In addition to his Muppet legacy, Jim Henson also inspired millions of fans with his two adult films, Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. In 2013, Grosset & Dunlap and The Jim Henson Company’s teamed up to create, The Dark Crystal Author Quest, a competition to find a writer to chronicle a prequel book series to the beloved film.
J.M. Lee’s winning story, chosen out of nearly five hundred submissions, takes place years before the events of the film and follows the journey of a young Gelfling woman who leaves her secluded home to uncover the truth surrounding the disappearance of her brother, who has been accused of treason by the sinister Skeksis Lords.
The novel features cover art by the film’s original creature designer and popular fantasy artist Brian Froud, and interior illustrations by Cory Godbey.
Joey (J.M.) was kind enough to take some time to discuss his book, the film’s influence and more.
FOG!: You were the winner of the Dark Crystal Author Quest. Was that specifically for the opportunity to write Shadows of The Dark Crystal?
J.M. Lee: The Dark Crystal Author Quest was a contest specifically to pen an official prequel YA novel to support the film. There were MANY entries and five finalists, from which I was thrilled to be selected. Shadows of The Dark Crystal is the story that sprang out of my original entry, “The Ring of Dreams,” which was only about 10,000 words.
What kind of creative freedom did you have in writing the book and why do you think you were the best storyteller to write the prequel novel?
I was encouraged by both the editorial team at Grosset & Dunlap, as well as the Jim Henson Company folks, to take the story wherever I wanted on the first run. We then revised as a group to make sure all parties were satisfied with how the plot, characters, world, etc, meshed with the existing canon. I would say that my experience working on collaborative projects, as well as my ability to view the story critically, are probably the most valuable personal assets I brought to the table during the writing process. And it probably doesn’t hurt that I’ve seen the film 100+ times.
Is Shadows of The Dark Crystal your first published work? What writers have had the biggest influence on your work?
Shadows of The Dark Crystal is my debut novel. I was heavily influenced in my formative writing years by Mercedes Lackey and Roger Zelazny, as well as from non-writerly creative sources such as fantasy video games and, of course, film. Words are extremely important to me, which is why I write, but I also feel most inspired when I’m taking in different stories across a variety of platforms.
Were you a big fan of The Dark Crystal growing up? What about it do you think makes it resonate to audiences almost 35 years later?
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know The Dark Crystal. It’s been a staple cult classic in my life, but I didn’t discover the graphic novels, manga, etc. until later. I think it is a truly unique film that had a big impact on a lot of people, both from a production standpoint and from a story aspect. It’s a fantasy that is completely removed from Earth and human beings, and I think right now that really appeals to people. Not to mention there’s something really satisfying to watch a film that’s also completely removed from the crazy special effects of today’s fantasy flicks. To know that these were puppets and fabricated creatures, that the whole thing was done without all that, is so unheard of right now that it blows some people’s minds.
You’ve got another Dark Crystal novel in the works. What’s next after that?
We’ve actually got three more Dark Crystal novels left in the series, so that ought to keep me busy for a while! I’ll also be working on another revival/continuation for another long-running children’s book series (to be announced!). Amidst it of all, of course, I’m working on personal projects – a sci-fi western, a historical fantasy, and a swashbuckling comedy.
What are you currently geeking out over?
Oh man! Well, my wife and I just finished a replay of the ol’ Final Fantasy VII and we’re both really excited for the reboot… and I admit I have played no small amount of Pokémon Go. I’m a huge Twin Peaks fan, so I’m really looking forward to the reboot. Cannot wait!