A warrior roaming the lands has gained notoriety among the commonfolk. Word of his deeds has spread far, and his approach strikes fear at the heart of the most formidable opponent. Known as the “Butcher of Blaviken” or the “White Wolf,” Geralt of Rivia’s reputation as a killer of men and monsters has earned him appreciation and disdain in equal measure. Better known by his famed moniker The Witcher, Geralt goes where no man dares. He answers bounties and notices posted by the citizens of the continent, calls for aid in ridding their towns of haunting menaces or in breaking curses that trouble the innocent: blood for coin. And in his mastery of the sword— rumours telling of a steel blade for men, a silver blade for non-humans—he is almost unrivaled.
Geralt hails from Kaer Morhen, a once-formidable fortress that in ages past served as a witchers’ settlement. It was a place where, in Geralt’s words, “the likes of me was produced.” Many young witchers used to train rigorously there…but by his own admission, it is not a thing that’s done anymore. In The Last Wish, Geralt and Queen Calanthe talk at length about the process and the possibility of her grandchild becoming a witcher. In Blood of Elves, however, it is revealed that a renegade wizard created the mutagenic elixirs used in the witchers’ rituals which were perfected over time, yet none of the witchers know how to use them. Because of this, few now go through the many challenges, including the Trial of the Grasses and Trials of the Herbs—alchemical processes that would mutate the student (assuming they survive the incredibly painful ordeal) into a witcher. In the past, those that were fortunate to survive the process went through irreversible transformations. Geralt’s own identity changed from that of a human boy to a dispassionate, ruthless warrior with heightened reflexes and an instinct to kill and savage. And yet, despite all of this, there is another, gentler side to the Witcher, one which would refrain from striking down non-humans deemed innocent and peaceful. To those that know him, those that call him friend, he is also champion of the downtrodden, some of whom see him as their defender.
Read on to discover where to start with The Witcher, and the basics you’ll need to know in the lead-up to the new, highly anticipated Netflix television series.
Meet Geralt of Rivia…
Like a relic of the past emerging from the mists of Avalon, Geralt of Rivia has entered our awareness over the last two decades. He rose out of the fog of fiction and settled in our consciousness, a deadly sword-bearer schooled in the arcane arts. Created by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, the Witcher series of novels and stories has risen to prominence as one of the best modern fantasies ever written, ranked alongside works by Robin Hobb, Philip Pullman, and George R.R. Martin by its fans. For many, though, familiarity with Sapkowski’s series is quite recent, since English translations of the books only became available starting in 2007. Others, like myself, first encountered the character and his adventures through the acclaimed video game series created by Polish developer CD Projekt Red. But whether you came to Geralt’s world through the books or the video games, when appreciated together they sketch out and build compelling characters and a world that will seem startlingly familiar to any epic fantasy fan. The Witcher stories read like early medieval adventures with magical twists and, to borrow George R.R. Martin’s praise of Robin Hobb, it is truly “fantasy as it ought to be written.”
Tales of The Witcher
There are currently eight books in circulation. All should be read in published chronological order bar order two: The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny, collections which can be read in that order (even though the latter was published first). These books are comprised of shorter stories and are some of the best entries in the whole series: They set the scene for the brooding, guarded character of Geralt and the grave risks he takes in his monster hunter trade. The stories also paint him as a kind of outcast—sometimes described as an unwanted presence that strikes fear into children and animals alike. In these moments, the Witcher character sometimes feels like a throwback to the old morality-laden tales of classic folklore, with his legend acting as a warning to those who would dare to cross his path.
The rest of the books are novel-length adventures that deal with larger themes such as the ongoing wars and disputes between humans and non-humans or factional military powers, as well as the prophecies surrounding Geralt’s adopted witcher protégé, Ciri, who possesses the Elder Blood of the elves. These books form a pentalogy which begins with Blood of Elves and ends with Lady of the Lake. Season of Storms is Sapkowski’s most recent book; it acts as a standalone tale which occurs around the events of the first two short story collections.
There are three main games published to date, all well received by critics and players alike. In 2007, The Witcher was released, followed by The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings in 2011. The most recent title, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is not only one of the best next-gen games in the role-playing series, but is lauded as a prime example of interactive storytelling mastery. The voice acting, led by Doug Cockle, is on point and when combined with the dialogue choices and cutscenes, it’s as though you are simultaneously watching and participating in a well-crafted action-drama. Gameplay mechanics and crafting abilities are both fluid and fun. Players face some perilous enemies involving eerie woodland spirits called leshens, hideous fiends, wraiths, golems, and dragon-like forktails or find themselves in standoffs with gangs of thieves and soldiers while using a mix of sword technique, witcher potions, spellcasting, and bombs. Weapons and armor can be constantly upgraded throughout the whole game to aid Geralt in defeating the foes he encounters. Its the games’ atmosphere and the world that brings it all together, though: the rich detail woven into everything from the visuals of roving the city streets of Novigrad, hearing folk music play, surviving in the remote forests and marshlands of the continent, sailing to the Skellige islands and escaping into an inn to avoid a sudden downpour are moments that make Witcher 3 live and breathe of its own accord.
Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine are DLCs that expand the adventure of Witcher 3 and are no less enthralling than the other the missions Geralt has embarked on. Both feel like their own independent stories and tackle some curious dilemmas, such as the Witcher’s near-Herculean task of defeating an immortal vagabond. In Blood and Wine, the Witcher gets to explore the distant land of Toussaint—a peaceful land full of knights riding their charges in resplendent, finely crafted armor. There are clear parallels with Arthurian legend and the famous ideal of the knight errant—a soldier of god who would travel the land looking to accomplish good deeds for Christendom. But what mades this expansion a fan favorite is recognizing all the little tie-ins and allusions to popular fairytales. In this standalone story, Geralt visits the realm called The Land of a Thousand Fables where you will see references to various tales including The Three Little Pigs, The Wizard of Oz, and a wicked witch inspired by Hansel and Gretel. Just don’t walk too close to Thumbelina’s pint-sized village or you’ll end up squashing her flat!
The Streaming Series
It might surprise some readers to hear that the upcoming Netflix series is not the first time The Witcher has gotten the live action treatment. There was a short-lived television series filmed and produced in Poland almost twenty years ago called The Hexer, and a film version cut together from the show released ahead of the series premiere. Producers at the time hoped for a Hollywood-style fantasy movie that could potentially become a hit in their homeland, but at the time they were considered so unsuccessful that production was halted on any future episodes and sequels.
Fast forward to the present and the growing fandom, helped by the success of the games and the spread of the books in translation, has reached a fever peak. People are clamoring for more adventures. To the delight of many Witcher fans, Netflix will begin streaming its take on the famous monster hunter towards the end of this year. If the trailer is anything to go by, we are looking at a gritty action fantasy that’s brutal, fast-paced, and deadly. Mythological and gruesome creatures will test the Witcher’s mettle, yet we also see a man at war with the world of men. Geralt faces as many foes within castle walls as without and he must always be ready to counter the fear and superstition which plagues his existence. To many he is seen as something of an abomination—an evil, sword-bearing brute who cares about nothing more than monsters and money and who belongs in the bestiaries of vile creatures. Nevertheless, Geralt of Rivia will be pulled always towards a greater destiny he cannot avoid, that of a ward and protector to a young princess. Enemies pursue them relentlessly and together they must face the changes and challenges chaos will bring upon their lives.
Some people may be worrying that the show will fall prey to the curse of game-to-film adaptions as movies based on Hitman, Tomb Raider, Warcraft, and Assassin’s Creed largely failed to appeal to larger audiences. In this case, however, despite the strong visual influence of the games, directors and producers are focusing more on adapting the world as described in the books. And as far as faithfulness to the text goes, let’s remember that that some factions of the Tolkien fanbase are so committed to their legendary heroes that many consider The Lord of the Rings trilogy, while impressive, a less-than-faithful adaption of the source material—but that doesn’t change the fact that Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films is believed by many to be a 21st-century classic! With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the characters we can expect to meet in the new series…
A Brief Introduction to Other Major Characters
Yennefer of Vengerberg is a sorceress who was once a member of the Supreme Council of Sorcerers, powerful magic wielders who were often called upon as advisors by kings and other rulers to help settle affairs of state. She also shares a powerful magical bond with Geralt as a result of a wish granted by a monstrous djinn. They have a strong connection although their relationship is further complicated by their combined inability to naturally bear children—something that hurts and enrages her. As the priestess, Nenneke, tells Geralt: “if I tell you that Yennefer has paid for certain gifts by losing others, then that’s how it is.” Despite their love affair, Yennefer and Geralt’s relationship is tempestuous. Yen views him as she does all men, romanticizing trysts and affairs out of their own displaced pride. The anger also stems from what she perceives as The Witcher’s distancing of her and his apparent emotional detachment—yet when Geralt calls on her for aid, she comes and helps care for Ciri and teaches her how to use her magical abilities.
Princess Cirilla of Cintra, or “Ciri” as she is often called, is a child who is apparently fated to be apprenticed to Geralt. With blood ties linking her to a lineage of elves, Ciri has been instilled with strong magic from birth, giving her mystical powers. Geralt of Rivia first meets Ciri as a child in Brokilon, the Forest of Death, a territory claimed by fearsome dryads. Within the forest he encounters a gravely wounded soldier who insists that the princess must be found. Shortly after Geralt saves the princess from becoming prey to a giant centipede. She at first appears meek then begins to evince a haughtiness and a pride born of her royal station. Geralt manages to put her in her place and this establishes a kind of master-student, daughter-father dynamic—a bond that will strengthen over the years.
On Geralt’s adventures, he often befriends unlikely confidants, and Dandelion (Jaskier in the original Polish and in the Netflix series) is no exception. The famous lute player is known far and wide for his popular ballads and for immortalizing people and events of great import in his songs. Yet the man is just as notorious for being a troublemaker who would run out on his debts, as well as a smooth Cassanova who serenades the paramours he adores…even if they’re already betrothed. Geralt and Dandelion often travel together, the bard being one of the Witcher’s closest friends. At one point Geralt tells Dandelion that the world is changing and something is coming to an end. He laments that in civilized places there is no work for him while in others superstition reigns, making his profession harder to pursue and thus coin harder to earn. The poet and musician jokes to Geralt that “you’ll go hungry. Unless you change your line of work,” suggesting that he take up the cloth and enter the priesthood. Underlying their banter, however, is a comradery born of being outcast: Dandelion being an artist, Epicurian, and fierce medieval counterculturist, and Geralt as an outsider, a threat, a perceived freak of nature. Both are nearly broke and as near as can be to falling on hard times. So Dandelion manages to convince his friend to travel to the mountains and onto The Valley of Flowers (“Dol Blathanna” to the Elves) and he rides along with him, using his wit and humour to uplift Geralt’s moody spirits as The Witcher takes on the dangerous task of ridding Upper Posada of a “deovel” terrorizing the villagers.
Triss Merigold is a sorceress and a skilled healer who is on King Foltest’s council. She, together with Yennefer, are important figures in Ciri’s life during her maturation into womanhood. We first hear of mention of Triss in earlier books, but it is in Blood of Elves where readers are properly introduced to the character. The enchantress takes all of the witchers gathered at Kaer Morhen to task for their inadequate care of the princess, who is battered and bruised from training on The Trail—an obstacle course that encircles the castle. Later, Triss falls deathly ill on a sojourn to the temple school in Ellander. During that episode, the Sorceress professes her love openly to Geralt and admits how she envies what he and Yennefer have. But despite there being a mutual connection in times past, that depth of feeling is never quite returned by the object of her admiration.
Additional Characters of Note
Also in the mix in the upcoming Netflix series are some key secondary characters, including the aforementioned Queen Calanthe, Ciri’s grandmother and ruler of Cintra, King Foltest of the Temerian Dynasty, and Crach an Craite, the jarl of Skellige, which hints at both the scale of storyline and some possible locations The Witcher will journey to. Queen Calanthe was the last monarch of Cintra before it was sacked by Nilfgaard and mother of yet another character to appear in the upcoming show: Pavetta, a magic user like her daughter, Ciri. King Foltest happens to be one of the first powerful figures that Geralt aids in The Last Wish—in the short tale, The Witcher is hired by the king to release his daughter from a curse that transforms her into a striga. Although Geralt is gravely injured during the encounter, he manages to break the curse and gained fame for the impossible feat. Lastly, Crach an Craite, nephew of the Queen of Cintra, swore a blood oath to Calanthe that he would protect Ciri (who was born and spent some of her youth in his homeland of Skellige). Crach is also great military commander and sea captain and reigns over the port city of Kaer Trolde.
As a fan of The Witcher (books, stories, games, and all), I’m looking forward to seeing what the show has in store for these characters—and to discussing your thoughts on the series, what you’re hoping to see, and your take on the world of The Witcher in the comments below…
Salut, selamat datang, willkommen, and g’day fellow adventurers! I’m JKA Short, a spec/slipstream writer based in Australia. I’ve worked as an educator internationally as well as in my home country while pursuing a writing career. Some of my published work to date has appeared in LINQ Magazine, Cream Magazine, LLF, The Gamer, SFFWorld, Watkins magazines, ComingSoon and Mandatory Media. I have also reviewed and promoted emerging and indie authors who have been published by Interzone, Analog, Black Static, Angry Robot Books and IndieReader. Locally, I’ve also written for Cairns Life, Paykel Media and have completed an internship with Brandtree Creative. I am currently working on my first full-length adventure-slipstream fiction and am seeking representation.