A Guide to The Witcher Books and Main Characters to Get You Ready for the Netflix Series
The Witcher books illustrate a vast world full of complex characters, who will soon be brought to life in the Netflix adaptation. The show premieres this week on Netflix, and the streaming service has been releasing featurettes in anticipation. There are character profiles; an interview with author Andrzej Sapowski, and a delightful video of star Henry Cavill reading from The Last Wish. All of this content has revealed key pieces of information about the direction that the show will be taking. One thing is clear: The Witcher series will be adapting the books, not the video games.
Whose Story Is Most Important In The Witcher?
Although the tone and artistic direction of the show does lean heavily on what has been established in the video games, showrunner Lauren Hissrich has spoken about how the show will take a different direction in terms of story. “We’re not adapting the video games, it’s a straight adaptation of the books.” Hissrich said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly back in July. “Which is great as the videogames are also an adaptation of the books. They went one direction, we actually get to go another.” Which means that the characters from the Witcher books are likely to be somewhat different from their video game depiction.
Initially, Hissrich was planning on making the character of Ciri the protagonist of the show. “I pitched a version of the story that actually started with the second-to-last book, which is Lady of the Lake.” Hissrich revealed to fans at MCM London Comic-Con. “Ciri sort of ends up sitting by a lake, meeting with a man, and telling her story. And I started with that narrative structure, which is to have Ciri be our focal character, and be kind of our narrator.”
Hissrich eventually realized that focusing on Ciri’s point of view would lead to the same problem she was facing by framing the show through Geralt’s point of view entirely. She also wanted to weave in the story of the sorceress Yennefer. But both of these characters are framed by the Witcher’s perspective in the books. She says that she had a realization that she could tell all three of these stories simultaneously. Three characters from the Witcher books will frame the first season of the show: Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri.
Characters From The Books Will Be Expanded For The Witcher
Andrzej Sapowksi first started publishing his Witcher stories in the Polish magazine Fantastyka. In 1993 he published his first collection of these stories: The Last Wish, followed by a second collection The Sword of Destiny. The third book in the Witcher series is The Blood of Elves and it is the first full novel that is not a collection of short stories.
Image via Gollancz Publishing
It is from these three books that the show will likely take inspiration. Since the first two books are short story collections, we can expect the first season of The Witcher to be fairly episodic. I imagine that Hissrich will film some of the more famous stories that fans of the Witcher games are already familiar with. However with the addition of Ciri and Yennefer as main characters, we can definitely narrow down some of the stories that the show will be telling.
If you are not familiar with the books, or the video games you may be asking yourself who are these characters? Why is there so much focus on characters beyond the titular Witcher? The characters that Geralt encounters inform his story, and his character far more than his monster-hunting. Geralt often struggles with his own humanity in a world that reviles him, and it is Ciri and Yennefer who help shape his identity and give him humanity.
Let’s take a journey into the world of The Witcher and see who we are going to meet along the way, and some of the stories The Witcher will draw from.
Spoilers below for the Witcher books and video games.
Ciri Is One Of The Major Characters In The Witcher Books
Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon is the Princess of Cintra. In the video game Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, Ciri plays a major role as an adult character. However, she is first introduced in the books as a child and that is where the show will begin as well. Ciri fills the role of the ‘Chosen One’ in Witcher mythology, destined from birth for greatness. However, her road to glory is long and painful.
Ciri is first introduced in the story The Sword of Destiny, the titular story in the second book. That story details how Geralt rescues her from a group of Dryads. While this may happen in the show, it is more likely that Ciri’s storyline will be drawn from other stories. Likely from the short story Something More, and the novel The Blood of Elves.
Something More For Geralt and Ciri’s Characters From The Books
The relationship between Geralt and Ciri goes back before she was even born. Once upon a time, Geralt broke a curse on Ciri’s father. (Emhyr van Emreis in disguise at the time later becomes Emperor of Nilfgaard). Afterwards, Geralt invokes an ancient custom known as The Law of Surprise as his reward for saving the life of the future Emperor. Geralt tells Emhyr that his reward will be “What you find at home yet don’t expect.” This is one of the two ways the Law of Surprise is typically evoked. (It is said that this is how the sterile Witchers bolster their ranks).
Unbeknownst to Emhyr his soon to be wife (Princess Pavetta of Cintra) was pregnant with Ciri, who becomes the ‘child of surprise.’ This is relayed in the short story A Question of Price, and expanded upon in the story Something More. In this story Geralt discusses the Law of Surprise with a merchant whose life he has saved. Geralt then invokes the law with the merchant, and returns home with him to surprisingly find Ciri waiting for them. This makes Ciri the child of surprise twice over for Geralt, further cementing their ties to one another.
Freya Allen as Ciri | Image via Netflix
The Slaughter of Cintra and The Blood of Elves Inform Ciri’s Character
However, the reason Ciri is waiting for Geralt is a dire one. She has fled from her homeland of Cintra, after witnessing the death of her grandmother (Queen Calanthe). Nilfgaard has invaded Cintra, and Emperor Emhyr wants to reclaim his daughter in order to marry her and secure his place as King of Cintra. (There are some reasons this show is being compared to Game of Thrones, and the weird incestuous inbreeding is one of them.)
The Slaughter of Cintra is an event that is often referred to in the Witcher video games, and we will definitely see it onscreen in The Witcher. Previews for the show have already shown Ciri fleeing in search of Geralt of Rivia who can protect her. It is likely that the show will draw from The Blood of Elves to depict this storyline. This novel details Ciri’s time training at Kaer Morhen (the Witcher stronghold) with Geralt and the other Witchers in residence.
Ciri’s bloodline is important for many reason, she is the heir to multiple thrones after all. But she is also a descendant of a powerful elven sorceress which means that Ciri is of ‘elder blood’ and has a natural affinity for magic. This innate magical ability is incredibly powerful and difficult to control. The Blood of Elves also depicts Ciri’s magical training at the hands of another major character, the sorceress Yennefer.
Yennefer of Vengerberg
The sorceress Yennefer is another primary point of view characters of the Netflix series. She appears in many of the Witcher stories and novels. Despite not appearing in the first two Witcher games, Yennefer is also a main character in Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. She is first introduced in the story The Last Wish. Geralt and his friend Dandelion (who will be given his Polish name of Jaskier in the show) inadvertently unleash an angry djinn. Geralt seeks out the sorceress for assistance, and the two clash dramatically. They also fall in love, as their fates become entangled.
Anya Chalotra as Yennefer | Image via Netflix
Yennefer was born with a physical deformity, and abused as a child. The show appears to be expanding on her limited backstory from the books. Her character featurette from Netflix shows her father selling her to another sorceress, who trains her in the ways of magic. (Fun trivia fact: MyAnna Buring plays the sorceress that buys Yennefer – Tissaia de Vries. She also voiced the character of Duchess Anna Henrietta in Witcher 3: Blood & Wine).
In Witcher lore, disfigured young women often become sorceresses as they no longer have value to their families as marriageable prospects. It is through magic that Yennefer fixes her deformity and becomes the powerful and seductive sorceress that Geralt falls for. She also goes on to develop a maternal relationship with Ciri as she teaches the young princess how to control her wild inherent magical powers.
Yennefer is a complicated character in both the books and the video game. And it looks like the show will be exploring her character even further. It is likely that the show will depict Yennefer’s role in the Battle of Sodden. This is a pivotal moment in the Nilfgaardian war that begins after the Slaughter of Cintra. Many of the important sorceresses from the Witcher stories take place in this battle. Elements of the battle are relayed in the short story Something More from The Sword of Destiny.
Geralt of Rivia
At last we come to the the Witcher himself. Geralt of Rivia is the White Wolf, and the Butcher of Blaviken. The short story Something More reveals that his mother was a Druid, and a rare sorceress that could have children. Geralt trained under the School of the Wolf at Kaer Morhen. He became a Witcher by passing the Trial of Grasses, where apprentices undergo intense mutation to gain their preternatural Witcher abilities. Geralt has dedicated his life to hunting monsters. And although he performs a necessary service he is still reviled by most ordinary citizens who fear and detest him.
Geralt Roams the Land | Image via Netflix
Geralt gains the title ‘Butcher of Blaviken’ in the short story The Lesser Evil. This story will almost certainly be adapted for screen in the show. This is hinted at in the video above where Henry Cavill reads the opening lines of The Lesser Evil. “As usual, cats and children noticed him first…” The Lesser Evil is also a favorite of author Andrzej Sapowski, and one of the best known Witcher stories. It sets up many of the core themes that The Witcher will be exploring. The most predominant is the idea that men can be more monstrous than monsters themselves.
Expanding Beyond Geralt of Rivia’s Book Character
Geralt is obviously the main character in all of the Witcher stories and books. Everything is framed from his point of view. What the show will do differently from both the games and the novels is extend beyond Geralt’s point of view. The stories will expand by providing Yennefer and Ciri’s perspectives as well. This change will help give the world more depth, and allow the women of The Witcher to finally get the protagonist treatment that Geralt has always received.
There are of course many other books and characters in the Witcher series to will delve into in days to come. Hopefully this guide will help untangle the complex relationships of the three primary Witcher characters as you watch the series on Netflix. Let us know what you think of the show and the expanded character roles, by joining the conversation with Comic Years on Facebook and Twitter today.
The Witcher series streams on Netflix beginning December 20th.
(Featured image via Netflix)
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.