It was December 2019.
“You remember those dusty books from 1993, that Polish fantasy series?”
“What, those books they based those popular videogames on, the last of which came out in 2015? What about them?”
“Well, they’re completely sold out.”
All of the The Witcher books by Andrezj Sapkowski were sold out at the end of 2019, and for some weeks in 2020 too. Maybe we should’ve seen it as an omen for the year to come. But let’s not dwindle on that.
What was the reason for this sudden interest in this specific series from the 90s? Why the rush to read these old books all of the sudden?
Well, the same thing it usually is these days: there was a Netflix adaptation.
To each its strengths
Let’s clear the air before we start: I also bought The Last Wish after Netflix’ series aired. Or, well.. I bought it when it was back in stock again.
Which took a while.
Most copies looked like this; with a nice red Netflix mark on the cover that wasn’t a sticker.
The Last Wish had been on my list for some time though. I had been a bit familiar with the games, and actually played the first half of the first game from 2005. I really enjoyed the grizzly fantasy setting and the way the characters who lived in it were noticeably influenced by its harsh reality.
And what can I say? I really liked the book. Even having seen the Netflix show, which follows the stories of The Last Wish closely, I enjoyed reading it. It showed another perspective into the same stories. Netflix was very character driven in its portrayals of the stories, and of course on the action as well. Reading these same stories show a deeper understanding of Geralt’s inner world a way that would seem a bit awkward in a series. The day-to-day life in the world of The Witcher is shown in a casual way, making it easier to imagine actually living in it.
And yes, I’m going to say it: sometimes an adaptation can even add original content that enhances the source material. Toss a coin to your Witcher, man.
Even better. I’d say that each medium in which The Witcher appears adds to its general narrative presence in different ways, but that’s an argument for another blog. Keep an eye out, folks.
It’s interesting to see how adaptations of famous stories not only refer back to the original work, but can actively rally watchers to start reading their source material. Many adaptations nowadays even publish special movie tie-ins, generally in a cheaper and more accessible paperback, just to tempt their audience with more. More of the lore, more of the characters they have already become acquainted with. Everything that couldn’t be packaged in a resolvable arc within the studio’s available runtime.
It’s a great positive twist on the well known grumpy ‘The books are better’ commentary. Most people see comments like these as a snub toward the adaptation, which is not always fair. Any transition from one medium to another will require editing in order for the story to work in the new medium. That’s reterritorialization for you, if you don’t mind me flexing my cultural studies degree.
But I love that along with the people who read the book first and are disappointed or dissatisfied, there’s a boatload of people who’ll hear this comment and be like: “The books are better?! Gosh, golly, that sounds great, I can’t wait to immerse myself further into this world that was already visually introduced to me!”
(This is, of course, an approximation of one such reaction.)
Of course we can also be deeply disappointed by tracing adaptations we like. Imagine people who’ve only seen the Hobbit films expecting more in its original book form. Boy, are they in for a surprise. Heh.
Discovery can be inspiring
Even novels like The Handmaid’s Tale, originally published in 1985, have had huge relapses in popularity due to their adaptations being successful. And those are some heavy topics people are suddenly prepared to engage with again. Hell, it even spiked the inspiration of the author, Margaret Atwood. She published a sequel to the novel in 2019 due to so many fans asking for more.
Before you ask, yes: that one stands ready to read in my bookcase too. I’m a bit behind.
The idea of people who enjoy a story in the shape of a film or tv series, wanting more and reaching for that source material warms my heart. And I do it just the same. Sometimes I love what I find, sometimes I don’t like it as much. And that’s fine too; it shows that I have my own taste and that we’re all free to hate and love stuff independently. Remember that.
You cannot always be the first to like something. That whole hipster trend (you know the one I mean) is overrated. It is a great experience to have other people tell you something is cool and then finding out that it is. You don’t have to ‘own it’ to enjoy it. By which I mean, you don’t have to identify with it, or have an original connection to it prior to its peak in popularity.
Piracy is bad, people. Remember that too.