The Dark Crystal

“Another World, Another Time… In the Age of Wonder. A thousand years ago, this land was green and good, until the Crystal cracked. For a single piece was lost; a shard of the Crystal. Then strife began, and two new races appeared: the cruel Skeksis… the gentle Mystics.” (photo from The Dark Crystal)

Puppeteer Jim Henson (1936-1990) was born in Greenville, Mississippi on September 24. He created the Muppets, including Kermit the Frog, and Bert and Ernie, entertaining and educating generations of children via the daily TV show Sesame Street. He also oversaw The Muppet Show and several Muppet movies. But his non-Muppet feature, The Dark Crystal, was a stunning visual adventure into a fantasy world previously unexplored.

The Dark Crystal’s theatrical release in 1982 was overshadowed by competition over the Christmas of that year, including Tootsie and the already massively successful E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. In 2008, the American Film Institute nominated this film for its Top 10 Fantasy Films list.

I always liked the Dark Crystal story line and the characters. It is a classic fairy tale in the style of the original un-sanitized Brothers Grimm collection; in fact, it was Henson’s intention was to “get back to the darkness of the original Grimms’ Fairy Tales”, as he believed that it was unhealthy for children to never be afraid. When he was conceptualizing the evil Skeksis, Henson had in mind the Seven Deadly Sins, though because there were 10 Skeksis, some sins had to be invented or used twice.

I remember the day in May, 1990 of Henson’s funeral at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. All the Muppet characters attended and sang a medley of Henson’s favorite songs. Life magazine described it as “an epic and almost unbearably moving event.”

“Happy Birthday!” to Los Angeles

The city of Los Angeles was named for this tiny church of the Porziuncola, inside the larger church of Our Lady of the Angels.

The official date for the founding of the city of Los Angeles is September 4, 1781. The name given by the founders was “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles de Porciuncula”, or “the town of Our Lady of the Angels of Porciuncula.”

The Porciuncula (“little portion”) is the small church in the fields below the Italian town of Assisi. St. Francis was given this abandoned chapel by Benedictine monks who had been respoonsible for it. Francis and his first group of followers lived in this small church. It was in the Porciuncula that St. Clare of Assisi (founder of the “Poor Clares”) made her vows as a nun to pray for Francis and his missionary work. Francis himself died in the field nearby in AD 1226 and another small chapel was built to mark that spot. The crowds coming to venerate St. Francis overwhelmed the tiny churches and in 1569 the larger church of Our Lady of the Angels was built around the tiny churches to protect them and provide a place for pilgrims to gather.

It is said that whoever prays at the Porciuncula on its feast day (August 2) will have all their sins forgiven. There are several replicas of the Porciuncula in the United States for people who cannot travel to Italy itself to pray at the original site.

The Spanish missionaries who travelled up the coast of California establishing a series of missions dedicated to several different saints (such as St. Monica, St. Barbara, St. Diego, St. Bernadino) were Franciscan friars. The names they chose for the missions were all saints important to the Franciscans for various reasons. Two missions were named for places directly related to the history of the Franciscans themselves.

St. Francis is thus the patron not only of San Francisco itself but of Los Angeles as well.

Great Fire of London

The 1666 Great Fire of London’s 350th anniversary was in 2016 (artistic depiction of the Great Fire in the Daily Mirror Online)

September 2, 1666 – The Great Fire of London began in a bakery in Pudding Lane near the Tower of London. Over the next three days, the fire gutted the medieval City of London inside the old Roman city wall. It consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St Paul’s Cathedral, and most of the buildings of the City authorities. It is estimated to have destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the City’s 80,000 inhabitants. Amazingly, only six(!) people are thought to have died in the fire.

The Great Fire started at a bakery (or baker’s house) on Pudding Lane shortly after midnight on Sunday, 2 September and spread rapidly west across the City of London. The major firefighting technique of the time was to create firebreaks by means of demolition; this, however, was critically delayed owing to the indecisiveness of Lord Mayor of London. By the time that large-scale demolitions were ordered on Sunday night, the wind had already fanned the bakery fire into a firestorm that defeated such measures. The fire pushed north on Monday into the heart of the City.

Rather than admit the fire was a tragic accident, many people wanted to blame someone. The homeless population of London, as well as Dutch or French residents, were blamed for either starting the fire or helping to spread it. (Blaming immigrants and the poor is always a popular pastime, I’m afraid!) Mobs looted the shop of a French painter and destroyed it; an English blacksmith walked up to a Frenchman in the street and hit him over the head with an iron bar.

Fire was long considered one of the four basic building blocks of the universe; all matter was thought to arise from various combinations of the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Some thought fire was the most basic and fundamental of the elements. Fire was a magical, transformative element as it could melt ice, evaporate water, melt and purify metal or solder metals together, forge useless bits into weapons, or turn almost anything into something else, i.e. dust and ash. In Arabic mythology, the djinn were formed from fire and a soul, just as humans were formed from earth and a soul. Djinn were magical because fire itself was magical.