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Willow’s World: Nature & Place

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A wild landscape is the stuff of adventure.

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.

In the original story of Willow, the landscape is a character in its own right. Having been rescued by a selfless midwife, the baby Elora Danan arrives at the farm of Willow Ufgood via the peaceful River Freen, a deliverance from evil courtesy of the wilderness itself. Composer James Horner infuses the fateful moment with serene choral music that reinforces this sense of the landscape participating in the story.

For the humble Nelwyns, their worldview is in part defined by their secluded, temperate valley and the river that runs through it. When the High Aldwin realizes that Elora Danan is in fact a Daikini, he tells his people that she must be taken “all the way across the great river,” a formidable task. Leaving the natural shelter of their valley is both a physical and psychological feat for a Nelwyn, but even outside the borders of their land, the smaller folk use the topography to their advantage, hiding from villainous Daikini amongst the trees and chaparral.

It would appear that Nelwyn culture as a whole is tied to the change of seasons and ecological wellbeing. Their festival at the beginning of the movie’s story is bedecked with greenery and flowers. Willow is sowing his fields at this time, implying it could be a springtime ritual, perhaps to invite a good omen for the autumn harvest. Most Nelwyns are superstitious after all. When Elora Danan arrives, a nervous Willow fears the villagers will see her as a bad omen and the harbinger of a flood or drought.

The comparatively earthly pursuits of mining and farming appear to be central to Nelwyn society, and for some create class distinctions. The pugnacious and wealthy Burglekutt threatens Willow with work in the mines if he manages to take possession of his homestead. Willow’s own friendship with the miner Meegosh represents the hopeful mixture of these varied backgrounds. (According to the movie’s lined script, the miners and farmers are actually playing tug of war against each other at the village festival).

Beyond the Nelwyn Valley, much of the land is wilderness. High mountains and dark forests hold countless mysteries. Outside a city like the grand castle of Tir Asleen, borders and affiliations can be hazy. One can never know just who to trust. When they reach the Daikini crossroads with Elora Danan, Willow and his companions encounter the roguish Madmartigan imprisoned in a crow’s cage. Soon an army from the faraway city of Galladoorn marches past. Once an elite member of that force, Madmartigan has become a man without a home.

Throughout Willow’s adventure, the changing landscape helps set the emotional tone of the story, from the ominous quiet of the Daikini crossroads and the enchanting aura of Cherlindrea’s forest to the audacious, snowcapped mountains and the grim, stark quarries of Nockmaar. Hoping to find the sorceress Fin Raziel, Willow reaches a small island in a mountain lake. Far away from home on this little isle, he is fittingly unsure where to turn next. As they later approach Tir Asleen, Willow, Madmartigan, and Sorsha together navigate a labyrinthine ravine of pinnacled rocks called the Canyon Maze, elevating the story’s tension and sense of uncertainty.

The characters of Willow’s world are also defined in part by their direct relationship to nature. Whereas the Nelwyns generally care for all living things, Bavmorda and her minions live in a gray, desolate place that’s bereft of life. She cares little for other creatures, and turns more than one opponent into the form of an animal. The sagely fairies like Cherlindrea and even the mischievous Brownies who associate with them seem most attuned to nature’s balance in their sublime forest.

Nature is often the best teacher, or in the case of Willow and his Nelwyn companions, the best guide. As they depart the village on their quest (from a sacred spot lined with Standing Stones), the High Aldwin uses magic to release a bird, exclaiming, “Go in the direction the bird is flying!” As they watch the apparently unreliable spell fly back towards the village, the commonsensical Aldwin bellows, “Ignore the bird! Follow the river…”

Read “Willow’s World: Friendship & Heroism”

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