With news that the pilot script is complete, the sprawling fantasy world of The Witcher marches on step closer to television, bringing to Netflix the saga of the monsters of myth, and the slayers for hire trained to hunt them down. While most people are undoubtedly familiar with the characters and setting from the hit video game trilogy, the expansive story is actually rooted in the 1992 novel The Sword of Destiny, by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. His fantasy epic now spans eight novels, and its from those stories the planned TV series will draw inspiration.
The Witcher was previously adapted for the screen in Poland in 2001 as The Hexer, an intended 13-episode television fantasy that was edited into two-hour feature film, before airing in its original form the following years. That attempt failed for a number issues, including drastic deviations from the novels. Thankfully, however, with Sapkowski aboard the Netflix project as a creative cotnsultant, fans of The Witcher can rest assured it will remain faithful to the world they fell in love with.
But newcomers may wonder just what this titular witcher and his world are. Maybe you’re curious about what to expect from Netflix’s upcoming fantasy drama, or you’re thinking about picking up the novels. We’re here to help with this largely spoiler-free guide.
What’s a Witcher, Anyway?
Essentially, witchers are exceptionally skilled monster slayers for hire. Each one is trained from a young age at a different school. The novels mention three schools: The School of the Cat, The School of the Griffin and The School of the Wolf. Our hero, Geralt of Rivia, belongs to the latter, situated at Kaer Morhen, a distant fortress to the north of The Continent in Kaedwen (that’ll mean more shortly; one thing at a time). To become effective against the many monsters they’ll encounter, witchers are made to meticulously study all creatures and curses. They’re also intensely trained in alchemy, a little magic and, of course, combat.
They’re also schooled in the use of a variety of weapons. However, a witcher typically will only ever carry two swords: a steel blade for men and a silver blade for monsters, as that element harms most monsters. Witchers are also each equipped with a medallion that not only symbolize the school to which he belongs but also trembles when in the presence of magic.
After completing the initial training, prospective witchers are forced to endure the torturous Trial of Grasses, when they must ingest special herbs, the Grasses, which ideally causes mutations and physiological changes. However, only three boys out of 10 ever survive the trial and gain the physical and mental enhancements that allows them to become witchers. They emerge with heightened senses, strength, speed and healing; they live far longer, and are virtually immune to all disease. In fact, their hardened physiology allows them to consume potions that would otherwise kill a human. But that’s not where the physical changes end. Their eyes become almost cat-like, permitting a witcher to see more clearly in darkness. It all sounds fantastic, until you learn the Trial of Grasses also renders all witchers sterile.
Their training in magic enables witchers to cast a limited number of spells with a quick gesture, most requiring just one hand. Each Sign has a name and produces a certain effect: Igni creates a small flame, Aard a small telekinetic blast, Yrden a magical circle that ensnares hostile creatures, Quen a protective field, Axii calms a person, Somne compels them into sleep, and Heliotrop provides limited protections against other spells.
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