This is a series of blogs I have decided to write to help people (re)familiarise themselves with the wonderful world of The Witcher. After playing the first game, I decided to read every book, where I then proceeded to play the second game. Since the very first moment, I absolutely fell in love with the universe and I’m hoping with these blogs I can share that love.
Apologies for the long read...
WARNING: THIS BLOG WILL CONTAIN HEAVY SPOILERS FOR ALL THE WITCHER BOOKS AND GAMES. IF YOU WANT TO AVOID THESE SPOILERS AND EXPERIENCE THE STORIES (INCLUDING THE SUBLIME FAN TRANSLATIONS) ON YOUR OWN ACCORD I HAVE COMPILED A GOOGLE DOC EXPLAINING HOW YOU CAN DO SO HERE.
The Witcher universe is insane. Starting way back in 1992 with The Last Wish there’s a total of 7 books that detail the adventures of Geralt and company. It wasn’t until 2007 however, that the first game from CD Projekt Red came out. For many people, myself included, this was their first encounter with the universe and whilst I feel it’s an excellent introduction to the series, in the grand scheme of the Witcher universe, it doesn’t explore any stories or issues any other entry in the series does. As a result, jumping into the second game from the first must have been incredibly daunting for those unfamiliar with the big picture. This unfamiliarity is going to feel more daunting for those when they get the third game, which is going to attempt to tie up all of Geralt’s adventures, books and all. Hopefully, with this blog’s help, I can help alleviate that confusion and provide a greater appreciation for the universe.
Preparing For The Witcher 3: Part One: Short Stories
As much as I would like to dedicate this first blog to Geralt himself, there’s far too much backstory to address before I can explore the character in detail. I need to set up the events of the books and there’s no better place to start than with the first two , The Last Wish and The Sword Of Destiny. These books establish a lot of the important characters and themes that recur throughout the series. From then one I will write about each subsequent book individually, exploring the events characters and themes addressed. Once I’ve wrote about the books, I can go onto exploring the characters, monsters and locations of the universe even deeper. This will be a long series, thankfully the third game isn’t out until late next year, we’ve got plenty of time.
The Last Wish is the first book in the series and is a collection of short stories that loosely tie into a greater narrative. We’re introduced to Geralt, a witcher, or monster hunter, by trade and he’s happy with what he does. He’s the definition of professional, not showing emotion on the job and carrying them out with a ruthless efficiency. No job is too big or small for him, providing the pay is right. One of these jobs sees him protecting the Queen of a country called Cintra (her name is Calanthe for future reference) during a royal banquet. Whilst not seemingly the most important story in The Last Wish (many may argue it’s the weakest of the book) this banquet is the very start of a chain reaction which completely changes not only Geralt’s life, but that of the entire Witcher world. It’s here he meets a the princess of Cintra, Pavetta and the love of her (young) life Duny. Duny however, has been cursed to take the form of a half-man, half-hedgehog and Calanthe certainly disapproves of her daughter with this monster. When you earn the nickname “The Lioness of Cintra”, you understand she is ruthless and will not bend on the matter.
Unfortunately for everyone involved though, Pavetta is a “child of surprise”, a recurring theme in The Witcher universe where an individual can find themselves in such a dire situation, they “will do anything” for the person who saves them from it. When these words are spoken, it is standard practice for the victim to promise their first born to the one who helped them.
Knowing she cannot simply turn Duny away, Calanthe orders Geralt to kill Duny. Rather than fight the monster though, Geralt protects him and after a small fight with the Queen’s guard and guests, he convinces Calanthe to allow the marriage between the two. Upon agreeing, it is revealed that Geralt knew the blessing would break the curse. Being so thankful, Duny promises Geralt anything he wants. Despite his better judgement, Geralt invokes the law of surprise…
It’s also during the Last Wish Geralt meets and adventures with Dandelion, a traveling (and very famous) bard who seeks adventure, pleasure and inspiration. Though incredibly bitter and reluctant towards Dandelion at first, the bard’s “interesting” personality and traits eventually win Geralt over and together the two share adventures that take them to the end of the world and back. One of these adventures introduces Geralt to the sorceress Yennefer…
It’s clear from the moment they meet each other, there’s something magical (not all magic is good) between Geralt and Yennefer. Geralt finds himself enamoured with her and goes as far as to take on an immensely powerful Djinn (air genie) to save her life and declare his love for her. The two of them form a relationship and it’s obvious how much Geralt feels for her, despite repeated warnings from others. I will explore this relationship deeper in a later blog but it’s very clear from the start Geralt is a different person when with Yennefer.
Much like The Last Wish, The Sword Of Destiny is a short story collection. Whilst there isn’t such an obvious narrative overarch like in Wish, there is still the semblance of a bigger picture being told. Unlike the first book, where a lot of the stories are inspired by popular fairy tales over here (Snow White, Beauty And The Beast are two that immediately spring to mind) The Sword Of Destiny, starts to tell more original stories. In these tales, Geralt finds himself fighting dragons, mimics, wizards, bandits and a whole host of crazy monsters. It’s the last part of the second book though, that the bigger picture starts to unfold.
In his travels, Geralt meets a young, lost girl named Cirilla, or Ciri for short. Wandering outside the very dangerous forest of Brokilon, where the Dryads reside, Geralt can’t help but curse when he learns who this girl is. Despite his best efforts to avoid the nation of Cintra and his child of destiny, stood before him is the daughter of Pavetta and Duny, Geralt’s promised child. To make matters worse, Ciri explains how both her parents died in an accident at sea. After a short adventure with Ciri, Geralt leaves her with a druid companion to be sent back to her Grandmother in Cintra. Destiny has a really funny way of screwing with Geralt though…
The Last Wish is a good book. It’s lack of originality in storytelling is made up for by the fantastic twists to familiar tales and it serves as a very good establishment of the Witcher universe. It’s dark, raunchy and not afraid to explore gory detail other books might shy away from. It introduces us to characters who will play a much larger role in the universe and hints at what the bigger picture may bring. Where the first Witcher game probably servers as a much better introduction to the universe, this first book is also a great starting point. Playing the first game and jumping straight into this book made sense in a way you wouldn’t initially expect; the game doesn’t really explore many of the events outside of the first book and it’s nice to read about the world you’ve just explored.
The Sword Of Destiny is where the Witcher universe starts to take its shape though. Sapkowski isn’t afraid to start crafting his own fairy tale like stories and in the cases where he does borrow from other stories (such as The Little Mermaid) they’re such an incidental part of the bigger issue it’s easy to look past. The book was never translated into English which is a real shame as it’s the first time we get to meet Ciri and Yarpen Zigren’s band of dwarves, as well as characters that never return but leave a lasting impression. It shouldn’t be skipped.
It was easy for me to focus my attention on one or two stories from these to books and a large part of that is because these stories play into the big picture, which the games are still addressing even now. This isn’t to say however that the other stories aren’t as important. Both games make numerous references all the stories in these books and it can’t be stressed how important their job of establishing this universe is.
And that will do it for part one, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to read this. Looking at it now, it’s a bit of a mess, writing wise. Hopefully that won’t bother you so much and I’ll undoubtedly improve over the course of these blogs. If you have any questions, points, problems or input, please post below, I look forward to the discussion these bring.
I’m looking to make this blog a weekly publication, hitting every Wednesday or Thursday.
In the next part we’re going to look at the first “proper novel” of the series, The Blood Of The Elves...