“You will give me that which you already have but do not know. I’ll return to Cintra in six years to see if destiny has been kind to me.” These are the fearsome words of Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher, before sealing his destiny forever.
The Law of Surprise is an oath evoked recurrently in the fictional world of bestselling book series The Witcher by polish novelist Andrzej Sapkowski, first successfully adapted to a videogame series by polish studio Cd Projekt Red and now, just days away from its debut on Netflix as live-action show by December 20th 2019, starring Henry Cavill as the famous monster slayer. And by the huge buzz surrounding it, it appears to be magical—just like the oath describes—, that The Witcher came to life under the shadow of destiny to surprise the entire world.
Fantasy is regarded as “the faculty of imagining things, especially things that are impossible,” and its that quality of breaking through the boundaries of impossibility which has drawn the audiences to the stories that fantasize about a different reality which can help us to better understand ours.
Ranging across a variety of media, the fantasy genre it’s considered as a “worn-out” genre nowadays, by the simple premise that after vampires, aliens, witches, elves, monsters and dragons there is little room for invention.
And now the question for many is that if after the success of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and Game of Thrones TV series, is there still room to The Witcher to be inventive in the middle-age fantasy space?
And the answer, is YES, at least for me, but it’s not because invents something entirely new, but rather, like The Law of Surprise says, takes something we already had, but we didn’t know: Our Myths.
The Power of the Myth.
Geralt of Rivia is a Witcher, which is a genetically modified human being who is trained in swordfight and the arts of magic, with the single objective of eradicate monsters. And of course, when you are good at something, you never do it for free, so he wanders the world hiring his services as monster slayer. And it’s in his aimless roaming, that Geralt finds several monsters, some familiar, other drawing uncanny resemblance with the stories that we heard or read as kids. With famous stories like Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid, to mention a few, Andrzej Sapkowski does a wonderful job at revisiting tales, myths and legends of several cultures across his work in an inventive and elaborated way, but most importantly, with a more human approach.
The story of Beauty returning home after living with the cursed Beast, wealthy, with the money shared by the Beast, makes women in town to offer themselves to willingly live in the cursed castle with the monster, with the expectation of receiving the riches at the end, sounds more like story we hear on the everyday life rather than a story product of fantasy. More if we add that the Beast lives in depression, not by the curse, but by his codependent relationship with a female ghost, like a past love.
And it’s this humanization of monsters—and characters overall—what draws the genre-defining quality of Sapkowski’s work, and he develops characters and situations for his novels surrounding a persistent moral ambiguity.
The Lesser Evil.
George R. R. Martin amused the readers and viewers alike in A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones), with the unexpected actions of his characters, showing the gruesome actions each one is willing to take in order to sit on the Iron Throne. Vengeance, greed, lust and seek for power are the main motivations for characters in Westeros, but in contrast, the Witcher world delves into survival, xenophobia, destiny and sacrifice, in the shape of the toll to pay for every decision taken. No clear distinction between good or evil is present in the world of the Witcher, but rather portraits a collection of flawed characters facing moral dilemmas, in which the reader has the last word about the righteousness of the action taken.
Sapkowski’s character Geralt of Rivia roams the world trying to solve the problems he faces, taking the “lesser evil” approach. But as the story unfolds to the reader, it becomes evident that like in real life, this philosophy not always will bring the best outcome. The story of Geralt of Rivia is not about conquest or defeating an enemy, but rather of redemption by the confrontation against oneself. In his odyssey, The Witcher will put away his silver sword forged to kill monsters, in favor of wield his iron sword forged to fight against men, forcing him as an outcast who remained as spectator at the sidelines, to take action in order to kill the monster within.
In summary, Sapkowski’s amazingly crafted story draws from the folklore, and present to us the most morally challenging fantasy, blurring the line between men and monsters, making us question if a Witcher truly needs his two swords to do his job.
Or if there is no need, since men become monsters at the end.
M. Ch. Landa
PS. I encourage you to read the books, play de video games and watch the TV show. I sincerely hope Netflix makes a great adaptation of the source material. It deserves it.