Not surprisingly, the Netflix series put me onto The Witcher. I have never played the video game and wasn’t really aware of this massively famous writer, Andrzej Sapkowski, often referred to as the Polish Stephen King, but once I’d started with The Last Wish I found myself quickly rushing on to the Sword of Destiny and Blood of Elves with very little pause. It was too much fun to delve into this world filled with faery tale motifs – princesses in towers, wizards, magic wishes, elves and gnomes – and the customary fantasy reflections upon our world through the mirror of this invented magical world busy looking back on the old days with sentiment and looking on at encroaching war with a mixture of incredulity and fear.
One of the most powerful things about this series – adhered to, at least initially, in the Netflix adaptation – is the way in which the tales don’t follow a straightforward chronology in their telling. More like a series of accounts about the famous monster slayer, Geralt of Rivia, almost like a series of songs from the oral tradition – his friend, Dandelion the minstrel, helps with this interpretation – the piecemeal delivery lends the books a feeling of oral tradition that evokes legend and mystery, forcing the reader to actively attempt to piece Geralt’s life and world together. This is an exceedingly pleasing feeling for a reader to have, one which induces a desire to turn the pages.
Slowly we figure out what a witcher is and how Geralt became one. We understand that power and magic require sacrifice. We look at the monsters Geralt is paid to kill and question, alongside him, what it really means to be monstrous. We learn about the different lands and beliefs of the world he lives in and we are drawn into the pulling thread of destiny that the novels hang above the characters.
These are the kinds of books you can lose yourself in. While there is plenty of comment upon modern life, upon morality and justice – as with all good fantasy – this is a world in which magic holds sway, a world that captures the imagination. Add to that plenty of unrequited or complicated love affairs, the desire to forge familial ties, a playful sense of humour, and the pressure of a new regime threatening invasion and the final destruction of the old ways, and you can see why so many people find The Witcher series so compelling.
After the third book, Blood of Elves, I did begin to feel that I’d had enough for the time being, but I don’t doubt I’ll be back for more in a few months. In fact, just posting this after a few weeks grace and I’m itching to read more. Sometimes it can feel so good to escape and this is a great world to escape into.
I’ll be reviewing Feebleminded by Ariana Harwicz next, followed by I Remember by Joe Brainard.