The Witcher and the Root of all Suffering

In every curse, hope and despair exist in equal measures, for it is yearning that births both. Unstable desire leads to feelings of entitlement, and when this entitlement is denied, hope turns to despair. In The Witcher, those who utter curses, are those who cannot accept this absurdity. They have tried to realise their ideals, but been met with a cruel, unresponsive world—a world that cannot give them what they seek. They fixate on their despair, and rather than change to suit the world, curse the world to change.

It is human suffering that creates curses. A curse takes the misunderstanding, the horror, and the anger of the sufferer, and twists it into a force of vengeance. Like a mirror, it reflects the sufferer’s despair back onto the world. There is no morality tied to the act. The virtuous are as capable of such misery as the wretched.

One of the Crones from The Witcher 3.
Few glimpse beneath the façade of a curse, seeing only the horror before them.

The Witcher deviates from earlier Tolkienesque fantasies by incorporating deconstructive social, political and philosophical themes concerning prejudice, suffering, cruelty and morality. The world adheres closer to traditional Northern European folklore, rather than Tolkien’s Middle-earth, possessing an atmosphere of whimsical horror, rather than fantastical wonder. This is most striking in its depiction of curses. Many of the folk in The Witcher want to be rid of curses in the simplest way. The cursed are seen as monsters, rather than victims, therefore fit to be slaughtered. The folk do not understand, and this misunderstanding compounds their suffering. There are few, like the protagonist Geralt, who actively attempt to reverse curses.

Here, we see curses come full circle, for in every curse, hope and despair exist in equal measures. A core theme in The Witcher is misunderstanding. Geralt is mistreated constantly for being a witcher. Racial segregation is rampant across cities. Few women, other than sorceresses, are capable of escaping the cruelty of the patriarchy. Often, humans act more cruelly than monsters. In fact, multiple times the series alludes that out of all the monsters in the world, humans are the worst. Most folk merely accept this misery, and believe it to be an inherent condition of life. Our heroes, however, do something more. They attempt to overcome misunderstanding. They represent a second core theme in The Witcher—compassion.

Flotsam, in ruins after the tension between humans-nonhumans break.
All prejudice stems from misunderstanding, whether intentional or unintentional.

A curse is a hope denied. It is an individual betrayed by their expectations, but rather than turning on themselves, they turn on the world. Those cursed fall into a limbo-like state, either transforming into the embodiment of their vices, or endlessly repeating the events of their downfall. They become a focal point of misery, spreading it to all in their sights.

Geralt intimately understands such suffering. Despite his profession, he acts more as investigator and mediator. The cursed are, after all, just misunderstood. To suffer, is to worsen in state. All who suffer must therefore hold the hope for something better, consciously or not. Geralt finds this hope and redirects it, from despair into growth. In doing this, he breaks the cycle.

It is all, really, just an allegory for grief.

Geralt and Ciri, on horseback.
The pull and push of Geralt’s relationships, reveals the powerful compassion he holds beneath his veneer of indifference.

It is easy for those grieving to lose themselves in anger, longing or self-destructive guilt. It is easier for those on the side to misinterpret such grief and make matters worse. To see the monstrous pain, but instead of accepting and understanding it, to try and brush it away. Geralt represents the best of us. Those who would listen, rather than comfort; and empathise, rather than pity.

Geralt does not take the curse onto himself. He does not slay the cursed, then congratulate himself with a pat on the back, because neither of those solutions break the cycle of grief—they deny it. He instead guides them through their own desires and failings, piece by piece, until they are one again—wiser in acceptance, and kinder in reconciliation.

Though curses differ wildly in appearance, they are all born of hope and despair. However, this which sustains them, can just as easily become the force that breaks them.

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