Gelfling were a sentient species native to Skarith. They were the closest race to Thra, and were by far the planet's most widespread race. They were a peaceful people who lived in harmony with the natural world and had a rich culture which valued song, dance and storytelling. They mostly lived in tribal or clan-based societies which were dominated by females, who differed from their male counterparts by having wings. Gelfling had the ability to share memories with each other through Dreamfasting.
The race emerged during the Age of Innocence and were taught the ways of Thra by Aughra. The arrival of the urSkeks during the Age of Harmony saw the Gelfling expand their territories and advance technologically. After the Great Division, the Gelfling allied themselves with the Skeksis Empire, which divided the Gelfling into seven clans and ruled over them through the All-Maudra. When the Skeksis subsequently began to harvest them for essence during the late Age of Division, the Gelfling resisted, prompting their near extermination during the Garthim War after the discovery of a prophecy revealing that a Gelfing would end Skeksis rule. They were revived during the Age of Power, and formed a united kingdom called the Gelfling Nation.
- 1 Name
- 2 Description
- 3 History
- 4 Behind the scenes
- 5 References
- 6 External Links
Characteristics and biology
While phenotypically variable, all Gelfling shared a number of characteristics. They were four-fingered, slenderly built bipeds with wide, triangular faces tapering to a pointed chin. They had large, wide eyes that were set apart on either side of a flattish nose. Many had long hair, from which their large, pointed ears protruded. The color of their blood varied from red to pink.
Highly adaptable, the Gelfling could thrive in almost any environment and rapidly adopt new traits better suited to their surroundings, with examples including the amphibious Drenchen, who evolved gills in order to live in the swamps of Sog, the Grottans who developed night vision in their cavernous home, and the Firelings, whose biology permitted them to live comfortably in the volcanic realm of Mithra.
Females differed from males in having a pair of diaphanous wings which emerged upon reaching early adulthood, allowing them to fly, glide, and hover, as well as aid in swimming.
Accounts as to the origins of these wings differed greatly. One account stated that a Gelfling girl once touched a cloud and knitted it to her shoulders, while another described how she had touched a rock, and wished for crystalline wings. A darker tale, How the Gelfling Maid got her Wings, told of how a Gelfling maiden, exhausted with having to take care of a large group of orphaned children, sought out Aughra for help. Aughra took a pair of Cragraptor feathers and stabbed them into the maiden's shoulders, fusing with her body and allowing her to keep track of the orphaned children more easily.
Gelfling were the closest creatures to Thra, and as such had a direct link to the Dream Space, which granted them several special abilities. Dreamfasting allowed two or more Gelfling to meld their consciousness and pass on memories to each other, an ability which proved invaluable for learning and storytelling throughout the race's history. Other than Gelfling, Aughra was also a practitioner, and used it to teach them of the dangers of Thra during the race's infancy.
Another ability granted by the Dream Space was Dream etching, an ability similar to writing which permitted Gelfling to leave messages on physical objects or surfaces. These etchings, when used for making rock carvings, were achieved by applying intense heat to the object's surface.
Other, sometimes more localized abilities, included healing among the Drenchen, Far-Dreaming among the Sifa and casting charms on crafts among the Spriton. Some Gelfling, such as Argot and Kira, even mastered the usually Podling ability of Animal Soul Speaking.
Although differing in traditions and specific beliefs, all Gelfling shared the same basic tenets, valuing above all the virtues of peace, harmony and unity. The latter value was eroded during the Age of Division, with most Gelfling in that period having a "clan-first" mentality. Throughout much of their history, Gelfling societies were matriarchal. Most Gelfling societies were sedentary, though the Dousan and Sifa were nomadic.
All Gelfling cultures were essentially peaceful, hardworking and playful, and knew how to cultivate crops and tame animals. They always strove to live in harmony with the natural world, and their greatest joys lay in song, dance and stories. Most Gelfling were illiterate, thus they placed great value on orally transmitted generational knowledge.
The Gelfling originally spoke the Old Gelfling language, which survived in Modern Gelfling through titles, ritual pronouncements and some nouns. Modern Gelfling became a lingua franca of the Skeksis Empire, though some Gelfling were fluent in other spoken languages such as Skeksis and Podling. Some Gelfling clans had their own non-verbal languages, including vojeye among the Dousan and Finger-Talk among the Grottans.
Origins and early history
I was here at the beginning. Long, long before the oldest of you drew your first breath. Before the out-worlders came. Gelflings were kind and clever and wanted for nothing. There was no need to "perfect" you.
The Gelfling originated during the Age of Innocence, though the exact chronology differed according to source. Aughra claimed to have been present to observe them "[rise] from the soil", while another account had the Gelfling emerge before Aughra's birth. The Gelfling creation myth, the Song of the Six Sisters, narrated how the Gelfling descended from six founding matriarchs, each one a maternal Clan ancestor, though this contradicted later accounts which credited the Skeksis with creating the Clan structure two thousand trine later. In any case, Aughra favored the Gelfling above other races on Thra, and helped them develop language, culture and ethics.
During the first thousand trine of their existence, the Gelfling were a primitive race, who relied on Aughra to teach them of the dangers of Thra and of the properties of the Crystal which kept their world alive. Originally divided in a tribal structure, Aughra tutored them to the point where they formed a single unified culture. They initially lived as hunter-gatherers in forest regions, though they eventually colonized the Crystal Desert, where predation from Arduffs prompted them to develop the first rudiments of weaponry and civilization. At this time, the desert-dwelling Gelfling had armed themselves with spears and lived in fortified yurts. Once Aughra was satisfied that they had achieved a measure of independence, she left the Gelfling to their own devices as she focused on studying the Uni-Verse.
When the urSkeks arrived and began the Age of Harmony, they taught the Gelfling how to tame nature and advance technologically. With the urSkeks' assistance, the Gelfling further expanded their territories, and it was during this time that they made first contact with the Podlings. As time passed, the Gelfling soon began to venerate the urSkeks, giving them credit for bestowing them with culture and language. Aughra's son Raunip, however, resented the Gelfling for having forgotten that they had these traits long before the arrival of the urSkeks, and attempted to incite them into attacking the Castle of the Crystal and reclaim the Crystal of Truth, but was stopped by his mother.
A millennium later, when the time came for the urSkeks to return to their homeworld, delegations representing some of Thra's sentient races were invited to witness the event, with the Gelfling delegation consisting of Lady Kel and the song-teller Gyr. However, when the second Great Conjunction arrived, the urSkeks, rather than being transported home, were divided into Skeksis and urRu. In the ensuing confusion, the Crystal was cracked, and a single shard was lost.
Alliance and resistance
And now we are creating weapons? This is not the Gelfling way! In our fear, will we turn our backs on the very things that have defined the Gelfling race since the dawn of Thra? Peace? Harmony? Unity?
At the start of the Age of Division, the Gelfling were impacted by the Makrak crisis, prompting elder Carn to form the Alliance of the Crystal with the newly proclaimed Skeksis Empire. The Skeksis subsequently divided the unified Gelfling culture into seven different Clans in order to keep them weak and divided, and created the position of All-Maudra to rule over the Gelfling race as a vassal queen, spreading the lie that the Gelfling had been fighting among themselves before the system's introduction. The Vapra of Ha'rar were chosen to be the prime beneficiary of this new order, with most All-Maudras originating from this clan.
In the ensuing thousand trine, most Gelfling, with the exception of the reclusive Dousan Clan, were indoctrinated to see the Skeksis as gods. Attempts at unifying Gelfling culture were hampered by the Skeksis sowing suspicion among the Clans and promoting derogatory stereotypes, such as considering the Dousan as death worshippers and the Sifa as untrustworthy and superstitious. This institutional provincialism developed to the point where mixed marriages were largely taboo, with the Vapra having been known to send erring members to the Order of Lesser Service, while some Dousan xerics considered such acts as capital offences.
Under Skeksis tutelage, the Gelfling were required to supply able-bodied members to act as guards in the Castle of the Crystal, as well as form a conscript army. During the Skeksis' period of expansion, the Gelfling became enemies of the Arathim, who had refused to submit to the Empire. This resulted in the forced seizure of the Arathim homeland of Grot by Stonewood soldiers, which was given to the ancestors of the Grottan Clan as a reward for their loyalty. This lead to a ninet-long feud between the Gelfling and the Arathim, which culminated in the Arathim Wars.
At one point, a group of Gelfling exiles lead by the Dousan Chal colonized the underground realm of Mithra, eventually giving rise to the race of Firelings. As the ninets passed, the Firelings gradually forgot about their origins and almost never resurfaced to make contact with their Gelfling forebears.
While most Gelfling were happy under the Skeksis, the benefits of Skeksis patronage were spread very thinly, with mostly the ruling classes being the primary beneficiaries. The economic system imposed on them was based on bartering, with the Skeksis apparently being too apathetic to introduce a more efficient currency based system, thus leaving many Gelfling in poverty. This was exacerbated by the imposition of tithes, which were taken as a form of taxation intended to keep the Gelfling dependent on Skeksis charity.
Tensions arose between the Skeksis and the Gelfling when All-Maudra Seladon I sought to further unify the Seven Clans, though her efforts were seen by some members of the Sifa Clan as an attempt to erode their distinct culture. After Seladon's death, the Skeksis exploited Sifan discontent by sending skekSa to covertly lend moral support to Fenth, originator of the secessionist Age of Sifans movement. The plan ultimately failed, as Seladon's successor, Mayrin, succeeded in convincing the Sifa to remain within the union, and married Kam'lu, a non-Vapran.
Several trine later, the Gelfling were negatively impacted by the Skeksis' secret abuse of the Crystal, which spread the Darkening, causing the Gelflings' crops to fail and their animals to go insane. When the Skeksis began harvesting the Gelfling for their essence, the Gelfling resistance was formed, resulting in the defeat of the Skeksis at the Second Battle of Stone-in-the-Wood. Aside from uniting the Gelfling clans as one, the battle saw the rediscovery of the lost Shard of the Division, the key to ending Skeksis rule.
- Main article: Garthim War
The Gelfling later found themselves overwhelmed by the Skeksis' new Garthim soldiers, and desperately sought a solution in the flames of prophecy. Seven circles of seven Gelfling gathered at the hilltops and found the answers they needed Dream etched on the Wall of Destiny, which prophesied that a Gelfling would need to reunify the Skeksis with their urRu counterparts by healing the Dark Crystal with the Shard. When the Skeksis learned of this, they initially sought to confuse the Gelfling by creating replicas of the Shard, then proceeded to order the Garthim to commit genocide against the entire race.
By the end of the war, only two Gelfling remained; Jen, who was adopted by the urRu, and Kira, who took refuge with the Podlings. While Kira was raised to live as a Podling and avoid Gelfling ruins, Jen was tutored to find the Shard of the Division and put an end to Skeksis rule. Although Jen found the Shard after the death of his master urSu, and eventually managed to meet Kira, the two of them remained largely ignorant of its function, until they discovered the Wall of Destiny, detailing the prophecy that established a link between the Shard and the Crystal, which they would need to heal in order to topple the Skeksis. They eventually rode to the Castle, and healed the Crystal, with the newly reformed urSkeks leaving it in their care.
During the Age of Power, the Gelfing population had recovered and formed the fully unified Gelfling Nation under Jen and Kira's co-rulership. However, 100 trine into their rule, Jen and Kira had fallen into a deep slumber, prompting a religious class headed by the Crystalline Eminence to rule in their stead. From the Castle of the Crystal, the Crystal Eminence demanded offerings to be brought to the Crystal of Truth as payment for the Crystal's healing properties. The greed of the Eminence soon began to poison the Crystal just as the Skeksis did. The sickness manifested in the form of the Blight that ravaged both the surface world and Mithra, where the Firelings dwelt.
A Fireling called Thurma attempted to obtain a shard of the Crystal from the Gelflings in order to heal Mithra's dying inner sun, but was refused. The Fireling shattered the Crystal, causing the re-emergence of the Skeksis and urRu. It was eventually established that the Gelfling offerings had been blocking the Crystal from shining on Mithra, so Thurma restored the shard. Jen and Kira subsequently departed from Thra to join the urSkeks to whatever lay beyond the light of the Crystal. Kensho was then proclaimed the new leader of the Gelfling race.
Behind the scenes
The precursors to the Gelfling appeared in Jim Henson's 1977 draft The Mithra Treatment, in which they are identified as the Eunaze, inhabitants of the planet Mithra. A peaceful and cultured race lead by Malcolm the Wise, the Eunaze would have been overthrown in a coup by the Reptus group (the precursors of the Skeksis). The only survivor would have been Malcolm's son Brian, subsequently raised by the Bada, the wizards of Mithra. During the 1978 nor'easter, Henson was confined to a hotel for 72 hours, and began to elaborate on his vision of the Eunaze, renaming them Gelfling and rechristening Brian as Jen. He also introduced a female member of the species named Dee-ari. When David Odell was hired to write the screenplay, he introduced the concept of dreamfasting and the ability of Dee-ari (now renamed Kira) to communicate with animals.
The Gelfling were from the beginning conceived as the most human creatures in the film, though finding a balance between human and mythological elements was difficult in the movie's early development. Wendy Midener was hired in 1978 to create an appropriate sculpture, a task made difficult by the fact that Henson lacked a clear idea of what they would be like. Midener therefore had to sculpt numerous heads until Henson gave his approval for the final design. She experimented with various forms, from animal-like ones to more anthropomorphic ones, until ending with a vaguely human face with deer-like features for Jen, which were less evident in Kira.
I started by sculpting tiny heads in Plasticine and I work very quickly, so I just keep sculpting and turning them out. [...] Jim and Brian would come by and say "yes, well, I like that, but change the eyes, change the mouth", and we went through a whole series of developments from a very animal-like face for each of them to a much more human face, and it was very difficult to get a female animal-like creature to look pretty enough, so we developed away from that. And finally, it seemed after years of this, I did get two heads, and Jim and Frank and Brian came to look at them and they finally said "yes, I think that's it. I think those will be the Gelflings".Wendy Midener
For the scene in which Jen appears naked, some ridges were added to his body to show that he was still not fully human. The character was initially conceived as having blue skin, in tribute to the Hindu god Rama, but the idea was scrapped almost immediately, with Midener giving him instead blue shades on his forehead, nose and ears. In designing Jen and Kira's clothes, the costume designers bore in mind that the two characters had been raised in different cultures, so Jen's clothes were given Mystic designs, while Kira's were given elements of Podling clothing.
Fabrication and shooting
As the Gelfling had to be more expressive than their Muppet predecessors, it was decided to avoid using latex rubber for their skin, due its fragility in scenes requiring complex facial expressions. The final Gelfling heads consisted of fiberglass skulls with mechanical parts covered in latex foam, a more flexible material than latex rubber.
The Gelfling were difficult to perform, as they had to be the most anthropomorphic characters in the film. Their movements, in particular their walk, had to be made as human as possible.:
Jen was probably the hardest character I've ever manipulated, in that he was very human, very lifelike, and so everything that I did with him had to be very subtle. [...] If it looked "puppety", it would be a giveaway. We couldn't use it. I found, for instance, when I was trying to make the character walk. [...] I found that the only way that I could make Jen's walk believable would be to have him straight over my head and then I would walk, I would take small steps, because then as the character's head moves in relationship to going down, it was accurate, and that was the only way I could do it. If I had to work slightly hunched over, the walk wouldn't be realistic. [...] It was amazing the subtlety of little moves that would give this thing away. [...] We would spend hours figuring out how he rises from kneeling to standing position. [...] When does the head straighten and look around? [...] When do his eyes look up? When do you cut your eyes in relationship to your head turning? All these things that you do automatically without ever thinking about them, we have to analyze and figure out how to do that.Jim Henson
In scenes where the characters' legs were off-screen, the puppeteers walked on their knees to make the walk more realistic. To facilitate performances, the mechanical parts of the Gelfling puppets were controlled remotely rather than through cables. In long shots, where the Gelfling's legs are visible, the characters were portrayed by diminutive actors in costumes.
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