Netflix to Release The Witcher Series at End-2019
Poland’s biggest cultural export of the millennium, The Witcher, is now set to be major series on Netflix.
With his old-fashioned moustache and a portly physique, Andrzej Sapkowski looks more like an uncle who insists on telling embarrassing jokes at the Christmas table than the author of Poland’s biggest cultural export of this millennium. Yet his fantasy book series, The Witcher, has provided the basis for a wildly successful computer game and Netflix has recently announced that the eponymous television series will be released at the end of 2019.
The Witcher is not atypical for fantasy in that its cult following leaves many casual readers bemused. Set on a Continent colonised five hundred years previously by humans, who relegated the aboriginal elves, dwarves and gnomes to a second-class status, the series features its own language – Elder Speech, based on English, French, Gaelic and Latin and vaguely understandable to most readers – as well as an impressive array of magical creatures from werewolves to vampires. It is these monsters that Geralt of Rivia, the protagonist hunts down for a living.
In that probably lies the biggest difference between The Witcher and the classics of its genre, starting with Tolkien. Where the heroic hobbits embarked on adventures for fun and then out of a sense of responsibility for saving the universe, Geralt is an entrepreneur, a freelance killer in a hostile world. He may not take on just any assignment with human women and children mostly safe from his sword – but he is a freelance killer roaming a hostile wilderness dotted with isolated settlements and his motives for his monster slaying are unambiguously commercial.
Not that he can avoid entirely entanglements in the wider world: during his travels Geralt has to fend off attempts to recruit him by the agents of the warring Empire and Northern Kingdoms; his hard-won neutrality allows him to serve his clients rather than faraway political masters.
A chaotic, hostile world inhabited by small communities of humans busy fending off monsters and the iniquities of distant, corrupt politicians – such is the reality in which Geralt plies his trade, his eyes ever set on the payment for his troubles. Yet it is through his enlightened self-interest that the witcher manages to serve communities left alone by the uncaring grandees of this world.
Sapkowki’s prose cycle started in the mid-1980s, in the dark days following the heady enthusiasm of Solidarity and the imposition the martial law that put an end to it. But it really took shape in the 1990s, following the collapse of Communism, and many critics see it as reflecting the spirit of the hard period of systemic transition with few certainties other than the need to earn one’s living in a world of few social protections. The self-reliance this necessitates works well in a role-playing computer game where the players typically live or perish on their own wits. How well it suits the more traditional narrative format of a television series will be seen towards the end of the next year.