There has been for a long time—at least amongst the circles which I frequent in the real world and online—a debate as to what we can truly glean from fantasy fiction. The worlds themselves are often so improbable and impractical and the characters so bombastic that many wonder how they could possibly convey any kind of meaningful message or offer wisdom about our world today.
An obvious counter to this argument is the fact that fantasy need not speak for any such moral or truth or try to be relevant at all. Afterall, why can’t it just be a fun story, full of creativity and wonder? Perhaps the reader only desires to be transported to another world for a few pages, without being preached at for a bit. The fact is it really depends on who is reading.
The focus of this review is one such magnificent tale: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski. Sapkowski pens this fantasy novel, later published in 1993, to serve as the first entry in a series of books titled “The Witcher Series.”
Set in what seems to be your average world of monsters, magic, and mayhem, The Last Wish follows Geralt of Rivia, the titular “witcher” (a monster hunter based on Polish folklore, along with many other aspects of this world), as he pursues payment and self-validation through a variety of avenues. With little preamble, our journey with Geralt begins on one of his many monster hunts, in which Sapkowski introduces us to the core tenants of this world as well as revealing the true nature of our protagonist. You see, witchers are mutants, and people treat them accordingly as freaks. They both despise them for their difference yet revere them for their expert skills in exterminating monsters that plague the land. People hate them but ironically, need them.
This duality of identity is what primarily drives Geralt’s inner battles throughout the story. Although blessed with supernatural skill, he seems to lack other core traits essential to being human. Because of this, the witcher feels remote sorrow for what he has lost, while still enjoying the benefits of his power.
On top of all that identity talk, there is another predominant theme that flies above all the rest: destiny.
Without spoiling too much, in the world of “The Witcher Series,” destiny is a widely held belief, cited as the cause for many unforeseen turns of event. When the witcher turns up in an unexpected place and meets an old friend, it’s touted as “destiny.” As the old friend says:
“'She’s not alone. She’s leading a gang, which shows that she’s brewing something serious. Geralt, I don’t have anywhere else to run. I don’t know where I could hide. The fact that you’ve arrived here exactly at this time can’t be a coincidence. It’s fate,’” (pg. 103).
Wherever he goes, he is seen as the answer to someone’s problem, as the righeous hand of “destiny.” No matter what, it seems someone always wants Geralt to solve their issue of the week, breaking his moral code in the process, and he heartily refuses. As pervasive as this destiny belief is in Sapkowski’s fictional world, Geralt doesn’t believe in it. And this unbelief serves as the secondary crux of the narrative. While dealing with his identity crisis up and down the continent, he consistantly comes in contact with people and situations that demand his involvement in their own personal issue, as his sudden appearance is seen as none other than the work of this far-removed force known as fate, or destiny. And, in the world of this story, it rings true that destiny plays a heavy role in the lives of these people. Amazing things happen that otherwise should not have taken place, and destiny provides the perfect explanation for such extraordinary occurrences.
So, what’s my point?
This story aggressively desires the reader to understand its message. However, it is not so fervent that it ruins the warm and fuzzy feeling of wanderlust and imagination that otherwise permeates the narrative. The idea that destiny guides everyone proves extremely attractive to some people, and if you are one of those folks, then this book will resonate with you all the more. And, if you are like most other people simply looking for an exciting time in a faraway land filled with adventurous jabbering bards, Beauty and the Beast knockoffs, and walking, talking, sentient goat people, then this book will deliver one hundred and ten percent.