Saturday, January 28, 2012

Geralt of Rivia: A Terribly Mis-Understood Character

Geralt of Rivia, the protagonist of The Witcher franchise, is a character known far and wide amongst lovers of fantasy novels and RPG videogames. Those who have read the books or played the games know just what kind of a character he really is. However, several writings and videos I have seen advertising the Witcher series seem to have the wrong impression of Geralt. Most of them refer to Geralt as an "irresistible anti-hero" and describe him as being nothing more than "the ultimate bad-ass". In doing so, they paint Geralt in the wrong light, showing him off to be something he is not.

Geralt of Rivia is one of the most complex and internally-conflicted characters I have ever seen in a work of fiction. He is a man (or in his case, a mutant) who often experiences dilemmas of all kinds and is constantly questioning the purpose of his existence. This side of his character is almost never displayed in various things that advertise him, which prefer to show him off as a simple sword-swinging, one-man slaughterhouse. It frustrates me to see such a well-developed character be seen in the wrong light.

Before I can go on, a character description is in order.

Geralt of Rivia is a witcher, a genetically mutated human who is trained for the sole purpose of eradicating monsters from the world he inhabits. It is safe to say that witchers are a type of mercenary, almost always demanding payment for the services they perform. As a mutant, Geralt is capable of performing super-human feats such as: wielding a sword with blinding speed, casting a small variety of spells called "Signs" using specific hand gestures, having access to animal-like instincts and reflexes, being able to maintain (ahem) "enthusiastic" relationships with various women (or maybe that's just Geralt as a person), etc. However, being a witcher comes with a few negative qualities such as: infertility, unpredictable physical changes (in Geralt's case, his pigmentation was destroyed, turning him into an albino), etc. Witchers are often branded social outcasts and are treated with scorn and contempt by the general public because of their origins. So while Geralt's mutations make him a very capable individual and allow him eradicate monsters with deadly effect, they have also ruined any chance he might have had at a normal life. It is his position as a witcher that has a major effect on his outlook on life and the world he lives in.

This is where his complexities come into play. Life as a witcher has made Geralt a very cynical individual. Time and time again he openly describes how he has resigned himself to his fate. That fate being that he will remain a killer for hire for the rest of his days, that he will live for battle and eventually die in battle. However, do not mistake him for a person depraved of morality. Geralt often  shows great sympathy for the unfortunate and never shies away from critiquing the dark, cruel world that his stories take place in. A world of corruption and chaos, where acts of injustice and violence breed like rabbits. As Geralt's close friend, the bard Dandelion, puts it, "The Northern Kingdoms resemble a brothel on fire."  An accurate statement if I've ever heard one; the Northern Kingdoms are ruled by ruthless people who never shy away from feeding their lust for wealth and power at the expense of others, and all the while being to ignorant to realize the chaos that dominates their realms. Geralt is very familiar with these kinds of people as his clientele is mostly made up of them. As Geralt continuously hunts dangerous monsters, who are driven by natural instinct and the need to survive, he remains completely aware of the people who would sell their souls to fuel their ambitions, Because of this Geralt is constantly asking himself a certain question: "How can I go on like this?" "How can I keep killing these monsters knowing that the true monsters are the ones who pay people like me to do their dirty work?"

Sadly Geralt never receives, nor gives himself, an answer to this question. Instead he brushes off his concerns for his moral being and opts to continue existing in his bleak society rather than try and change it. Occasionally he is given the chance to rid his world of the bitches and bastards who cause more death and destruction than any big dragon could. However, these chances come rarely, as Geralt only acts upon these chances to protect the interests of those close to him rather than for the common good. Because he's not a crusader, he's not a patriot, and he's certainly not a hero. But he's also not some amoral killer-for-hire who takes money and kills without a second thought. Geralt of Rivia is a witcher, a fact that he regrets sometimes.