Last December, the Netflix adaptation of The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski hit TVs and laptop screens everywhere—and it was renewed for a second season even before the first premiered. Netflix producers must have felt a bit of pressure when it came to adapting the books for television. After all, Sapkowski’s series boasts legions of fans around the world, while CDProjektRed’s action RPG The Witcher III: Wild Hunt (based on the books) is regularly described as one of the greatest video games ever made. It’s probably fair to say that your overall enjoyment of the Netflix series was skewed by whether you’re a book fan, a fan of the games, or both—or whether you’d never encountered the Witcher at all before watching the first episode.
The world of The Witcher is a bleak place. Fearsome leshens lurk in the shadows of the forest. Deserted castles are home to vampires, strigas, and other terrifying creatures. Geralt of Rivia, the white-haired monster-slayer who treads the Path in search of work, encounters in his travels war-torn wastelands, plague-infested villages, and endless hordes of raping, pillaging brigands. Luckily for everyone, Geralt is more than capable of wielding a sword amidst all of these dangers. And yet this world is also home to hazards and concerns that aren’t always explored within the action and drama of conventional epic fantasy fiction.
In particular, women and women’s bodies play a hugely important role in Andrzej Sapkowski’s books. The Polish author’s fictional universe depicts the agonising pain of miscarriage, as well as characters dealing with sterility and arranged marriage. In these pages, readers are just as likely to encounter the sting of the abortionist’s needle as the mortal strike of a basilisk. The female body is depicted in surprising and thoughtful ways, even amidst the spattered blood and guts of war. Furthermore, the role of women in politics adds another fascinating layer to the world that Geralt must navigate. Sapkowski doesn’t pander to women, nor does he patronise them. His portrayal of relationships between women encompasses well-meaning sisterhood as well as spiteful in-fighting. At the heart of all this turmoil is Ciri, Geralt’s ward and the Child of the Elder Blood, whose transition from girl to woman takes place under the most extreme circumstances imaginable. Geralt is the series’ main protagonist—the eponymous ‘witcher’ of the best-selling books and games—but he is surrounded on all sides by a cast of complex, fearless women whose own struggles with their bodies and their status in society are brought to life in surprisingly vivid detail.
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