You’ve likely already seen the trailer for the high-profile Netflix TV adaptation coming later this year, starring Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia, in the role of the brooding, solitary Witcher.
So far, we’ve confirmed that Freya Allan (Into the Badlands) is starring as Ciri and Anya Chalotra (Sherwood) is starring as Yennefer. While it was arguably the videogame franchise by CD Projekt Red that popularized the Witcher, showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich is (exec producer of Umbrella Academy and Daredevil) also confirmed that they’ve taken inspiration mostly from the series of fantasy novels and short story collections by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, rather than the games—or the original Polish 2001 film adaptation and 2002 TV series.
Which is good news. Polish and Central European folklore is profuse with kick-ass monsters, beasties, and fanged things that go bump in the night that Geralt has tackled in the seven books by Sapkowski. Some of the ones only mentioned in the books were later given life as in-game enemies by the game developers.
As in the books, Geralt is a Witcher, a profession that has trained, enabled and armed him with the tools to defeat the supernatural monsters of the fictional land called The Continent. Whenever a Witcher successfully hunts down and eliminates (or in some cases erases the curse that made a monster) he gets paid by the townsfolk or whoever the ruling feudal lord is of the area.
In Sapkowski’s novels, there’s been a marked decline in the monster population, which makes Geralt’s profession, like the other Witchers on The Path, a dying one that will likely go the way of the seal clubber or the gaslamp lighter quite soon. It’s only when destiny throws him with the company of a powerful sorceress and a young princess, must he set aside the lone wolf act and work as a team to survive and save what he comes to love.
Here are 8 creatures from out of the deepest nightmares and campfire tales of Slavic culture that Geralt may likely face in the upcoming series.
In the short story “The Lesser Evil” from The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, Geralt enters the town of Blaviken with the carcass of a female kikimora in tow.
“He didn’t react to the muffled cry of the woman selling vegetables who was staring at the bony, taloned paw sticking out beneath the horse-blanket, bobbing up and down in time with the donkey’s trot.
“Caldemeyne shifted from foot to foot, looking at the spidery shape with its dry black skin, that glassy eye with its vertical pupil, the needle-like fangs in the bloody jaws.”
The kikimora in The Witcher are heavily insectoid in appearance and are very social creatures, organized like any other insect colony with workers, soldiers, and a queen—the big spider monster at the end of the Netflix trailer if likely a kikimora. But the original Slavic mythology, known in Polish as sziszimora or szyszymora, contrastingly depicts them as feminine household spirits that appear as human-like creatures with the legs of a sparrow and various other animal limbs or features.
While some legends tell of them as peaceful forest and woodland creatures, that take care of livestock and sometimes do the household chores when the family is asleep (like weaving on the spindle, the clacking sound of which her name is taken from), other legends say that she is a bringer of nothing but ill luck, nightmares, decay, and wasting disease.
In the worst ones, the mention of the kikimora would terrify even the bravest Slavic warriors, because she would attack at night like an assassin through sleep paralysis (by sitting on your chest and rendering you unable to breathe) and awful nightmares. She’s also blamed for any food that inexplicably rots or goes bad during the night.
A basilisk or cockatrice is a draconic creature that appears to be a cross between a bird and a lizard. It’s got webbed wings, a huge beak, and hooked talons. Basically, the head of a rooster and the hind quarters and tail of a dragon.
The short story “The Bounds of Reason” from the book The Sword of Destiny has a basilisk that Geralt just killed. Many folk tales depict the basilisk as extremely poisonous, thus it’s dangerous to touch its skin, feathers, and down, but its most popular ability is to either be able to petrify and paralyze its victims with its glare like the Medusa of yore, or outright killing them with the same. So basically, don’t make eye contact with this beast.
In Sapkowski’s book The Last Wish, Geralt first mistook this creature for a rusalka, a water sprite from Slavic mythology, but this beautiful creature was actually a vampiric witch that proved incredibly hard to battle for the Witcher.
“She was clinging to the back of the dolphin in the dried-up fountain, embracing the moss-overgrown stone with her tiny hands, so pale they seemed transparent. Beneath her storm of tangled black hair shone huge, wide-open eyes the color of anthracite….The creature glued to the dolphin’s back followed him with her eyes, turning her petite face with an expression of longing, and full of charm. He could still hear her song.”
Not only does the bruxa exert such a strong and persuasive influence on people so she can lull them and drink their blood, they’re incredibly fast and agile, are armed with sharp claws, can emit a piercing, forceful scream that can push away objects and people (Geralt is battered and slammed by this scream attack often), and their singing in their native language (powered by their recent drinking of blood), is able to sicken and nauseate enemies.
In Sapkowski’s story, the bruxa was the lover of the cursed beast man Nivellen, the arc of which was obviously taken from the folklore template of Beauty and the Beast. The bruxa had seduced Nivellen through his dreams and persuaded him to let her live in his mansion, thereby gaining her shelter after her attacks.
Like alps and mulas, bruxae are one of few vampire species not affected by sun, and only weapons made of silver (like Geralt’s sword) are effective against them.
Dopplers are basically shapeshifting doppelgangers that are also called mimics, doubles, imitators, or pavrats in the Witcher world.
Though rarely seen without a mimicked shape, their natural form is said to be humanoid with elongated limbs, noses, and tongues. Tellico Lunngrevink Letorte, alias Penstock (or Dudu) is a doppler in the short story “Eternal Flame” from the book Sword of Destiny who ultimately faces Geralt by taking on the witcher’s own shape, thus giving Geralt an idea what fighting himself might be like.
Dopplers can only take on the form of an animal or person that has mostly the same size, shape, and body weight. But their abilities also let them imitate whatever the person is wearing, the weapons he has, and the equipment he’s carrying.
Strzyga in Polish, is a woman that transforms into a monster because she’s been cursed. And in the first appearance of Geralt of Rivia in a story titled “The Witcher,” his task there was to simply lift the curse of the striga from Adda the White, daughter of Foltest, the king of Temeria.
Princess Adda was born a striga and reports say that Adda had been terrorizing the land for about seven years. As Geralt continues to investigate this seemingly straightforward contract unravels to become an origin tale that’s equal parts local politics, incest, jealousy, hatred, and the slaughter of innocent peasants. This thick soup of Polish folklore and feudal politicking is also apparently the situation that opens the first game.
In both the game and the book, the striga looks the same: a very pneumatically muscled monster when transformed that can move very quickly on all fours, with a massive fanged jaw that extends ear to ear she also has long claws. Even in her monstrous form, the striga has breasts and human hair (red, for the Princess Adda), reminding Geralt that this beast is a young girl possessed by a curse.
In the story, Princess Adda as the striga only came out on a full moon to hunt, and her father King Foltest would sometimes tie criminals to stakes, feeding his monstrous daughter.
These nasty creatures are the tiyanaks of Central European folklore. Somewhat like their Pinoy counterparts, botchlings are small, undead creatures created from the improper burial of unwanted and stillborn infants.
They look like what they are: deformed fetuses that are now weaponized with sharp teeth, a long tongue, agility, and a deep hunger to drain pregnant women. When hunting, botchlings hide beneath beds and drain expectant mothers of their strength. When she can barely move or defend herself, it will feed off her blood and thus kill both her and the unborn child within.
In the games, a botchling can also opt to change its form when threatened, growing to a huge, deformed man with unbelievable strength and aggression.
This is pretty self-explanatory. I mean, c’mon, who wouldn’t want to see Henry Cavil take on a damn, honest-to-goodness dragon?
In the story, “The Bounds of Reason” Geralt, Yennefer, Dandelion, along with a party composed of nobles, magicians, and bounty hunters answer a call to hunt down a dragon. So, yeah, it wouldn’t be European medieval fantasy without one of these bad asses right?
In Witcher lore, the great wyrms are said to represent the forces of chaos. They’re four-legged giant reptiles with bat-like wings, forked tongues, a narrow triangular head on long slender necks, with breath weapon abilities, a penchant for gathering precious hoards, and are also extremely intelligent.
In the game developer notes for The Witcher 2, they detail how to handle an encounter with a dragon: “The best tactic when meeting a dragon is to pray to all the gods with no exceptions.”
THE WILD HUNT
European myths and legends are awash with the tales of a specter in the sky of a group of horsemen thundering through the cloud and galloping madly to some divine mission.
Many warn that to behold the riders too long will be your death, since they are the souls of the dead themselves with their King Herla, as in the works of the 12th-century British writer Walter Map.
The Wild Hunt’s horses have six legs, which is likely a reference to Odin’s six-legged horse Sleipnir. But the tales mostly agree that seeing the Hunt riding through the sky is an ill omen of coming war (because Odin was a war god, see), and that the riders are either seeking new recruits by kidnapping heroes to join them (like the German hero Dietrich von Bern, who was said to have been carried off by the Hunt), or enacting justice on the wicked and corrupt.
In the Witcher world, the King of the Hunt is Eredin Bréacc Glas, and he is seeking Ciri for the Elder Blood that flows through her veins, as detailed in the story of The Lady of the Lake. The Wild Hunt are also called the Wraiths of Mörhogg to the common folk of The Continent, but they are actually Aen Elle elves who are tasked to find and capture slaves from other worlds. The Wild Hunt offers insight into the greater world built by the Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher lore, introducing us to the Aen Elle elves and their mysterious, powerful ways.
King Eredin and his riders are easily one of the most interesting adversaries that Geralt can face and here’s hoping that the complexity and richness of the Polish and Central European folklore gumbo that the series is marinated in will be given the kind of exposure and treatment it deserves.
Netflix’s “The Witcher” will be streaming in the fourth quarter of 2019.