“The Dark Crystal” and Campbell’s Heroic Journey

Kayla Spagna
Professor Sexton
ENGL 580

“The Dark Crystal” (1982), directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, follows a young Gelfling named Jen.  He’s not only an orphan, but also the last of his race.  Gelflings were killed off by the Skeksis race, evil beings created when the Dark Crystal was fractured.  A second, peaceful, race, called the Mystics, also came into existence when the Crystal split.  The Mystics took Jen in to raise as one of their own.  Jen’s journey closely follows Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” with a few deviations.  Campbells states that his model is not meant to be viewed as a tight step-by-step process, but rather demonstrates how different heroic journeys reflect and echo one another.

Jen’s “call to adventure” occurs when his guardian (Master of the Mystics) begins to die.  He speaks of a prophesy: “A thousand years have past and now once more the world must undergo a time of testing.  Now it must be healed or pass forever into the rule of evil… Jen is the chosen one… and a journey must begin.  A journey of Jen” (“The Dark Crystal”).  The prophesy states that Jen must find the shard of the Dark Crystal before the three suns meet in the sky in the great conjunction.  However, Jen is not told what to do with the shard once it is found.  He must have hope that he will learn his path as his journey goes forward.  Jen immediately then faces the “crossing of the threshold” as he stands on the border of Mystic lands, his home, and stares out at the green wild beyond.  Jen thinks to himself, “I’m not ready to go alone.”  At this point one might thing Jen is about to enter the stage “refusal of the call”.  However, Jen only stands there briefly before thinking, “Alright, alone then.” He then sets out to begin his quest.

The first part of his journey is to seek out Aughra (“Helpers/Supernatural Aid”) who supposedly can guide Jen on his next step in his journey.  Ironically, her name sounds like “ogre” and she looks like a monster as well!  She is old and hag-like, deformed, one-eyed, has curled rams horns, is ugly, and loud.  She reveals, however, that it is she who prophesized that Jen would defeat the Skeksis.  Aughra gives Jen a test of heart, which he passes, and thus allows him to claim the Crystal shard.  Aughra tells Jen he must use the shard to heal the Dark Crystal, but will not tell him how.  Immediately after, Garthim attack Aughra’s home and laboratory (Garthim are giant crustacean-like creatures).  Aughra is kidnapped, but Jen manages to escape (“the Belly of the Whale”).

Now lost in a savage forest, Jen meets another surviving Gelfling (conveniently female).  Her name is Kira and she can be considered “the Goddess” as she will now be Jen’s companion for the rest of his adventure.  Kira leads Jen to her home with the Podlings, a simple and peaceful race that took her in as a child.  Jen’s first trial occurs when the Skeksis send Garthim to attack the Podling’s home and to capture the Gelflings.  Although Jen and Kira manage to escape, Podlings are attacked, killed, and captured in the process.  Jen begins to blame himself for the destruction of Kira’s home.  Jen does not exactly face an “atonement with the Father”.  Rather, he comes across abandoned Gelfling land and a written version of the prophesy.  Luckily, this version of the prophesy instructs him how to heal the Dark Crystal and his hope is restored.  This is also where he comes face-to-face with his first “temptation”.  Chamberlain, an outcast Skeksis trying to find his way back into the good graces of his Emperor, attempts to trick Jen and Kira into following him to the Skeksis castle (which is where they need to go to heal the Dark Crystal).  Chamberlain promises a union of peace if they go willingly with him.  With Kira’s help, Jen refuses Chamberlain and they make their escape.

The next trial they face takes place outside of the Skeksis castle.  Jen, Kira, and Kira’s animal friends (she has the power to speak to animal-creatures) attack the Garthim and attempt to free the captured Podlings.  Jen and Kira manage to free some of the Podlings and kill some of the Garthim, but are eventually overwhelmed and escape into the castle’s dungeons.  Here Jen faces temptation a second time as Chamberlain offers them “safe” passage.  When Jen refuses again, Chamberlain causes a cave-in which buries Jen.  Chamberlain then takes Kira hostage to the Emperor where he is restored back to his previous position before he was exiled.  The next trial is not faced by Jen, but by Kira.  As the Skeksis attempt to take her life energy, she manages to escape, by calling forth the animals to aid her.  She then attempts to find Jen.

The “Climax/Apotheosis” occurs when the Skeksis begin the ritual for eternal life.  Jen attempts to interrupt the ritual by replacing the shard to the Dark Crystal.  Jen drops the shard and believes he has failed.  Kira, however, rushes forward and retrieves the shard.  As she tosses the shard to Jen, she is stabbed and killed.  Jen is able to restore the shard (and thus heals the world).  Skeksis and Mystics return as one “whole” being.  This healing of a fractured crystal, a fractured people, and a fractured world is Jen’s “Ultimate Boon”.  As thanks, one of the “whole” beings revive Kira and gives the Crystal to the two of them (it is now called the Crystal of Light).  He instructs the two Gelflings to “make their world in its light” (“The Dark Crystal”).  This does not exactly lead into the Return (part three of Campbells three part process) as the film then ends.  Although, there are rumors that sequel may be in the making, so maybe someday we will discover if Jen does go on the “Return” part of the journey, and how this worked out for his world.  While Jen’s journey does not follow Campbell’s “Hero Journey” perfectly, there is no denying that it contains the same elements and echoes of other heroic journeys.

2 thoughts on ““The Dark Crystal” and Campbell’s Heroic Journey

  1. Hi Kayla! Excellent choice! I really loved this movie as a child and found your analysis very interesting. I find it odd that Jen’s journey is missing the “atonement with the father” because it seems vital to every hero’s journey, even those that break away from Campbell’s monomyth. Unfortunately, I remember very little of the story, so I’m not sure my thoughts will be helpful, but here it goes… I keep going back to two things. First, your mention of Jen’s lack of an atonement seems to come quite early in your analysis (after the first trial), so I’m wondering if it comes later? Perhaps his atonement has something to do with Chamberlain? Although he does interfere three times–twice directly with Jen and once (sort of) with Kira, which would make a fourth time unlikely, does he return in some way? Still, it seems that he just disappears from the narrative after Kira gets away. Also, where is Jen during the time Kira is captured and then searches for him? Then again, maybe Henson and Oz were saving this for a sequel as you said. Second, I keep going back to your statement regarding the responsibility that Jen feels for Garthim’s destruction of Kira’s home and the capture of some of the Podlings. Perhaps there is atonement to be found in this? How does he forgive himself and come to accept/understand that the Skeksis/Garthim is responsible? On another point you made, I agree and disagree with there not being a “return.” Returns in movies and even many books seems to happen very quickly, or not exist. Still, I think a return, in the form a forced refusal or freedom, is there. Jen and Kira are the last of their kind, so there isn’t a home to return to; instead, they are told to “make the world in its light,” a new boon. While the exact manner in which they accomplish this new task is left open for a sequel to address, it does imply that they do go somewhere and do something in order to bring this new boon to their world. Hope this helps! ~Renee


  2. I’ve been thinking about your comment since you posted about a week ago now. I still don’t really have an answer. It’s possible Jen’s atonement came when he first met Kira and they “dreamfasted” and both saw through each others eyes the killing of their race and parents. Or maybe it came, briefly in film, when Jen and Kira step into Gelfling land and see the ancient writings on the wall. It’s possible Chamberlain had a part to play in the atonement of the father, as Jen always seemed to lean towards trusting him (Kira always pulled Jen away to show him the right path). At the end, when the Skeksis and Mystics join back to “whole” beings, one speaks to Jen for all of them, apologizing for their mistake and thanking him for restoring the world- however, it’s not clear if this being that speaks was formerly half-Chamberlain, so I cannot be sure that this is the moment either. I think that’s what makes films so much harder to look at compared to books. It’s why we always like the books better than their movie adaptations as well! Films just can’t show everything the way that books can.

    Liked by 1 person

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