Andrzej Sapkowski’s “The Witcher” series has seen itself appropriated and simplified in the form of a ridiculous TV show and movie that never garnered much respect in its native Poland and has been heavily critiqued by Sapkowski himself. The books find themselves once again simplified and denied of their essence in the form of three large budget video games that do attempt to bring to life the world of the series, but gameplay, endless superfluous content and the lack of understanding from the writers hinder this. Fortunately we are blessed by a truly transcendent series of books that despite the mainstream’s attempts at commercializing them remain unaffected in their message and expression. Enter “The Last Wish” which is the first book of a majestic saga that soars above the common man’s need for digestible media.
The “Last Wish” is based on a mixture of Slavic imagery and European folk tales all within a XV century context. The main protagonist is Geralt of Rivia who is one of the last remaining witchers alive. Witchers are men who have gone through extensive mutations and training to be able to vanquish the monsters that terrorize humans. In the minds of most writers, witchers would be considered courageous and heroic men that were beloved by all and handsomely paid for killing impressive and horrifying beasts. Sapkowski goes much deeper and makes the profession of witcher the equivalent of a cleaner. Poorly paid relics of the past despised for their mutations and their supposed lack of human feelings as most of the monsters of this world have been slain and most communities do not have the money to pay for their services. Geralt sees himself wandering from village to village in hopes of taking a bounty that will leave him just enough money for a few warm meals and a roof over his head. His expeditions through sewers, forests, caves eventually bring Geralt to various people of interest who seek to profit from his capabilities. His unique code of ethics and his obliviousness to the plight of those in power create a contrast between the modern man obsessed with his own gain and a relic of a more primordial time who can’t seem to find his place in a world that has moved beyond him.
The book is divided into several short stories connected by a main arc that guides the reader until a great conclusion. This is how the best of Death metal is created, when various related ideas converge together to then express a greater whole. Rather than the shock tactics and extended fight sequences of modern fantasy, Sapkowski emerges the writer in nuance and the consequences of Geralt’s actions, Often he has choose between situations where he can’t win but must find the lesser of multiple evils. Many of the stories are heavily related to various known tales but with a touch more of cynicism that then allows the freedom for the writer to conclude them brilliantly in the most astonishing of ways.
Geralt is a man who lives the Hessian ideal and though he often sulks in his own misery and struggles to understand the world he inhabits, he has an unrivaled heart and the wisdom to follow his instincts blindly through all kinds of trials. A misfit of a society he rejects like many of the initial Norwegian Black metal movement, Geralt represents the inner quest that each man must make to thrive in a world devoid of meaning. “The Last Wish” is a classic among classics of the genre and a book that any Hessian should read at least once.