Lessons Learned from Reading The Witcher Saga

Lessons Learned from ReadingSome of you might have heard about a successful video game series by CD Project called The Witcher, but probably not many know it all started with a short story sent to a contest organized by a Polish speculative fiction magazine. “The Witcher Saga” by Andrzej Sapkowski that grew out of this one story not only became a source of inspiration for the games, but is also a series on which a whole generation of Polish speculative fiction fans grew up, myself included.

I was in my early teens when I picked up the first book from the library. I was still fresh to the speculative fiction genre, stuck with the fantasy books trickling into Poland from the English language market, and I tended to be suspicious of Polish authors as majority of our writers focused on science-fiction, but The Sword of Destiny maimed me with its title, promising it wouldn’t disappoint me. And it didn’t.

Sapkowski’s prose proved to be like nothing I’d read back then. His characters were so alive, passionate, sarcastic, sometimes petty and not free from all the vices we see in people around us. In this particular short story collection (and the five novels that later followed) the witcher Geralt of Rivia would travel from place to place, slaying monsters for money, and discovering that the creatures he killed were sometimes less evil than the individuals of his own species. At the same time, the author played with archetypical stories, legends, and fairy tales—often retelling the classical dragon-hunt, adding twists, and such tidbits like a sarcastic reference to the Polish legend of a dragon from Cracow.

Lessons Learned from Reading

Through his books, I learned how to write engaging dialogue, how to make interesting characters, and how to take the old—like a “Little Mermaid” story he rewrote in a tear-jerking way—and make it into something new and refreshing. But the lessons learned from the Saga, which over my teen and early twenties years I’ve read multiple times, weren’t limited to the structure of the story and its components, but also went deep into the language itself. Sapkowski’s prose always utilized all the beauty and capabilities of the Polish language: puns, creativity, and the freedom in the sentence structure. Although some say the author sometimes “overdid it,” his style still provided a great study material, if one was willing to stop and appreciate the text.

Later, in the novels of the main Saga, Sapkowski also taught me a valuable lesson POV choice. He often would pick background characters to show particular events through their eyes, adding both perspectives to the story and flavor to his vast world. The main characters sometimes were not even in the scene, but the author still managed to keep the readers at the edge of their seats. It definitely taught me that the most interesting perspective is not always the one seen from the main character’s eyes, and pushed me to search for the best narrator of the scenes I wrote.
I don’t think “The Witcher Saga” ever inspired any particular piece of my writing, but it undoubtedly influenced my writer’s mind and helped me to search for my own style. I haven’t read the books in years, as upon moving from Poland to Ireland I donated the books to the library, but the story and the characters are still vivid in my memory, and so are the lessons I’ve learned on writing craft.

Even though I know the Witcher might be a case of a first teenage love (in my case, Tolkien books came later), I still catch myself thinking I’d like to read these books again, pondering on how different my perception of them would be now. And whenever I consider buying them once more, I can’t help but wonder: can they enchant me once again?

I certainly hope so.

This post was initially published on Raven Oak’s website as a part of her “Flashback Friday” series.

Joanna Maciejewska

Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games. Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English. Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. portiabridget

    I discovered Sapkowski much later in life than you and, although I liked some of his short stories, others left me bemused, even annoyed. Geralt was fine, Yennefer was fine but Ciri…And those obvious borrowings from different Anglo-Saxon myths, those vyverns, vampires and dragons…somehow I expected another world build, more based on Slavonic pantheon of gods.

    1. melfka

      Sapkowski has its faults (the one most repeated is that most of his female characters are very similar, especially the sorceresses), but the things I’ve learned about writing outweight the faults for me. But then, I did discover the books in my early teens, so it’s also a case of teenage love ;).

      1. portiabridget

        Sapkowski is also not especially good with baddies but it is a topic for a long happy rant ;p.

        1. melfka

          Who cares about baddies when you have a world full of all shades of gray? 😉
          But if you ever feel like ranting, rant away! Or write a review 😀

          1. portiabridget

            I’m planning to reread the series and then we’ll see.

          2. melfka

            Uh-oh… 😀

    1. melfka

      I hope you’ll enjoy them 🙂

  2. J.R.Bee

    Shit, I’ve got to read that saga. Sounds epic 🙂

    1. melfka

      Do! It’s not without its faults (as Bridget above pointed out), but it’s entertaining and indeed, very epic once it hits the novels (the first two books are short stories).

      1. J.R.Bee

        Will add it to my very extensive to read list 😀

  3. sjhigbee

    I think those are the very best of reads – those which cause us to consider the structure of storytelling and provide such a fresh, engaging style that it opens possibilities we hadn’t previously thought of. And encourages us to think carefully about how we want to writie our own stories – C.J. Cherryh is the author who gave me similar insights. Thank you for sharing this lovely article:)

    1. melfka

      Indeed. As much as I love my simple entertainment when it comes to reading, these more “sophisticated” (for lack of better word) books are the ones that stay with me and leave me in awe.

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