Let’s talk about a girl named Yennefer. Yes, you read that right, no not Jennifer, Yennefer. When I first heard that name I giggled a bit as it was strange. However, when I saw the girl it was referring to it almost made sense. There is nothing normal about Yennefer of Vengerberg from The Witcher series on Netflix. One may think I am referring to her misshapen jaw and hunchback but that is just a mere distraction from the woman underneath it all. In fact, if you looked a little bit further into the translation of this very unique name you would know that they were telling you from the start just how special this one girl could be.
When we first meet Yennefer she is hiding in a barn. She is discovered by two unfriendly villagers that are quick to lay their hands on her. She is pinned down in fright and when she closes her eyes she suddenly wakes up in a cave. She is met by a strange man who seems to know more about her abilities than she does. He also knows that the power she contains is dangerous not only for others but for herself.
Even with the man’s help she is still discovered and sold like a pig by her father to this woman who is suspected to be a witch. The bidding between this stranger and the man who is supposed to care and love this poor child shows a little insight into how Yennefer was treated growing up.
Yennefer’s childhood was one of misery. It all started when she was just a baby. She came out of the womb with several deformities. This instantly made her father hate her. He even denied any claims that she was his, which later on would prove to be not so untrue. Nevertheless, the horrible man mistreated the girl for faults that were not her own. From the bruises on her arms and face you can tell she was beaten regularly. Forced into doing menial tasks for her father Yennifer was hidden away from the world. She was taught to be ashamed of herself. The best thing she thought she could ever do was die. Oh, how wrong she was.
When Yennefer was taken away by the witch she was brought to a coven. There, there was a group of girls who, like Yennefer, were taken away from their families because they were “agents of chaos.” This means they had exhibited abilities beyond the natural realm. For instance, one girl earned her spot by turning her mother fat simply by willing it into existence.
This was no Hogwarts though. These girls were met by a mean headmistress who taught through example. This was evident when on the first day a girl lost her hand just by doing a spell she was told to. Although all the girls were treated pretty horribly Yennefer seemed to get the brunt of the abuse. Her first night there she was given the nickname piglet. To top it off that same night she was told that no one would care if she died or not after being caught trying to commit suicide.
I know what you are thinking. Well, that’s all fine because she is going to show them up right away by showing them how powerful she is. Well… not so much. Yennefer really struggled to even do a simple spell. She fell way behind her other classmates. If it wasn’t for her friend Istredd, the man who first discovered her in the cave, she wouldn’t have been able to manage any of the chaos she was capable of. It is with him that she discovers how truly powerful she is when she is calm and in control of her emotions.
As we follow Yennefer’s journey we learn her real backstory. She is half-elf. This was earth-shattering news as elves in this timeline were the victims of mass genocide. Things start to click when this information is divulged. Her scarlet eyes and twisted spine are all results of being half-human and half-elf. Her heritage does not just bring curses though; because she is half-elf she is capable of powers that no human or witch could ever imagine. All she has to do is unlock her potential. All she has to do is get over her biggest fear, the fear that even if she was beautiful she would be incapable of love.
To overcome a fear means to truly understand it and the power that it has over you. When we first hear the headmistress announce Yennefer’s worst fear our mind could go many places. The first thought is that Yennefer could not fathom a world where she was beautiful and people were kind to her. Just because she was deformed she was treated like trash quite literally making her worth skin deep. Even her family did not treat her kindly. Well, they abused her. Even if her mother did not lay hands on her she never defended her and that can hurt just as bad as a punch. The mental and physical abuse that Yennefer endured in her childhood is reason alone for her to suffer from severe psychological problems. If she never experienced an ounce of love, to begin with, how is she supposed to believe that it would ever be possible later in life?
The second thought is that Yennefer was failing at her practice. She was not picking up skills quick enough and when she showed that she was indeed a powerful being it was always in an uncontrolled fit of rage. Yennefer knows that even though Aretuza treated her like shit it was her only chance to make something of herself. If she did not make it here she was as good as dead.
To put the cherry on top of her self-doubt and hatred, Yennefer is an abomination to her society. It didn’t matter what she looked like physically or how talented she was. No matter what she was always going to be persecuted because of who she was at the core, a quarter-elf. The feeling of outsider-ship that Yennerfer is strapped with her whole life can be tied to the racism that we see today. No matter what she does or who she is as an individual she will always be generalized and villainized because of her race.
Yennefer’s story has so many layers. She embodies so many groups of people that have been put down for years, centuries. The best part of Yennefer’s story however is not what holds her back but how she overcomes it and fights for not only herself but for others like her. This is only the beginning of a series about Yennefer and how she represents the underdog of today and how she overcomes oppression, sexism, racism, and much more.