Today, The Daily Fandom presents a Q&A portion of its retrospective on The Witcher Saga. If you missed the analysis portion for Blood of Elves you can find it here. The Q&A will be interesting as the duo have finally reached the beginning of the full-length novel in The
Convening The Conclave On Blood of Elves
KYLE: We have entered the novels and The Witcher Saga has branched out much further and wider than Geralt himself. How do you feel about Sapkowski juggling the multiple POV’s?
CLAUDIA: I really like his multiple perspectives. I actually think he does a better job with certain things just by having these multiple points of view. It’s almost refreshing to get away from Geralt’s perspective. I love him, but seeing the inside of Yennefer’s head, seeing Triss, seeing Ciri so prominently has been really great. He writes third person, but I would not call it a super close third person. His style lacks a lot of narrative, so you are not getting a huge amount of insight into their brains.
KYLE: Technically he’s doing limited third person. Especially when we get to the training montages, he’s heavily dialogue focused.
CLAUDIA: Yeah! It’s an incredibly heavy dialogue focus even in non-montage scenes.
KYLE: You go pages without a physical description of a character or them doing something, it’s just them talking. Mid-chapter you can just randomly bounce into Tissaia de Vries head when you were previously in Ciri’s.
CLAUDIA: I would term limited third person as follows. You hear the narrator thoughts and you are in their head for almost the entirety of the story. He occasionally does it. He occasionally drops thoughts in there but actually quite frequently I’ve noticed he can go pages with dialogue. As a result, he is going pages without describing the internal landscape of the characters. But there is a type of third person where you never venture into the character’s head. So, there is a lot of different styles that can be taken with third person and his is very distinct. I don’t think you would mistake his writing for anyone else’s.
Because I noticed that he is super dialogue heavy, and you are a writer, what do you think of that? It’s very peculiar to me anyways as a decision because he does it and sometimes it’s clunky. Sometimes it’s literally “Boy, get away from that anchor. You’re going to get hurt.”
KYLE: It was something I noticed when I picked up The Witcher Saga for the first time. I was like “Boy, there is a lot of dialogue here”. I noticed that he will have characters stop midway through and he’ll have characters go off on tangents. It was a bit more realistic than I have read in most prose, granted not realistic at all. To quote Bernard McKenna, one of my writing teachers: “All dialogue is contrived. That is a rule. You will never sound natural, it will never be realistic. The best you can hope for is to try your best”. There are people that go too far and then there are people that do it pretty well. Sapkowski, I think he did it pretty well. There are times when it does get clunky.
And sometimes that can be amusing, certain characters that fits, Emhyr for instance. You kind of enjoy that because we don’t know a lot about Emhyr yet. However, I know why he is acting that way. Other characters it feels like he just wants to be verbose for the sake of being verbose.
As far as in this book, I quite like the way he does dialogue. I’m primarily a comic book writer, as you know. I also dabble in doing audio drama scripts and TV scripts, those tend to be dialogue driven. So, I think what he does with the dialogue works for my tastes.
What Makes Some Dialogue Clunky?
CLAUDIA: I think something that occurs to me is how much are we losing from the translation? For me, there is a lot of things contributing to this. I don’t think this was bad, but this was a quick read. This was mostly dialogue, some of that dialogue can be incredibly clunky. I agree with you that he’s a good dialogue writer. A lot of the back and forth between characters is good. He gets some of the flow and rhythm in a way many writers never do. But, when he is a bad dialogue writer, is when he is trying to do exposition through dialogue. I literally read a passage that was “Boy, stay away from that. You could get hurt.” Which is very clunky! If someone in immediate danger what do you shout at them to make them stop?
KYLE: “Watch out!” or something like that yeah.
CLAUDIA: Which is something that is running through your mind when you are going through it. It definitely was an interesting read.
KYLE: Hilariously, this is both a pro and con of his writing style. When his dialogue gets the most clunky is when he has the passages where there is literally no description. A great example, everyone refers to it, is you know Ciri training with Lambert.
CLAUDIA: But you know what? I didn’t hate that. The training montage served such a specific purpose and I could see the montage in my head. So, what he was trying to get across, he got across, and Ciri’s dialogue was fun.
KYLE: Ciri’s dialogue was on point, and you could really see that training montage. So, it never bothered me how clunky some of those lines are. Because there is no description by necessity you end up getting clunky.
The Best And Worst Dialogue Moment
CLAUDIA: I think Ciri’s montage scene so specifically served a purpose that it just fits. Whereas that scene on the boat is another scene where there is tons of dialogue and very little description. It’s literally just pages of dialogue as you get to know the characters before the big conflict happens. And there was no reason not to just add a couple of lines of description here and there. Whereas Ciri’s it was a montage, time was passing. I guess the ones that don’t strike me as clunky are the ones that very obviously served a purpose. Whereas the clunky ones I was like “Okay, you chose to use dialogue here when there’s an easier alternative.”
KYLE: I will say the time it gets really clunky is when we are in Tissaia’s head. When she is like “I will find out what’s going on”. I didn’t need to be told that, that felt like hand-holding to me. The writer doesn’t trust the reader. Like he had been describing the entire time that she keeps adjusting her bracelets and her ring. She has an obsession with order, she wants nothing other than pure perfection and order. Vilgefortz is this chaotic element she can’t predict. So, I already knew from her physicality that she’s probably going to want to investigate what the hell he’s doing. I don’t need to be told that in thought. And granted it’s not the same, thought dialogue and actual dialogue are two different writing styles. But sometimes thought dialogue especially can be very clunky if not done well.
Triss And Philippa
We have a lot of the characters introduced in Blood of Elves. There are two characters, in particular, I wanted to get your feelings on. Those two characters are Philippa Eilhart and Triss Merigold. What are your opinions on them?
CLAUDIA: So, Triss I did not hate, and I was fully prepared to hate her because you hate her. But actually, she was just kind of nice and just kind of there. Unlike Essi, who didn’t know Geralt at all, Triss didn’t know him that well when they first slept together. It was kind of a one-off thing, then they were friends, and there was so much more to their relationship. Which wasn’t necessarily like, you know, a good thing but it justified it a lot more for me. So, I didn’t hate her, and I like the way she handled Ciri, a lot actually. Maybe part of it is like you don’t, you won’t, like everything she did for Ciri was so important.
KYLE: Oh yeah. I love where she basically lays in to the witchers.
CLAUDIA: I don’t love that. Because there are some things in there where it is very much a man wrote this, right? It was very set up to be: “You men don’t know anything! You should be ashamed of yourselves!” Which was very just peculiar. But I felt like Ciri and Triss’ interactions were very good.
And I also liked Phillipa. Everyone’s a little catty, I will say that, except for Shani. Shani wasn’t catty at all, I kinda enjoyed Shani the most because of that. But, if the women were a little less catty, I would be a little more friendly. But Triss I liked, Philippa I liked, I probably liked Phillipa more.
The Connotations Of Magic And Romance
KYLE: I have a complicated relationship with them. I think Triss is really well-written, I can’t stand her by the simple fact that she’s the female equivalent to the Nice Guy.
CLAUDIA: It’s Betty and Veronica.
KYLE: That’s it! To me, Triss always drove me insane because we know that she lured Geralt into bed with magic and that always made me icky.
CLAUDIA: Was that said? Cause I thought he was just depressed though as he came off a break up with Yennefer.
“And it had fascinated her. It had fascinated her to such an extent that…she had seduced the witcher – with the help of a little magic.”Blood of Elves. Page 61
CLAUDIA: Oh, that is gross.
KYLE: Yeah, it’s just an offhand thing.
CLAUDIA: Which to be fair, I do think that if that’s gross to you, then you need to examine the weird wish involvement in Geralt and Yen’s relationship.
KYLE: I can understand that. What I liked about the wish, and I don’t like The Witcher games reinterpret this, it was “I don’t want you to die. I’m going to keep you alive.
CLAUDIA: I think the thing that throws it all off is that they immediately have sex. It feels like you can’t really untangle the wish from that sex. If they had held off for a day then it would have felt like the sex was of their own volition. Because it is tied up into that moment, I can completely see where people have different interpretations of the wish. I don’t think Geralt made a wish that was explicitly: “I want to sleep with her” but it doesn’t change the fact that magic is involved.
KYLE: That’s a fair read. It’s just never been the way I’ve read it.
Kyle vs. Triss
KYLE: This book has a scene where Geralt explicitly says “I don’t love you.” And Triss just ignores it! For the rest of The Witcher Saga, she will constantly be pining after him.
CLAUDIA: I don’t know though. The way I read her character in this book, she was very aware that he did not love her and that was why she was so torn up about basically anything to do with him. And at least, it comes across very clearly to me that she is aware that he doesn’t love her.
KYLE:Okay. I just know that when I read the scene where she is at Kaer Morhen and she is like “Why hasn’t he come.” To me it feels like the opposite of the Nice Guy trope. The guy just keeps pining after the woman, but she has nothing to do with him. It’s the reverse.
CLAUDIA: To be fair, he does keep doing tiny little things that are like, “Why would you do that if you don’t actually like her?” Little things, like embracing her when she wants it and he gives in just enough to egg her on in a way that is honestly very common.
KYLE: I think Triss is very well-written. It’s specifically that Kaer Morhen scene where she is complaining that he hasn’t come to her in bed. All the other scenes with her, for the most part, I can deal with. Later in The Witcher Saga, when she is pining after him, she is still a good character. It’s a complicated thing and I think it may have been egged on by the fact I joined in via The Witcher games.
CLAUDIA: Yes. I think her position in The Witcher video games could deeply affect your opinion of her.
Where Does Blood of Elves Rank?
CLAUDIA: Given that this is the first non-short story collection in The Witcher Saga, what do you think of it? Because if I’m being totally honest, it doesn’t read like a novel. It reads like the first third of a novel. There is very little progression, most of our main characters don’t even meet each other. Do you think this is the weakest book in The Witcher Saga? Do the books in The Witcher Saga get any longer?
KYLE: They do get longer, the final one in The Witcher Saga is Lady of the Lake and it’s the longest. The thing with Blood of Elves is that it’s a great setup, it’s very strong setup. I know all the mysteries being set up for The Witcher Saga as a whole, and there is a lot of stuff that I haven’t noticed before.
It’s also worth noting that this is the first novel he ever wrote. He writes The Witcher, wins an award and is like “I better start writing more.” So, The Witcher short stories take off and he makes the collections. This is very important, he gets the very first book deal for a fantasy series in Polish.
Poland only a few years prior had gotten translations of Lord of the Rings. Fantasy was not a big thing there and so for the first time, the literary agents in Poland were taking fantasy seriously. But he had never written a book before and I think that shows. As The Witcher Saga goes on, he will play with his style, and I think they get a lot better. I think Blood of Elves is solid. Overall, though, it’s the weakest link in The Witcher Saga.
The Bond Between The Trio
The training montages were meant to tie Ciri to her respective parent figure. So, at the beginning of the book, you’ve got Ciri with Geralt and then at the end of the book, you’ve got Ciri with Yen. Do you feel that the bond between these three characters is being set up well? Do you feel like it’s earned?
CLAUDIA: The bond between Ciri and Geralt is absolutely earned. Of all the relationships in this book, that is the easiest one to believe. It goes back to that unshakable faith she had in the short stories, which you don’t see too often in this world or regarding anyone with Geralt. Yen and Geralt, because they already have history, regardless of what I think of their relationship, has been set up. There has been a lot of groundwork put down for that, so there is no doubt about their connection to each other.
Then Yennefer and Ciri are a little interesting because that starts off really rough and rocky at the beginning of the montage. And kudos to Sapkowski, he pulls it off very narrowly, he gets away with it by the end. He’s managed to turn their relationship from something that’s incredibly toxic. To give an example, a lot of the toxic elements in their relationship is that it was implied the Yennefer was jealous of Ciri. Which any grown woman who is jealous of a man’s daughter has fucking issues. She becomes very controlling of Ciri at certain points, nicknaming a girl ugly is a never okay.
KYLE: Ugly one is a translation issue. In Polish, I don’t remember what it is. I saw it on a forum post. It gave me an entirely different read on the scene.
CLAUDIA: That’s why I hate the translation. That makes much more sense because it did seem off to me. It heightened the worst parts of their relationship. There were moments where you are going to be completely sincere and completely honest and you are asking a lot of this child. Granted, her response to “Are you going to do the same for me?” was “Yes, you can ask me anything you want. I will always answer.”
What started as a very rocky relationship turned into something well done. I like both their characters and I like Yen’s relationship with Ciri. The only thing I wish is that Yen was in the book a little bit more, we got a little more context for what she might have been doing in her life before and after Geralt. I felt like we got a decent glimpse with Triss, Dandelion, Shani, and Geralt. But Yen was missing for a good chunk of the book.
KYLE: The thing about Yen is that she is the Gandalf of The Witcher Saga. She is one of the main characters, but she has stuff that’s going on that does not concern anyone else and she is going and doing that.
CLAUDIA: I would argue that if you are going to call her the Gandalf, then she is the heavy hitter that they will call in when the main characters are done pussy footing around.
KYLE: Well, she does save Dandelion at the beginning.
CLAUDIA: Yes, she does! That was very good. Let’s say you’re a normal reader and you are like “I want to read The Witcher books.” You google it and you find that this is book one. If that’s your introduction to Yen, then that’s pretty strong.
KYLE: By the way, I just looked it up. The actual translation is owlet.
CLAUDIA: That’s cute! And to be fair, she won me over when Ciri goes “why do you keep calling me ugly?” and her basic explanation was “Oh, you’re not ugly at all. You have something that I will never have, and you should treat it like the beautiful thing it is.” Basically, she shows that she is not calling her ugly, she’s calling her not a sorceress. And to Yennefer that’s a valuable thing. It’s an interesting little thing, but I do think that the nickname is a little mean spirited because of that initial rough start. Owlet makes way more sense.
KYLE: How I read it until I stumbled upon that forum post, was actually that she was calling her ugly one as teasing.
CLAUDIA: No, if you’re a woman you can never say that in a teasing way. My dad called me fat once when I was sixth grade and I remember it to this day. That is the moment you start looking at your appearance and be critical about it. All women have that story, they have that moment where someone said a thing that made them look into the mirror and not stop. Yennefer being an incredibly vain woman would know better.
Regardless of what other moral flaws she might have, she loved Ciri, she wouldn’t call her something that could potentially trigger that. Owlet makes a lot more sense, owlets are kinda ugly too. I mean they’re cute but they’re also kind of weird looking. It’s a very fitting descriptor for Ciri. Unless your mother was the worst, you generally don’t get nicknames like ugly or fat, or any of those things. You don’t touch those.
Yennefer As The Mother Figure
KYLE: I always immediately bought into the relationship. Even if you read this without knowing future events, you can figure out that the story is about them from the get-go. He does do a good job of conveying the passage of time but Ciri and Yen only spend about a chapter together. You want them together more. That’s a good thing, but it also feels like they have spent so little time together, it’s a pro and con kind of thing.
CLAUDIA: Yes, it wouldn’t be a problem if they had spent the same amount of time together as Triss. What’s to make you say that Yen’s relationship with Ciri will be more than Triss’? Because to me right now, Triss is winning in the mother figure department.
KYLE: That will be interesting next book. A lot of people misconstrue Yen’s character. I talked about this last time where she is the Ice Queen trope but where the Ice Queen normally melts and becomes this good person, Yen has her own reasons, her own motives, and there are only particular people she shows her true feeling around. She thought that was Geralt, then she learned in Shard of Ice that he’s not as receptive as she thought.
Then Ciri comes along and she can be her true self around Ciri. You see that over the course of that chapter of her slowly warming up to Ciri. She begins to tell her everything, she’s truthful, and I buy their relationship very quickly. Like I said it’s sort of a pro and con thing. Page count wise, they spend very little time together but the little time they do spend together works.
The White Frost And The Elder Blood
I’m interested as you don’t know what’s coming, how do you interpret both Ciri’s dreams and Ithlinne’s Prophecy? As of right now, you are getting snippets of these things, and some things are out of context.
CLAUDIA: They don’t really make sense and I don’t really care. Nothing has really happened that made me want to untangle the mystery of these dreams. Because I know already, Ciri’s the chosen one. Chosen to do what? We don’t really know. We know that she is somewhat of a medium.
KYLE: A Source.
CLAUDIA: But that hasn’t been explored more than just saying she is. It’s tied up in her lineage, we know that she is related to elves. And what this all means and why it’s important is never really addressed. It’s not the thing I’m curious about. I want to see Ciri grow up, I want to see Ciri do all these interesting things. My dream is to watch Ciri grow into the adult, that’s the most interesting part of a lot of this to me.
But the prophecy aspect actually has not captured my interest at all. Maybe because I’m not huge into chosen one prophecies, and knowing how these things are, I trust they will explain it. I guess to me there is no mystery that needs to be solved here. Because everything they have presented has been a matter of fact.
KYLE: That’s actually good. Sapkowski likes to play with genre. He loves to invert tropes. So, this prophecy means something but it’s of no consequence. Now there are bits of that prophecy that is important to Ciri’s heritage as you have brought up. But Ciri’s heritage is the interesting part of the prophecy.
Ciri’s Premonitions And Development
Now, Ciri’s dreams are not intrinsically part of the prophecy. Interestingly, you were mentioning that you are more interested in seeing her grow up. These dreams are pivotal moments in the books where she matures as a person.
CLAUDIA: I’ll be interested to see how that plays out in the rest of The Witcher Saga. What I’m really after is that feeling of imaging The Witcher games never included Geralt at all and opened with Ciri. Start the game as her not being aware of her background, running around fighting monsters as a wannabe witcher. I get close to it every time I read about Ciri doing something interesting and growing her skills. I begin to capture this feeling of this game that doesn’t exist.
This book is creating for me the feeling of the game that is Ciri the witcher without any of the baggage of Geralt or Yennefer. Imagine the experience of this world having not gotten The Witcher games. Instead, we got Ciri as a young woman beginning her witcher journey. And slowly unveiled the backstory that is the rich tapestry of this world. It’s very specific but it’s something the books get close to whenever they deal with Ciri. Which is why I wonder if what you are talking about with the dreams does indeed tap into what I’m interested in or if it taps into something else.
KYLE: There is one particular scene that’s set up in her dreams. I’m not going to spoil what it is, but she mentions several times “The stairs, too slippery, must not fall. Blood everywhere.” That is a scene from the final book that is a big part of her growing up and a big part of her, Geralt and Yen as a family.
The Game Of Politics In The Witcher Saga
CLAUDIA: What do you think of the politics of this book? Cintra is becoming a super important place symbolically and I think he has done a good job at making me invested in Cintra. And emotionally invested in the legacy of Calanthe, who is retrospectively now my favorite character because of the legacy she creates. She is almost a better character dead with the way people talk about her. Their making decisions based purely off of her existence. I want your take on that.
KYLE: The legacy of certain characters is something that he will play with. This is called The Witcher Saga, and he opens this book by Dandelion recounting particular events. He’s playing with the idea that this is folklore, this is a legend. A big part of legends is the one guy who stood up and did something and changed everything. The thing about legends is you get to see the legacy of particular characters you wouldn’t think about. He will play with that as the series goes on. I think Calanthe was the first time he started doing that.
As far as the larger politics, I’m not a politics major, I don’t know a great deal about politics. I’m intrigued by fictional politics; real-life politics bores me. I think what Sapkowski is doing is he is taking a fantasy styled realism to the politics. He is a well-learned man and there are a lot of parallels to real life with particular events, characters, and countries in The Witcher Saga. What he is setting up in the politicking of “She must die for reasons of state!” the proxy war, we are going to disguise troops and attempt to take Cintra back by falsifying a war is something that legitimately happened.
The Second Nilfgaardian War
KYLE: He took it and was like “Let’s apply this to fantasy.” It’s a lot of fun seeing this stuff and when we get to the Battle of Brenna, it’s the most horrific but amazing piece of war fiction I have ever read.
KYLE: He doesn’t glorify war, he makes it just as horrific as it actually is. But right now, because we are not seeing it the larger soldier side of things, that will come later, right now we are seeing the people with chess boards. We are seeing the rulers who don’t think about what the troops feel.
CLAUDIA: True. I do think he oversimplifies a little bit. He has very realistic situations and setups, but I think his chess board playing characters tend to be oversimplifications and I think it’s interesting, but it definitely feels a little simplified. Which I can’t really blame him for, I mean we are not asking him to write a history book, we are asking him to write a fantasy book. I’ll be interested to see where this goes because it sounds like it gets good.
KYLE: It does get really good and as a matter of fact the central focus of the first third of Time of Contempt deals with the fallout of “She must die for reasons of state!” The political fallout of their mistakes is massive. I enjoy it but I don’t know a goddamn thing about politics.
How To Make A Reader Care About Politics
KYLE: In a political based genre story, you have to have a reason to care. What Sapkowski doing here is we have met Foltest once in one short story, The Witcher, the very first one which Geralt is completely out of character in. We’ve heard about Vizimir, everyone else is new. However, we care about what they are doing because it all revolves around Ciri and Cintra. He hasn’t exactly made us care about any of the characters involved but we care about the political ramifications in regard to a character that isn’t involved. It’s an interesting way to make the reader care.
CLAUDIA: I think you’re right. That is a good way to make people care about a conversation that otherwise wouldn’t get any coverage. Ciri and Cintra are ideal shorthand for making someone pay attention, especially in this story and this setting where these two things have repeatedly been made important.
KYLE: And the rest of The Witcher Saga will be that way. He has a way of making you care about the characters you just met by finding a way in for you to care. As we said, everything revolves around “Ciri must die for reasons of state!” in that scene. It’s griping scene but we know none of the characters involved. We’ll get more and more, especially because his tendency to do framing devices will become more apparent.
CLAUDIA: He sets a precedent for it. Even in this book with all those excerpts between chapters, he is priming us to be okay with framing devices and setting up this larger world. Honestly, I’m surprised that his books didn’t get turned into games sooner. Their kind of ripe for expanded material.
The Wheel Turns, Does It Not?
KYLE: One of the themes of The Witcher Saga is this cycle of violence. How do you think he is using this as an allegory for real life racism?
CLAUDIA: What is being implied here is that there is a connection between racism and cycles of violence. Which there is, in that racism perpetuates cycles of violence but cycles of violence can exist without racism and vice versa. You also have to dig into the fact that race comes packaged with culture, nationality, and identity.
In the United States race means skin color. You can walk down the street and you could be any number of nationalities and cultures but if you are white, you are white. If you’re brown you are probably being labeled Hispanic. Race is a different thing in the rest of the world. For instance, the Poles are not treated well by other communities in Europe. But they don’t look any different.
My honest answer is there is no way he can handle it well at this scale. The best stories about race are very personal ones. I think whenever you start moving to bigger spectacle, you lose the nuances that make race such a complicated issue.
I think this stuff makes a lot more sense in the context of Poland. Think of all the times that country has been invaded, attacked, ostracised, or their people have been dispersed across different areas. Suddenly, the way he’s handling race, mythology, even the idea that everyone in this land is an outsider, it all fits. I don’t think it’s fair to reduce his fantasy backstory to “You just made fantasy Poland.” But I don’t think he would deny that he is carrying elements of that into this.
The Wheel Keeps Spinning, Never Ending
KYLE: The cycle of violence will get a bit more complicated. We will get a third-party element that does as you were saying where there’s these people that look identical, but they view themselves as different.
CLAUDIA: Which is like most people on this planet.
KYLE: I think you brought up an excellent point that while it is a fallacy to encompass The Witcher and go “It’s fantasy Poland.” That does have an effect. It’s worth noting he was a kid during the aftermath of World War II.
CLAUDIA: Yeah, that would do it.
KYLE: You grow up looking at that kind of stuff and it’s natural that will start feeding into your work. It’s a hard topic, racism is so broad and encompasses different problems throughout human history. I think he is touching on personal experience, but also just looking at the world and going “We keep going through cycles, let’s boil it down.” And that’s ultimately what genre fiction is all about. Taking real-world concepts and boiling them down and putting them in to create an allegory.
I think he is doing a good job especially because he is not just showing one side.Last time you were talking about how in the short stories Geralt was always right. And I mentioned in that sometimes Geralt will be wrong. Geralt is called out on being neutral, whether he should have remained neutral or not is left up to question, it’s never officially answered. We’ll get that more and more throughout The Witcher Saga. In two books we have an abortion debate. He will take the same idea, where he will give both sides, he’ll also provide a neutral opinion and he’ll let the reader decide which they think is right.
CLAUDIA: That’ll be interesting.
This Conclave Is Adjourned But The Witcher Saga Continues On
And there you have it, three books down with five more to go plus the games. We hope you have enjoyed Kyle and Claudia’s discussion and analysis of Blood of Elves. Next month, they will discuss and analyze the fourth book. Time of Contempt, which is Kyle’s favorite book in The Witcher Saga. But for now, we end this discussion for reasons of state!