Memoir; from the French mémoire. A memory. Unlike a biography, which tends to be a relatively straightforward look at a person’s life, a memoir consists of their collected memories. It may be presented in chronological order, order of most importance, or how each memory leads into the next. As long as people have been committing words to writing, they have written memoirs. From the ancient world, to the modern, memoirs have only grown in popularity as a way to pass down one’s own legacy. Not all of us are destined to become legendary poets and writers, many people are forgotten as time passes. But a memoir can be an extension of a life. The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures is what is known as a graphic memoir containing both her words and her artwork in a masterful combination.
Every chapter in a story has a responsibility to the overall narrative. This is most evident in trilogies, where the first novel sets up the stakes and the characters, the second builds upon the threat, and the finale contains the climax of all that came before. The saga of the Witcher is atypical in its structure and how each novel contributes to the narrative. On top of that, the story began long before the novels were written, in the world crafted by the original series of short stories. Despite its odd nature as a five-novel story, the fourth book, The Tower of the Swallow, still has a responsibility as the penultimate chapter in the tale of Ciri, Geralt, and Yennefer. It must continue the adventure that has come before, while escalating the stakes. Some characters begin the lead up to the finale, while others are brought to their lowest point in preparation for their eventual rise.
One of the longest enduring staples in fiction is that of the Chosen One. The Chosen One is the special hero, standing above all others as the only one capable of defeating the enemy of the story or saving the world. The method for selecting a chosen one can be varied. In many stories, there is some form of prophecy which only fits this one individual. In others, they may have a certain birthmark or be born from the right parents at just the right time. This trope is not even relegated to one genre. Chosen one are found all throughout fantasy, science-fiction, and beyond. Harry Potter may be one of the most recognizable examples, but the chosen one can also be found in Star Wars in the form of Anakin Skywalker, and in The Matrix with Neo. Even The Lord of the Rings, which posits that anyone can defeat evil if they have the courage to rise up, contains a chosen one to a certain extent with Eowyn. However, the chosen one has waned in popularity. There are no chosen ones in real life.
A “baptism of fire” can be defined in several different ways. Classically, and for most of literary history, it referred to a specific passage from the Gospel according to Matthew in the Catholic Bible. According to John the Baptist, who baptized Catholics with water, God would come after and baptize their followers with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The phrase also appears in the Gospel according to Luke and Dante’s Inferno referring to a fiery trial of faith which would purify those who looked upon God. It was not until the 19th century that “baptism of fire” finished its transformation and gained the meaning Andrzej Sapkowski hints at. First used secularly to mean a soldier’s first time in battle, a baptism of fire is now any toil or hardship which strengthens you through the challenge.
Every story has a theme, a focus running side-by-side with the plot that thoroughly defines the very nature of the book. When a person asks what a book is about, there are always two answers; the plot, and the themes. For example, The Lord of the Rings is about the battle between good and evil, and the nature of heroism. It is also the story of a hobbit crossing the world to throw an evil ring into a volcano. In a similar vein, Splintegrate, by Deborah Teramis Christian, is a story about bodily autonomy and the nature of identity. It is about what happens when outside machinations violate one’s body and personality without consent. It is also an engaging science-fiction thriller about a professional dominatrix charged with assassinating a mob boss. The high level of technology present in a science-fiction setting allows for a practical examination of identity outside of the thought experiments of today.
In writing the Witcher saga of novels, Andrzej Sapkowski took on the task of transitioning the world and characters of the short stories to something more longform. In retrospect, it seems obvious that the short stories set up the novels, but that was not always the case, despite there only being two years between the publication of Sword of Destiny and Blood of Elves. Where Blood of Elves served as a reintroduction to the characters, world, and tone of the series, The Time of Contempt moves the plot forward at a rapid pace, setting the stage for a story spanning three more novels and three video games. Do not think that The Time of Contempt is devoid of character growth, however. The story of the Witcher is, and has always been, the story of Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri.
Once upon a time, there was a genre of fiction that took the world by storm. Following daring captains upon the high seas, engaging battles between warships, and fantastical hunts for white whales, nautical fiction was once the talk of every reader. From Moby Dick in 1851, to the Aubrey-Maturin series in the 20th century, nautical fiction brings the world’s oceans to the forefront of adventure. For most of human history, sailing was fraught with danger and the sea was little understood. Sailors knew enough to be cautious, and nautical fiction was an opportunity to take a look at their stories and show the kinds of adventures that could be found on the waves. While nautical fiction has declined in popularity, it has never disappeared. Occasionally, an author such as RJ Barker decides to take this fiction staple and inject it with something else. In this way, we get The Bone Ships, nautical fiction for a fantasy world.
While Andrzej Sapkowski published his first Witcher short story in 1986, the series certainly did not end there. After a couple years and two collections of short stories later, Sapkowski introduced the world to what would come to be his magnum opus; the saga. Beginning with the first fill novel set in the Witcher universe, Blood of Elves, the saga would occur across a series of five lengthy novels, all following the adventures of Geralt of Rivia, Yennefer of Vengerberg, and Ciri as they navigated a dangerous world. While introduced in the short stories, we spend much more time with these characters in the novels and see new sides of them. Hinted in the final two short stories, Sword of Destiny and Something More, the saga confirms that the tale belonged to Ciri all along, and she shares equal page time as Geralt.
In honor of the recent release of Netflix’s new fantasy series, The Witcher, I have decided to revisit one of my favorite fantasy series and its amazing stories. The Witcher franchise began in 1986 when Andrzej Sapkowski released a short story titled Wiedźmin, or, The Witcher. This story introduced audiences to Geralt of Rivia, the world of the Continent, the monster hunters called witchers, and the monsters they face. After publishing several more short stories expanding the world and characters, Sapkowski released the tales in three collections. This led into a five-novel saga, a standalone novel, a trilogy of video games set after the books, multiple comic books, one movie, two television adaptations, a card game, a tabletop roleplaying game, a board game, and more. What was once a local Polish series has now become a worldwide phenomenon.
Science-fiction and fantasy may appear to be very different genres at first glance. Once is full of advanced technologies, with a focus on scientific progress and how that works within the setting. Fantasy focuses on magic and oftentimes breaking the rules of the physical world in the pursuit of power. However, the two are full of more similarities than differences. Both can take place on Earth, or on another world. The world can have creatures other than humans, be they aliens or elves. Fantasy can sometimes show technology powered by magic, while highly advanced technology can sometimes appear indistinguishable from magic depending on who witnesses it. Popular franchises such as Warhammer, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and even Star Wars, all find compelling ways to blend genres. Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir, blends science-fiction and fantasy in a wonderfully gruesome way.