A Key Line In 'Willow' Came From Joseph Campbell's Wife

The American Cinematheque hosted a tribute to Ron Howard over the weekend, concluding with a screening of Willow. Howard and screenwriter Bob Dolman gave a Q&A after the screening and one of the stories they shared was about how the wife of The Hero's Journey writer Joseph Campbell inspired a line that Howard put in the film. But the story begins earlier when producer George Lucas invited the filmmakers to dinner with the Campbells.

"It was the thrill of a lifetime," Dolman said. "We went to George's house and had dinner with Joseph Campbell and his wife Jean. We were talking about various things and after we got to the dessert portion of dinner, Campbell said, 'Tell us your movie.' The three of us took turns talking about the movie and I swear we told the whole movie and it almost took us the length of the movie."

Joseph and Jean Campbell were technically the first audience to praise Willow. Not a bad review from the author of The Hero's Journey.

"We had their full attention," Dolman continued. "Joseph Campbell was very close to the end of his life, was in his eighties and yet sat fully riveted. I'll never forget how much attention they gave to each nuance of the story. It was an incredible audience to have, our first really. To be able to have this feedback just in their eyes, like 'Oh, they like that'"

Howard recalled how Campbell shared his expertise upon hearing the story of Willow.

"He would also begin to define for us and describe influences," Howard said. "This sort of mythic idea, of course there are examples from X, Y and Z culture. I characterize it as very encouraging. It was a memorable and encouraging night."

Now, here's where Jean came into the story.

"His wife Jean was quiet," Dolman said. "We asked her what she thought and she said, 'You know, my favorite part is when Fin Raziel becomes herself again and she's an older woman. She looked at her hand, I'll never forget, and you didn't forget because you put it in the movie. She said, 'Sometimes you just can't believe how fast it all went by.'"

Fin Raziel appears to Willow (Warwick Davis) as various animals as Willow attempts to transform her back into a human. Raziel remembers being a young beautiful woman, so she's very surprised to see herself as an elderly one when Willow finally succeeds.

"We talked about it afterwards and [Howard] caught it so beautifully when she says, 'Has it been that long?'" Dolman said. "Her life had gone by and she'd missed it. That was actually such a human feeling of wow, what happened? She felt she missed it because she'd been in all these different forms. That was a really wonderful moment."