Speculations on the evolutionary and psychological characteristics of intelligent life forms on Thra
The world of Thra was conceived in great detail by Jim Henson and Brian Froud.
"out of time and place the world of The Dark Crystal is beautiful and strange with a secret, sometimes frightening ambiance. It is a world of fantasy and imagination where the forest and swamp breed danger and mystery...Here everything is alive. Plants and trees have the gift of speech, water murmurs the music of forgotten days, and the possible replaces the impossible as mountain and rock become moving beings."(1)
The first question to consider is whether such a planet as Thra could exist. It is seen in the movie that the world Thra rotates around a triple star system. The stars are referred to as the "dying sun," the "rose sun", and the "Great Sun." I wrote Issac Asimov to ask if there could be a habitable planet in a triple star system and he replied:
"Triple-star systems are always arranged so as to have two stars in relatively close proximity and a third star very distant. The single star can have habitable planets, of course, if it is Sun-like. The double star can have one circling both as a ‘point' if they are very close together and each can have a habitable planet if they are quite far apart." (2)
Thus, it is possible that such as world as Thra could exist. The planet itself seems to be rich in a variety of biomes. Early in the film Jen, the male Gelfling, has to cross a mountain and a wide grassland plain. Later he meets Kira, the female Gelfling, in a swamp. Kira lives with a group of beings called the podlings deep in a deciduous forest. There are no glaciated regions on the world (3), probably due to the proximity of the "Great Sun" and a somewhat warmer average temperature than that on Earth. One question unanswered is where on the planet the events of the movie take place. It could be, for example, that the equatorial region is basically desert. There does appear to be an abundance of water on the planet, as shown in the storms and the number of rivers, so it's also possible the equatorial region could be similar to a rain forest biome.
There is also a very rich variety of planet and animal life. In the swampland above:
"Trees trundled through the mud. Mushrooms spread gorgeous wings and whirred into flight. A fluttering butterfly was devoured by a long orange tongue flicked out from a drab stump of cactus. It was like a laboratory in which forms of evolution were permuted." (4)
There appears to be a lack of major carnivores. In Jen's journey he expressed no concern about danger from such animals, and the podlings also lacked such concern about themselves. There also seems to be a lack of sophisticated weapons, indicating again a lack of need for such weapons due to a lack of dangerous carnivores.
Urskeks: The Urskeks were a band of 18 beings that came to Thra from another planet. (5) They left their world to engage in an experiment, that being to attempt to purge themselves of all evil. They entered the Great Crystal and were split into two forms of beings; the Skeksis, who were a race of evil reptilian monsters, and the urRu, a race of gentle, peaceful Mystics.
The Skeksis took over the castle and with that and the Crystal they had managed to spread their evil throughout the world. Negative energies were radiated along lei lines form the castle to the rest of the planet, with one result being the creation of strange and monstrous forms of life.
Yet the Skeksis and urRu parts remained intimately linked, for when one died the counterpart would also die. Nine Skeksis/urRu had died by the time of the events of the movie, and the Emperor/urRu counterpart died early in the film.
This is somewhat similar to the Star Trek episode "The Enemy Within" when Kirk is split into two forms, one aggressive and one very passive, and neither half can properly exist without the other half. In the movie we find that the urRu are gentle beings who are totally ineffectual in stopping the Skeksis reign of terror, and the Skeksis are so bent on their own personal advancement and long life that they were willing to waste the entire planet to insure their own continued existence.
It is interesting to note that in the thousand years the Skeksis ruled they never developed a high technology except for the machine used to drain the "vital essence" from their captives.
The garthim, crustacean-like agents of destruction, were:
"...scarcely creatures at all, more like the impulses of a cruel brain made over into crustacean objects."(6)
That they were animated by the power of the Skeksis mind is shown by the manner of their demise at the end of the film; they simply shatter into empty objects, parts falling like so much garbage onto the floor.
Do the Urskeks fit accepted ideas of extraterrestrial intelligence? They seem to fit most of the characteristics an intelligent life form would have. They have a head, eyes, sensory organs, they possess arms and legs in reasonable numbers and they are capable of speech. They do seem to be energy beings, however, rather than actual physical beings; their entry into the Crystal must have altered their vibratory rate or something, resulting in the physical bodied Skeksis and urRu. The idea of physical-based beings gradually evolving into beings of pure energy is something not uncommon in science fiction (the Krell in Forbidden Planet, for example), but whether such a thing is actually possible in reality is unknown.
The podlings appear to be a diminutive race of intelligent beings that live in close harmony with the land, living in hollowed out pods of plants. They seem to enjoy fun, music, dance and eating. Their main enemy was the garthim, which would at times raid Podling villages and take captives for use by the Skeksis. The podlings also seemed to lack a major technology. Everything they had was made of natural materials and with a utilitarian purpose. They were a peaceful people that seemed to live in harmony with the Gelfling.
Aughra is one of the most fascinating of all the creatures in the movie. According to her own account, she was:
"Born from the need for rocks and trees for an eye to see the world. The wind blew and the blind trees and roots twisted in the dark rocks and the roots and the rocks cracked and I was Aughra."(7)
This is basically a shamanistic account of her origin. As to Aughra's actual origin, assuming it wasn't as she stated, we have no clues. There are no others of her kind although she could be the last surviving member of some race. Aughra possessed the most advanced technology of any race in the movie, complete with observatory and some form of chemical laboratory. It was constructed for her by the Urskeks (8), however, so it is possible they found her and trained her in science.
The Gelfling were the elvin-like humanoid figures of central importance to the movie. They possess four digits rather than our five, and the female Gelfling possess wings, but otherwise their outward appearance is quite similar to ours.
They possessed somewhat more technological ability than the podlings, as they had carpenters and smiths capable of crafting jewelry (9), but their technology seemed turned towards the production of jewelry and household materials rather than anything which would result in Gelfling domination of the land, as humans have dominated the earth. This makes sense, however, in that the Gelfling seem, like the podlings, to be closely tied to the planet in a harmonious relationship.
The Gelfling civilization seemed to be, like the podlings, agriculturally based. They did build at least one building of stone, the Gelfling ruins seen in the movie. They also had, at least one time, a Queen, so they probably had a monarchy type of government.
It seems that the Gelfling also never developed advanced weapons. If they had, of course, then the Skeksis genocide attempt would have failed. It is possible that the psychology of the Gelfling and podlings are totally alien to our own, lacking any form of aggressive nature except in the most dire of circumstances. In essence, the thought of making advanced forms of weaponry might not even have occurred to them.
During a dreamfasting, Kira reveals that the podlings and Gelfling had a long history together:
"In Kira's image, her foster mother, Ydra, taught her Gelfling speech, explaining that their two races had always lived together in courteous harmony, as they had with nature."
The movie also establishes that female Gelfling possess wings and at one time could fly. This would indicate that they have a relatively light bone structure. The purpose of the wings is open to speculation. Since there seemed to be a lack of carnivores then the wings would not have evolved for protection. Perhaps they evolved to be used in some form of mating ritual, and perhaps the females were the "aggressors" in establishing relationships. Their society apparently was matriarchal in nature, perhaps arising from the fact that the males were not "whole" compared to the females who did possess wings.
As for dreamfasting, it seems that it could pass on knowledge but also very probably was involved in deepening emotional relationships between individuals. Dreamfasting also indicates that Gelfling possessed some form of telepathic ability. In such a society it would have been hard to keep secrets. That plus the overall peaceful nature of the Gelfling could account for the lack of technological development as they would have had no desire to dominate their planet or others.
1. This is from the distributor's book, page 2.
2. This was from a postcard I received from Issac Asimov. A professor at Miami University that I contacted also wrote me about the triple-star system and he cited three different ways such a system would allow for a habitable planet.
3. Brian Froud, The World of the Dark Crystal, page 10.
4. A.C.H. Smith, The Dark Crystal, page 72.
5. Froud, p. 16.
6. Smith, p. 21.
7. Froud, p. 13. Aughra's origin is quite a puzzle. Perhaps she was also an extraterrestrial, like the Urskeks.
8. Froud, p.16.
9. Smith, p. 112.
10. Smith, p. 79.
(It is possible page numbers might differ by a page or two depending on the particular book printing consulted.)
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