With the upcoming Netflix show bringing the dark and magical world of The Witcher to the small screen in a controller-less capacity, I figured it was about time that I dive deeper into this world that I’ve wanted to further explore ever since my introduction back in 2015 with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The plan was to take the full journey through the books and games (and comics too, eventually), but now the premiere is almost here, and whoops! Boy do I have harpy egg on my face… I guess the short story collections will just have to do for now!
The Last Wish
For an introduction to a character who is said to be held apart from a society afraid of the monstrous other, a sex scene with the titular mutant is a weird place for The Last Wish to start. Though I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that The Witcher series takes place in a world that equates a woman’s worth to her attractiveness and sexual value. Fortunately, many of the female characters prove to be far more complex and interesting than the male gender gives them credit for. But even so, after other aspects of who they are are explored, things always seem to come back to sexual objectification.
Maybe there’s more to it: maybe this iteration of Snow White is drawn to Geralt in “The Lesser Evil” because he has also been rejected by the world and she finds comfort in this commonality when everyone else hates her due to superstitions and the stories propagated about her, or maybe she’s trying to use her feminine wiles to manipulate him into siding with her against the sorcerer who made her world hell, but the scene just comes off like: “Man it really sucks that her stepmom tried to have her killed for being born on the wrong day, and it’s awful that the man who took pity on her only did so after raping her in the woods, but like… what are her boobs doing right now?” I don’t know if I’m supposed to attribute this preoccupation more to author Andrzej Sapkowski or Geralt; but if it’s Geralt, then he might not be someone I want to get to know better after all.
And don’t even get me started on how the long running and tumultuous relationship with sorceress Yennefer (a woman who is only talented because she was born too fugly to marry, according to Geralt) begins. If I’m interpreting things correctly, then it’s more than a bit problematic.
Yet even after all that ranting, I’m willing to look past these catalyzing incidences that peaked my feminist ire because my interest in this world of monsters and fantastical creatures easily wins out. What’s more, as unfortunate as these unoriginal flaws that some of these individuals have may be, they’re still often outweighed by the complexities of each person – these complexities being the real draw. You’ll get no sympathy from me for the rapist that was cursed to don a beastly visage, but I can certainly appreciate the fact that Sapkowski doesn’t seem to forgive him either. Even as such characters are “saved,” it is not often that the ending is a nicely wrapped gift of happiness. Furthermore, those wronged by this world, whether warranted or otherwise, don’t always escape the tragedy of their circumstances. Nothing is black and white, morality is muddy, the wicked aren’t always brought to justice, and our hero is going to find the fairytale endings much harder to come by. Even if he does get more than the occasional happy ending [hold for drumsting with a much exaggerated wink].
Sword of Destiny
“The mermaid emerged to waist-height from the water and splashed her hands violently and hard against the surface. Gerald saw that she hard gorgeous, utterly perfect breasts. Only the color spoiled the effect; the nipples were dark green and the areolae around them were only a little lighter.”
I just wanted to include this opening quote from “A Little Sacrifice” to show that the male gaze has yet to improve in this second collection of short stories, but I’m sure no one wants to hear more about it. So I will do my best to refrain from ranting about how this short story continued to be the worst of the bunch by ruining a promising female character by 180ing her into a typical trope, and for repeatedly referring to a woman’s breasts as “charms,” as if that made it better.
Previous paragraph aside, I really enjoyed Sword of Destiny on the whole and would say it is actually the stronger of the two compilations because of its deeper explorations of certain themes and characters. For starters, I feel like I have a better understanding of who Geralt of Rivia is and what drives him, and he no longer feels like a secondary character acting as a foil for everyone else. He fights far more than monsters, and though I saw some bemoaning the lack of pure creature carnage scrolling through the Goodreads reviews, I found the heart ingrained in these stories to hold far more weight than any amount of dropped bodies could amass. Besides, these stories were never really interested in the mindless monstrosities and the havoc they wreak anyway, but those who were labeled as such and what that otherness and likely ostracization births.
Most importantly, Sword of Destiny introduces us to a young Ciri, someone who will eventually play a huge role in things to come. Coming into these stories, I was most excited to get a better understanding of the love triangle I found myself ill prepared for when playing The Witcher 3, but screw all that! Screw the fraught magnetism between Geralt and Yennefer, screw the eventual introduction of Triss Merigold; I care only for this connection between Geralt and Ciri moving forward! Ok, not really. Gimme that triangle. But Ciri!
So there you have it. Clearly there were some flaws that I had trouble seeing past in The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny (issues that admittedly probably tripped me up more than many other readers). Even so, I still found myself fully enraptured with this mythical world and the struggles of those trying to survive in a society that doesn’t want them. Which is why, as soon as I press publish on this write-up I’ll be jumping right into Blood of Elves, the first Witcher novel, a structure that I feel will likely smooth out the issues I stumbled over in the episodic short stories.