Of Monsters, Mythology and Men (Part One)

By Danielle Whitaker

Netflix’s The Witcher adaptation features a horde of horrifying monsters both on-screen and off, from lore and myths all across the globe. Why are there so many contributions from so many different cultures instead of the run of the mill creatures that appear in most fantasy themes? What do these differences mean for the story?

Let’s take a second to break it all down, shall we?

Not even five minutes into the show viewers are introduced to a kikimora, whose “spidery shape…. dry black skin, [and] needle-like fangs” first appear in ‘The Lesser Evil’, a short segment of the written Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski.

Geralt (Henry Cavill) kills the creature only for one of the locals to inform him that the kikimora was actually helping out with population control, but that’s not nearly the most interesting thing about it.

Traditional lore around the kikimora can actually be linked to Russian folklore, which describes it as a mischievous, female house spirit that haunts places where a child has died or where a kid’s dead body lays. There is a ton of variation in exactly what she looks like but every version appears with various degrees of physical deformities. 

Kikimoras are said to be elusive spirits that tend to reside in crevices, under floorboards, in attics, or even swamps and forests which tracks with the setting of the showdown.

Considering that kikimores haunt the places where innocence is lost (usually by a child dying), one could wonder if The Butcher mercy killing the injured fawn (which is often used as a symbol of innocence) was an elaborate means of foreshadowing Geralt’s own loss of innocence,

Of course monster hunting isn’t usually a profession that comes to mind when one brings up innocence; however, before Blaviken Geralt still upheld the code of honor that Vesemir had instilled in him as a child. 

When he takes the law into his own hands by killing Renfri, he simultaneously breaks that code and kills someone that he didn’t feel deserved to be killed, a decision that comes to haunt him until the season’s end.

The next monster on the docket appears in episode three, when Geralt travels to Temeria to deal with their little “pest problem”.

At first the Temerian locals were convinced that their pest was a vukodlak, which is Slavic for werewolf, but after getting a firsthand look at its diet, Geralt determined that they were really dealing with a striga.

Fans of the written Witcher series may already know that the author, Andrzej Sapkowski, originates from Poland. In fact, this whole striga storyline was inspired by a Polish folktale called “Strzyga” by fellow Polish writer, Roman Zmorski.

“Strzyga” paints a brutal picture of  the folk hero, Marcin, who accidentally overhears a conversation about a king offering a huge reward for anyone who could save his cursed daughter. Further gossip reveals that the striga was born out of an icestous relationship between the king and his sister–who dies during childbirth.

When the ghastly child learns how to speak, she immediately blames her father for her condition and demands that he bury her in a coffin in the royal crypt under the church and send someone to roam  around the church every night after she is buried. The king does what she asks, thus snuffing out all of her lingering remnants of humanity.

After a while he realises that none of the guards that he sent to the church ever comes back and after a brief investigation, it is clear that she has eaten them. In order to keep the monster fed the king chooses to send criminals to the church and when he runs out of criminals, he begins sending foreign slaves.

Marcin comes equipped with nothing more than a strange old man’s advice and his faith to get him through the three-day ordeal of curing the princess. Eventually he succeeds when he gets into the coffin and seals it against the striga until morning.

A translated interview with Sapkowski himself revealed that he drew from this story in order to reimagine it with the striga getting taken care of by a professional monster hunter. The Netflix adaptation stays quite true to his vision, by shifting the focus from how Geralt saves the princess and more on why.

Again Geralt goes against Vesemir’s code by accepting a job free of charge  and going out of his way to save the girl instead of just killing her. The fact that he even tried shines a light on Geralt’s white knight complex that seems to come into play no matter how much easier it would be for him to bury it.

The selkiemore, a water-dwelling, shapeshifting beast from Scottish mythology, gets killed by the witcher off-screen at the start of episode four, “Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials”. During the cleanup after the kill, Jaskier dresses Geralt up as a “sad silk trader” in an attempt to conceal his identity from the other attendants of the banquet.

This is quite literally one of two times that the witcher changes his clothes all season despite those around him constantly complaining about his odor. Considering that it occurs right after he killed a known shapeshifter (as well as his strong side eye) should tell you just how thrilled he is to have to undergo a shift in his own shape instead of acting like the person he really is.

The fact that he did it anyway for Jaskier’s sake proves that even early on Jaskier has established himself as one of very few people that Geralt truly cares about.

Speaking of shapeshifters, the doppler that appears in episodes five and six appears in a league of their own. 

Greek mythology describes Adonis as a youth of remarkable beauty and a favorite of the goddess Aphrodite, which makes the name the doppler is given in the credits quite fitting for a creature so obsessed with maintaining its beauty.

Unlike the dopplers unveiled in The Witcher 3:The Wild Hunt, the final installment of the video game series by CD Projekt RED, “The Adonis” uses their abilities as a defensive measure and provides their services as an assassin if the price is right. This particular doppler is said to have a special talent which makes them invaluable to Nilfgaard’s pursuit for Ciri.

Most dopplers are able to instinctively change into any being, including their voices, skills, and behaviors. In fact, Immediately after shifting into Mousesack and Cahir “The Adonis” had access to every thought and belief that either of them had ever had. This begs the question of whether or not its special talent is to wholly absorb and store the consciousness of those it shifts into.

If so, that would certainly explain its insistence to refer to itself as “we” despite appearing to be one being.

While this is in no way a fully comprehensive list of every monster both the viewers and Geralt face during the first season, the main focus will be placed on the creatures that reveal an underlying layer or theory to the works that you’ve come to know and love.

As a matter of fact, part two of this analysis features fewer monsters but gets more in depth with the biggest fantasy classics—dragons and djinns.

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