Epigraph: “It is time to go on a great adventure with our friend Burglekutt! From the village, we shall follow the river until we reach the Daikini crossroads.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about Ron Howard’s epic fantasy film Willow lately. To be fair, I’ve probably been thinking about Willow since 1988. Increasingly, my thoughts have turned to Burglekutt, prefect of the Nelwyn village, played with scenery-chewing gusto by Mark Northover (1950-2004). In the movie, Burglekutt is a petty tyrant, always looking to gain the leverage necessary to impound the Ufgood family land and claim it for himself.
Of course, the prefect gets his comeuppance, and more than once. I readily admit to laughing every time Elora Danan vomits on him during the journey to the Daikini crossroads, and nodding with approval when the bird defecates on him at the film’s conclusion. If you search “Burglekutt” in Google Images, pay attention to how he’s portrayed. Nearly every picture, screencap, or piece of fan art shows him berating Willow, shouting in cowardice for Vohnkar, or just having baby or bird excrement showered upon him.
What if there’s more to him than we know, or think we know? Sure, he’s a bully, but I think it’s well past time to reconsider Burglekutt. The more times you watch a film, the more intimately you know the characters, and the more familiar you become with them. This includes and might be even especially applicable to the ones you love to hate.
Watching the movie again recently, I found myself drawn to some of Burglekutt’s smaller, less ostentatious moments. For instance, he gathers with the rest of the village to watch Willow’s magic show and the High Aldwyn’s abortive selection of a new apprentice. As crotchety as he is with Willow, it’s clear that he’s not just some reclusive miser. He’s seen associating with a few particular villagers, so he must socialize; he must have friends, and things he cares about beyond lucre and mere self interest.
What brings Burglekutt pleasure? Surely he must experience those innocent joys common to all. There are moments when we see him laughing — not always in spite — and taking pleasure in entertainments. Burglekutt may be brusque and abrasive, but he clearly enjoys food, drink, fun, and fellowship with other Nelwyns. Apart from what we see, I also began pondering what became of Burglekutt in after years, and how he was remembered by his community when he was, at length, laid to rest.
In the midst of these reflections, a passage from Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (1751) sprang to mind.
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air
Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood.
The applause of listening senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation’s eyes,
Their lot forbade: nor circumscribed alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confined
Even if Burglekutt remained caustic to the last, the Nelwyn village must certainly be listed among those spots of bucolic existence Gray invokes when he writes about places “along the cool sequestered vale of life” where the small, meek, and forgotten “kept the noiseless tenor of their way.”
Willow isn’t The Lord of the Rings — it doesn’t necessarily mark the passing of an age of magic and wonder, nor the inevitable and ruinous rise of humanity in the form of the Daikinis. No matter how awful or crass Burglekutt seems in the film, contrast him with the ruthless, infanticidal ambitions of Bavmorda or the developmental arc of Madmartigan, from solipsistic rogue to hero.
With his petty tyrannies and narrow field of vision, Burglekutt seems quaint by comparison. If he was bad, at least he was not evil. If he was avaricious, at least the scope of his greed was restricted to an otherwise idyllic setting. I found pity for Burglekutt and hope he found some measure of peace before the end.