9 Books to Prepare You for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

It’s always with some apprehension that we approach a reboot of a classic, and certainly Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal is one of those movies that seems almost untouchable. Sure, it was critically panned and a box-office dud back in 1982, but the decades since have treated this ahead-of-its-time all-puppets fantasy quite kindly. When, in the wake of several shuttered plans to develop a sequel, Netflix announced a TV series set in the world of the film, well, I’m sure I’m not the only one who had mixed feelings.

But then I saw that trailer.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance returns to the world of Thra as originally envisioned by Jim Henson, Frank Oz, designer Brian Froud, following three Gelflings—Rian, Brea and Deet—at the dawn of a rebellion to unseat the twisted Skeksis who rule their world. We’ve only seen a few minutes of footage and I’m already totally onboard—how can you resist that wonderfully old-school focus on puppets and practical effects?

There’s no need to wait to revisit this stunning, sometimes nightmarish world, though—while this is the first time Thra will be appearing on film since the ’80s, there are a number of books that expand upon the world. Some revisit the origins of the Dark Crystal, others move the story forward, while still others go behind-the-scenes. One thing is eminently clear: The Dark Crystal has inspired a generation of skilled artists and writers to produce some of their very best work.

Jim Henson’s The Power of the Dark Crystal, by Simon Spurrier, Kelly Matthews, and Nichole Matthews
While we don’t know everything about Age of Resistance, we know that it’s a prequel to the original film. But that doesn’t mean the movie is the end of the story—graphic novel publisher Archaia released this series chronicling life in the wake of the healing of the Crystal. The three-volume saga joins Kira and Jen years into their rule over a peaceful, united Thra. The scientist Aughra, however, finds evidence in the stars of a coming sickness that will ultimately affect the entire planet. Deep underground, the hidden race of Firelings finds that their world is dying—and the only thing that can restore it is a piece of the Dark Crystal. The young Fireling Thurma is charged with stealing a shard, which puts her at odds with the Kira and Jen, who both understand the danger of shattering the Crystal again. Thurma finds a friend and ally in the Gelfling Kensho, and together they succeed in their mission, but at a tremendous cost. The beautifully illustrated series was, at one point, intended to have been a movie itself, and is in every way an official continuation of the story. If you love Power, the story of Kensho and Thurma continues in the recent Beneath the Dark Crystal.

Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths, by Brian Holguin, Adam Sheikman, and Brian Froud
When Jim Henson and company were developing The Dark Crystal with concept artist and illustrator Brian Froud, they dreamed up a great deal more background for the world of Thra then appears onscreen—realizing, correctly, that the story didn’t require complicated exposition, especially given that Jen, the film’s point-of-view character, himself had only a very hazy understanding of his world’s history. Nevertheless, there’s the feeling a fully realized fantasy world outside the frame. In this three-volume series, Froud returns to the world he helped to create and travels back thousands of years to reveal the history of Thra through the eyes of tragic, brilliant, persistent storyteller Aughra. Her stories are sumptuously illustrated (truly), and each book includes some of Froud’s brilliant original designs. Creation Myths is available in individual volumes, and in a collected edition coming this October.

Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal Tales, by Cory Godbey
Along similar lines, artist and writer Cory Godbey offers up three interconnected tales from the age of wonder. Though the stories are set during the dark times, when Thra was ruled by the Skeksis, each is hopeful: about the importance of compassion and the way a which small act of kindness can have wide-ranging effects. These illustrated tales are well-suited to younger/middle grade readers, but the art is so thoroughly stunning, and the stories so effective in their combined message, that older fans will find plenty to enjoy.

Shadows of the Dark Crystal, by J.M. Lee
J.M. Lee’s young adult novel series takes a deep dive into the culture of the Gelflings in the time when the Skeksis reigned supreme, but before the gentle fairylike creatures had been all but wiped out. Young Gelfling Naia is destined to become a leader among her people, but she’s desperate to see the world beyond her home. She gets her wish, after a fashion: her twin brother has been accused of treason and taken to the Castle of the Crystal, and she’s the only one who can make the journey to rescue him. Over four novels (the final one comes out in August, just in time for the show), the series ultimately sees young Gelflings from several different clans work together to unite their people and awaken them to the dangers posed by Thra’s ruling Skeksis. Though they will tell very different stories, this series is probably the closest match to the new TV series in terms of its timeframe, and in its focus on heroic Gelflings finding ways to resist their world’s twisted masters. The author is also penning Heroes of the Resistance, an illustrated guide to the characters of Age of Resistance, and Aughra’s Wisdom of Thra, both expected in November.

Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: A Discovery Adventure, by Ann Marcellino
Going a bit younger still, this one’s a fun, interactive retelling of the original film. The storybook follows the journey of Jen and Kira to restore the Dark Crystal, but does so with dense artwork on each page that challenges younger readers to find hidden items and characters (older fans: just take off your glasses to enjoy a similar experience). It’s a neat way for kids to experience (or revisit) the world of the movie in an interactive way.

Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal Artist Tribute
If it’s not already clear, world of The Dark Crystal has drawn and inspired some truly tremendous artists to produce incredible designs and illustrations—going right back to the work of Brian Froud on the original movie. This hardcover book includes work from Froud, as well as of the many artists who have contributed to the Crystal-themed works of publisher Archaia. Among the creators represented are Jae Lee, David Petersen, Mark Buckingham, Cory Godbey, Jeff Stokely,  and Benjamin Dewey, many of whom also provide text to accompany their art. The variety of lush, gorgeous pieces representing the many creatures and locations of Thra make this a stunning art book.

The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History, by Caseen Gaines, with Cheryl Henson, and Brian and Wendy Froud
This coffee-table book from Caseen Gaines (We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy) dives into the production of the original movie in tremendous detail, telling the story through candid photographs, film stills, production artwork, sketches, archival interviews with Jim Henson, and new ones with others on the film’s creative team. As a reference work detailing the labor and love that went into the creation of The Dark Crystal, and as a work of art in itself, the book is a must.

The The Art and Making of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
Bringing us right up to date, this book should do for the new series what the previous book does for the original movie: reveal the secrets behind the making of Age of Resistance through photos, interviews, and on-set photography. The show promises a focus on practical effects and puppetry rather than CGI, so it’ll be fascinating to see how designer Brian Froud, director Louis Letterier, and the many others involved bring the world of Thra back to life.

Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal Novelization, by A.C.H. Smith, Brian Froud, and Jim Henson
Last but not least, the original novelization of The Dark Crystal is back in print in a lovely new edition that includes the entire original text alongside previously unpublished illustrations from Froud and notes from Jim Henson on the first draft of A.C.H. Smith’s adaption. The notes reveal a great deal about Henson’s thinking on the fantasy world that he helped to create, and  provide details that didn’t make it to the screen. The main draw here is, naturally, the novelization itself—a faithful take on the story that’s nevertheless unable to rely on the film’s spectacular visuals. The prose offers new details while also revealing that the world of The Dark Crystal is compelling in any form.

How hype are you for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance?

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