The Witcher author says Netflix “never listen[ed]” to his ideas. “But it’s normal”

The Witcher season 3. Image: Netflix. Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia.
The Witcher season 3. Image: Netflix. Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia. /

The Witcher is officially a cultural phenomenon. The books by Andrzej Sapkowski are big. The video games by CD Projekt Red are big. The Netflix show starring Henry Cavill (for now) is big. The series has found success in literature, gaming and on TV, but no version of The Witcher has been much like the others, something that Sapkowski readily admitted when talking to Cerealkillerz at Vienna Comic Con this past weekend.

“Every adaptation that I saw was strange for me,” Sapkowski said. “That’s the right word, I suppose. Strange or something that’s making me astonished, because my raw material when I work is the letters, only letters.“

"I do not describe pictures. I don’t see any pictures. I use the letters only because I know that my reader will see in the book the letters only, not the pictures, so I have to deal with my letters to make the reader imagine the pictures, not the other way around. I don’t picture the pictures for the reader to see it and say ‘wow!’So every adaptation, every visual adaptation is simply strange for me. I look at it and say ‘Whoa, this is the way they pictured it, interesting!’. Sometimes this impression of the visual is very nice for me, sympathetic, sometimes it isn’t, but I will not elaborate."

So Sapkowski isn’t thinking of what The Witcher would look like as a movie or a TV show when he writes it. Still, as the progenitor of this universe — the first-ever Witcher story appeared in 1986 — he knows it very well. Surely Netflix asked him his opinion when it went about adapting his work for TV?

“Oh well, the set was tremendous, tremendous, awesome!” Sapkowski said when asked about the show. “But no, maybe I gave them some ideas, but they never listen to me. They never listen to me. But it’s normal, it’s normal. ‘Who’s this? It’s the writer, it’s nobody.‘”

Anybody’s who’s read Sapkowski’s books and then watched The Witcher on Netflix won’t be surprised to learn that the studio didn’t listen to Sapkowski’s ideas. While the show sticks loosely to the text of the novels, it changes a lot; for instance, there’s a whole arc in season 2 where the sorceress Yennefer loses her magical powers and then considers sacrificing the young Ciri to get them back. And then in season 3 they go on to form a surrogate mother-daughter bond like they have in the books. Changes like that have struck fans are fairly preposterous.

Still, Netflix bought the rights to The Witcher and they can do what they want with it, something Sapkowski seems at peace with. This isn’t the first time his books have been adapted, after all. When CD Projekt Red approached him about making video games based on The Witcher, he had no interest in working on the project, but was fine with it so long as he got paid. “It’s hard to say no to an adaptation offer that comes with a lot of money,” he told Vice in 2017. “Perhaps only an idiot would say no.” Amen.

At the same time, in that interview, he sounded a little bitter that the games had become so popular, probably to the point where they’re better known than the books on which they’re based. “I wrote the first Witcher story 30 years ago,” he said. “When I come to my author meetings, there’s no one in the audience close to my age. I am 69. There’s no one. Kids everywhere. How are some of them supposed to know—especially in Germany, Spain or the US—that my books are not game related? That I’m not writing books based on games? They may not know that, and CDPR bravely conceals the game’s origins. It’s written in fine print, you need a microscope to see it, that the game is ‘based on’ [my books].”

He also claimed in that interview that, far from The Witcher video games making people interested in his books, it was his books that were responsible for the success of the games. “I made the games popular,” he said. “If anything, there are more people who have played the games because they read the books. That’s my count, but I’m not sure. I never did any studies.”

To an outside observer like me, that sounds…suspect. My first exposure to The Witcher series was through the games, and I’m not alone. Even Henry Cavill, who lobbied to play main character Geralt of Rivia because of his love for The Witcher games, hadn’t read the books beforehand. “‘Oh my goodness me. I thought the books were like a play off the games,’” he remembered telling showrunner Lauren Hissrich during an interview with BBC Radio 1. Don’t let Sapkowski hear that.

So what are we to take from all this? Mainly that while it’s not hard to believe that Netflix didn’t listen to Sapkowski’s ideas for The Witcher, Sapkowski is a bit of an irascible character and I doubt he’s losing sleep over it.

Meanwhile, the world of The Witcher marches on. Netflix is working on a fourth season of the show (with Liam Hemsworth coming in to replace a departing Henry Cavill), CD Projekt Red is working on a new game, and Sapkowski is writing a new book:

Next. Andrezj Sapkowski gives release window for the next Witcher book. dark

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