The Witcher 10th Birthday

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been an undeniable success. Launched in 2015, it saw CDProjektRed turn their cult classic series into one of the biggest titles of the year – going on to reach new heights by winning the game of the year award. The sheer size and complexity of The Witcher turned the gaming tables and many of the innovations that CdProjektRed implemented are being carried over by other developers in an attempt to replicate The Witcher’s success.

Much of this success is owed to The Witcher’s vast open world, and to its excellent quests – which actually help develop the narrative and mean something to the overall game. However, the quality source material is also at the heart of The Wild Hunt and other installments in the series. So many references to Sapkowski’s eponymous series made it into The Wild Hunt in particular, that mentioning them all would take a considerable amount of time.  But there are many examples of such references that can be used to gain a deeper understanding of the relationships between the central characters, and of Geralt’s past more generally.

(This is a warning about possible spoilers for the book series: I have tried to stick to The Last Wish (1993)  and The Sword of Destiny (1992)  as these are the oldest books and start before the main Ciri timeline. Nevertheless, there will be information that will spoil the novels if you wish to read them.)

We are predominately focusing on the Witcher 3 as this is where we see the characters of Yennefer and Ciri go beyond casual mentions. A lot of fans don’t like Yennefer and would agree with Dandelion that their relationship together was toxic, however seeing the true love Geralt holds for Yennefer and vice versa in the books can put a whole new perspective on the matter.

Geralt and Yennefer

This love is presented clearly in their first meeting in The Last Wish where Yennefer plans to trap a djinn. She tries to capture the djinn without much success, as (unknown to her) Geralt was the one who held the last wish to free the djinn. Geralt sees Yennefer getting weaker and knows she will die if he doesn’t do something; so, using his last wish, he binds their fates together. It’s an incredibly powerful moment and the tussle leading to the wish, fully captures the passion and heat of their relationship. Yennefer is also very self-aware and worries for Geralt, saying ‘you’ve condemned yourself. Condemned yourself to me,1 conveying the sense of her as a character even from those small early snippets.

If during The Wild Hunt, you’re following Yennefer’s romance option, you have the option of completing a quest before leaving Skellige with her. In order to find out if she and Geralt could truly love each other, or if it was just the powerful magic of the djinn. Yennefer has located a djinn and wishes to untie her fate from Geralt’s. You get to decide how Geralt feels after compelling the djinn, essentially determining whether the last twenty years of their lives now mean anything at all. It’s a beautiful homage to the original meeting – and, if you choose to stay with Yen, a wonderful ending to The Witcher series too.

Ciri and Yennefer

As Ciri and Yennefer have only featured as major characters in The Wild Hunt, it is perhaps harder to understand their relationship on a deeper level. Although it is heavily stated throughout the games that Yennefer has been like a mother to Ciri, it is in the books that we experience the depth of their relationship. At one point, Geralt needs Yennefer’s help to train and cultivate Ciri’s magic; and, although reluctant at first, Yennefer warms to Ciri and the two begin to form an incredible bond. Even when Yen is being tortured in The Tower of the Swallow, she tries to hold out from giving away Geralt’s location so as to prevent Vigelfortz from tracking Ciri.

Although it may not appear so, Yennefer has, in fact, got an incredible maternal instinct. This instinct, which underpins her relationship with Ciri, is presented most strongly in The Sword of Destiny, particularly in one of the short tales in which there is a hunt for a dragon. Yennefer is present as she believes that gaining ingredients from the dragon will cure her infertility, demonstrating that her desire for a child has always been strong. Geralt hears Yennefer is partaking and so joins the expedition, even though he does not wish to kill the dragon. In the Assassins of Kings, you hear a reference to the escapade with the dragon when talking to the reavers in Foltest’s camp. The reavers recognize Geralt and swear they were never going to rape the ‘sorceress’. Geralt at this time is still in the depths of his amnesia and doesn’t recollect the event or realize that the reavers are alluding to Yennefer.

The Witcher’s Backstory

Some of the most interesting references to the earlier books come from the fantastic Blood and Wine DLC. One of the smaller references that made me all giddy was Geralt’s choice of name in the tournament at Toussaint. You can either enter as Geralt of Rivea or as Ravix of Fourhorn. The latter name was the alias that Geralt was given when attending a banquet in Cintra hosted by Queen Calanthe, Ciri’s grandmother.

The reference sent me reeling back to The Last Wish and how Geralt originally came to possess Ciri. Geralt ends up saving Pavetta (Ciri’s mother) after she tries to protect Duny, the man she has fallen in love with and is bound to by the Law of Surprise. Once again saving the day, Geralt is asked what it is he desires for being able to reunite Pavetta and Duny. Geralt asks for ‘that which you already have but do not know,’2. Pavetta, unbeknownst to anyone else, is pregnant and is now bound by the Law of Surprise to give Geralt her unborn child. The reference was beautifully worked into the game, especially as most people would have finished the main storyline at this point, enabling them to reminisce about the very beginning of Ciri and Geralt’s fated time together and giving the entire DLC a powerfully emotive tone.

Another major reference to the books and a fantastic surprise was the resurrection of Regis in the Blood and Wine DLC. Regis has always been a highly intelligent character and a brilliant traveling companion for Geralt in his search for Ciri. Regis’ death was devastating, especially as he was intrinsically linked with the search for Ciri and became a fast friend of Geralt’s. To see a beloved character come back and be a major component of the DLC was fantastic.

Regis is even mentioned in the first Witcher game when Dandelion informs Geralt that he used to have a vampire friend. It is also funny that he replies with ‘a dragon friend too?’ It’s a wonderfully ironic reference back to the short story in The Sword of Destiny where Geralt befriends the dragon the group is trying to slay. Even better was the inclusion of The Curse of the Black Sun as the overarching narrative for the Blood and Wine DLC: Sylvia Anna (Syanna) was believed to have been born under this curse and, according to the prophet Eltibald, the girls ‘were supposed to be possessed by demons, cursed, contaminated by the Black Sun,’3 ensnaring people into exiling their children. It worked perfectly having this particular story in the fairytale-esque DLC, as the original story in The Last Wish contained a wonderfully twisted version of Snow White.

There are tons of references to the books throughout the series that enable it to capture the diverse and intriguing world that Sapkowski has envisioned. The video games have been able to expand on a truly captivating book series partly due to how closely they followed the original source material. The depth and wonder of the world are beautifully displayed, and there is so much more to discover. So many interesting tidbits and hidden troves that make Geralt’s story one truly worth following.

I highly recommend the books, especially if you’ve finished the series but are yearning for more Witcher. The books will help you better understand Geralt’s motives and feelings, his aversion to Emhyr and Avallach, his apparent detachment from politics and his sometimes caring and understanding nature towards the creatures he is hunting. The books, like The Witcher series, will fully capture your imagination and leave you yearning for more.

 

  1. The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski (1993) pg.268
  2. The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski (1993) pg.156
  3. The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski (1993) pg.83, this is Eltibald’s prophecy and is not directly mentioned but discussed within this section.

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