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.”

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.

UK Abandons Old Calendar

The Prague Astronomical Clock depicts one medallion per month, illustrating that month’s usual activities; September was associated with the harvest.

September 2, 1752 – The British ended their use of the Julian calendar, switching instead to the Gregorian calendar, resulting in a major adjustment as Wednesday, September 2, was followed by Thursday, September 14. The correction resulted in rioting by people who felt cheated and demanded the missing eleven days back.

Time, which seems so fixed and objective to us modern people, was traditionally considered very fluid and inexact. You could know what day of the week it was. If the officials told you, you could know what month it was and even what day of the month. But there was a repetitive nature to it all: Sunday was marked by church, another day was market day. August and September were always harvest-time. February and March were always time to plant the fields.

The law which changed the calendar also made New Year’s to be January 1. Until then, the New Year had been on March 25.

During much of history, until the end of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, many people thought that March 25 was the most important day of the year. All the most important events in history were thought to have occurred on March 25: the birthday of Adam, Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea, the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, and Christ’s Crucifixion. March 25 was seen as the lynch-pin of history and time itself; everything revolved around March 25, which was also the vernal (springtime) equinox and the beginning of the new agricultural year, preparing the fields and planting seed.

The phoenix earned its legendary immortality by refusing to eat from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. Every 500 years, on March 25, the bird was said to create a nest of herbs and spices, rest on it, and set itself on fire. After the fire died down, an egg laid by the phoenix was found among the ashes. The egg would hatch, and the phoenix would emerge, resurrected.