Welcome to the fourth part of The Daily Fandom’s retrospective on The Witcher Saga. We’re still experimenting with formats, so this month we’ve transcribed a Q&A session between Kyle and Claudia. Specifically, their questions are related to the book they analysed in the previous part, The Sword of Destiny. They come to this series with two different perspectives. Kyle is a long time fan of the series and Claudia who is going through it for the first time.
Convening The Conclave On The Sword Of Destiny
Kyle: Now that we’ve reached the end of the short story collections, which of the stories is your favorite out of all of them? And why? Counting Road With No Return.
Claudia: I’m going to rank them because there’s three, but I can tell you without a doubt the first one is “Grain of Truth”. It’s in a weird place in terms of storytelling. Sapkowski hadn’t committed to the overarching mythos yet, but the world building is still intact, which means it’s very unique. It stands alone a little better than the others, yet also really plays into the fairy-tale retelling. Many later stories get “wink wink, nudge nudge” about the fairy-tale aspect, and I think of all of them “Grain of Truth” still handled it best.
I really liked the “Sword of Destiny,” Ciri’s first appearance. There are issues but considering Ciri is a main character, I liked this as her introduction. Then it’s “Something More,” which has an incredible amount of emotional impact for a short story. It really ties the world together and easily is the best send-offs possible for the short story collections.
Chosen One’s In Sapkowski’s World
Kyle: What I love most about “Sword of Destiny” in part, is that Sapkowski is playing with the Chosen One narrative. He introduces Ciri in matter of fact way. He makes no secret she’s the Chosen One but she’s also little girl with a cold. She’s not some farm boy who realizes he’s destined for greatness or whatever generic thing. She’s a little girl with a cold.
Claudia: That might be why I like it so much. The framing story of the dryads doesn’t interest me at all, but you’re right. She’s framed as the Chosen One in a world where this plays a serious role. The way he’s setting it up, it’s clever. You choose to be the Chosen One in many stories, but in this she’s chasing after it real hard. She’s like “No this is exactly who I am, and I know this,” and it’s everyone else around her who wants her to back up.
Kyle: That’s going to be fun. The end of Time of Contempt and Baptism of Fire is her arc of running from destiny because it did nothing but kill everyone she loved, and realizing it is complete and utter bullshit. He sets her up as someone who thinks it’s great to be this destined person because they don’t know any better. But Geralt does. And then it leads into the Witcher Saga where really it turns out being destined sucks.
Claudia: I think it’s more she sees no escaping Geralt. She’s not chasing greatness. That’s too vain. And while picking up and putting down destiny will change things, she doesn’t want to be the Chosen One exactly. She just knows she is destined to leave with Geralt. It doesn’t matter that he fights it, it is true. Which is a childlike way of looking at the world, without reducing her intellect.
Kyle: We’ll see Ciri grow until, by the end, she’s seventeen, but he does get a handle on her thinking like a child and what it means. She’s instantly likable and “Sword of Destiny” is best because she’s likable. And I hate chosen ones usually.
Do You Believe In Fairytale Romance?
Claudia: This is question that came to me intuitively while reading. Do you believe in love at first sight? How does that play out in reality versus in The Sword of Destiny? For me this is one of the weakest points of the book because I don’t find the relationships believable.
Kyle: I personally believe in love at first sight. That may be because I come from a hilariously fairy-tale like background. My grandparents met, and on their first date my grandfather proposed to my grandmother and they’ve been married ever since.
Then my dad was going around to make money. He was mowing people’s lawns. He knocked on my mom’s mother’s, that is my grandmother on my mother’s side, door. My mom answered. He talked to her for a bit, negotiated with the grandmother, mowed the lawn, came back. His mother asked, “What did you do today?” and he said,
“I met the woman I am going to marry.”
And now, they’re married, and I exist, and they’ve been happy ever since. I come from a weird fairy-tale background in that two people in my line met the people they were going to marry and fell in love with them immediately. So yes, I do believe in love at first sight, and it’s inherently colored by that. And I know many of my friends don’t believe in that and I am seen as the childish optimist because of it. But that’s just what my background is.
Essi & Geralt
With the few interviews with Sapkowski in English, I know Yen is based on his own wife and I suspect it was much the same. Where he met her and instantly fell in love with her. He wanted to play with that concept in a magical setting. I enjoy all the relationships I find them believable. There are circumstances I have been in. I noticed you said Essi acts like a fourteen-year-old and I believe canonically she was supposed to be 16 or 17.
Claudia: Really, I thought she was 18?
Kyle: Her age is never explicitly stated but I assumed 16 or 17.
Claudia: They say she can’t be older than 18 but 16 is a child basically.
Kyle: This is a fantasy medieval setting so 13 you’re an adult.
Claudia: True but there’s arguments over the validity of that. And that’s still young. And Geralt is much older than he appeared. He’s ambiguously very old. I think the thing is that Yen is a woman whose meeting him on his own terms. Say what you will they are playing at a fairly equal game. Inherently, being 16 and with her status, Essi can’t ever meet him on that level and her age emphasizes that. Not just morals.
How To Write A Young Woman
Kyle: I will be very interested in what you think of the next book. There’s a character, minor, who is interwoven in the plot. Her name is Shani, and she’s more important in games. In the books, she’s a minor character important in the final book, and she’s fourteen and Geralt sleeps with her. And she sleeps with him out of curiosity. She’s a university student and curious of what Witcher anatomy is like and it’s very scientific.
Claudia: I’m 21. And not that long ago I was 19 seeing 25-year olds and that was a mistake. And I remember what it was like to be 16 and what it was like to be 14. I need to believe this is a 14-year-old girl. I assumed Essi was 18 based on the fact 14 and 16 and 19 are very different people the same way writing a child is different from writing an adult.
Kyle: I can understand the point of view, though I can’t understand being a woman, but the thing is I’ve known people like Essi. I’ve experienced things like Essi. There was a point just two years ago where I was falling hard for a particular girl and realized she did not and was incapable of loving me back. It’s a horrible feeling. And you learn to live with it. I relate to Essi because I know what that feels like. And I can see how some of her actions might make her seem younger. And here’s the deal, I’m a romantic, but I have zero experience with romance.
Claudia: That’s important, and hearing that story about your grandparents, it’s adorable and I wish them all the best. My family is basically a never-ending series of divorces and not just my parents. They, fortunately, aren’t remarried so it’s only one divorce for me. But my great grandfather had three different wives and on and off again girlfriends. My uncle who is closest to us is already on his second wife, and already introducing her to people as future Ex-Mrs. Hahn.
My grandparents have stayed together for many years, but their marriage isn’t, I wouldn’t call it full of love. To be fair they come from Japan. They are culturally very different. To me, they function perfectly like an old Japanese couple, but they definitely aren’t romantic in the traditional sense. They definitely love each other.
My grandmother is white, and my grandfather is Asian, and they eloped together against the will of my great grandma. But that said theirs is a different marriage. It’s a social function. It’s a system with which you build the rest of your life. They happened to agree on that and then they ran off together, which makes it very complicated.
A Skeptics Point Of View
I do not believe in love at first sight. I believe in attraction at first sight because I’ve felt that, but there is a very serious difference between those things. The things I’ve always loved about relationships tend to be a little more mundane. I say I’m not a romantic, but the truth is the things I find romantic are exceptionally every day. It could be just a result of, if you grow up in a household where grand sweeping romance isn’t the norm, you aren’t going to look for it. And also, just my own personality, which was always very practical.
That’s all coloring how I look at these relationships. Sometimes what good shows and good books do is have a balance. There’s a relationship that is the big sweeping epic, and then also the relationship that is two people dealing with the tedium of everyday life together over and over again for many days at a time. And right now, the Witcher has a lot of the first. Every relationship is epic. Sometimes it’s cute and sometimes, as someone not romantic, is makes me skim until I get to the next interesting part.
Ciri’s Evolving Role
And I am looking forward to seeing where Ciri goes. I do think it’s time we got a central female character who won’t be tied up in romantic plot lines.
Kyle: Yeah not to spoil anything but her entire deal is fighting against romance and — how best to put this? — rape? People impregnating her without her consent. That is an entire big gigantic point.
Claudia: That could be handled very well or very poorly. Stats point to poorly.
Kyle: We will get into this next book, but Ciri is the Chosen One that will give birth to the Chosen One.
Claudia: That’s gross!
Kyle: She is not the actual chosen one.
Claudia: Well she should be.
Kyle: She literally is destined to give birth to the person that will do this, which is why everyone wants her. And it’s funny because he’s playing with the idea of “Who cares about the Chosen One? Let’s talk about the people who are affected by the Chosen One. And so, she is a different type of chosen one.
We See So Few Ciri’s in Fiction
Claudia: it’s almost kind of disappointing because we see so few characters like Ciri. Just a literal gender flip of the Chosen One. And I thought It was being done really well because it wasn’t just an “Oh she’s a farm girl”. It was all this other stuff tied into it and she was chasing after it in an aggressive way many farm boy stereotypes don’t. I’m actually disappointed to hear it’s going in that direction. It turns her back into a mechanism of someone else’s story again.
Kyle: We’ll see as it evolves. And we’ll hear your opinions more about the prophecy specifically when we get to The Tower of Swallows. Then We’ll make a question about Ciri and Chosen Ones because it’s an entirely different take and it’s intriguing to me, and I normally despise Chosen One Tropes. Which is funny because I write a lot of them. I like to look at how they’re weird. My newest comic is about how destiny doesn’t mean anything because it’s all about choices.
So What Do You Think Of Ciri, Really?
Technically, we touched on this, but it ties in. Knowing Ciri is a major player, and POV character, what are your impressions so far? Is she more than a chosen one? Is she interesting enough here or are you needing to see more?
Claudia: I love Ciri because she has the single mindedness reflective what I would have done as a child. Telling Geralt it doesn’t matter what he does because destiny comes a knocking and her unshakable belief in him is refreshing. Even Yen doesn’t believe in him sometimes and that is a recurring theme. Dandy mocks him half the time. But Ciri’s faith is literally unshakable. She’s an inversion of the Chosen One trope and is undeniably good. It makes her interesting because most of the “good women” haven’t had speaking lines.
The ones who have had speaking lines have either slept with Geralt or have been evil. And even some of them don’t get speaking lines. We are hard pressed to find a woman with opinion or goal not revolving around him. The reason I like “Something More” so much was because of the send-off to the queen and the last bit of Ciri’s interaction which reaffirms suspicions of how this will unfold. I personally really like her right now.
The Future Of Female Characters
Kyle: The women with speaking roles thing, I see that as a problem, but we’ll get more female characters some of whom won’t even meet him. They will start being more and more prevalent. The Conclave of Sorcerers will be important and how the sorcerers feel about things going on. We don’t know how the Conclave works but we’ll find out that magic is along a gendered line and they each form a conclave.
There is a point in the books where the machinations of the female sorcerers get rid of the male counterpart. But the female presence will definitely increase. The problem with the short stories is they center around Geralt and the Witcher Saga covers many characters some of whom are connected to Geralt and some of whom never meet him.
Claudia: Expanding the POV’s will help. I like Geralt, which can be difficult as main characters are boring.
The Lasting Impression Of The Short Story Collections
Kyle: Speaking of, I’ve noticed reading through forums people claim the short stories are the best of the series. I love the short stories, but when we get to the pentalogy is when I really fall in love with the Witcher Saga. People, especially game fans, tend to glom onto those and I think that is primarily because of Geralt. Because he is the main character of the games and too many of the side quests are literally the short stories. Do you think that’s why people prefer the short stories?
Claudia: Couple of answers. Most people who start reading don’t finish. Most people never play games to complete. 90% even. Book wise, I guarantee most people have only read the short stories. Another thing is that there is kind of an interesting demographic shift. The Witcher has more mass appeal than people realize but the audience the book manages to reach is not mass and that audience tends to prefer Geralt and the short stories. Which isn’t indicative of quality. The Witcher is mainstream but not as we perceive it and the subset it appeals to happen to like the older ones more the same way people prefer the first of second album of a band. I am looking forward to ensemble because it will alleviate the feeling of lack of agency.
Yennefer of Vengerberg
Let’s talk about Yen! Yen and Geralt. How do you interpret and what are your thoughts and feelings on the way Yen interacts with Geralt in these stories, which is antagonistic? Tell me about that and where she’s at as a person in the The Sword of Destiny?
Kyle: Geralt and Yen are damaged, broken people. Putting them as stable people isn’t correct, they aren’t exactly good either. As a result, I completely understand where she’s coming from. She’s treating him rather coldly but he’s treating her just as coldly. I’ve never been in relationship, so I don’t know what the social thing to do is in that situation but if you treat me coldly, I’ll treat you coldly. And that was the entire point of “A Shard of Ice”. Geralt being an ass so she returned in kind. The point of Yen is she’s the trope of the ice queen, but she never melts. She’s ultimately knows what she is and how important she is. A member of conclave, important to politics which weighs heavily on her.
At the end of the day she loves Geralt and Ciri and it matters more than anything else which you see as the books progress. There’s a scene where she takes Ciri to a place and says basically, “This was the price I paid to get my daughter back, fuck you.” Then “It’s your decision Ciri what you want to do.” and Ciri decides to stay with her. You can see Yen pulling strings to get Ciri to stay but it was still ultimately Ciri’s choice. She will try to manipulate you always, but it’s always your choice, she just wants you to choose her. She’s a selfish person. But she’s ultimately a kind person. She’s a contradiction.
What Makes The Sorceress Tick
What are your perceptions of their relationship and specifically, your opinion of Yen’s actions in “A Shard of Ice?”
Claudia: Yen has grown on me. I basically consider her a brat but not in a bad way. I think this comes back to how you and I interpret damaged characters differently. Basically, I consider at a certain point, it to be every person’s responsibility to figure out how they’re going to cope with their particular baggage because as soon as you start letting that shit seep into your relationships and your own perception of yourself, it kind of fucks you up forever.
And I say that knowing that is incredibly hard. And I don’t expect anyone to be perfect. Never could anyone be perfect. Everyone will have flaws. But one of the number one downfalls of relationships is basically immaturity. And I think one of the reasons Geralt and Yen don’t appeal to me is I can picture going through that heartbreak over and over and it would kill me, I would end it. You can’t do that over and over again it kills you. Especially if you are like Yen and Geralt and you are carrying baggage with you.
The Trials of Yen and Geralt
It’s terrible to subject yourself to more pain because someone just won’t let themselves be happy and you know in some future, they are going to choose each other and let themselves be happy but now let’s talk, that a broad overview. They’re both acting like 16-year olds who don’t know how to tell each other they like each other to their detriment. Neither are happy.
Then Yen, I’m not upset over her and her actions. They are treating each other the same. I’m coming up on one year with my current boyfriend and one of the first things you learn to do in a relationship is when someone snaps at you and you want to snap back and you want to say something that will maybe guilt them and you know it will guilt them, you don’t.
Yen and Geralt are at the stage where they give into every minute impulse to tear themselves apart and that isn’t Yen’s fault alone. And a relationship takes two. And the way she handles the situation wasn’t good but made sense for who she was. There was a satisfaction at seeing someone do something in character. She’s fast becoming one of the most interesting parts of the series. I think Ciri will make them both better in the long run which builds into next question because we know Yen wants kids.
So, Let’s Talk Reproductive Imagery
In this series it’s everywhere. Barren women are a stereotype, life is messy, and Yen is barren but desperately wants a child. Consider why she wants a child, and where you think the overall the reproductive imagery, a cover around that topic?
Kyle: The first half of that, Yen wanting a child. There are people who don’t but, like, I want a child, and have since I was fifteen, I always knew. Specifically, a daughter. So that perspective of wanting a child is “yeah, I want one too”. Her specifically I think comes down to her backstory which you haven’t gotten in full yet.
You know she was a hunchback, and aristocracy, we will find out more about her family as time goes on and a lot won’t come from her directly. Starting the next book between each chapter there will be a page or two of in-universe excerpts and there will be a paper from a character who was Yen’s mentor and best friend. And we find out from when she first met Yen, Yen tried to commit suicide at one point, her father was a complete asshole. Yen, I think, ultimately wants to prove to the world there is such a thing as good parents. In utter defiance of her parents.
“I can bring up a child who can be far better and worthy of the title”
Yennefer’s Tragic Past
Claudia: That’s interesting. It does make me like the character more but it’s interesting because my dad was not the greatest, to put it very lightly, and my brothers and I walked away from that family feeling that, if we have kids we are putting them at risk. You live with the knowledge that you carry traits of your parents with you. And while I’m confident I won’t be like him, even my uncle, whose dad wasn’t as abusive but a divorcee, walked away from that feeling he couldn’t risk having kids. He did, because the want outweighed the fear, but again, he’s still stuck with the knowledge it may never work out.
So, it will make the rest of Yen’s story interesting and it touches on the fact that I don’t get to see myself reflected in a lot in media because there is an idea about how people react to trauma and abuse that aren’t wrong but aren’t the people I grew up around and with. And while what Yen wants to do makes sense, I can see that happening, but it also makes me go “oh boy. That’s risky.” In some ways her wanting to do that proves there’s an immaturity there that will put future children at risk.
It’s kind of a funny thing where she can’t have a kid if she doesn’t want a kid and she can’t be a good parent if she doesn’t want to be a good parent but her inherently wanting to prove he parents wrong shows just how much they fucked her up.
Borch, The Dragon
Kyle: As far as reproduction symbolism, Borch is an allegory for Geralt, monster fighting against own nature of being a monster, is there such a thing as order and chaos, and can a monster protect the child meant to be the protector of the next generations.
But, Borch is his future personified. The reproduction stuff later, to me, the entire point is, especially this collection, is to get Geralt to start feeling something for Ciri and to recognize her as something more, his daughter. So, I think the repro symbolism throughout is to subconsciously get the reader thinking about children, and legacies and what that means. So, we, just like Geralt, will start to think about how the relationship will unfold.
Claudia: Ok. I think it’s interesting when we get these stories that are male dominated playing around heavily with this kind of imagery. Because they all, this is a weird topic because neither of us have kids, so hard for us to make judgment. The Dryads felt stereotypical, but it was right along with those themes of children and legacy. I do think that knowing a little about what is going to happen to Ciri we will have to revisit this. Because there’s no way to talk about reproduction without talking about touchy subjects of women and children and storytelling.
All We Can Do Is See How This Plays Out
Kyle: I kind of said it previously, reproduction and the legacy of particular characters are very important to the story. Not only is Ciri supposed to give birth to the chosen one but also Ciri herself is a by-product of thousands of years of stuff I can’t spoil but is super important. Which leads into a question because at this point in The Sword of Destiny and all that, I don’t know how much Sapkowski had planned out the story.
“The Bounds of Reason” originally was Yen’s first appearance. The next was “The Last Wish”. Then Ciri’s was “The Sword of Destiny”. He then wrote “A Question of Price” to fill in. It’s clear by Blood of Elves that he knows where he’s going, but there’s an element of making this up as he goes. What do you think of this writing style? Having only read the short stories, how do you think it is affecting his writing style?
When The Writer Doesn’t Have A Plan
Claudia: I think other people notice the jarring breaks more than I do. I’ve seen people complain the short stories jump around a lot, but I don’t mind, and I can’t tell you why. I tend to be very forgiving and at the end of the day he’s clearly done some editing and while published in a different order they were put in the books chronologically. There’s an intent there. I do think there’s likely, I won’t likely know until later how disjointed are.
To me this is the cohesive Witcher universe because I knew that going in, so I like the slice of life with a little extra thrown in and I knew they were short stories going in. Overall, we’ll readdress when we start the novels. But it doesn’t affect me but complaints I have likely will get better with POV characters beyond Geralt. For me a greater story just needs to thematically hit home, and The Sword of Destiny thematically ends with Ciri and that is the right move.
Kyle: It’s not that the short stories are disjointed. But I think by the time we reach “The Sword of Destiny” he knows where he’s going, then writes a couple more stories to fill in gaps, then by the time we get to Blood of Elves it’s very set.
Sapkowski Loves His Framing Devices
The Last Wish had a framing device, The Sword of Destiny does not and is more a traditional short story set up. Do you think The Sword of Destiny suffers from this, or is heightened?
Claudia: It’s not that The Sword of Destiny suffered, it’s that The Last Wish needed the framing device. The Last Wish was a set of earlier stories, more disconnected, Geralt was out of character, “The Voice of Reason” framing device serves to make sure that perhaps despite being disjointed they don’t feel that way. Because The Sword of Destiny is super consistent with its theming and the recurring discussion of Ciri as well as Yen so no way to unhook many stories from each other unlike “A Grain of Truth” in The Last Wish. So, there’s a need in the first book not present in The Sword of Destiny. So, while a frame could work in The Sword of Destiny, but in the last story we see Geralt slipping in and out of consciousness, which is slipping in that trope to backfill things we need.
The Heart Of The Book “Something More“
That could have been the framing story, however, there is a really satisfying feeling in that story in the end that results from it being the resolution of Geralt’s inner debate. Other stories are informing his character, morals, and his relationship with her. When you discover that her home was destroyed and would. I agree with his decision to not to include it and would include it. Liked last story being a little loose but satisfying.
Kyle: What I like is there is so much going on, Geralt has no part of it. All of the events are from Geralt’s perspective, but he is a small piece of a much larger puzzle. Which will be important in the end of the Witcher Saga, when Geralt decides he’s done.
Also, Sapkowski loves framing devices. He uses it throughout Witcher Saga. Usually I find them annoying but the way he does it intrigues me. “Something More” really benefited from this as you fluidly move between the two timeframes and it thematically revisits every point we visited thus far in Saga.
This Conclave Is Adjourned But The Witcher Saga Continues On…
Thank you for joining us in this adventure so far. We have now completed the first two books which are short story collections. Next month, we will be covering Blood of Elves which starts the pentalogy that forms the main bulk of The Witcher Saga. Once we get to that book, my sign off on these will make a lot more sense. But until then, we end this discussion.
But The Witcher Saga Continues On! Thank you for joining us in this adventure so far. We have now completed the first two books which are short story collections. Next month, we will be covering Blood of Elves which starts the pentalogy that forms the main bulk of The Witcher Saga. Once we get to that book, my sign off on these will make a lot more sense. But until then, we end this discussion for reasons of state!