Queen Bavmorda, Strategist
Thoughts on the political and military schemes of the Demon Queen
One of the movies I’ve watched for the film podcast Myopia Movies is the magical fantasy film Willow, featuring Star Wars alumnus Warwick Davis as the titular gnomish farmer who aspires to do magic. Tasked with caring for child of prophecy Elora Danan, he finds himself facing down the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), whom Elora was prophesied to destroy.
Although the movie itself depicts Bavmorda as a malicious, cackling witch who bullies her daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) and General Kael (Pat Roach), the deleted scenes, the novelization, role-playing game (now out of print and ridiculously hard to find), and new Disney+ streaming series actually build her up as a strategist.
*A scene deleted from the movie but included in the novelization depicts a lake monster ambushing Willow as he rows to an island where Bavmorda’s rival, the sorceress Finn Raziel (Patricia Hayes), has been transformed into an animal and marooned. This shows Bavmorda was a bit more Genre Savvy than a lot of fantasy antagonists…rather than engaging in some Doctor Evil-esque “I’ll leave my enemies trapped in a dangerous situation and assume everything went according to plan,” she has a backup to deal with any would-be rescuers of her old rival.
*Although in the movie Willow accidentally transforms a troll guarding the ruined Tir Asleen Castle into a monstrous Eborsisk dragon, the novelization depicts the Eborsisk’s presence as another one of Bavmorda’s booby-traps. Tir Asleen was the kingdom’s capital when Bavmorda usurped her husband Mikal Tanthalos and moved the capital to the sinister fortress Nockmaar. Bavmorda created a labyrinthine barrier around the ruined city and then in case someone managed get through it, had the Eborsisk lurking there. A less-savvy villain would have been satisfied with the barrier alone, but Bavmorda had additional measures.
*In the TV series we learn that as part of her war against the neighboring kingdom of Galladoorn, Bavmorda recruited the Bone Reavers from the slaves of Galladoorn, and General Kael was their leader. Although some critics didn’t like the idea of making an evil queen a liberator of slaves, strategically that makes sense. Sir Francis Drake allied with runaway Spanish slaves during his campaign in Panama, despite having been a slave trader himself. During the American Revolution and the War of 1812, the British recruited soldiers from the Americans’ slaves, while the Union Army recruited large numbers of slaves to prevent the Confederate secession. Any society that practices slavery has an enemy in their rear come war, and a wise foe would take advantage of this. To make a history analogy, Bavmorda allying with Kael and the Bone Reavers against Galladoorn would like Catherine the Great recruiting Touissant Louverture to conquer France.
*Although this is more inferred, the novel depicts her eliminating all rivals in Tir Asleen’s court and then eliminating her husband once Sorsha was born, which implies political skill as well as the more obvious advantage of having bewitched the crown prince. The novelization depicts Sorsha as about eight when Bavmorda moved her capital to Nockmaar and Whalley was in her late 20s when she played Sorsha, so this would suggest Bavmorda was able to rule and even expand Tir Asleen’s already-extensive territory for roughly two decades. Shades of Empress Wu, only much more overtly mean?
*When Bavmorda becomes aware of the prophesied child who will destroy her, she doesn’t go full Herod and try to kill every child in the kingdom, something that would likely provoke a massive uprising. Instead she orders all late-stage pregnant women brought to Nockmaar Castle to give birth under supervision, with the children inspected to see if they have the supernatural mark. Although this has its own problems (the novelization describes women miscarrying due to the rough journey to her Mordor-fort), she knows to tread at least somewhat lighter where people’s children are concerned.
So even though Willow is basically a PG version of Lord of the Rings with in-jokes about the critics of Lucas’s movies, the villain is actually fairly thoughtful.
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