, who sets off on a quest to restore the Dark Crystal, which is broken; a shard must be found to restore order to the crystal, and of course, order to the universe.

The Dark Crystal includes oracles and prophecies, and the Great Conjunction, and characters named Kira, Jen, and Fizzgig. Like another famous film, it takes place a thousand years ago on “another world.” By now, it is classic work of fantasy, made in the 1980s, when many fantasy films were being churned out, before the advent of elaborate digital special effects. According to Box Office Mojo, The Dark Crystal made some $40 million dollars back in the day (although the production budget is not known, so we’re not sure of its overall profit).

But why was a follow-up movie never made? In 2005, a sequel named Power of the Dark Crystal began its road towards development, but setbacks plagued the production, and filming never commenced. By 2012, the project was cancelled.

Now, the Jim Henson Company and Grosset & Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, are re-booting the franchise — or so it would seem — with a contest called the Dark Crystal Author Quest. The deal? Fans (who are also, hopefully, decent writers) are encouraged to send in ideas for the “first book in a new young adult series based on the world of the classic fantasy film.” The winner gets a $10,000 contract to write the book. Entries are accepted between Oct. 1, 2013, and Jan. 1, 2014. Details on the contest here.

Jen the Gelfling  from The Dark Crystal. (Image: Jim Henson Productions)

Jen the Gelfling from The Dark Crystal. (Image: Jim Henson Productions)

The website for the contest includes all kinds of materials against which aspiring writers can bounce their imaginations. There are documents like “A Warning: From Skekok the Scroll-keeper” which insists that “The Gelfling wish to tell you LIES” and the story of a “brave Gelfling hero who … embarked on a dangerous quest to warn their people of our evil nature —UNTRUE! A complete fabrication.” The warning further reads: “These things never happened. Skeksis are good. Yes. Skeksis are friends.”

There’s also an excerpt from a Gelfling journal, “Entry Date: Rosunday, 14th Moon, 96 Years A.G.C.”; a “SECRET REPORT CONCERNING THE GELFLINGS”; and “The ESSSENCE OF THE CRYSTAL: An Empirical Analysis.”

All of this stuff provides a fun way to whet the ideas of potential writers for this story. Entries will be being judged on “Overall storytelling,” “Characters,” “Creativity and originality,” and “Writing ability.”

Poster from The Dark Crystal. (Image: Jim Henson Productions)

Poster from The Dark Crystal. (Image: Jim Henson Productions)

But what explains the interest in reviving The Dark Crystal franchise now? Is there hope that new books would lead to a new movie franchise? Are there movies in the works? Aside from some tie-in products back in the 1980s, and a few graphic novel and board game products, we haven’t heard much about The Dark Crystal in decades. What are the risks of reviving this franchise?

And what about this clause in the contest’s “Rules and Regulations?”:

Each entry will be the sole property of the Sponsors. By competing in the Contest and/or accepting a prize, each entrant (including the prize winner) grants to Sponsors the right to edit, adapt, publish, copy, display, reproduce and otherwise use their entry in connection with this Contest and in any other way, in any and all forms of media now known or hereafter devised, throughout the world, in perpetuity, including publication on www.darkcrystal.com.

In my next post about The Dark Crystal and this contest, I’ll be speaking with Lisa Henson, Chief Executive Officer of The Jim Henson Company, to get more information. Stay tuned!

Ethan Gilsdorf

About Ethan Gilsdorf

Ethan Gilsdorf is a journalist, memoirist, critic, poet, teacher and 17th level geek. He wrote the award-winning travel memoir investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Gilsdorf writes regularly for the New York Times, Boston Globe, Salon.com, BoingBoing.net, PsychologyToday.com, Washington Post and wired.com. He has published hundreds of articles, essays, op-eds and reviews on the arts, pop culture, gaming, geek culture and travel in dozens of other magazines, newspapers, websites and guidebooks worldwide. He has also published dozens of poems in literary magazines and anthologies. He is a core contributor to the blogs "GeekDad, "Geek Pride" on PsychologyToday.com, and Boston NPR affiliate WBUR's Cognoscenti blog. He is also a book and film critic for the Boston Globe, and is the film columnist for Art New England. He and author Noble Smith geek out and wax nostalgic about D&D and other nerdy pop culture relics at Dungeons & Dorkwards. He is a lover of ELO and a hater of littering. Sometimes he wears a tunic and chainmail, or these grampy pants. More info fantasyfreaksbook.com or follow on Facebook fantasyfreaksbook

Ethan Gilsdorf

About Ethan Gilsdorf

Ethan Gilsdorf is a journalist, memoirist, critic, poet, teacher and 17th level geek. He wrote the award-winning travel memoir investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Gilsdorf writes regularly for the New York Times, Boston Globe, Salon.com, BoingBoing.net, PsychologyToday.com, Washington Post and wired.com. He has published hundreds of articles, essays, op-eds and reviews on the arts, pop culture, gaming, geek culture and travel in dozens of other magazines, newspapers, websites and guidebooks worldwide. He has also published dozens of poems in literary magazines and anthologies. He is a core contributor to the blogs "GeekDad, "Geek Pride" on PsychologyToday.com, and Boston NPR affiliate WBUR's Cognoscenti blog. He is also a book and film critic for the Boston Globe, and is the film columnist for Art New England. He and author Noble Smith geek out and wax nostalgic about D&D and other nerdy pop culture relics at Dungeons & Dorkwards. He is a lover of ELO and a hater of littering. Sometimes he wears a tunic and chainmail, or these grampy pants. More info fantasyfreaksbook.com or follow on Facebook fantasyfreaksbook

9 thoughts on “Dark Crystal Contest to Revive Franchise

    • I look forward to your next post, Ethan. I’m very curious as to why Henson Co. is doing this. Perhaps knowing the motive will help me and other writers understand what to write this novel about.

      I would love to see a revival of the franchise — I’ve been disappointed in these prequels. I want to see a DC story on the epic scope that takes place, perhaps, after the movie.

      These prequels (Creation Myths; Garthim Wars, Novel Contest) aren’t as interesting to me because I keep thinking that no matter what the Gelflings do, all but 2 of them are eventually going to be exterminated. It’s kind of a bummer.

      Either give me a story that takes place AFTER the movie or set up a new story in the past (Maybe 3 or 4 Great Conjunctions before the urSkeks’ arrival?) that severs some ties with the movie. (Meaning: perhaps give us a story that does not revolve around the Castle or the urSkeks. I’m sure Thra has many stories to tell. Not just the story of the urSkeks and their unintentional screwing with everything.)

      Maybe several Great Conjunctions ago, the Crystal was darkened before — by Gelfling hands. *shrugs*

      I love The Dark Crystal with a passion. I just don’t want to see the franchise bogged down because risks weren’t taken, questions weren’t raised and ideas weren’t explored.

  1. Personally, I don’t see what the big deal about that specific legal clause is. I thought it was standard operating procedure for major publishing/media companies running contests like this. Whatever, I’m still entering this contest, because even if I only get the $10k prize and my name attached (somehow) to the Dark Crystal setting, it’ll still be more street cred as a writer than I have now!

  2. I will enter in hopes that my entry, although handed over to the company, will entitle me to further opportunity to work on this project along with other similar projects of the Jim Henson Company because I believe in this story with all my heart and soul. I imagine they are looking for a kindred spirit of their father’s to finish the story. When I was about 7 or so, my grandfather gave me the book Faeries by Brian Froud and I fell in love. I looked through the book for hours on end, daily. I imagined myself in thier world, I’d look for them in mine. The Dark Crystal came out when I was 11. I thought it was a divine gift. I didn’t know Jim Henson (wish I did), but when I found out he had died, it was pivotal in my life. I cried for him. I miss him. I hope to make him proud, everywhere he is.

  3. The Dark Crystal is a great property, but demanding creators cede rights to submissions with no promise of compensation if the material is exploited for profit is a terrible idea. They could fix this with a clause that says no submission material will be used in commerce without an additional contract that guarantees pay for the work and credit for the creator in the uses. There’s the problem of locking up rights to submission that are not ever used, too; as a writer, always be cautious of giving away all rights to ideas that you might be able to revise and reuse later. Henson’s own Rowlf the Dog would have died with the Jimmy Dean Show if he’d signed away the underlying rights with that initial appearance.

    Contests that utilize these kinds of Rights Grab Rules shape up as worse deals than the one that allows Disney/Marvel to make more than a billion dollars on the Avengers movie without paying a cent of that loot to creators such as Jack Kirby, without whom the characters would not exist. Kirby at least was paid something for the original work on the comics. In this instance, the people doing the work are, apart from the contest winner, guaranteed nothing. This can be fixed, but it’s discouraging that the companies involved put this forward in the first place.

    • Exactly. They can use the ideas of those entering the contest, whom they don’t choose, and never mention the original source of the ideas, any credit at all, or any compensation. That clause is a bum deal. If they change it to credit being given where credit is due, plus royalties, I will write. At least the contest winner, whomever he or she is, receives 10k as a prize.

      But even the way that is worded, since all submissions automatically become the “sole property” of the company it was submitted to with no rights to claiming it was yours…they could create a fictitious “winner” (like an anonymously hired employee of the company, given a much smaller amount to pose) and then use all of the ideas submitted and actually reward no one in the process. Surely they wouldn’t, being such a reputable company–however, if Disney can do it…

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