Today, The Daily Fandom’s retrospective on The Witcher Saga continues with a Q&A session. Previously, the collaborating duo of Kyle and Claudia analyzed key themes and arcs of the fourth book in The Witcher Saga, Time of Contempt. Now, they discuss the book as a whole, key plot developments, and why it’s Kyle’s personal favorite.
KYLE: At the end of this book, Ciri gets knocked down a peg. There is this recurring theme of complacency. We see that her feelings of not wanting to be alone, rebelliousness as a teenager, and contempt for her destiny boil to the surface. How do you feel about where Ciri is at the end and her joining the Rats?
CLAUDIA: First, I have a lot of issues with your phrasing: “Getting knocked down a peg”. Ciri is raped, without question. She’s had a pretty hard life as it is, she’s a little bit of a brat, but in no way did I feel that this was a character that was haughty and in need of breaking. I have no issue with breaking her, but to say “she got knocked down a peg”? No, she is raped by people that took her in as a friend, which is the ultimate betrayal.
She wasn’t raped by some random person; she was raped by someone she trusted. Her not wanting to be alone only resurfaces in the sense that she is too scared to leave them at this point. There is no happy ending, there is no forsaking her destiny, at best she is trying to survive. To me, none of this has anything to do with her loneliness. Rape happens. Her choosing to stay with the Rats, I understand. Ciri is behaving exactly how you would expect someone in that situation to behave. She is latching onto the only thing that is familiar. She is latching onto the only thing that provides some kind of safety net, even if it’s a shitty one. We all do that. It is not a surprising twist. It was just sort of “meh”.
Emotional Pain Versus Physical Pain
KYLE: When I wrote the question, I wasn’t focusing on her and Mistle.
CLAUDIA: But you have to. You can’t bring up those things and not point out “Oh, by the way, there is rape in the middle of all of this.”
KYLE: When I think of breaking Ciri, I think of the Korath Desert.
CLAUDIA: I think that is a kind of physical pain and sorrow but that doesn’t break you the way rape does. That was all stuff she couldn’t really recover from. I get that the desert is meant to be read as her breaking, but it didn’t read like that to me. There was little emotional impact in the desert. The things happening to her were sucky, but there wasn’t a sense of hopelessness. And again, to throw a rape right after that. Rape, especially by someone you trusted, is far more of a betrayal, far more breaking. The truth of the matter is, replace the desert with any challenging situation and she could’ve wound up in the same sort of scenario. To me, it just doesn’t break her as much. She is still Ciri when she walks out of that desert.
KYLE: I see the Korath desert as Ciri’s breaking point because she has gone from parent to parent to parent. Now, she is alone and is most likely going to die. It’s a make it or break it situation. She snaps, she pulls from the one source she should never use, and that nearly destroys her. The Rats and her rape feature into it. There was an attempted rape, Mistle saves her, only to rape her instead. This all adds up to Ciri’s breaking point.
The Korath Desert
CLAUDIA: I think you are looking at it from the plot perspective as well. I don’t know what’s about to come, so I can’t read it like that. To me, she was doing what she had to do to survive. It was a bad choice and you can see her tear away from “darkness”, but the real transition in her character is when she goes from being Ciri to Falka. And that doesn’t really catalyze until the rape.
The desert is a stepping stone on the path to that end. Her relationship with other characters certainly factors into that. But I would argue that her choosing to become Falka and taking on a role with the Rats is almost more symbolic of her moving away from these parental figures. Now she is standing with basically a group of her peers. It’s a very interesting thing where much of what you are talking about is being reflected in that ending. The desert just sounds like it will have an impact later.
KYLE: Yes, especially because she meets Little Horse there. The unicorns are important, we have been building up to that. There have been several mentions of how unicorns are dead and are just legends. And she meets one, isn’t that weird? I remember when I first read the end of Time of Contempt, I devoured most of the book in a single day. The Korath Desert portion really gripped me. As a result, I always look back to the Korath Desert as the breaking of Ciri.
CLAUDIA: I think the people in this world are far more dangerous than the environment. Like, I was worried as soon as she was captured. I never feared for her in the desert because I knew she could survive that.
Mistle’s Rape of Ciri
CLAUDIA: Speaking of that ending, what did you think of the rape?
KYLE: I have never felt so icky reading something before. This comes from the person who reads noir as a common thing since he was ten and writes about themes that are very dark and depressing. I have never felt that icky before, and I think that it was well-handled in that good writing stays with you. Rape as a plot device can be a tricky thing because it’s such a touchy subject, especially when we get into the next book and her relationship with Mistle expands. That rape takes on a new context of Stockholm Syndrome, so it becomes even ickier the further you get into The Witcher Saga.
It stayed with me, that’s the best way I can explain it. I felt gross reading it, but at the same time I’m like “this is good storytelling”. I think like that sometimes. This is the most brutal thing you can do to a character but it’s damn good storytelling.
CLAUDIA: I’m withholding judgment to see if it’s actually good storytelling, but it is well written.
KYLE: I think it is interesting to talk about rape when her destiny revolves around procreation. So, there is this idea that this is the physical manifestation of what the entire world wants to do to her, and it happened from some no-name thief. I think that’s interesting as far as making the metaphor real. And you also have a character that is developing their sexuality and will be full blown bisexual by the end of The Witcher Saga, who gets raped by a woman.
CLAUDIA: That’s called a very bad, icky trope.
Bisexuality in The Witcher
KYLE: We have had hints of her bisexuality throughout The Witcher Saga, there were points where she was looking at women and also at men, so there was set up for it. Granted, I had the games, which just straight up say she is bisexual, so I already knew, I don’t know if you picked up on that.
CLAUDIA: Well, keep in mind that given the complete under-representation of bisexual characters, the implication of backing that up with sexual violence is pretty extreme, especially because of all the negative stereotypes associated with bisexual people. There is no getting around that. This is kind of blunt-force bad. I mean, there was no good way to do this. Right now, the only bisexual characters that are kind of hinted at are also kinda, well, not “evil”, but they are sorcerers. There are implications here that will have an effect in our real world.
KYLE: Philippa is on no one’s side but her own.
CLAUDIA: She’s evil.
KYLE: Okay, She is unrelentingly selfish and that’s why I enjoy the character. She is the kind of character that you love to hate. But I would never call Philippa evil because she does do good things.
CLAUDIA: That doesn’t change the fact that bisexual people are not getting a great rap. And to couple continually-sexist portrayals of women along with the portrayal of bisexuality, that is problematic. Ciri being bisexual, that’s super cool. There is an entire sub-genre of lesbians with swords. I realize that bisexual means “not a lesbian” but bisexual with a sword is still pretty cool. But there is already a sense of sexism that makes treading various bisexual identity politics difficult and interesting in the future.
The Handling of Bisexuality
KYLE: After the Rats meet their fate, Ciri runs away from anything sexual. There is the bit that confirms her bisexuality, and then there is the bit that happens with the elves. She is against all of it, she is just kind of done with people using her and that’s the way she sees it. Yes, she is bisexual, but it’s not really part of the plot.
CLAUDIA: I have no doubt that is handled finely. But her being bisexual and being raped by a woman carries a lot of bad connotations. Keep in mind that the queer community is a community that is vilified for potentially raping people, like “we don’t want them in our bathroom” that sort of shit. When that is further perpetuated in fiction, it does nothing to help the issue. It makes a difference when there are other bisexual characters who, like I pointed out, are less than stellar. Though most people in this book are less than stellar, so there is a little bit of wiggle room there, but it’s not much. There are some very unfortunate real-world instances of these sorts of biases deeply harming people.
KYLE: I can definitely see that interpretation, I don’t think that was Sapkowski’s intention. I’ve read things with people asking him if was intentional to make Ciri bisexual and he just says “Well, I thought it there wasn’t enough representation ” You got to remember this is the early 90s.
CLAUDIA: And also, unless you are Orson Scott Card, very few authors are out there being like “I want this character to be a villainous bisexual”. Most of them are a little more self-aware than that.
The Conclave on Thanedd
KYLE: Let’s talk about the big event of this book, the Thanedd Coup. The mages have become drunk on their own power and after their own machinations along with the machinations of Emhyr, they finally get the kick in complacency they needed. The Chapter and the Brotherhood are no more. How do you think this was handled and what do you foresee for the mage’s future?
CLAUDIA: There were so many names thrown around, I could barely keep up with who was betraying who, but I saw it coming a mile away. I was like “Yeah, someone’s going to blow this party up otherwise we wouldn’t be here.” It was nice to see all the sorcerers at each other’s throats. I agree that they are too powerful for what they are, and self-absorbed and conceited. But it was weird how that entire event played out.
I will say that I enjoyed the party scenes. You are just sitting there are like “Okay, this person is definitely an asshole, so dead, or to be killed, or will be on this side.” I thought it was well-written, it was engaging. Loved Yen through the entire thing.
Geralt is slowly becoming like a lame dad. Yen and Ciri are dragging him across the country with all the politics. All he wants is a house, chop wood and sell furs. And it’s like “You don’t sell furs, Geralt. Have you ever actually trapped and skinned an animal? No, you sell dead monsters to peasants or mayors. You don’t have those skills.” And he’s at this party trying to be fancy with all these fancy people. They’re throwing themselves at him both for sex and for political alliances and he’s just being an oaf.
CLAUDIA: He should have known that the explosive betrayal was coming. The fact that he doesn’t plays more into this idea that he is willfully being dumb. And it is willful; he thinks he is being neutral, but that neutrality comes off like a tired old man. It’s just enjoyable writing all the way around.
KYLE: I mean he did see it coming. His entire scene with Vilgefortz is him being like “When is it coming?” You can read in his dialogue his annoyance. He knows everyone is trying to use him and he’s just bored with it.
CLAUDIA: But there is an underlying feeling with him that he thinks what’s coming is less severe than it is. I’m not given the impression that he is expecting all-out brutal combat. When he loses that fight, you see that again he is really misreading the room. Because he just doesn’t expect mages to behave in certain ways and then the mages do.
KYLE: It’s also worth noting that he’s there specifically because Yen asked him to be, so he is there only for show. And he even has the thought because he knows everyone is reading his thoughts of “My thoughts are only of her and only for her.” He just doesn’t care and that’s why things are kind of blindsiding him. He’s expecting Vilgefortz to do something but he’s just going through the paces because this always happens.
CLAUDIA: But what is he expecting? Poison, a trap, a bloody betrayal? What happens is an actual battle. I don’t think, given his attitude, that he was wholly expecting that.
KYLE: I definitely agree. He wasn’t expecting a battle, but I do think he was expecting something.
The Reason for the Coup
KYLE:Next book, Philippa’s full plan of why she was betraying before Vilgefortz will be revealed. What do you think of her teaming with Dijkstra as a way to make the mages more political than they already were?
CLAUDIA: Again, I kind of lost track of who was betraying who and for what reason. So, Philippa, I lost interest in her. At that point in the story, I knew that there were two sides, one of which was Nilfgaard. I knew that they let elves into the building and that one side was betraying the other before the other could betray them, based on something Ciri said. That was a whole lot of nonsense all stuffed into one conversation.
So, I basically am just waiting this out. We’ve gotten to the point that Emhyr has a fake Ciri. What he’s doing seems totally removed. Well, not totally removed, but he’s doing shit. And the little fight that the mages are having, that’s cute and all, but there is so much else going on. It’s just all very weird. The kings of the north are trying to figure out if Ciri is dead or alive, as they seem to be going back and forth on that. There was a lot going on and I just sort of let it play like a bad movie.
KYLE: It’s worth noting that the entire reason Nilfgaard lost the First Nilfgaardian War was because of the mages.
CLAUDIA: That’s why Nilfgaard is taking them out. That entire thing is clearly to break the mages.
The Confusing Elements
KYLE: Yes, it’s a lot of names but some of those people we met in the short stories. Because of the gaps between our reading and doing the analyses, you probably forgot some of them.
CLAUDIA: Yeah, unless they were mentioned in the last book, I probably don’t remember. Keep in mind it’s not just a name you have to remember, it’s also allegiances and backstories. A name can be familiar, and it can still have no meaning attached to it.
KYLE: A large majority were either introduced or mentioned in the last book, but not seen. But there is a handful that we met in prior stories. The mage that dies on the table with Marti Södergren trying to heal him, that is the mage who was trying to protect Villentretenmerth in The Bounds of Reason.
CLAUDIA: I don’t mind that he uses so many names. I think that’s part of the flair of The Witcher. By the last book, if I remember half the names on the page, it will mean something to me. There will be a sense of worldbuilding. That can’t be accomplished without front-loading some of these names. When it becomes important, I will either start to keep track, or his writing will be engaging enough that I don’t care I have lost track. Here, I wasn’t keeping track of the names or the allegiances, but I found the writing engaging.
KYLE: I think the sheer velocity of that chapter adds to the tension and also puts us in Geralt’s shoes. This situation is fucking confusing and no one knows what going on and all we can do is keep on going forward.
Yen and Geralt’s Admission of Love
CLAUDIA: Yennefer and Geralt are finally declaring their love for each other. How do you feel?
KYLE: I love how mundane it is. It’s just over some clams while their eating, it’s just so ordinary. And after all the bombast that has been going on, the wish and all, just for them to finally say “I love you” in such a simple way is kind of adorable. I like them individually and as a couple, so I was already naturally invested in that relationship. That said, they have been together on and off again for so long that saying “I love you” in the most simple way was kind of refreshing. It’s just so ordinary and so human, and I like that.
CLAUDIA: That’s really how it is. I mean not for everyone, but for a lot of people that is what love is. When you decide to get married it’s rarely just the get on one knee kind of thing and more of “You live with me and we share all these things. And hey you know what would be a good idea?”
I adore Geralt with Yennefer if that makes sense. I don’t think I like Yennefer with Geralt, but Geralt with Yennefer makes a lot of sense. Because Geralt with Yennefer suddenly becomes a trophy husband. And really, if you look at what his dream is, this whole house thing, that’s all he wants. He’s perfectly happy to do anything she asks of him without question, and basically plays the role of like “Oh, you need someone to look good on your arm? I’m good at that.”
Claudia’s Breakdown of the Geralt/Yen Dynamic
He’s spent all his life being only good at killing and here comes this lady who is lowkey “I like you for your body and you are useful to me.” He’s useful because he loves her, he’s useful because he sleeps with her, he’s useful because he’s pretty. And while that might not mean much to someone else, from where he’s coming from, that’s a huge number of things that for most of his life he would have been told that he’s not useful for. All the other women who want him want Geralt the Witcher.
Yen wants him as a trophy husband. I think on some level it pleases him. He goes to this party on her arm and he has no problem with basically being a pawn to her little show off games cause he gets to be her pawn. It’s her show off games and he’s doing something useful to her. My favorite scene in the entire book is where she says “Do you still want to kiss me? Fine, you may but mind the lip gloss.” That entire thing is just making a scene in public. It’s great.
If you were a new reader coming into The Witcher, you would not get the same “Oh, these two have been after each other for ages” relationship with them. All you would know is the first book which establishes them as ‘they loved each other once’. It establishes them as this fairy tale couple that could never be that gets reunited without any of the contexts of them being assholes to each other. In some ways, I prefer the story as it is told in The Witcher novels then I do in The Witcher short stories. Basically, he never had to tell me how they met.
Yennefer’s Love of Geralt
KYLE: Her first appearance is The Bounds of Reason and he was asked “how did they meet?” So, that’s why he wrote The Last Wish. Which is why the wish is never mentioned again. I don’t think Sapkowski ever really cared. He was just like “I want to play with a fantasy trope and get my two characters who were already together in this other story together.” To me the wish never affected their relationship, I think they both love each other. I think Yen sees him as more than just a trophy husband.
CLAUDIA: I never meant to imply that she was using him and didn’t love him or was selfish. She is literally providing him with a relationship where he can be something other than a witcher, and in return, she is providing him with the only woman that will ever really be able to love him. That is not by any means shallow despite the fact that basically, you know, she also happens to get a trophy husband out of it. That’s part of the dynamic, it’s not at all meant to be a shallow or derogatory remark towards Yen or her treatment of Geralt, cause it’s not.
KYLE: What I find interesting about their dynamic is that we find out in this book that she is the reason he is successful as a witcher. She pays his contracts! He makes no money, so instead, she just pays for him so he can make a living.
CLAUDIA: I know, it’s so cute! She is Geralt’s sugar mama. Basically, that’s the relationship they have and it’s adorable. He’s just a grandpa. I think this is the book that finally makes me buy it to a degree. I wasn’t buying into it before this.
The Complexity of Love
KYLE: I do like that their reconciliation is not seen; it’s interpreted by Dandelion. As Dandelion says, “Love is so complex you can’t really put it down in words.”
CLAUDIA: And I don’t think Sapkowski is able to write anything I believe. I think he is a good writer, but I think, at least in the English version, he has yet to write a moving emotional scene that really made me feel something. He would have to put in way more work.
KYLE: I was already biased to loving their relationship, and Yen is my favorite character so it’s not really a surprise. The games have cemented it and even you have brought it up: how often Geralt sleeps with people. That will stop, it’s no longer a thing. There is only one other time he will sleep with someone other than Yen and that’s under a very specific circumstance which won’t even come up until the final book. We got the official declaration last book that Ciri is his daughter and here the official declaration is that he loves Yen. At this point, he has chosen his family. In a way, he has found himself by finding other people.
Cahir Mawr Dyffryn aep Ceallach
KYLE:One thing that was very intentional was for two books Sapkowski created this nightmarish black knight figure and then at the end that he’s just a twenty-year-old guy who is kind of innocent, dorky, and ordinary. There is nothing creepy or villainous about him. What do you think of Cahir and the reveal that the black knight with the winged helmet is not actually evil and he’s just a guy?
CLAUDIA: It was confusing. Mostly because that entire segment of chapters was confusing. Did she stab him at the end?
KYLE: No, she lets him go because she sees that he’s not much older than her.
CLAUDIA: I was uncertain of that. There was what felt like a lot of flashbacks because she had flashbacks before where she was being chased but she wasn’t really being chased. I was never scared of the black knight and I was never certain of why Ciri was scared of the black knight.
KYLE: We’ll find out why.
CLAUDIA: So that’s the deal. That reveal didn’t do anything for me because that reveal was of something that I was already ambivalent towards and didn’t really understand. I’m sure that it will be interesting moving forward. Ciri’s terror of this knight had never been anything. Like “why are you so irrationally scared of this one particular figure?” I just chalked it up to her being a kid and to everyone dying.
Turning Something Generic Into Something Interesting
KYLE: I was reading it and I was like “oh, this is like your generic bad guy who’s chasing the protagonist.” And then when he turned out to be just a kid I was like “oh, this is cool.” He’s just this ordinary guy and we’ll come to find out that he’s just this very innocent guy who has been put into this not great situation and he’s doing this for weirdly creepy but not creepy reasons. The point of it is misinterpreted signals, which is why he is set up to be a villain in the past two books.
I was fascinated that he was an innocent guy and then we get the reveal when he is about to be killed by Geralt that he was the one that saved Ciri in Cintra. That had been played as a mystery of how she got out. But I can understand that if you are not invested in that mystery then it wouldn’t play as a big reveal.
CLAUDIA: No, instead it just played as just like a page turn. Not invested does not mean not well crafted or well written. I think it helps that you have played the games first; you were invested from the get-go. Sapkowski has to basically sell me on his writing alone. And honestly, sometimes the writing isn’t strong. The first book is not so well written when compared to this one. The short stories are actually very well written for the most part but also occasionally out of character, occasionally weird, occasionally you are like “this was a choice made for sex appeal and not actually how you portray these characters normally.” So, there is a lot there that plays into my perception of the world moving forward.
Vilgefortz’s Role in The Witcher Saga
KYLE: What do you think Vilgefortz and in particular what do you think of Sapkowski making a joke out of the villain must be an equal and opposite of the hero? Vilgefortz is not Geralt’s Joker, that’s kind of the point of the joke: Vilgefortz thinks he is but he’s not. So, what do you think of Sapkowski’s inversion of the trope?
CLAUDIA: I didn’t really catch onto the fact that he was supposed to be an inversion. He struck me as just another person at that party who thought they could use Geralt and kind of got sidestepped. As much as we harp on Geralt being neutral, it is a very effective way to get sorcerers to go, “What?” So, I enjoyed him as a character, I enjoyed all his scenes, and I enjoyed all his weird monologues. I enjoy the build up around him because I actually felt like he was built up fairly well.
I did not read into his scenes with Geralt anymore than I did with pretty much any other person who approached him that evening. It read very similarly in terms of Geralt sidestepping any responsibility or need to be involved. He’s a peculiar sort of character and I feel like we are not given a lot of time with him as a villain. He kind of ended up falling into the Philippa category wherein I know what they are heading towards and yet I’m at a point where basically I sit and wait. I did like that he beat Geralt’s ass. That was very enjoyable. Say what you will about anything else that happened, he clearly has the brawn to back up whatever he chooses to say.
Vilgefortz as an Inversion of a Trope
KYLE: What I love about that fight is that it’s just no match at all, Geralt’s out of his element. This opens with a fight with Geralt and a bunch of people that he just trounces on, just not even close to the same level as him. And then we end it by Geralt being the one that gets trounced. What I love about it is that there is the flash forward where he wonders what kind of mistakes he made and then it cuts back to just one paragraph of Vilgefortz just beating the living shit out of him. Vilgefortz has an entire monologue that is literally “join me and we can be more powerful than before!” So, I read him as a joke.
CLAUDIA: If we take him in context of everything else in The Witcher with the fairy tales and all that, he’s definitely traditional. He’s playing his role to a tee. It’s very good.
KYLE: I just love that he is insistent “we are equals, we’re the same.” And Geralt is just like “I think you are stretching these equalities.” This is me as a writer going “this is what I would be thinking if I was writing this scene.” This is Sapkowski actively going “The villain is always the equal and opposite, the dark mirror of the hero. What if the hero just doesn’t buy it and thinks it’s dumb?” I think it’s a very interesting attempt to play with a trope. I struggle to say he’s the big bad, as there is no real big evil villain. There are many people that want Ciri for multiple reasons, but he is the most blatantly crazy of the bunch. This starts as a deconstruction and remains one until the very end.
CLAUDIA: I mean, I don’t actually consider these stories deconstructionist right now. Nothing here, to me, is offering a deeper analysis of fantasy tropes. I can get that if you’ve only ever read Tolkien that this feels like a deconstruction. But to me, it feels just like standard D&D fare. So, I’m still waiting for the deconstructionist shoe to drop. I appreciate the politics but actually, the politics make it less deconstructionist. The bureaucracy can occasionally lead into the deconstructionist territory. But we have seen very little, I would argue, deconstructionism in these first two books because it’s been so focused on building everything up.
As he uses more of these chosen ones tropes and what not, I think we will see more of it, but right now it’s actually par for the course. Something I mentioned in our very first article was that deconstruction is not simply throwing realism or grittiness or any of that into a fantasy book. Right now, that’s really all he’s done. He’s added in politics and violence and sex to fantasy. And while that was not par for the course for the genre back then, it’s still not deconstruction. It’s just changing things up. There are still elements of deconstruction in this work, but it has definitely been less since we left the short stories.
KYLE: I have been saying that this story is all about a chosen one. Now that we have reached the Korath Desert, I can now say we have reached the deconstruction of that trope. He was setting up to be standard chosen one fare and now we got to the breaking and once we are past the breaking, it changes that entire trope to be a bit more interesting in my opinion.
Ciri’s Role and The WWI Connection
CLAUDIA: Something I found interesting is how we bounce between Ciri’s importance and whether Ciri is alive or dead in the eyes of the northern kings. What are your feelings on that?
KYLE: Ciri’s purpose for the northern kings, at this point, is to marry her off to get Cintra. Now she is no longer there, and they can’t do that. False Ciri has been introduced, so the entire ballgame changes. Ciri is now entirely separate from most things.
I find it fascinating how he deals with subtle things you don’t really think about. The entire conversation between Yen and the banker, where he talks about how the kingdoms are funding the purging of non-humans by taxing non-humans. So, they are in effect paying for their own death. Everyone that finds out a war is coming gets there by following the money trail. “They are paying them, who is providing them with the wood, which allows them to build the ships, so why would they be building ships? Well, it’s obvious they want to cross the Yaruga.” It’s all paying attention to economics, which is something we rarely touch upon. Everyone was trying to stay two steps ahead of everyone and then because of a bet, a war is started. It brings new meaning to “the shot heard ‘round the world.”
CLAUDIA: Well, World War I started because an assassin killed Archduke Ferdinand. He realizes he couldn’t assassinate, missing his first and second attempt. And then he got hungry, went to go get a sandwich, turned around, realized he had the perfect shot and boom. Dude was hungry, a war was started.
KYLE: It also plays into WWI because the assassin was told not to do it at the last minute.
Francesca Findabair, Enid an Gleanna
I think the most interesting bit of the politics is Francesca and her deal with Nilfgaard to get a country. The elves have not had a country to themselves in over a century. So, she made a deal to effectively be a duchy but has free reign to do whatever she wants as long as she supplies Nilfgaard with the Scoia’tael. She can be the queen, but not really, it’s all but name. The elves now have a country because of a deal. She even talks about how the deal isn’t fair, but she wants the elves to have a country, so she did it anyway. I think that plays into Polish history as Poland wasn’t a country until after WWI.
CLAUDIA: And the most famous people to ever strike a deal to make a nation was the Jewish population. I mean elves with a country is better than elves without a country. You could argue it’s still in her favor.
False Ciri and The Shifting Perspectives
KYLE: He ends this book with shit hitting the fan and the world going into complete chaos. What do you think of the plot development in regard to false Ciri and how she relates to Emhyr?
CLAUDIA: Fake Ciri is an awesome development. You are like “Ah, yeah, that’s totally fake, he’s totally staging this.” And he’s staging this for a reason that’s not fully explored, but you can make some guesses. It’s good to have a fake Ciri just sorta there, plus it will throw off other people, which is about to be painful for just about everyone looking for her. That was interesting. I really like Emhyr actually. I like how they have been slowly visiting him a little bit each book. That has been a nice change of pace. I’m enjoying how Sapkowski continues to build him up. Every book, it’s like Sapkowski knows that he’s going to take his time with him, the details are kind of sparse but just enough that you kind of know what’s going on.
I think we have talked about the way Sapkowski is using third person. In Young Adult fiction, they use a lot of first person and super close third person, where you don’t jump into anyone else’s head at any point during the book. Young Adult fiction does that for a variety of reasons, but it’s a style I’ve always kind of enjoyed as it forces certain limitations onto the author. It can create more interesting scenarios. Especially because so many plots in real life and in fiction can, unfortunately, revolve around who knows what. This is an older book so that’s probably why the style is a little bit like that.
The Witcher Compared to YA Fantasy
KYLE: Having just finished reading a YA novel, I noticed that it was so insanely focused on two particular characters and it rarely jumps to anyone else. Occasionally in this YA novel, there would be a segment of a chapter that would focus on someone else and I actually found it quite refreshing because in The Witcher Saga, I would have had about twenty of these jumps already and it would have given me a larger sense of the world instead of having to exposit through character thoughts, I could have gotten a feel for the world from other people. While I enjoyed the book, it was a noticeable style difference.
CLAUDIA: The prose of a book can date it sometimes which is super interesting. It’s not super bad in The Witcher but it’s something you kind of notice if you pick up a couple of books off of the current fantasy shelf, especially the fantasy YA shelf. And The Witcher, honestly, is not so complicated as far as vocab goes that I wouldn’t mark it for YA. There’s obviously explicit material, but the language in The Witcher, at least in the English translations, could be in the advanced YA section pretty easily.
KYLE: Well, we have talked about this before. We are reading a translation that many consider not great. People I know who have read the Polish original say that Sapkowski has a way with words. So, we are certainly missing an element of The Witcher.
CLAUDIA: I guarantee we are missing a bunch of wordplay.
Dandelion as Exposition Machine
KYLE: At the end did it feel jarring to you that we would have Dandelion exposit for a bit and then we would jump to a character involved? It always felt like a flashback in a TV show.
CLAUDIA: I wouldn’t call it a flashback in a TV show because a flashback in a TV show is not charming. Dandelion is charming because starting from the first book we have sort of implied that he is telling the story. We know that Sapkowski loves framing devices, it’s something that he can weave in and out of the narrative as he feels. It’s not explicitly a series of stories told by Dandelion except when he decides it is. It’s just subtle enough that I’m never bothered by an interjection from Dandelion. And interjections from Dandelion make the story feel more real in a way that a flashback never could.
KYLE: It feels like a flashback the way you would do a flashback. You have Geralt wounded in Brokilon then Dandelion comes along and is answering his questions. Like “Has Redania responded to what Nilfgaard did?” and then “Haven’t you heard? King Vizimir is dead!” and then we flash to the assassin.
CLAUDIA: We know that dialogue of his can get clunky. That’s a thing we’ve seen. It’s a little more forgivable when it’s Dandelion. It reminds me of the last story in the first book, where Dandelion was talking to someone and there were similar gimmicks.
Emhyr var Emreis, Deithwen Addan yn Carn aep Morvudd
KYLE: How do you feel about Emhyr immediately guessing that false Ciri was completely fake?
CLAUDIA: Well, he’s not stupid, which is a quality I always look for in my antagonists, I don’t know about you. My assumption is that, real or not, he clearly has a plan and he knows how to use her even if she isn’t real. I feel like it’s hard to throw Emhyr off balance because he already knows a lot more is going on than what we’ve seen. So, I don’t know. To me, it was “Ah, good, we don’t have a stupid antagonist.” Which is always the worst.
Again, we don’t know much about him, we get hints about what he’s up to, hints of his plans, and as I said, I’m not sitting here making conspiracy boards about it mostly because I’m letting this book take me on the ride it has promised. I appreciated that entire scenario, at least as a way to demonstrate that this is a character who has plans that are bigger than just monster of the week. It implies that he has much broader plans for real Ciri and it demonstrates that he will continue to use fake Ciri for political reasons until he can enact those broader plans.
KYLE: I’m very jealous of the fact that you have no clue who he is. The Witcher games spoiled that for me, specifically The Witcher 3. You are getting to see this very subtle build up to a particular reveal. It really sucks that I didn’t get that.
Good and Evil in The Witcher Saga
CLAUDIA: What is your take on the way The Witcher Saga handles the idea of good vs. evil?
KYLE: The Witcher is not pessimistic in the way Watchmen is. There is a sense of heroism, we have that entire omniscient thing where it says Geralt has scruples. It believes that there is such a thing as a good person and that there’s evil but often times they mix. Determining whether someone is actions were good or evil or just plain selfish is sometimes hard to determine because someone’s selfish actions can have good effects and they can have bad effects.
What I think Sapkowski is trying to say in The Witcher is that good and evil are too hard to define, you need to define for yourself what matters and what you believe in and then stick to your guns. That’s where Geralt, Ciri, and Yen are heading; defining what matters to them. However, there are people that are relatively good and people that are relatively evil. It’s not cut and dry, people can switch. Geralt has demonstrated himself to be an honorable person. We went into his witcher’s code, something Geralt created, in the very first book in The Witcher Saga so there is a sense of honor he has that other witchers don’t have. There is clearly a sense of goodness in people, but whether they act on it is another thing.
The Trio’s Dungeons and Dragons Alignment
CLAUDIA: Where on the alignment chart do Yen, Ciri, and Geralt fall?
KYLE: Geralt I would say falls into Chaotic Good, he’s a good person, tries to do good, but there are times when he can’t, sometimes he has to choose the lesser of two evils. He ultimately believes that things should be better.
Yen, I’d probably put her in the Lawful Neutral territory or even True Neutral. She willing does some pretty nasty things but it is all in service of her family. It’s less of “I’m doing this for the sake of goodness” and more of “I want my daughter back, you son of a bitch!” It’s hard to define as good or evil, it’s just her wanting what she wants, though ultimately, she does have a good heart.
Ciri, it’s hard to define where she is. Right now, she is Neutral Good. Next book, Chaotic Neutral, verging into Lawful Evil. After Leo Bonhart, True Neutral. At the end of The Witcher Saga, she verges on being good again.
Claudia’s Opinion on Realism
CLAUDIA: Something I see thrown around a lot is this idea that The Witcher is realistic and I strongly disagree with that. I don’t think that it not being realistic makes it bad, not by a long shot. If I wanted realistic stuff, I would be reading a history book. But I see a lot of people pointing to The Witcher and that “It’s realistic” as a defense when they come up against people that are not fans of The Witcher or not a fan of how The Witcher treats women.
It’s a very funny thing people get all up and arms about. The realism you should be looking at with a book like this isn’t the realism of Europe in medieval times but instead, you want to look at the things that are realistic to the era in which it was written. If this was written in the 90s, then you look at it and go “What is realistic about this to the 90s?” Which is an interesting way to do it but tends to be a little more revealing. Attitudes, ideas, and what was big in pop culture have such a big impact on these sorts of things.
When we are looking at realism in books it’s almost more relevant, unless someone was going in and doing the research to create a piece of historical fiction. Sapkowski has said that he didn’t set out to write The Witcher as realistic by any stretch of the imagination and this is really obvious in the way he writes.
Kyle’s Opinion on Realism
KYLE: Everything is a product of its time. All art is political whether it wants to be or not. It is merely a product of where you grew up, what you experienced and what’s currently going on. The Witcher is a product of Poland in the late 80s and early 90s.
I think Grant Morrison said it best: “Adults struggle desperately with fiction, demanding constantly that it conform to the rules of everyday life. Adults foolishly demand to know how Superman can possibly fly, or how Batman can possibly run a multibillion-dollar business empire during the day and fight crime at night when the answer is obvious even to the smallest child: because it’s not real.” What I love about The Witcher is that it is both realistic and not realistic at the same time. It asks you to take it seriously but also says magic exists, dwarves exist, elves exist and so forth.
Every fiction will inevitably pull from something in real life as a baseline. The old adage “write what you know.” And what do most people know? They know the world they live in, so you are going to pull from your real life. Every piece of fiction will pull from real life in some way. So, to say The Witcher is realistic is to say it pulls from real life. It’s not trying to be as realistic as possible; it’s trying to talk about the real world because that’s what fiction is. Fiction, inherently, is trying to take something and talk about it. That is the concept of fiction, period.
Realism’s True Purpose in The Witcher Saga
CLAUDIA: The thing with The Witcher is that people go “Well, it’s sexist against women because that’s just realistic for the time period”. To me, sexism as we know it is a modern invention. There was sexism in the past but the way it expressed itself and the way we talked about it was very different. So, the language in The Witcher very much reflects 90s sexism.
On the other hand, if we start looking at historical events, there are events in this book that I guarantee Sapkowski ripped straight from a Polish history book. The day to day aspects of medieval fantasy gets glossed over in favor of these bigger historical events. I think we get lost in the fact that there are multiple levels to realism. The Witcher can be realistic on a semi-historical level while also being completely divorced from reality on other levels.
KYLE: It’s what Alfred Hitchcock said: “Drama is life with all the dull bits cut out”. That’s what fiction is about, analyzing real life. Sapkowski was thinking “In place of different ethnicities, we are going to have the elves. The elves are going to be our stand-in for historical racism. We are going to look at how that has been part of our society since time immemorial”. That’s what people are latching onto when they say it’s realistic. There are a lot of historical parallels. If this was realistic, there wouldn’t be magic, elves, dwarves, it would be Europe. Realism is just taking an aspect of real life and making it absurd to create commentary. Realism is just a means of making it more relatable to you so that you can understand the commentary.
This Conclave Is Adjourned But The Witcher Saga Continues On
Thank you for joining us as we discussed Time of Contempt and what makes it both a powerful and interesting read. Next month, we will be tackling the fifth book in The Witcher Saga, Baptism of Fire, which sees the introduction of several amazing characters including a certain man named Regis. As per the norm with this retrospective series, expect the Q&A session to drop the following day.