Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freaking Willow! We’re talking about magic and sorcery as we meet the High Aldwin, 11:56-13:45 on the Blu-ray.
The band plays a fanfare, and out comes the High Alwin, on a chair being carried by four male Nelwyn. Just who are these four guys carrying him around? His servants? His students? Something uglier? We can only wonder. An unidentified man announces that the High Aldwin will now make his choice for apprentice. The tie-in books state that as part of this festival, each year the High Aldwin tells the story of the first Nelwyn settlers. Either that’s already happened, or he’s saving it for later.
The tie-in books describe the High Aldwin as the “informal leader” of the Nelwyn village, so that the village council looks to him for advice on especially difficult matters. The High Aldwin’s name is Junn, except that upon becoming High Aldwin, he gave up his birth name, replacing it with “High Aldwin,” as per tradition. Upon death, a High Aldwin’s name is then restored for use in the Nelwyn archives. Also, it was in this part of my research that I came across fleeting references to other Nelwyn villages, each having its own High Aldwin. Most of the tie-in fiction, however, ignores them in favor of focusing on this one Nelwyn village. The “High” part of the Aldwin’s title comes from how the apprentices are also known as “Low Aldwin.” The tie-in books also state that both men and women can be High Aldwins, with the women often being stronger in magic than the men.
Back to the movie. A man cries, “Attention! The High Aldwin will know make his choice for the new apprentice.” I haven’t found any info on who this character is. We did see him previously, in the front row of the group watching Willow’s disappearing pig act. He adds, “Bring forth the hopefuls.” This man and the High Aldwin are now seated on a stage in front of a crowd. (Crowds gather and disperse awfully quick during this festival.) The stage is decorated with a flowered arch and two statues, one of a pig and one of a dog. I wouldn’t make much of this other than to further establish this is a farming/agricultural society.
We see Meegosh with Willow, telling him “Good luck.” We’ve seen Meegosh in the crowd during the festival, but this is the first time we’ve established he and Willow are friends. The graphic novel adaptation does a better job of introducing Meegosh, as he and Willow recite a customary rhyme to each other. Meegosh: “Round the bend.” Willow: “Fat rear end.” Meegosh: “He’s a donkey.” Willow: “I’m your friend.”
As Willow walks up to the stage, of course Burglekutt heckles him, saying “Is this a joke?” and laughing. Willow gives him an angry stare and, it’s worth noting, the High Aldwin also gives Burglekutt an angry stare. Willow and two other unidentified males stand before the High Aldwin, who stands and says, “Magic is the blood stream of the universe. Forget all you know, or think you know. All that you require is your intuition. Now, the power to control the world is in which finger?” He holds up his hand.
The first man points at the High Aldwin’s middle finger, and the High Aldwin shakes his head no, dropping the finger. Willow watches carefully. The second man points at the index finger and he, too, is wrong. Then the High Aldwin comes to Willow. I’ve noticed that first-time viewers have a lot of fun with this scene, playing along. They usually shout-out to the screen, wanting Willow to choose either the thumb or the pinky finger. The movie very clearly shows us Willow looking at his own hand first, and then he select’s the High Aldwin’s ring finger. The High Aldwin makes a fist and says, “No apprentice this year!” The payoff for this choose-a-finger bit won’t come until later.
The crowd sounds disappointed, and I wonder what ceremony or celebration would have happened if the High Aldwin had selected someone. Further, the tie-in books fiction states the apprentice eventually becomes the new High Aldwin. Nothing Willow has said or done indicates a desire to lead the village (although I’m sure he’d be fine with getting Burglekutt out of office). Instead, Willow seems interested in learning sorcery just for the sake of learning sorcery. We see little Ranon look sad about this. Does this mean that being named apprentice would be beneficial to Willow’s wife and kids as well, or is Ranon just sad because his dad lost? The peppy festival music starts playing again, and the crowd moves on to whatever attraction is next.
Fantasy fans love fussing about magic systems, so we might as well talk about the one in Willow. The movie’s novelization has a wholly different version of the High Aldwin’s speech, but one that offers a glimpse into the story’s bigger picture. In the book he says, “The Great Mystery is the bloodstream of the universe, and sorcery is the way to its energy.” Notice that Great Mystery is capitalized. In the tie-in books, the Great Mystery is the name of a godlike being that oversees the laws of nature in this world. Sorcerers are individuals who have somehow channeled the power of the Great Mystery. Basically, the Great Mystery lends a small (or large?) part of its power to a sorcerer, allowing the sorcerer to perform feats that bend or even break the laws of nature. While the movie and the books tend to use the words “magic” and “sorcery” interchangeably, the High Adlwin’s view is that magic is slight-of-hand tricks, while sorcery is genuine supernatural power. That said, the book also contradicts the movie when the High Aldwin says sorcery is “not thought or knowledge,” while movie repeatedly states that concentration is important to perform sorcery. (Get used to hearing the phrase, “Concentrate, Willow!”)
A few more details: The High Aldwin walks with a staff, which is clearly ornamental/symbolic rather than, say, Yoda’s cane, which Yoda often leaned on to walk. The staff is adorned with tufts of black fur, feathers, strips of green cloth, and rattling pieces of metal and/or bones. The specific symbology of this is lost on me, although here in the real world, many cultures feature shamanistic staffs, sticks, and poles in their beliefs, with a variety of symbols and meanings given to them. I’ll let you kids go ahead and Google those on your own. Finally, it’s worth noting that the High Aldwin has a long grey beard. Traditionally, wizards in fiction have these beards to represent a lifetime of experience and knowledge. In the Shadow War trilogy of novels, Willow eventually grew a long white beard of his own, braiding it in the same style as the High Aldwin’s.
Next: Who let the dogs out?
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