April 08, 2020, 01:23:46 PM

Author Topic: The Witcher  (Read 1618 times)

Offline Yora

The Witcher
« on: September 13, 2015, 11:52:37 PM »
The Witcher is a series of two collections of stories and five novels written in the 90s by Andrzej Sapkowski. They were successful enough to get translated from Polish into lots of other languages, but for some reason English translations have always been lagging terribly behind. The second story collection has just now been released in English after 23 years.  :D The final two books will be out in English in the next two years.

I've read the first story collection The Last Wish last winter and am quite far into the first novel Blood of Elves, but having noticed that the stories of The Sword of Destiny take place immediately before the start of Blood of Elves, I went back and read through that one first.

The Witcher is Gerald of Rivia, a swordsman who has been altered through alchemy and magic to become the perfect monsters hunter. However, he's living in a world where monsters are getting pretty rare and the land increasingly pacified and to many he's a relic of a past age. Yet he soldiers on, saving lives where he can and trying his best to staying out into the much naster buisinesses of mortal men. But the times being as they are, that generally doesn't work out as he wishes. While Geralt is obviously the main character, the two story collections and the first novel are really very much about a cast of several characters that drop in and out on what the witcher is currently doing as his travels take him through the Northern Kingdoms. Even though Geralt is a total badass who is probably the most deadly swordsmen in whatever place he comes through, his skills are still relatively down to earth, compared to similar characters like Conan or Elric. While the world is violent, life is not cheap at all and nobody is eager to throw themselves into someone elses blade on a whim.
The setting is very strongly based on Central Europe at the end of the middle ages, and reminds me a lot of Poland, Bohemia, and Eastern Germany. Having grown up right on the edge of that region, it always feels to me a lot like fantasy set in the landscape behind my grandparents house. To me it's fascinating because of the mundanity, but to others it might perhaps feel more exotic than something based on medieval France and England. Though while everything feels very medieval in style, culturally everyone is very much late 20th century. Which to me feels very deliberate and not at all like low quality writing. It's not trying to be authentically medieval in any way. Instead the series has something quite deconstructivistic about. It examines mainstream fantasy and either points out all the glaring holes or keeps poking new ones into it. Things are very rarely what they seem and as a professinal monster hunter Geralt has a lot of contacts with people's superstitions and hypocricies. Which quite often overlapp quite well with common fantasy cliches.
To me, it feels like a series that has something to say. But at no point did I get any impression of it being preachy or patronizing or drawing any obvious direct analogies to contemporary events or issues. If the books have something to say, it's something in general. No commentary on anything specific. The main themes I've been seeing in them are discrimination and mistrust. And also contempt. While there's certainly something cynic to it all, it didn't appear fatalistic to me so far. Things are bad, people are stupid, and it's only going to get worse. But as much as Geralt and his companions like to complain about, that's no reason for them to just ignore everything and go away. The hero's job may be thankless, but it's the right thing to do.

I really loved The Last Wish and loving Blood of Elves just as much, but The Sword of Destiny was an odd read. Except for the pieces of continuity in it, I can't really say I was much thrilled by it.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline ArhiX

Re: The Witcher
« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2015, 10:04:47 PM »
This is nice review - one ability that I could never learn.

I was fortunate enough to read whole series when I was 12 - maybe younger. I don't remember anything from it - I haven't understood anything (I feel like making some grammar or other mistake, let's act like nothing happened).
The language was too heavy for me back then, plot too complicated.

I re-read it recently (recently is relativistic - 3 years for me) and after being molded by many other books after my 1st connection with The Witcher I could finally go and actually have fun reading it. It felt like reading it first time again.

Do you know that some people state that this series has like not only second den (meaning) in it's box, but actually third, etc. Let's say - sorceresses.
In series - people look at them like they are monsters. And not only common people - but also fellow male sorcerers. They are women that have power. But there is one thing they don;t have. They are not able to have children. But still - they don't have to obey men. For men - they are dangerous. They are breaking the rules. They are... Monstrous...
And this is the exact image of a career woman. Strong. Independent. With career standing before family. Breaking standards. At least this is how society looked at such woman back then in my country (yup - I was lucky <or unlucky> enough to be born in the same country as Sapkowski) in the time when these books where created.

Too deep? Well... maybe...
But who knows? Maybe it actually was intentional. Maybe it was not...

Well - I hope you will enjoy the rest of his books - when they finally arrive to your country...
"The world is full of stories, and from time to time, they permit themselves to be told."

Offline Druss

Re: The Witcher
« Reply #2 on: September 15, 2015, 01:57:56 PM »
They're not treated that way because they're women but because they're magic users. Simple as that. Witchers are sterile too, but you wouldn't think that meant Geralt was representing societies misgivings about strong independent men would you?

Can't say I've ever read the books but I've put 100's of hours into the games. Love it.

Offline Yora

Re: The Witcher
« Reply #3 on: September 15, 2015, 05:35:13 PM »
I think it complements the witchers. There are several cases where Scoia'tael sympathizers try to get Geralt on their side by refering to him as a fellow nonhuman. And when he's moody he sometimes even does it himself to justify why he doesn't want to play nice with other people.

What I always find very fascinating as someone who grew up in the 90s in Germany is to see things in the books and wondering how much they are a reflections of Polish society at the time. Sitting between Germany and Russia has always meant trouble, but for the five decades before the stories were written the country had been in various states of foreign occupation and suffering the worst war crimes in world history. It's very easy to create some obvious historical analogues with bad guys and good guys, but the whole deal with the Nilfgardians and Scoia'tael is a lot more complicated than that. At first glance Nilfgard is the typical conquering empire. But there are also numerous people who raise the argument that living under Nilfgardian rules might actually much more safer and stable than under all these constantly fighting minor kings that come and go. The Scoia'tael are are partisans from a repressed minority, but very interestingly they are not the ones most worried about a foreign occupation but actually welcome it and try to help it along.
The first three books I've read so far deal with Imperialism, conquest, occupation, repression, genocide, war crimes, and so on, which were all major factors that shaped the society and culture in which the books were written. But they seem to take these pieces and completely shuffling them around to not just make a fictional account of the history of Eastern Europe. Instead it talks about the issues, but in a completely different context. Since none of the groups and factions are direct representations of real world groups,there seems to be much more freedom and space to look at them more objectively and neutral without making any statements about actual people from the past or present.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor

Offline Yora

Re: The Witcher
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2015, 10:24:08 PM »
I finally wrapped up Blood of Elves after several interruptions of my regular reading. I'm really quite impressed.
Plot is hard to say much about. It's the first volume in a five volume series and like the two books before it, The Witcher is very much about reflection and learning about complex situations. There is not really much happening here, but a lot going on.
After The Sword of Destiny had left me somewhat disappointed, the quality of writing in this book is really strong again, perhaps even better than in The Last Wish. Dialogues are witty and like in the very first story I've read I feel very impressed how much personalty and individuality the characters have simply by the way they talk. Because Sapkowksi tends to not describe anything. Usually evocative descriptions of the sights are a major thing for me and I easily get annoyed if they are sparse. With The Witcher there tends to be almost nothing. I am not even sure if Sapkowski ever uses any adjectives at all. ;D Sometimes parts of a scene are not spelled out at all and all you get as information comes from one character speaking. You literally are blind and only listen to the people talking. Which I think most of the time is used for humor because only at the end you figure out what they were really talking about the whole time. Like a training scene where the teacher explains the mistakes the student has made during a practice excercise that sounds impossibly difficult but you don't actually get to see. Then the teacher keeps commenting on how the second attempt goes really impressingly well and then ends with. "Oh, and yes, you can take the blindfold off now."
I am generally not a fan of humor in serious stories, but even given how understated it is, I think Blood of Elves if often one of the most hilarious things I've ever read. It's a very dry humor that is both sarcastic and charming and works really well for me. It's also always very short and doesn't rely on punchlines. Just a single short sentenced between two regular paragraphs that doesn't really break the flow of the scene.

Another thing I noticed now is how very different the voice is from almost any other fantasy I've read. I don't know how faithful the translation is in this regard, but there isn't any pretense of having the characters talk in period appropriate language. This is completely contemporary language and it's a deliberate part of the worldbuilding that people view the world in 20th century scientific terms when talking about politics, economy, and especially biology. The only other example I can think of is a German fantasy game from the late 90s called Gothic that did the same. Hearing all those knights and mages talk in contemporary German was really fun. With The Witcher, even though I am reading a translation from a language I don't speak to one that is a second language for me, I am getting a similar experience.
And it really might be just my imagination, but as a European it really feels to me that there's a much differrent mode of swearing than you get in American works. In American works swearing appears to be either blotted out entirely or used very deliberately and prominently so you see that a character is either extremely emotional or really terribly manered. The profanity in The Witcher is much more casual, in every sense of the word. Like I am used it, right next door to Poland. People who use it have very little inhibition about it nd those who hear it barely take any notice. They know when they are meant to be insulted, but offense is taken only at the intention, not the choice of words. That's something I also find very refreshing about Japanese works where nobody thinks anything about nudity jokes and sexual implication other than them being funny. With grimdark I get the impression of people trying too hard and it feeling forced. The Witcher is always rude in a very comfortable way.
We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on a big tower of other dwarves.

Beneath the Leaves of Kaendor