Of Monsters, Mythology and Men (Part Two)

By Danielle Whitaker

Netflix’s The Witcher adaptation pits the infamous White Wolf against a thick throng of monsters featured in myths and across the world. The second half of this analysis focuses more on how the knowledge of the traditional lore adds entirely more subtext to creatures that appear in the show. As well as unveiling some of the creative differences that we’ve come to love between the original book series, video game line and the show.

The infamous “Devil of Posada” (which actually turned out to be a sylvan) is an exceedingly rare and intelligent creature that happened to cross Geralt’s (Henry Cavill) path while stealing food and medicine for a nearby group of elves.

The term sylvan is actually derived from the Roman god Sylvanus (or Silvanus), who was said to serve as the rural god of drunkenness and brewery, as well as the guardian of woods and forests. 

Within the Witcher universe, sylvans are most widely known for their love of pranks, feasts, and music; however, they also serve as attentive guardians of the fields and woods around them. 

This brief nod to Roman mythology makes the villagers’ actions towards Torque seem pretty rash and ironic considering that they go through all of the trouble to lace iron in with their crops in order to keep them safe from a creature whose whole purpose is to protect fields and nature. 

Does Torque (Amit Shah) steal a little of the bounty here and there? Yes, but at the end of the day he’s still doing less damage to the produce than the locals are. 

While in the midst of another monster hunt, Geralt witnesses a Sir Eyck of Denesle (Jordan Renzo) ironically (and quite brutally) cut down a rare beast known as a hirikka. 

Now hirikkas originate from Witcher Universe lore which states that they are not only considered generally harmless, they are also an endangered species.

The saliva and feces of a hirikka also contain poisonous gasses with the power to kill off any medium-sized game in its vicinity, so by then eating the hirikka’s corpse karma would have likely claimed the life of Sir Eyck even if the Reavers hadn’t gotten to him first. 

Speaking of rare creatures, the lore around dragons presents a lot to unpack. Considering the glaring similarities between Villentretenmerth (Ron Cook), the golden dragon that enlists the help of Geralt and Jaskier (Joey Batey) in the show adaptation, and eastern dragon lore, the focus of this section will concentrate strictly on the eastern mythology.

The word dragon itself is derived from the Greek language meaning “a serpent of huge size”and “to see clearly”; considering the knowledge that Villentretenmerth possessed about the future between Geralt and Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) leads one to believe that the show’s creator decided to interpret the word’s meaning literally.

Villentretenmerth also appears to have lived an extraordinarily long life in the way that he romanticizes the few “firsts” that he has left. This is again very consistent with eastern dragon lore, which claims that eastern dragons are often said to be wiser than humans, live extremely long lives, and are capable of human speech.

Not only does Villentretenmerth seem capable of foretelling the future, he is also able to speak and polymorph. Two abilities that certainly coincide with the previous journal entry on dragons in the second Witcher video game by CD Projekt RED, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.

While the monsters that appear within the Netflix adaptation aren’t usually far off from the Witcher Universe bestiary, dragons appear to be one of few exceptions.

One beast that doesn’t seem to variate from both traditional or Witcher lore however, is the djinn. Legends regarding the djinn have emerged all over the world within Arabic, Aramaic, Berber, Islamic, and Persian culture and folklore. 

Nevertheless, the majority of the myths seem to agree that djinns (or jinns) are good and bad, invisible spirits born from smokeless fire and equipped with certain magical abilities, including the power to shapeshift at will.

While most jinns are said to act unwelcoming towards humans, there are several legends about the few willing to go out of their way to help them. The most common of which appear in the Book of One Thousand and One Nights, a series of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled over the span of several centuries.

One such tale is that of “Ali the Cairene and the Haunted House in Baghdad”, which depicts the story of a trader named Ali who stays in a house haunted by djinns on his way to Baghdad. Over the course of the night Ali is neither frightened or tormented by the dreaded djinn and actually lives to the morning with both his life and quite a bit of gold.

Magicians were said to be able to obtain power over a jinn and use it to aid in their spells; however, even “friendly” jinn can turn volatile towards anyone that dares to try and break an agreement with it. 

Taking this into consideration, Yennefer definitely should have taken the time to double check that the agreement between the djinn she was trying to summon and its master was really complete before trying to control it. If Geralt hadn’t shown up and made his last wish when he did there’s no telling exactly how much wrath the djinn would have brought down on her.

Jinn are not creatures to be messed with, a rule of thumb that also appears in another One Thousand and One Nights tale, “The Merchant and the Jinni”. A merchant carelessly discards a date pit which unfortunately kills a jinni’s (or jinn) invisible son. The jinni (or jinn) demands that the merchant die for his recklessness and would have absolutely gone through with it if it hadn’t been distracted at the last minute.

While there are many different classes and types of djinn, the kind that has gained the most popularity in western culture is the cliché genie trapped in a bottle that grants its liberator with wishes. This version of the myth actually originates from Islamic folklore, which chronicles the lifelong struggle of King Solomon and various genies. Each variation ends with Solomon trapping the genie(s) in a bottle until the day that someone sets them free.

This variation seems to be the closest to the djinn that Yennefer, Geralt and Jaskier encounter in the show.

An alternative species from the djinn bloodline otherwise known as a ghoul, also makes an appearance in Geralt’s monster hunting duties.

While the Netflix adaptation doesn’t provide much information on the creatures, fans of the Witcher video games and Monsterbook, an artbook enclosed with the Collector’s Edition of The Witcher for specific regions, are more than familiar.

Ghouls are feral, corpse-eating monsters that can often be found traveling in packs in cemeteries and on battlefields. These creatures hunt only at night since they are affected by light produced by the sun or fire.

While they usually feast on livestock and “prepared” human corpses, a hungry ghoul won’t hesitate to eat human victims raw.

An individual wounded by a ghoul can erupt into a mad frenzy which explains why Geralt spent most of the last episode on the medieval version of a bad acid trip. 

While there were certainly some big changes between the original franchise and the Netflix  adaptation, praises should (again) be sung for the team behind the first season of the show. The changes they made were arguably good ones that considerably contributed to the intrigue of the story. Keeping a fantasy TV show accurate enough that the original Witcher franchise fans can still enjoy it is a feat that very few others can claim. Let’s hope that they continue the trend next season.

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