The Skeksis have terrified everyone from the moment that The Dark Crystal was released in 1982. These monstrous vulture-skeleton things whimpered and screeched their way to villainous fantasy glory, but they really stepped up their game in the Netflix prequel The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. We knew that they were bad, but now they're bad on a level that firmly places them in the upper pantheon of the worst villains that the fantasy genre has to offer.
These self-indulgent, gluttonous, lying, gaping maws of evil make Voldemort look somewhat decent by comparison. (Heck, they're even worse than the worst person in all of Harry Potter, Dolores Umbridge.) They are scarier than Queen Bavmorda (Willow), and nastier than the White Witch (The Chronicles of Narnia).
So, then, how do these new and un-improved Skeksis match up against one of the greatest evils that fantasy has ever known? What happens when you study them alongside Sauron from The Lord of the Rings?
Upon examination, it was surprising to me how similar the two villainous entities were/are. It's not really fair to compare the Skeksis with the Sauron that we see in Rings, as he no longer has a "human" body and exists only as a giant flaming eye. He has transcended into an existential, all-consuming doom — but before he turned into that giant eye, he had a body. He did awful things with it.
In both the First and Second Ages of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth stories, Sauron was a master liar and manipulator, and the Skeksis take more than a few tips from Sauron's Playbook for Being Horrible (a collection we've put together on the side, not an officially authorized release). Some of Sauron's worst acts took place during the Second Age, and we'll likely see some (or many) of them in the upcoming Amazon series.
When it comes to Sauron and the Skeksis, who wore/wears evil best? Is it even a competition? Do they all have too much in common? Drink that essence and trick that elf into teaching you about rings, because it's time to dive into this wretched pool of filth.
FALLEN FROM GRACE
We know from The Dark Crystal that the Skeksis are halves of a whole — they used to be joined with the Mystics of Thra, and were called UrSkeks. While tampering with the crystal, the UrSkeks were split into the two disparate beings, and the Skeksis began their reign of being awful. All of the good stuff went to the Mystics, I guess.
There's little evidence to support Sauron ever being "good" or anything remotely like it, but he was once a "higher being." You have to go all the way back to the music of the Ainur (at the start of The Silmarillion) when Morgoth fell and Sauron joined him as his chief lieutenant. Morgoth was far worse than anyone I've mentioned — he's in a special little class unto himself.
Once Morgoth was finally dealt with, Sauron continued his work. He loses points here because at one point he served a master... he never betrayed Morgoth. The Skeksis are roughly 78 percent betrayal, and 22 percent chittering dirtbag.
Sauron lies and cheats every other being be meets in the stories, but never Morgoth. He even convinces the Men of Numenor to worship Morgoth instead of the Valar — Morgoth, not himself. The Skeksis, by comparison, are almost as bad to each other as they are to everyone else. Look at pretty much everything that the Chamberlain does for evidence of this.
The Skeksis are almost redeemed in the end, though it's not really by choice and they're kicking and screaming the whole way. They are joined once again with the Mystics, and the UrSkeks proceed to go back to wherever the hell they came from.
No such luck for Sauron. Once the ring of power is destroyed, he's dead. He stays dead. There is no redemption or re-assimilation with the Ainur for the giant flaming eye.
OUTRAGEOUS LIES AND THE SUBVERSION OF TRUTH
Sauron and the Skeksis both shine when it comes to the awful art of creating Fake News. The Skeksis have all of Thra fooled by a lie during Age of Resistance, with the entire land thinking that they're benevolent rulers. The Gelfling think they're being treated fairly, and some tithes every now and then isn't that bad a price to pay. To speak out against them, or even think about doing so? Heresy!
It's utterly enraging how much the Skesis have the creatures of Thra fooled, because we know the truth the whole time. Even when the truth begins to slowly slip out, many of the Gelfling refuse to believe it. Poor Seladon (poor, lovely, stupid Seladon) actually doubles down on loving the Skeksis, deciding to dress like them and love them even more.
Seladon finally comes to grips with the truth… but it takes her a long damn time. The same can be said for the Men of Numenor, and the elf Celebrimbor in Tolkien's tales. They were not as fortunate as Seledon — they didn't get forgiven for their numerous follies, which, in fairness to Seladon, were far worse.
Sauron had a lovely trick in the Second Age — he could make himself beautiful, taking the form of Annatar. It was in this guise that he whispered lies and deceit into the hearts of Men, and turned them against the Valar. It was also in this form that he "befriended" Celebrimbor, and learned the art and craft of how rings of power could be made.
There's a good reason why they called him "The Deceiver." He played on resentments that were already there, but every lie he told had a little truth in it. Numenor sank beneath the waves mostly thanks to Sauron's evil whispers. When it sank, he sank with it, and he lost the ability to maintain that fair form forever. Annatar was not missed.
If Sauron had to look like undead cockroach carcasses all the time? He may not have been successful. The Skeksis have no choice but to look like desert-eaten rat birds — they maintain the full trust of Thra anyway, no disguise required.
TWISTING AND DEFORMING ALL THAT IS GOOD AND BEAUTIFUL
The Crystal of Truth rests in a perverted state thanks to the Skeksis. They've also brought in the Darkening, and they use (murder) Gelfling to create "essence." They develop a constant need for this life-giving brew — who cares if countless beings die, the Skeksis really need that fix!
Very similarly, Sauron perverts and deforms everything he touches. His armies turn entire countries to ash, and in the time of The Hobbit his evil corrupts an entire forest. He turns the once grand city of Minas Ithil into a spectral nightmare called Minas Morgul, and gives it to the Nazgul so they have a place to binge-watch Marie Kondo. Many of his worst acts done during Rings are done through his puppet, Saruman, when forests burn and industry rages.
There is no respect for nature on either side here. It's not enough for the Skeksis to drain essence, they have to revel in it like pigs in slop. It's not enough to go and collect tithes, they have to blow snot all of over the place while they do it.
Their greatest perversion was the first that I mentioned — turning the Crystal of Truth into the Dark Crystal, and then persisting in using science to manipulate its power. Sauron, after fooling Celebrimbor and forging a ring of his own, manages to corrupt all other rings, save for the elven three. Magical items that were meant to help and inspire become dominated, cruel, and horrible to behold under the power of the one.
SLAVERS AND KILLERS
This has been mentioned as a part of their respective parades of lies, but both the Skeksis and Sauron love slavery with a hefty side of murder. The Skeksis have enslaved all of Thra, and Sauron has enslaved a good amount of Middle-earth. He's endeavoring to enslave all of it, and he's using another violation of nature (Orcs) to do it.
What the Skeksis do to the Gelfling is exactly what Sauron would have done to the Hobbits had things gone another way. Indeed, the novels of Rings end with an infamous second-to-last chapter (one not included in the feature films) called "The Scouring of the Shire."
Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry return to the Shire after their adventures, but instead of having a nice pint at the Green Dragon, they find that a very much de-powered Saruman has corrupted the place and turned it into his own little pigpen. Hobbits are enslaved in mines, and there's some kind of martial law in place. The Skeksis would love it.
Sure, Sauron is gone at this point, but where did Saruman learn such petty tricks? This is the small version of what Sauron would've done with the idyllic locale, and thankfully Saruman's soft mob of jerks is no match whatsoever for our heroes. Frodo and company get things sorted out very quickly.
Something else that the Skeksis and Sauron both love? Genocide.
PURE UNADULTERATED ANNOYANCE
The Skeksis are really, really obnoxious. The Chamberlain's little whimpers make me want to cut my ears off, and whenever these wretched drain-hair monsters feel joy (or whatever passes for joy), then we have to watch them throw themselves a parade of a**holery. It is exhausting.
Sauron isn't annoying in such a visceral sense, but he is still very annoying. Once he becomes a looming, existential villain (flaming eye in the sky), he's just always there. Barely a paragraph can go by in the books without someone feeling doom in their hearts, and Sauron is the root of all of it.
There's just no living with that. He's a constant flood of depression, and that too gets exhausting after a while. It's only once the ring is destroyed and the darkness lifts that you realize what a toll his spirit had taken on everyone and everything.
FEAR, AND BEING MISERABLE
What do any of these beings actually want? The Skeksis want to live forever, and so does Sauron. They all want something close to eternal life, but they also want that life to be one of ultimate power. Is that too much to ask?
Sure, eternal life, ultimate power, yeah, got it, but what else? Surely there's some reason for all of it?
If there is one, we don't really learn it on either side... but it might just come down to all of them being miserable. Sauron is a jealous demi-god who got demoted, is highly resentful, and probably hates himself. The Skeksis are jealous halves of a former whole who… I'm just guessing… are probably also miserable?
There's no safety or job security in the Castle of the Crystal. There are many moments where the Skeksis show that they are scared, and when they do, it's extreme. All of their celebratory snot-dancing is likely covering up an insane amount of fear.
Fear drives the Skeksis, and despite his over-confidence, fear drives Sauron. Gandalf knows this, and the Gelfling eventually learn. Beings who are miserable, and live in constant fear? What they want more than anything is to make everyone else feel the exact same way.
If pitted against each other (in some kind of mashup that neither the Henson estate, nor the Tolkien estate would ever approve of), it's my belief that Sauron would wipe the Skeksis out with a twitch of his flaming eye.
It doesn't matter, though. When you feel only fear and misery, and live an existence based only in making others feel the same, you've already lost.