Reptilian and bird-like creatures with long necks and six limbs (four arms, two legs). The Skeksis are rapacious, whimsical and cruel.
List of Skeksis
- skekSo the Emperor
- skekZok the Ritual-Master
- skekUng the Garthim-Master
- skekSil the Chamberlain
- skekTek the Scientist
- skekAyuk the Gourmand
- skekNa the Slave-Master
- skekShod the Treasurer
- skekOk the Scroll-Keeper
- skekEkt the Ornamentalist
- skekMal the Hunter
- skekVar the General
- skekLach the Collector
- skekGra the Conquerer
- skekLi the Satirist
- skekSa the Mariner
At the close of the Age of Harmony, the second Great Conjunction occurred and marked the beginning of the Age of Division. During this Great Conjunction, the urSkeks stepped into the light of the suns that filtered through the Crystal and refracted through the urSkeks’ mirrors. Unintentionally, the urSkeks were split into two separate creatures: the Skeksis and the urRu.
The Skeksis were the personification of their destructive, cruel and aggressive impulses while the urRu were the personification of their creative, healing and passive impulses. For every urRu, there was a corresponding Skeksis. Immediately following the split, confused fighting erupted. Two Skeksis, and therefore two urRu, were murdered.
The Crystal darkened, turning from pure bright white to dimly glowing violet. And with the darkening of the Crystal, so too did the world turn dark. A blighted wasteland slowly and inexorably crept from the Castle and strange creatures began appearing throughout Thra’s wilderness.
Lords of the Dark Crystal
After the initial shock of the cracking of the Crystal, the Skeksis settled into their roles as Lords of the Dark Crystal. Led by Emperor skekSo, they played the role of extravagant hosts to both Gelfling and Podling alike, holding grand feasts and games.
Meanwhile, over the course of hundreds of trine, the Skeksis went from eccentric nobles to mad despots. With the passage of time, their powers began to fade. The Skeksis scientist called skekTek experimented with the Dark Crystal. It discovered how to use the refracted light of the Crystal to drain the essence and weaken the will of Gelfling and Podlings, turning them into mindless slaves.
This final act shocked the Gelfling out of their naiveté. Why would the Skeksis harm them? The Skeksis provided no answer other than to cull more of the Gelfling for use as slaves and sources of essence.
The Garthim War
When the Skeksis learned of the Prophecy, they immediately sought to thwart it. In their madness and paranoia, they created the Garthim soldiers and Crystal Bat spies, dispatching them to hunt down and exterminate the Gelfling. They even manufactured false shards to hinder the Gelfling in their quest to heal the Crystal.
When it was time to build the Skeksis puppets, the builders had a fairly clear idea how each of the characters should look. Brian Froud had established that, and dozens of maquettes had been built.
Much work on the Skeksis had been done by Lyle Conway, a sculptor who had considerable experience as a designer of dolls. He had also done stop-motion work for commercials and for the motion picture Vortex. But even when prototypes had been assembled, many of the questions about how to make the puppets work remained unanswered.
How could a Skeksis – as large as a man but considerably more bulky and awkward – be made to move convincingly? Even using the lightest materials available, each Skeksis would weigh thirty pounds or more. How could the face of a Skeksis be made to be fully expressive? No matter how beautifully the features were sculpted or how carefully they were cast in latex, the matter of giving each Skeksis a sufficient range of smiles, sneers, and facial tics needed to be solved. As for larger motor functions, how could a Skeksis wield a sword? Or snatch the scepter from the dying Emperor?
Some of the pioneering work on these challenges had been completed in New York. A prototype Skeksis hand mechanism – in effect, a fairly sophisticated artificial limb operated by cable controls – had been built and fully tested by Leigh Donaldson. Flexible rods, inserted through tubes and operated by a remote, hand-held trigger device, regulated the motor functions of each joint and each finger. It had been decided that cable control would be the device by which many of the puppets’ primary and secondary movements could be activated. Each Skeksis, for example, would be in the charge of a principal puppeteer who would control the broader movements of the body and head. The principal puppeteer would be assisted by a cable crew of up to four people, who under his direction would be responsible for eye movements and many other functions.
These cable controls could be concealed by the voluminous robes each Skeksis wore, which would serve, in effect, as a kind of portable puppet theater in which the kneeling puppeteer could hide (one hand and arm thrust above his own head into the neck and head of the puppet). At the same time this “portable theater” had to be attached to the puppeteer’s body in such a way that it would move naturally when he moved (reverting from theater back to puppet). Special lightweight metal harnesses had to be devised so that the weight of the entire assembly could be cantilevered off the puppeteer’s hips – the hips being the most efficient load-bearing area. This harness would have to support the armature for the entire Skeksis assembly, and that assembly would need to float free of the puppeteer’s body so that the movements he transmitted to the puppet would have a character of their own. What was to be avoided at all costs was the impression that a Skeksis was simply a human being in an elaborate costume. Each Skeksis had to be a seamless union of puppet, costume and theater.
“I didn’t find it difficult to get a performance out of the Garthim-Master,” Dave Goelz insists. “Each Skeksis had a clearly defined character, a certain gait, a particular set of facial tics. There was a lot to work with.”
Successful prototypes had been made, but variants were needed, each having to be tailored to the specific needs of the puppeteers who would be manipulating them. SkekSil the Chamberlain, performed by Frank Oz, became the most complex of all the Skeksis. As finally built, the chamberlain was equipped with twenty-one cable-controlled functions, requiring up to four people to operate – undoubtedly one of the most elaborate puppets ever constructed. Its eyes, eyelids, eyebrows, beak and hands were all fully articulated. Pneumatic devices hidden within the head gave Oz a considerable repertoire of sneers and sadistic grins with which to work. In his hands, the latex mask became almost as expressive as a human face. SkekZok the Ritual-Master, performed by Jim Henson, and SkekUng the Garthim-Master, performed by Dave Goelz, were almost as complex. Other Skeksis were somewhat simpler, but each required a cable crew or at least two people to complement the primary performer within the character.
Like the urRu, each Skeksis had to be differentiated from all others by means of physical attributes and costume. The Skeksis unit, under Sarah Bradpiece, set about translating the evocative notions into reality. Since the Skeksis were to be a ruling caste in the final stages of decadence, their robes were made from costly silks, velvets, laces, damasks, brocades, furs and exotic feathers. After the costumes were sewn together, they were deliberately torn apart, ripped to shreds and tatters, sprayed with paint, and caked with simulated filth. The results were stunningly effective.