If you’re a fan of the acclaimed Witcher series of action-role-playing games, you probably already know that it’s based on a set of novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. But what you may not know is that the just-released The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt draws heavily not only upon the novels, but also upon the myths and lore of Central and Eastern Europe. This is no simple rehash of the elves and dwarves from your Dungeons & Dragons days. The Witcher takes its cues more from the Grimm brothers than from Tolkien, so let’s have a little history lesson, shall we?
First off, the subtitle: Wild Hunt. This is a genuine legend from Central and Northern Europe (known as “Dziki Gon” in Polish, for example), concerning a giant, phantasmal hunting party that sweeps through the skies, pursuing some unknown quarry. Depending on what part of Europe is telling the tale, the Wild Hunt may be led by Odin, or by the ghost of Theodoric the Great (king of the Ostrogoths), or some other apparition. The legends often say that seeing a Wild Hunt brings ill fortune, and that those who get caught in the path of one can be sucked up into it to forever hunt an un-catchable quarry. In The Witcher 3, the Wild Hunt is represented by an otherworldly (but very real) army, bent on the murder and destruction of everything in its path – and nothing can stop it, except for the titular Witchers themselves.
Now, some of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s lore cuts across all The Witcher titles. One of the key elements is that protagonist Geralt of Rivia and his fellow Witchers are monster-hunters, bred from a young age to take on the fantastical beasts lurking outside the walls of the cities. To hunt these monsters, Geralt uses a special, silver sword. The legend of silver being the only metal effective against magical creatures is an old one from Central Europe, and appears perhaps first in the Grimm Brothers fairy tale “The Two Brothers.” In this story, the brothers travel to a faraway land and face all sorts of challenges. Eventually, one of the brothers is captured by a witch; the other, attempting to save him, shoots the witch with his gun, but she is immune to lead bullets. Out of ammunition, he desperately tears the silver buttons from his doublet, and jams them into the barrel of his gun. These do the trick.
This tradition of silver bullets pervaded European – and eventually Western – literature. Now, the Lone Ranger blasts bad guys with silver bullets from horseback, and Geralt of Rivia lops off wyvern heads with a silver blade.
Of course, there are “proprietary” legends in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, too. Sapkowski is known for his creativity, and Geralt’s world is filled with its own traditions and history from the novels and stories. The Conjunction of the Spheres, for example, is a great, calamitous event that unleashed fantastical creatures such as werewolves and vampires upon the lands. And of course, there’s the incipient war between the humans and the various races they’ve conquered: the elves, dwarves, halflings, and dryads, now all forced to the periphery of society.
As you can see, the world of The Witcher is a rich one. And it’s one that is partially based (as all good fantasies are) on our own – and partially based on the imagination of a great writer. Check it out in all its glory in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, available tomorrow on Xbox One.