In many great fantasy reads, exploring characters’ vulnerabilities fleshes out their realism. Anne Rice managed to do this with The Vampire Lestat, which explores Lestat’s fears of mortality and the problems that arise from living as an immortal. Meanwhile Robin Hobb’s classic Farseer Trilogy, painted a conflicted picture of the bastard prince, Fitzchivalry, who becomes an assassin working behind the scenes of court intrigue and foils the political machinations of Buck Keep’s enemies with his deadly art.
Judging from the the source material, producers have a big world to play with and plenty of episodic tales to keep us enthralled.
The latest magical fantasy to be picked up by Netflix also follows this thread – The Witcher. The titular character invented by Polish author, Andrzej Sapkowski, pits a monster hunter-for-hire against beasts no mere mortal can conquer. Judging from the the source material, producers have a big world to play with and plenty of episodic tales to keep us enthralled.
Why many look forward to the show has everything to do with timing. A whole host of TV series made today are steeped in realism. They take place in gritty, dark worlds where swords cut deeper, armies fight harder, and beasts become more and more formidable. These are the things that may yet shape the story that will reach our screens.
Monsters, Magic, & Swordplay
Make no mistake: the witcher, Geralt, rides around with twin swords of steel and iron on his back and he means business, but he is first and foremost a tradesman. Answering hiring notices posted by villagers and soldiers-at-arms and collecting the coin for the creatures he fells is how he makes a living. He risks his hide hunting flying wyverns, stalking haunting noonwraiths and slashing at vicious alghouls drawn by the smell of corpses. This offers something unique to viewers in that we will have many character-driven stories instead of some loosely-plotted action that revolves around killing. The witcher depends on work that may not be in abundance. So travel is always going to be part of any storyline with each location, whether it be a bog, castle ruin or shady tavern, becoming the backdrop to his current quest.
Geralt hails from Rivia and not all people welcome Rivians. There are some who would sooner shift to another table in the inn than sit and consort with their likes. This isn’t helped by the fact that the witcher may sometimes appear wild, entering wholesome places with boots slick with mud and brambles in his hair. Yet there is something even greater that sets him apart from others.
He kills strigas and spectres. He exterminates all sorts of vermin. Professionally, for money.
– The troubadour, Dandelion, explaining the witcher profession to an alderman
Being a witcher means being a mutated form of human life. In all that he does, Geralt will be either championed for his actions or attacked for his nature. As much as he enjoys the freedom of roving out in the wilderness, each time he returns to civilization he is shunned. As a child, young witchers-in-training go through the ‘Trial of the Grasses’, an ordeal involving the consummation of alchemical potions that will ultimately morph his physiology, giving him speed and strength and turning his pupils to cat’s eyes so that he might see in the dark. These are aspects that can’t help but be included in the television adaption.
Not only does this lend to great action scenes, but the wandering swordsman has abilities that no ordinary man possesses. Geralt can take on incredible foes of great size or number. He can prey on them from the darkness or match even the agile vampires in the speed of his attack. But even that is not the limit of his prowess. Here we have a warrior that knows the arcane arts, casting spells in combat and to break curses. He knows how to oil his blade with tinctures that help to weaken his quarry and consumes potions that would kill a human man.
Being an outsider, Geralt gravitates to non-humans and magic folk, befriending or aiding dwarves and elves, and even the most unlikeliest of all beasts: high vampires, godlings and mortal men cursed to become werewolves. They are his kin, made so by the ‘otherness’ of his mutation. Geralt’s empathy with non-human creatures is one of the biggest aspects of his character and worth noting because it will ultimately change the outcome of many stories. Therein lies a moral dilemma. Despite monster hunting being his trade, Geralt is himself a kind of monster. And it is this element that will provide interesting viewing. How he commands himself may affect the choices he makes. The one that calls on him for the aid of his blade may turn out to be the evildoer, for instance.
For some time, creatures, which you usually call monsters, have been feeling more and more under threat from people. They can no longer cope by themselves. They need a Defender. Some kind of…witcher.
– a Golden Dragon to Geralt
But he will not do anything for coin. When winter comes harsh or food is scarce he may need to take up a contract just to survive, but he always weighs up the costs. During his training at Kaer Morhen, Geralt was told not to ‘play at being a knight errant or uphold the law’, but there are moments of critical decisiveness where Geralt must calculate on the spot. Sometimes the choice he makes is either right or wrong. Morality is at best a grey area when you are in the midst of a battle for your life. Far from it being down to a case of ‘might being right’, the witcher never holds his power or strength over those who don’t deserve it – only those that live to kill does he bring an abrupt end to.
Although these are speculations as to the witcher’s first outing on the small screen, what is intriguing is that Henry Cavill has been cast as the main lead. Why does this matter? Because Cavill is not just an avid gamer who has played the acclaimed video game series, but he has read all the books, so he already is mentally primed for the role. He had a vast knowledge of the stories even before he received an offer. And although some have lambasted this casting, many are quick to forget that, before his Superman fame, he was part of some interesting projects including The Count of Monte Cristo, Tristan and Isolde, and The Tudors series, not forgetting the amazing way he disappeared into the role of Humphrey in Stardust. The historical edge will work in his favor as he delves into a rich world with 13th century vibes.