‘The Witcher’, Xmas And A World Of Fantasies

So it’s Christmas, I saw some episodes of Netflix’s THE WITCHER and have a few things to say, so hear me out.

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Here I am again. I’m sorry I was away for so long. Other duties spoke louder, as I have explained before. I’m still late with my writing, but now things are more under control, the deadlines have been extended and my vacations will allow me, I believe, to come to grips with the work that needs to be done. It’s always a risk to leave too much work for your holidays, but I have a sense I have things under control and that’s a whole different feeling than the one I had before. So thank you for your patience and your understanding.

And did you catch the first season of THE WITCHER? I watched four or five episodes and am eager to see some more. Andrej Sapkowski’s writing was one of the good surprises I got this year. I found it interesting, clever, sophisticated and satisfying.  I wrote a little bit about it here. And I was at first enthusiastic and then ambivalent about having it morphing into a television series. Enthusiastic because Netflix has already shown us how good it is in producing quality series. Ambivalent once I learned of Henry Cavill’s casting as Geralt de Rivia. Cavill is one of those actors that I constantly underestimated for a while because of his beauty – along with the likes of Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Charlize Theron and Gal Gadot, for instance. Cavill is actually pretty good. And he does a really good job as Geralt. I could see as soon as I watched the trailer that he would be a major asset to the series. Again, I was underestimating him: he is the major asset of the series and every time he is on screen it is a pleasure to watch him.

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But THE WITCHER has many other good features. The runners made a difficult but successful decision, in my view, of starting the plot a few volumes into the story, beginning with the fall of Cintra. And then, without warning, they gave us backstory once and again, then using visual cues and text cues to show us the flashbacking. At first, it’s strange, and I know of some people who are still complaining about it, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a very clever and very sophisticated and interesting way to go about it and I loved it.

“Game-of-Thrones”Then, there’s the usual comparison with GAME OF THRONES – you can read a bit of what I thought of GOT’s last season here. Of course, there is a lot that invites the comparison: kings and queens, geopolitical intrigues, magic and monsters, etc. But THE WITCHER has a completely different feel to it. I don’t believe it does intend to be another GOT. Martin’s writings and HBO’s GOT is more dense, more realistic in some sense, with refined dialogues and character development, mixed with Martin’s definite genius for plot and storytelling (sometimes let down by the TV-people’s choices). It was also based on Britain’s War of the Roses and European Medieval History. THE WITCHER is lighter, assuming immediately its distance from Human reality and our History. It works of course with symbolism and it is not bare of real-world references and significance, but it proposes a different reality and a more linear and focused storyline. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing and I’m enjoying it immensely.

As Christmas and the old year are coming to a close, it occurs to me that they have something in common with several of the things I describe above. I grew up watching my father read mystery novels – Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Earl Stanley Garner, etc. His generation was actually much more interested in these kinds of stories than those of Science Fiction and Fantasy, which they considered kid’s stuff. Mysteries were also focused on one type of question: «who done it?» They ended up being very formulaic in that sense: everything depended on the answer, or the knowledge of the answer, to that simple question. Who killed who and how to prove it. Things like GOT or THE WITCHER elude that kind of certainty and are definitely much more complex. They work with appearances, they play with Time and Space and History, and they are symbolic in nature.  Much like Christmas. A shallow understanding of Christmas would think it’s just for children. But we all know better, don’t we? We can see that the whole world, whole peoples and civilizations are implicated in this exercise of celebration – of love, warmth and caring.

Capitol-US-1024x576There was a time in the past, I believe, when questions and answers were simpler all around. In those days, I think, when 99% of scientists believed in something we would expect that 99% of the population would believe it too. And when the FBI, the CIA, the NSA and all other Intelligence Agencies in the US believed in something, we expected the Americans on the whole to believe it too. But we are not in those days anymore. Now we have to deal with more complex realities where fantasies are dealt with as if they were the reality and reality accused of being fantasy. But even if we can use fiction to develop our understanding of the world, we shouldn’t confuse the two. We shouldn’t be completely deceived by this fantasy that is Christmas nor this fabricated calendar device that is the New Year. After all these illusions, the days will succeed one after the other and all the problems and challenges that were there before will plague us again and again and we will have to come back to deal with the ferocious relentlessness of reality.

But for now, it’s Christmas. Today I will be meeting my family for feasting in the season’s delicacies and exchange laughs and presents. It will be a good day, warm and caring and full of love. So be well, my good friends! Sing and dance! We will go back to the fight soon enough. Cheers to all!

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