The Duality of Good and Evil in the Witcher Series

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In the genre of fantasy, heroes are not always the most wholesome of people and not always the most valiant to rid the world of its lurking evils. Heroes are not always born of nobility but are sometimes born among the commoners. Within the world of the Witcher, one man stripped of his emotions, Geralt of Rivia, fights the evils the prowls through the night. When asked about the choices he makes, he replied “Evil is Evil. Lesser, greater, middling… Makes no difference. The degree is arbitrary. The definition’s blurred. If I’m to choose between one evil and another…I’d rather not choose at all.” These decisions, the constant battle between good and evil is one of the main underlying themes of the Witcher series.

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The Witcher is a beloved book series written by Andrzej Sapkowski and a popular videogame series produced and developed by CDProjektRed. The overarching and convoluted story revolves around a witcher that hails from the School of the Wolf, Geralt of Rivia and his path to solving problems for others. Geralt, a man mutated forcefully out of will, is considered a martyr and a hero to some, but to others a nightmare or a creature that lurks in the forests at night. He sees within himself a man of choice who respects the state of neutrality. Although he is not opposed to helping others’ in their time of need, he avoids getting involved in politics. And even though many believe he is incapable of having feelings or emotions, Geralt expresses his feelings and thoughts of others through his words.

In the videogame, the Witcher 3, Geralt embarks on his journey to reuniting with his long-lost adopted daughter, Cirilla, the lady of time and space. Along the way, he runs into the Bloody Baron, Phillip Strenger, a self-proclaimed Temerian knight that established his unofficial status as a baron of the lands of Velen. Geralt arrived in hopes of finding information on Cirilla. Phillip encountered Cirilla but declines to telling Geralt of his encounter with her by offering a trade: if Geralt would help him find his missing wife Anna and daughter Tamara, he’d tell Geralt where his daughter went. With not much information to go to finding Cirilla, Geralt agreed to find them. Even though Phillip gave information about his missing family, he didn’t tell Geralt the full story as to why they left. The baron left out the decades-long abusive relationship between him and his wife and the night before their disappearance. When Geralt learned of the new details, he demanded answers and Phillip eventually acknowledged his behavior. The witcher and the baron would then seek out the burial of Anna’s stillborn daughter that had recently turned into a botchling. From there, they would perform a ritual that would turn this beast into a kindred spirit that would guide the witcher to the trail of Anna and Tamara’s escape. Here, the witcher would then find his way to the city of Oxenfurt, where Tamara had taken up a place among the Witch Hunters under King Radovid. Afterward, he would venture further south to the swamps of Crookback Bog where he would encounter the three ancient sisters considered to be the witches of Crookback Bog. He would then learn of Anna’s new forced life as a servant and a curse that grips her of her freedom. She also takes care of the newly arrived orphans. He would then meet the Witches of Crookback Bog who would then offer a job to kill their mother who had been asleep for centuries. Doing so would ensure Anna surviving but would guarantee the deaths of the orphans. In addition, he discovers that the witches have been feeding on these children during the ongoing war and possibly for hundreds of years. Furthermore, he discovers new information about Cirilla and the witches’ failed intentions to devour Cirilla’s flesh. Disgusted and disgruntled by the thought of hearing Cirilla being fed upon by the witches, Geralt promises to return and kill the Witches of Crookback Bog. After sharing the locations of the missing wife and daughter, the Baron sets off with his men to the swamps to bring Anna home. Geralt warned Phillip of the possible dangers and was given a choice to accompany him to which Geralt accepts. After defeating the horde of monsters, Geralt learns that the curse that binds Anna is gone but Anna had gone mad from seeing the deaths of the children and the effects of the curse. Filled with regret and sincerely wanting to make up for everything, the Baron would set off with Anna in hopes to cure her by visiting a powerful hermit. He would then make up with Tamara and promised to bring his wife home when the time comes.

The encounter between Geralt and Phillip depicts some of the complexities in the witcher universe. To Geralt, this is just another contract and he cared only because he wanted information about his long-lost daughter. However, Geralt has dealt with similar events like this and he wanted to see this through. He hoped for a better ending to this family’s tragedy, but everything came with a price. And he knew the consequences but had decided to risk the lives of the children to guarantee that the Baron’s wife would survive. Despite perceiving the compassion and good will that Geralt portrays in some of his actions throughout his journey by trying to bring back Anna and Tamara to Phillip, the witcher had perpetrated many acts of evil.

In the Witcher short story, the Lesser Evil, Geralt is compelled to choose between decisions that no matter what the outcome was, people will die. As he traveled through the war-torn Blaviken, looking for his promised reward for the head of a Kikimora. He meets with the alderman who suggests that the city’s sorcerer Stregobor would pay him. Upon meeting the man, the witcher is told that he will only obtain his reward after killing a woman that was after the sorcerer, Renfe. Geralt, not knowing who the woman was, could not justify a proper reason to kill her. As the story progresses, Renfi and her crew of bandits make their way to the town of Blaviken and take up a room in one of the taverns. Here, the witcher would introduce himself and learn of Renfi’s past and why she wanted to pursue the sorcerer. She claimed to have been raped and turned to stone before meeting her associates and that she vows to take her revenge. After their conversation, Geralt takes up residence in the alderman’s residence. Renfe visits the witcher and requests his help in killing the sorcerer. He would then figure out that Renfi wants to coax Stregobor by murdering the townsmen and townswomen that goes to the market the very next day. Geralt is then forced to commit the lesser evil by killing Renfi and her band in order to save the town but resulted in harming his stature. Thus, earning the title Butcher of Blaviken for the deed.

Here, Geralt had no alternative choice to preserve the very thing he is sworn to protect: Humanity. The witcher, throughout many of his encounters, always looks for alternative reasons to not kill. In this case, he had no choice but to choose Renfe. He understood her desire to seek revenge but what made him doubt the choice to allow Renfi to kill Stregobor was her intended plan to use innocence in order to execute her endeavor. By ruining his upheld reputation, Geralt did so knowing that guiltless bystanders would be able to live for another day and that it was the right thing to do.

Another example stems from the first Witcher novel, Blood of Elves, Geralt must decide on how to protect his adopted daughter, Cirilla from harm as she is bound to him by destiny and the last of her kin, the Elder Blood. In many fantasy books, knights would choose to safeguard their ward in a safe remote location. However, the witcher had other ulterior motives. He decided to bring her to the School of the Wolf where he and his fellow witcher associates and mentor, would train and teach her about various monsters. They would instruct her in swordsmanship and have her traverse through the dangerous trails used in the Witcher’s training. Geralt would also seek the help of his sorceress friend, Triss Merigold to aid in the process. Triss would spend several days guiding Cirilla and eventually would ultimately decide that Cirilla would need to obtain social skills from people of her age. And once again, the witcher decided on other plans by bringing her to a place where she could have died on multiple occasions but to learn to protect herself in order to understand the job of a witcher.

In this case, Geralt decided that the best way to protect Cirilla is by teaching her to protect herself. The reasoning behind this possible course of action was the idea that he would not always be there when she would need him the most. He realized that best way for him to keep her from harm is to prepare her for the dangers that are scattered throughout the world that the Witcher lived in. Geralt knew the best way to do this was by having her train with his mentor and colleagues and by taking her through multiple decrepit places where multiple hazards were present. Despite knowing that one slip-up on his part would result in the death of Cirilla, he knew this was the only choice he had. Furthermore, he did not subject Cirilla to the Trials of the Grasses, a mandatory part of a Witcher’s training which would result in the deaths of 7 out of 10 possible witcher candidates that enhanced their abilities immensely. All due to the complications it would have on her special abilities as the lady of time and space. Moreover, if he had applied this to Cirilla it would have most likely killed her.

In Theodore Dreiser’s Good and Evil, he mentions that men know of their free will and that they are endowed with a dual power. This power is divided into two categories; on one hand is men is capable of discerning what is considered good and evil and knowing what to do and what to avoid, and, on the other, having made the decision to conform and commit to the choice. And according to the Sholom Kahn’s The Problem of Evil in Literature, he explains that the concept of good and evil is profoundly moral in its implications in literature. He continues to further develop that idea that literature is concerned with 3 topics: the origin of evil, the illumination and sublimation through various mediums such as thought, emotions and art, and its struggle against the actualities through revolution, conquest or faith. The Witcher series presents these concepts eloquently through the life of Geralt of Rivia. Geralt walks a path of neutrality due to the circumstances and consequences he would face if he constantly chose a side. As a monster slayer, he decides when it is necessary to kill a monster based on a thorough analysis of the event and if the monster is sentient, he would interrogate by peaceful means as to why the monster had committed the act. Furthermore, he knows that the people he is vowed to defend are capable of committing heinous crimes due to their nature.

In C.J.F. Williams Knowing Good and Evil, he discusses the origin of the concept of good and evil. He introduces the idea of the Garden of Eden where there are two trees: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge which has the concept of good and evil. He brings up the story of Adam’s disobedience and God banishing him. Furthermore, he explores the interpretation of eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge as well as the religious aspect of understanding good and evil. As well as the overall view that the language of morality and obligation in the context of God is inappropriate. The Witcher series would also delve into the topic of religion through multiple references to the Eternal Fire, a cynical religious movement that developed through the ravaging wars between the Northern Kingdoms and the Nilfgaardian empire. In the Witcher games, the devoted followers of the Eternal Fire would murder and kill anyone they suspect of disregarding their religion as well as alienating non-humans such as elves and dwarves along with people of various trades: herbalists, druids and sorcerers.

The world in which the witcher Geralt of Riva lives in is a world filled with greed, grief, cruelty and hatred amongst humanity. A world that is dark and grim that forces Geralt to walk a line of moral ambiguity to guarantee the safety and preservation of his life. He is an example of a pragmatist that is constantly forced to choose between the two lesser evils in favor of the greater good in many of his travels. His actions depending on the context, are sometimes viewed as good to some but evil to others. But every action is something he must commit to in order to live to see another day. An aspect like that of our daily lives. In different circumstances and the unstoppable events that we must face, we must sometimes choose between the duality of good and evil. A concept that Geralt is always forced to foresee in his decisions to fight in the ever-changing world around him.

24 May 2022

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