Andrzej Sapkowski, A Profile

By Benjamin Rose

Note: All quotes in this article are culled from various interviews given 2019-2020, especially those by Gizmodo and Wired.

“I’m a fucking artist!”

Yes, that is a real quote. Andrzej Sapkowski (pronounced “saf–cough–ski”) is not so much a man of few words as a man of few interviews. When these interviews are granted, however, the words that follow are often extraordinarily frank, to put it mildly. The following exchange, between Sapkowski and journalist Beth Elderkin from Gizmodo (who interviewed Sapkowski in January 2020) is a case in point. Asked, “What was your reaction to learning your books were getting 500,000 reprints after the release of the Netflix show?” Sapkowski replied: How do you expect I answer this question? That I despaired? Shed tears? Considered suicide? No sir. My feelings were rather obvious and not excessively complex.” Elsewhere, when asked, “What are you most looking forward to with the future of The Witcher show, which has already been renewed for season two?” Sapkowski was again in character. “Allow me to quote Joe Abercrombie, the author whose books are very much to my liking: “Life is, basically, fucking shit. Best to keep your expectations low. Maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.” Okay…

Broadly speaking, fans of The Witcher divide into two camps in regards to Sapkowski: those who loathe him, and those who tolerate him, grudgingly. As our interview with Oktawian Grochowski from 2019 indicates, Poles have been used to separating the art from the artist for some time now, if only as a necessity in light of their adoration for The Witcher and their less than approbatory view of the author. It is often said that The Witcher is the Harry Potter of Slavic countries, but even as the irony of that statement has become more pronounced in light of J.K. Rowling’s cringe worthy Twitter TERF-ing over the last few years, it should be noted that Sapkowski wasn’t that loved to begin with. Slavic cultures, as a general rule, don’t care much for political correctness, cancel culture, or the moral dictates of Anglosphere intersectionality, but this is not a function of compassion so much as indifference. That, or the need to keep in view something or someone to complain about, as in Eastern Europe complaining is a self-acknowledged art. For better or worse, this gives Sapkowski a platform, and though he has shown little eagerness to use it outside of fantasy and comic conventions, you interview him at your own peril.

The important thing to remember though is that, no matter how much of a prick “Sapko” is, he’s not actually a bad human being, at least considering the extant evidence. And in small doses, as even the luckless Elderkin notes in propaedeutic to her interview, his brutal candor can be refreshing and even funny in an industry of charlatans, PR, and pre-written talking points. Born into a communist satellite of the Soviet Union whose independence ushered in 30+ years of neoliberal capitalism, Sapkowski has lived under an endless parade of left and right wing governments, most of which were as cynical or incompetent as the last, over his seven decades. Despite consistently espousing what amounts to center-left and vaguely feminist views, Sapkowski, much like his iconic hero, cares about politics “as much as last year’s snows”, to use The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings’ phrase. He no doubt speaks for many among that debt-ridden and underemployed cohort of men and women 50 years younger than himself when he states: I do not like working too hard or too long. By the way, I do not like working at all. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone at me.” John 8:7.” Me neither.

But Sapkowksi’s infamy is not due solely to deficiency in personal charm. It is also a product of his dismissive and acrimonious attitude towards CD Projekt Red’s Witcher game trilogy, which culminated in a multi-year lawsuit against the company for exploitative use of his intellectual property. The story is legendary. In the early two thousands, CD Projekt Red approached Sapko for the gaming rights to The Witcher Saga and offered him generous royalty terms. Sapkowski refused, essentially on the grounds that “games are stupid and for teenagers who don’t know how to masturbate”, and demanded an upfront sum equivalent to $10,000 instead. Those games, of course, sold over 50 million copies globally, became arguably the most significant Slavic literary export to the West since the 19th century Russian masters, and made Sapkowski’s “big bag of money” look not so big anymore. Naturally, he sued them for $16 million. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that, were they not dissuaded by personal fandom and nationalist sentiment, CD Projekt would’ve Radovid the Fifth’d his ass into the ground under a Foltestian ballistae barrage of litigation. In any event, while there was much rancor on Sapkowski’s part;  reactive vitriol from the gamer community (momentarily distracted from harassing women and Anita Sarkeesian blood libel); and ridicule from the Polish populace at large, each party ultimately needed the other on a practical level, and the political marriage of necessity was consummated somewhere in a smoke-filled room through contractual kink. Non-disclosure agreements were probably also involved. If that sounds gross, it probably was. This is after all the studio that squandered a decade of goodwill on Cyberpunk 2077: Misleading Investors Edition. That horror needs no recounting, though one might suspect that by now, Derek Kolstad is busy revising the script of John Wick 4 to include a thinly-veiled vengeance plot-line against a Polish branch of the High Table. Keanu did not reply to The Path’s request for comment. Okay, we didn’t actually reach out to him. But still…

Andrzej Sapkowski. Bibliophile; Luddite; genius; jackass. Alleged drinking buddy of George R.R. Martin. Silencer of Ed Sheeran and contemptible cameos. Immolator of imbeciles and arbalist of asininity. Prince of Impatience and Prickly Potentate. Wisest Philosopher (for real, just ask him) .  Love him or leave him, he wrote some damn good books and, if his arrogance renders him monstrous, “the worst monsters are the ones we create”. I leave you with the following comment Sapkowski made on the show, having forgotten for a moment that “My name appears in the credits. It wouldn’t be decent”:

“I was more than happy with Henry Cavill’s appearance as The Witcher. He’s a real professional. Just as Viggo Mortensen gave his face to Aragorn (in The Lord of the Rings), so Henry gave his to Geralt — and it shall be forever so.” Sapkowski added, “I shall be happy if the viewers — and readers — take anything away, anything that shall enrich them in some way. Also, I sincerely hope to leave the viewers — and readers — hot. In every sense. Not tepid, not lukewarm.” 1

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