Review: Shadows of the Dark Crystal


So I just finished Shadows of the Dark Crystal by J.M. Lee which I kind of picked up on a whim. As an author who found immense inspiration as a child seeing this film, I’m always drawn to anything about it (or anything from the 80s involving MotU, Thundercats, etc.) I was in a Twin Cities bookstore with my daughter (an aspiring teen author) and was telling her about the movie, which she hadn’t seen yet when another customer told me that Lee was also from MN and how he’d won a writing contest sponsored by Henson’s estate which eventually turned into a book deal… it turned out that was the author’s mother. I couldn’t very well not buy the book after that. (also, my daughter watched the movie the next day.) Perhaps my favorite part of the book is actually the dedication page—as a father whose tried to influence his kids with some of my favorite films and stories, I connected with that right out of the gate.

On to the story.

The first two chapters felt confusing because of the total immersiveness into the gelfling culture. I didn’t find the glossary until I’d completed the book (I found the second glossary when I looked the first time but didn’t see the terminology page.) By the time the third chapter came round I’d learned most of the common terms by context and so it came easier. The story was wonderful and very much in line with the film.

This book is #1 in a series and there promises to be more. From what I gather, Lee’s story may have some kind of connection and relevance to the new Netflix show coming in 2018 (maybe the only thing that could, in my mind, be a greater original series than Daredevil or Stranger Things.) The expansive nature and the worldbuilding Lee has accomplished certainly leave room for lots of story and exploration in the new show—and that’s even if the world feels small (perhaps my only complaint—though, the map and appendices in the book don’t necessarily limit the world of Thra. (I especially loved the expansion on the gelfling clans, their differences, and the race’s hero legend of Jarra-Jen).

I assume that Lee has been active in online Dark Crystal communities and read the other source material (perhaps even some of Henson’s notes not readily available to the community at large) in order to achieve the mythopoeic level he’s achieved. But what amazes me is how he did it in this format: the book’s flow, language, and characters are so easily accessible that this is a book with an upper-middle-grade audience. That takes both skill and savvy editing. I will definitely pick up the next, and perhaps some of the other books and explore the rest of the larger mythos (Legends of the Dark Crystal and Henson’s Creation Myths,) before Netflix really expands the story in the original medium.

Pick up this book. While you’re at it, go ahead and pre-order book #2, Song of the Dark Crystal which releases in exactly one week. Follow my blog for more reviews and info!

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