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The Witcher and the Nature of Legends

There are two kinds of loners—those who chose to be and those who don’t. Geralt of Rivia falls under both categories in Netflix’s The Witcher. He was forced into a life of monster hunting, but chooses to keep it up. He’s forced to depend on and be with people for his livelihood, but chooses to not get comfy with friends and lovers.

By the end of the first episode, he chooses to stop someone who gets innocents wrapped up in her warranted yet twisted quest for revenge. When Geralt is forced to kill her and the guards, he’s accused of senseless slaughter and labeled “The Butcher of Blaviken;” the town ostracizes him for a dilemma compounded with lies.

The Witcher casts Geralt as an unsung, misunderstood hero, but is he so perfect? He’s promiscuous, self-interested, and harsh. He says he is, so shouldn’t we take him at his word?

Time passes and we see him in the next episode sitting in the corner of a bar. Alone. A combination of his own and others’ choices have led him here. He’s notorious, and a humble bard named Jaskier recognizes him. Still, he’s convinced their dark, bleak world needs an honorable legend with a little polish like Geralt, even when they’re dinted with character flaws and marred pasts. 

When I read through the Old Testament last year, I was surprised by how terrible some of the “great” patriarchs are. Abraham slept with his wife’s servant, but also lied about his relationship to his wife out of cowardice to well-meaning kings who nearly paid for Abraham’s deceit…twice (Gen. 12, 20). Samson is often portrayed as a victim of Delilah who enacts justice when he brings down the building on his Philistine captors, but he intentionally lets violent rage and sexual passion guide him, not to mention a horrific disregard for Israelite laws (Judges 13-16). Solomon is portrayed as the prosperous, benevolent king he should have been in 2 Chronicles, but 1 Kings reveals how his God-granted wisdom didn’t stop him from instituting forced labor (ironically reflecting the rule of Pharaoh in Exodus) or bowing to the idols of his polygamous harem (1 Kings 9, 11).

And then there’s David: “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). The hero who plotted the murder of Bathsheba’s husband (2 Sam. 11). The king who displayed moral laxity in the raising and discipline of his children (13-17). The Psalmist who doubted God’s protection and brought a plague upon his people (1 Chron. 21). Some scholars not only question David’s authorship of the Psalms, but also his allegiance to Israel given his seeming familiarity with the Philistines (1 Sam. 27) and the total absence in 1 Chronicles of his dramatic coup d’état with King Saul. He had to fight for Israel’s favor to become king in 1 Samuel, but 1 Chronicles suggests otherwise.

Because of his sin, David was a loner estranged to his own people multiple times. Perhaps he deserved it, maybe more than we can know.

The Witcher casts Geralt as an unsung, misunderstood hero, but is he so perfect? He’s promiscuous, self-interested, and harsh. He says he is, so shouldn’t we take him at his word? Jaskier refuses to allow it by following him everywhere.

The despised witcher unnecessarily puts his life on the line for the good of others, too. He spares and forgives people who wrong him and others. He’s patient and wise.

“You smell of death and destiny. Heroics and heartbreak.”

He endures injury and insult one day after the other with Geralt.

“I promised to change the public’s tune about you. At least allow me to try,” Jaskier insists.

“I have been with you wherever you have gone and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a name, like the name of the great ones of the earth” (1 Chron. 17:8).

David marvels at God’s words. The light bulb clicks with the same revelation that God told Samuel in His choosing of David to be king: “the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). The bard has a similar gift of insight, pushing Geralt to reveal his heart when he goes out of his way to save Jaskier’s life. The despised witcher unnecessarily puts his life on the line for the good of others, too. He spares and forgives people who wrong him and others. He’s patient and wise. David is these things, too.

Photo courtesy of Netflix.

While the books of Samuel give a more complex telling of David’s deeds, they nevertheless focus on his accomplishments and inward character. Along with the largely honorific take in the books of Chronicles, they set him up to inherit a shining legacy in Jewish and Christian history with the purpose of “bring[ing] comfort and hope to generations of God’s people who were tempted towards despair, or apathy,” as the Bible Project writes. More specifically, Israel needed hope to cling to in their exile—a name that would metaphorically use David as a symbol, ancestral line, birthplace, nation, and throne. But not so much his deeds, but his heart. A Davidic heart.

Old Testament professor Mark A. Throntveit writes, “The basis of David’s idealization was not his lack of sin; rather, he was portrayed as one who does sin, but also as one who seeks God, confesses his sin, and claims the promise of forgiveness, thereby enabling the community to see themselves as God sees them, and encouraging them to respond, as had he, in repentance.”

Legends not only give hope to those who need it, but can also strike closer to the truth of their hearts than historical accuracy ever could.

After Geralt and Jaskier are freed from captivity by Elves with the former’s cunning, understated wisdom, the latter begins writing a tune about how the witcher fought back a devil and his vicious army of elves. The song eventually spreads and does the job of cleansing his tarnished image. In the middle of writing it, Geralt interrupts and says, “That’s not how it happened. Where’s your newfound respect?”

Jaskier turns and smirks. “Respect doesn’t make history,” he says, resuming his song:

“A champion prevailed!

Defeated the villain,

Now pour him some ale!

Toss a coin to your witcher,

O’ valley of plenty

O’ valley of plenty

Toss a coin to your witcher,

A friend of humanity!”

For people to know the heart of truths, embellishments and lies are sometimes told about history’s heroes, even though their failures are crucial to acknowledge if brought to light. Even still, whether it’s Abraham Lincoln or Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, legends not only give hope to those who need it, but can also strike closer to the truth of their hearts than full historical disclosure or accuracy ever could. Jaskier understood this about Geralt, and we can embrace this of Biblical figures and each other.





Associate Editor
Joey Thurmond has two degrees in communication and English, and teaches on both for a living. He's actually a dragon in disguise who loves quiet, rainy days with a cup of hot tea. Videogames of the first-person shooter and survival-horror variant are his favorite, and he's a living repository of Star Wars and Bionicle lore. He has bylines at Game Informer, Push Square, and Tech Raptor, but currently maintains his own content at saveasdoc.com.

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