Monday, December 23, 2013
In The Beginning, There Was....
Before time began...the 80's. There wasn't anything before that, right? Anyway: There was THIS. Castle Grayskull! Fortress of Mystery and Power!
...also a playset for your toys. But man, what a playset!
Welcome to the first installment of my little Grayskull special! I'll be working up to the new Masters of the Universe Classics Castle Grayskull. We begin with the original ancient fortress of old (in more ways than one).
I don't remember getting Castle Grayskull. 'Cause I didn't! It was my brother's. That and whatever other figures my parents bought first. I don't think my brother was terribly interested in them, but I'll have to ask. I mean who knows: perhaps I was the little monster that invaded his space and chewed all his toys! ...because I did. Chew all his toys. Those are my teeth marks all over He-Man's hands. You'll see more of that on the weapons 'n such. You ever had an annoying little brother? I imagine I was just that.
This was my only playset for the longest time. I used it for everything, though early on, most of my toys were He-Man guys. Still, throughout the years, this castle came back again and again because hey: it's a castle! My only castle. You can imagine it's useful to have a general, creepy castle playset for all manner of things. Especially since there are lots of places to place it. It's big - and was certainly big for it's time - but not so big that you couldn't fit the closed item on top of a dresser or something to make it seem like it's on top of a mountain.
Look at that detail! I mean, it's not like I was amazed by any of this when I was a kid, but you can sure appreciate it now. Perhaps this is part of why I like skeletons so much (beyond Skeletor, of course). I just love how the castle didn't need the subtitle of Fortress of Mystery and Power for you to understand that fact. They just threw it to the side of the good guys in the old toon, but the original idea was a dark monolith in the wilderness with a skull right on the front that says: If. You. Dare. And only the most powerful would dare!
Why was the castle there? Who built it? Was it built with that ominous skull for good? For evil? What wonders could one find if one were able to breach it's walls? How could old green stone be so good at keeping people out?
We never got those answers! Like I said: The castle was pretty much the place the good guys protected in the old cartoon. It was still mysterious, but we got to see the inside of it pretty often, 'cause the Sorceress resided there. I was too young to remember most of that, though! By the time I could have remembered the toon, it was on it's way out, and I only had the old minicomics to take me on my MotU ride. I think that's why I love the castle as a mysterious fortress that could belong to anyone who could conquer it.
Of course, conquering the castle required two ancient relics of power: The two halves of the Power Sword! Split in half by whoever in a time long past. He-Man and Skeletor each came with a half back then, and they could be plugged together and used as the key to the castle.
...granted, anything could be shoved in there to open the gate; full or half sword. For some reason I always liked the idea that Faker's sword worked, and could be merged with He-Man's. Like it was a forgery; more than just a sword to slap on a fake He-Man. I imagine the Power of the Castle would get pissed when you tried to use it.
Let's ignore the gate, though. Us folks can't get in that way; it's just for the toys.
Now of course it wouldn't be a playset unless you could fit everything inside and fold it up! I just...shoved everything in, usually. It fit nicely, though! Very little broke. And honestly, I'll bet the broken items were broken from something other than shoving it in the castle, but who really knows anymore?
The only problem was that the tabs on the side weren't the tightest, though it didn't matter much back then. It folded up so you could hide it somewhere in your room, but we actually kept the box and I always slid the whole castle back in the box in the basement when I was done with it. I'd show some pics, but the box was destroyed in a flood in 2000.
...and, of course it's possible it just doesn't fold closed as tight as it used to, who knows?
You can, of course, tell that I'm missing some junk here! You can compare this sorry mess with the archive pic from He-Man.org if you like, and see what this thing looked like in it's glory. However, I'm still proud of the old monster. It ain't bad for having survived my toddler years.
I did say this was the castle for anyone who could conquer it, but lets face it: It ain't fun unless there's all sorts of stuff inside for the characters to interact with. So while this is a battleground for good and evil, there's still stuff inside for downtime, like training gear! Well, one piece of training gear; the spinny thing. It's broken, but DUH - you're supposed to have figures smack it around! So yeah, it broke at some point. I imagine I or someone smacked it across the room on accident or something. Poor thing doesn't stand anymore.
It's an important piece though, 'cause like I said: It sorta shows how the castle could be used for multiple things. It's a mysterious fortress, and a place to train your troops, once you have secured the place. And what else could a pack of warriors need for training (and defending) than a rack of weapons?
Naturally, the weapons rack isn't doing too hot either, but there's only a peg or two missing from it! I was impressed, anyway. There are also only two weapons missing, and somehow they aren't chewed to unrecognizability! I suppose you can tell that the ones that were in my hands the most were the ones that got the most chewing. So, He-Man and Skeletor are in terrible shape, and Skeletor's sword is the most chewed weapon (so far as I can tell).
The rack and weapons are one of those early things that felt like a staple, to me. Like every playset should strive to come with extra stuff for the figures to use! I loved that, and still do. It's a chance to recolor some good weapons, or just reproduce some standards, or make some new and cool exclusive stuff. It's almost a thing of the past, as well. Doesn't seem like toy companies are into the accessory pack thing anymore, and playsets have many cool features, but fewer extra parts of the figures to use outside the set. Then again, we get fewer and fewer playsets on the whole! So I guess can't complain about what's mostly absent.
But speaking of cool features:
Well okay, so a working elevator isn't much these days. Heck, I'm not sure it was much back then either, but how can you not love it? Even if there's only one floor to go to.
Now I don't think I'm just missing a rope, or else I'd set this up somehow. I think there's a piece at the top of the elevator that the rope ties to, which allows you to pull it up. It broke off years ago, and I've just been shoving the old gargoyle in there with everything else. But eh, you can still push it up, and if you adjust it the right way it can sorta stay up there. Extendar helps, though. Especially for pictures.
See, this is one of the things I loved about the castle! It was a barbarian world of swords and magic, yet for some reason, within this mysterious castle, there were computer consoles! Well, there WERE...I don't know where the old cardboard stuff went. Point is: the console showed SPACE. Planets and stuff. Why? What planets? Was this castle built with technology? Magic? Both? Who was in here, and why did they need to view the universe?
Aw man, I LOVE IT! This is the stuff that shaped my imagination. One of my absolute top favorite things is an old technological past story. Ya know, the big reset: we come so far that we destroy ourselves, and the remains of the humans have to dig through our junk and just wonder. And nothing makes you wonder more than an ancient castle with a skull on the front that's full of old weapons and even older computers that show you the far reaches of outer space.
Or a piece of paper I just drew on to show the same.
Yes, none of the inside details exist anymore. That thing was another cool mysterious piece of tech in the form of a...space suit? Robot? Who can say? Also there was another computer box thing beside it. Seemed like the box may have been attached to it with pipes, making me thing it was a robot when I was a kid. Nowadays I'm not so sure. One way or another, it's another awesome little detail that got my brain gears well oiled and turning. Old relics sitting around inside the castle, from the future, from the past, or from another dimension?
But hey, we're in the throne room! How about we get back to cool play features?
You turn the throne and it activates the trap door under the rug! Technically it drops you into the "dungeon", but that's just a totally awesome sticker on the floor. I mean seriously, look at that! I WANT that! In real life! Like a decal on the floor of my toy room.
The dungeon was never more than the sticker next to the door, but I honestly never considered it a dungeon when I was little. It was more like a trap, and the main problem for the one dropped was that the trap door put you back at the beginning! You see, to me, the inside of the castle was a labyrinth. I have no idea how I stretched out what was in there, but I vividly remember having my figures wander around the castle in an effort to get to the throne room. Once there, if the trap door was sprung, you'd be sent all the way back to the start and the castle would shift around again! So even if there wasn't really a dungeon, it was still an effective trap.
...that sticker has been on top of that castle for longer than I can remember. I don't know if me or my brother put it up there. Probably me, but I'm pretty sure both of us had sticker books, so it's anyone's guess. Point is: Don't talk to strangers. This is wisdom from the Fortress of Mystery and Power, folks. Don't squander it's advice.
Let me move on to the final part of the inside, to me:
Anything that is removable on a figure or in a playset is always useful! So the fact that the floors could be removed was used by me constantly. Every friggin' battle ended up destroying whole floors! Then, of course, I could use it as a danger to anyone stuck up at the top when the floors go down.
THAT...is a very visceral image in my mind. I don't remember the battle or anything leading up to it. I just have this vivid memory of Zodac being stuck up at the top when I took out the floors. I remember that height was supposed to be deadly as well, for some reason. I also believe Zodac died there, even though I also remember making him fly at times. Looking at the pic on the computer after I took it felt like looking at a picture directly from my memory. Strange, how that works out.
This castle was used for many things, though. Way more than just He-Man guys destroyed those floors, manned the guns, kicked the door down, and fell through the trap door. I do, of course, want to tell you how important Masters of the Universe was to my childhood and the development of my imagination but, as always, it goes beyond that. They were toys, and so was this awesome castle. It probably could have been anything, but I am glad it was this crazy skull-faced monstrosity with so many mysterious things inside. I played a lot of He-Man stories out with this thing, but I also played a lot of stories, in general.
Ah, there he is, trying to get into the castle from the back. I always had people propping the ladder up on the back and trying to get in from there!
Castle Grayskull was an important facet of the construction of my imagination. I hope you enjoyed seeing it from my view! It has been a lot of things over the years, and with the arrival of the new Classics version I hope it will continue to provide a similar stimulation of the mind for years to come, whether it be for me or a future child of mine.
I don't know how this thing survived all these years, but I'm glad it has. It's been a fine companion, and though it takes up space, I don't believe I could ever part with it - even with a new one in it's place. It's a symbol as much as a toy, and I'll never find myself outgrowing it. It'll stay there in the wilderness of my mind, stoic and static. A monolith on the horizon, beneath which grows the roots of my imagination.