Did You Know It Was a Book First? The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski

I love comparing books to their TV or movie adaptations – ask me about The Devil Wears Prada sometime. Right now, as the new season of The Witcher launches on Netflix, I’m reflecting on my recent read of The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, the book which first introduced Geralt of Rivia to the world – and eventually rocketed him to fame in video games and now as played by Henry Cavill. Here’s my breakdown of this iconic fantasy franchise, then and now.

ON THE PAGE

I expected a much darker, gritter fantasy than this actually turned out to be. This first book, The Last Wish, acts as a series of short vignettes as highly-trained and lightly superpowered Geralt goes on his adventures fighting monsters for money, and in fact most of these vignettes read as retellings of classic fairy tales. I identified, among others, one like Snow White and one like Beauty and the Beast, both of which seem to echo the source material with wry humor and a good dose of feminist reality check. Along the way, interspersed chapters start to hint at a larger story to come, linked to Geralt’s history with sorceress Yennefer – who’s finally introduced in the book’s final story revealing how Geralt and Yennefer first met. Important themes include what makes a monster, lesser vs. greater evils, and the losses in lifestyle and belonging that happen as society changes. While obviously standing apart from the rest of society, Geralt is very human and sympathetic, and his good friend Dandelion adds even more lightness and humor.

ON THE SCREEN

The show (currently only available on Netflix, and not on DVD or Blu-Ray) takes full advantage of its medium to expand as much as possible – Yennefer gets her own dose of screen time instead of only being seen from Geralt’s perspective, and Geralt’s backstory including his childhood is explored in much more detail. Geralt himself, however, is much less talkative in the show than in the books, which may be because in a visual medium, more nonverbal communication is possible. Another obvious change is one in translation – in the books Geralt’s troubadour friend is identified as Dandelion, but on the show they kept his Polish name, Jaskier, which actually literally translates to ‘buttercup’ in English. And of course, because The Last Wish functions more as an introductory book than a plot-driven one, the stories in the show are also from later books than the one I read, and expand more on various battles and events. In the interest of full disclosure, I drew most of these insights from others’ perspectives, as at the time of writing I haven’t yet seen enough of the show to comment.

Speaking for myself, I think I’ll enjoy both equally as each uses their medium to full advantage; I prefer a chatty, relatable Geralt but I love the idea of showing Yennefer’s perspective and keeping Dandelion’s original name. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more books in this series and catching up with the show. If you’re into fantasy that’s exciting but not too heavy, I recommend reading The Last Wish for a bit of adventure, or at least background context for your next binge-watching session.

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