The Witcher

Andrzej Sapkowski about adaptations, his casting choices, combat and fantasy’s reputation

TheWitcher3 - Andrzej Sapkowski about adaptations, his casting choices, combat and fantasy's reputation
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Marek Ludwicki and Andrzej Sapkowski, late 90's.

ML: Liam Neeson, when asked who the Jedi knights are, said ''they're peacemakers''. When it comes to the witcher the matter doesn't seem so simple (afterall, his victims are predominantly humans – ''human beasts'' so to speak – rather than monsters). Can I tempt you into giving us your own definition of the witcher?

AS: Why tempt, if I can just paraphrase and say ''the way witcher is, everyone can see''? (paraphrase of a Polish proverb – translator's note). The character – it won't hurt to remind everybody – was born as the hero of a one time-one timey short story, I did not predict any ''to be continues'' or sequels. The character of the witcher was the result of my taken concept of writing fantasy, which is euhemerization. In a euhemerized fairt tale the witcher is a completely non-fairy like professional, a pro, doing – for money – what cobblers, tailors, princes, Percivals and knights did out of nobility in fairy tales. But when it turned out that ''to be continued'' happened, I needed to make the character more complex, make it more memorable, burden him with problems, in other words, turn the witcher into a sort of post-modern ''hero of our time''. All these things came from the desire to make the plot more intriguing, not because I wanted to create some smart definition of a character. In his current shape the witcher is a creation and the child of the story – not the other way around.

ML: It's hard to deny that one of the biggest challenges of the adaptation (the original Polish Witcher TV series and move – translator's note) was filming realistic looking fight scenes (choreography was done by the sixth dan aikido master – Jacek Wysocki). Have you ever seen a movie which would, at least partially, match your vision of fight scenes from pages of ''Sword of Destiny'' and ''The Last Wish''?

AS: I'll deny all accusations of epigonic mimicry, but I won't hide my youthful (really old!) fascination. With the cross art of Wołodyjowski and the cynical spade of d'Artagnan, and Kurosawa, samurai and the Bushido codex. The reappearing mentions of reflecting an arrow or a bolt with a blade in my books were inspired by the movie about samurai Musashi, a legendary swordsman.

ML: You once said that ''fantasy films don't hold up'', but on another hand, you praise Milius' ''Conan the Barbarian'' (which is not surprising, afterall, Milius was a co-screenwriter of ''Apocalypse Now''). What fantasy movies, from your perspective, do ''hold up''?

AS: The curse of fantasy films is two-fold: the lack of understading for the genre and cheesiness. Which is why only four fantasy movies ''hold up'': ''Conan the Barbarian'' by John Milius, ''Excalibur'' by John Boorman, ''Willow'' by Ron Howard and ''Ladyhawke'' by Richard Donner.

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ML: For many people, fantasy books are still something inferior, unworthy to be called literature. But books, just like movies, can be good or bad. Where is this disdain for fantasy writers (and we do have something to brag about, for example, Feliks W. Kres)?

AS: I would very much like to send those ''many people'' straight to hell, while explaining to them beforehand where can they shove their ''disdain'' and what perverse things I'll do to it. But I'll stop myself and answer sine ira et studio. Those who hold fantasy in disdain irrationally think that tales of dragons, elves and sorcerers are fairy tales and fairy tales – ipso facto – they're adressed to foolish children. Therefore disdain for fantasy is mandatory, because if you lack disdain, then you're foolish, infantile or childish. Others blame fantasy for taking attention away from ''reality'' and ''important issues'' – while forgetting that Jonathan Carroll once said ''there is no other literature but fantasy''. To paraphrase, there is absolutely no difference between fantasy of Anna Karenina's stories and fantasy of witcher's stories. The third group of disdainful people simply – and the simplicity here is cute – doesn't like fantasy because it's… popular, because everything that is popular is bad and unworthy to be called literature.

ML: Dream Factory (a major Polish publisher – translator's note) didn't claim you yet, but I think it's only a matter of time. Have you ever pondered what your perfect adaptation of Geralt's adventures would look like? Who is it that you'd like to see as the main characters, who would direct?

AS: Of course it's only for fun, never in my life have I created a character specifically to match an actor, even unconciously. When asked by the fans I decided to cast Kevin Costner as the witcher and Madeleine Stowe as Yennefer. But still, it's not real, because the ''dream factory'' is unreal as well.

ML: In many interviews you said you don't visit cinemas anymore. Why?

AS: For almost my entire adult life, I had been trapped in the clutches of a smoking addiction so powerful there was no way for me to watch an entire movie without smoking, so I switched cinema to a TV and got used to it. I released myself from the addiction, but the habit stayed.

ML: The adaptations that match the writer's intent seems to be rare. What atmosphere should ''The Witcher'' have to at least partially match your expectations as a viewer?

AS: Well, it's just a sad fact that adaptations matching the writer's intent are just as rare as adaptations matching their source material's quality. But – chapeau bas towards the film makers – there are adaptations better than their source material, though these are even rarer. The problem existed for as long as the cinema itself and it will exist for as long as the cinema exists, so debating over it makes no sense.

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