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Willow’s World: Magic & Sorcery

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Great power finds its match in great wisdom.

Willow’s World is a series that explores the fantasy realm first depicted in Lucasfilm’s 1988 adventure, Willow. From its diverse peoples and ranging landscapes to unusual creatures and mystical powers, the world of Willow Ufgood and his companions is a complex mixture of light, dark, and the bond between all living things.

At the beginning of his perilous adventure, Willow Ufgood can do little more than perform feats of trickery and stage magic, like when he attempts to make a piglet disappear at the Nelwyns’ festival. But the cleverness and sleight of hand involved in these antics ultimately influence his development as a genuine sorcerer.

Early in the story, the wealthy Burglekutt seems to take every opportunity to deride Willow. Arriving at the latter’s farm, the pugnacious Nelwyn questions where Willow acquired the seed for his crop. “Maybe I used magic,” the wily farmer responds. “You’re no sorcerer, Ufgood. You’re a clown!” says Burglekutt. Perhaps in this moment, Willow intends to do little more than deceive his antagonist, but the claim hints at much deeper aspirations.

In the novelization of Willow by Wayland Drew, the fairy spirit Cherlindrea speaks to the movie’s namesake about earlier times when others dreamed of wielding magical powers. “Often they began as mere tricksters, performers of magic acts for their friends,” she tells him. “They crafted many devices—hollow feathers, hanging sleeves, hidden pockets. Some aspired to rise above these things and touch the infinite power of the Great Mystery; they longed to become true sorcerers. Only a very few achieved this end.”

To be a sorcerer in Willow’s world is to connect with a power that seemingly binds all things together. “Magic is the bloodstream of the universe,” says the High Aldwin, spiritual leader of the Nelwyn village. Willow aspires to be his next apprentice, but initially fails to pass an all-too simple test. The High Aldwin holds out his hand to the group of would-be students. “The power to control the universe lies in which finger?” he asks. One by one, the Nelwyns choose a finger on the Aldwin’s hand, Willow last among them. “No apprentice this year!” the disappointed sage declares.

Later, after Willow reveals his family’s discovery of the baby Elora Danan, the High Aldwin questions the farmer about his initial choice of finger. Willow admits his first thought had been to choose his own—the correct choice, as the Aldwin affirms. “Forget all you know, or think you know, all that you require is your intuition,” he says.

As the Nelwyn villagers panick about what do with the infant Elora, the Aldwin pacifies them by “consulting the bones.” Emptying a bag full of pieces of animal skeleton onto the ground, he appears to decipher some occult meaning hidden within. As the hushed villagers look on, he leans in close to Willow and whispers, “The bones tell me nothing.” Instead, he privately asks the farmer if he loves the child, and when Willow says he does, the Aldwin declares, “The bones have spoken!” Willow must go on a quest to deliver Elora to safety, and thanks to the Aldwin’s pragmatism, the villagers go along with it.

If he can learn to transcend his own inhibition, Willow might become a great sorcerer. He is not only curious and perceptive, but his life as a farmer keeps him close to the land. A connection with nature seems to be wound up in sorcery, as the wand that Willow receives from Cherlindrea is hewn from some kind of branch or root. He must also overcome the physical challenges. Each time he performs an incantation and casts a spell, Willow seems to experience pain. Doing sorcery requires sacrifice.

Magical ability does not rid its user of their natural emotions. In fact, a character’s anxieties and fears can play into their abilities, making the power difficult to control. The evil Queen Bavmorda is ruthless and violent in her pursuit of dark magic. Even Fin Raziel reveals a bit of arrogance, laughing brazenly when she thinks she’s overpowered Bavmorda, only to be outmatched by her opponent.

While encamped one evening, an inexperienced Willow takes Cherlindrea’s wand. Overconfident, he waves it about without discipline and soon finds himself catapulted into a tree. Later, when he must use it to return Fin Raziel to her Daikini form, he lacks conviction to perform the spell, leading to an entertaining yet dangerous series of transformations between animal forms. The High Aldwin had been right from the beginning. To become a great sorcerer, you must believe in yourself.

In the end, Willow is the only one left to protect Elora Danan from Bavmorda’s malevolence. He appears to understand that even though he’s learned to cast a spell or two, he cannot hope to outfight the Queen head-to-head. Great power often begets hubris. So, after his attempt to stop her with a magic acorn fails, he plays into Bavmorda’s derision at his relative size and inability. “Is that the extent of your powers, little one?” she asks.

Willow courageously steps forward, and with an infant bundle in hand, he outwits the Queen. “With my magic, I’ll send [Elora Danan] into a realm where evil cannot touch her!” he says. Furious, Bavmorda claims there is no such place and moves to cast a spell, but not before Willow recites an incantation, and reveals the bundle to be empty. “Impossible!” an astonished Bavmorda yells, raising her wand as it catches a bolt of lightning, sending her very spirit into some kind of oblivion. Using his intuition, Willow defeats a great evil with little more than a magic trick.

Read more: Friendship & Heroism, Nature & Place, Creatures & Spirits.

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