On being unapologetically eccentric

A short tribute to Jim Henson, a creative superstar

Most people probably know who Jim Henson was. If you don’t know his name you’ll probably know some of his work. He is best known for his creation of the The Muppets (Rowlf the Dog, the Swedish Chef, Kermit The Frog and many of Kermit’s Sesame Street friends), Fraggle Rock, and as the creator/director of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth and creator and producer of the TV series, The Storyteller.

There’s no denying the appeal of many of Henson’s creatures to children, but part of the magic of his imagination is that his characters are accessible to all ages, and across time. They are as diverse in their characters as they are in their appearances, yet some of them have changed very little in the six decades since their creation. They were lovingly developed, complete with back stories, flaws and aspirations, and performed with consistency and reliability. Henson’s creations set such a high standard, even from their early days, that 65 years after his beginnings Kermit The Frog is a celebrity and a legend in his own right, still appearing on talk shows to talk up his recent adventures. Such was the enduring genius of Jim Henson and the dedication of Kermit’s team of handlers.

My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here.

Jim Henson

This May marked the 30th anniversary of Jim Henson’s passing, yet his legacy is as far reaching as it ever was. Full disclosure, I am sentimental and crazy about Jim Henson and all he created. As a youngster I recall watching The Muppets every Sunday night and Sesame Street in the afternoons. I still adore the Swedish Chef; I named a dog after Rizo the Rat, another after Ernie, and I now have one called Sweetums. Ten points if you remember which one Sweetums was. I was 13 and a Henson enthusiast as well as a David Bowie fan when Labyrinth was released. I still remember where I sat in the cinema, perched on the edge of my seat, feeling as if the movie was written and made for people like me; I inhabited worlds in my mind just like that, but not as Sarah, or any other character, more as a world-builder like Jim Henson.

As children, we all live in a world of imagination, of fantasy, and for some of us that world of make-believe continues into adulthood.

Jim Henson

I’ve always had a very active imagination, even from a very young age. I’d been writing and illustrating my own stories since I was six and I was an expert daydreamer. The spark of creativity was already ignited in me, as it is in so many children, but I’d always been hyper-aware and self-conscious of it, thus many of my imaginings remained mostly private, even secret. Henson’s work showed me there was a place for world-builders and creators of unorthodox fiction. His work helped fan the flames and ensure they kept burning. His enthusiasm for the imagination gave me permission to let my own imagination off its leash, that it was OK to be that kid with the whacky stories, and that such an imagination was an asset, not a burden. It gave me a foundation upon which I could build that creative power. It was around this time I wrote a story for as part of an English assignment and received my first and only A in English during high school (it was not my favourite subject, despite being an avid reader and writer at the time). The story was nothing like anything Henson did, but it was authentic and unselfconscious and so enjoyed by the teacher she read it to the class and told me I should consider becoming a writer. Naturally my classmates told me I was weird, but I didn’t care anymore. As long as they called me weird, I knew I was being authentic.

I am grateful that I inhabited the world during Henson’s time. I still feel a sense of wonder and gratitude towards him and all he achieved. Henson is as close to a hero as I’ve ever had and it is gratifying to see the legacy of his work continue to inspire young (and not so young) imaginations.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.

Jim Henson
Sweetums – my dog looks nothing like him, but he is a sweet and lovable monster, just like his namesake. Image from muppet.fandom.com

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