I have just finished watching “The Witcher: Blood Origin” on Netflix, a prequel to the enormously popular series about Geralt of Rivera. The mini series tells the story of a foundational bit of worldbuilding history.
The series starts when Geralt’s sometimes-sidekick Jaskier encounters Seanchai, a being who can assume many shapes, though here she’s mostly Minnie Driver.
“I slip between the worlds and time collecting forgotten stories. I bring them back to life when the world needs them,” she tells him. “I need you to sing a story back to life.”
At first Jaskier is dismissive of her story of seven heroes coming together against impossible odds — “That’s been done to death,” he opines — but when he hears that it is also about the Conjunction of the Spheres that first brought monsters and humans to the world and the first attempt at creating a Witcher, he immediately becomes invested.
As it happens, Jaskier’s first impression was correct. This story really has been done to death. Which is not to say it wasn’t done well, but there’s not a lot that sets it apart from other epic fantasy with a grimdark bent. I wanted to spend more time with the characters (heroes and villains alike) and have them spend more time with each other, building connections that are more meaningful then one night can make plausible. But the the series is so short (only four episodes) that it must race through the plot, giving no time to linger on characters or the general sense of wonder that is the hallmark of enduring fantasy.
But I didn’t start this post to review the series, really. It was Seanchai’s role that caught my interest, and her stated purpose of bringing story’s back to life. As a storyteller myself and someone who has studied folklore and history (both are types of storytelling that use very different structures), I am a devotee of the idea that stories shape the world — both looking forward and looking backward.
“Hope is vital. The elves need a story lost to time,” Seanchai tells Jaskier. While there are certain plot points that will connect this “ancient” story to the current main storyline of “The Witcher,” her primary purpose seems to be inspirational, providing a new paradigm by which the much beleaguered elves can define themselves after years of oppression.
She knows the lesson that many in Hollywood are beginning to finally understand: If you can see her, you can be her. Stories shape perception, shape the way people see themselves, shape the way other people see them. The create pathways to be followed, expectations to be lived up to, dreams to reach for. The right story at the right time can make all the difference — for the world, or for just one person.
Seanchai is not the only one in “Blood Origin” who understands this. When the elven general Eredin tells the Chief Sage Baylor, “Stories can be put down with steel,” Baylor disagrees. “History is littered with fools who believed the same. Control the story, control the world,” he says.
And then there’s Empress Merwyn, who also understands the importance of stories. “Old stories are bound to repeat,” she says. “They just need the right person to retell them.”
Unfortunately, “Blood Origin” doesn’t give enough time to explore either concept fully — the power of stories or the importance of who is telling it. We’re told more than shown how the Lark’s song fed the resistance and contributed to the rebellion, just as we’re only given the briefest understanding of why a rebellion needs to occur in the first place. The show’s creators had the inclination, but not the time.
Seanchai wants us to believe that the story Jaskier will bring back to life, the “Song of the Seven,” will make a difference in the story being told in “The Witcher,” but will it? Or will it be little more than a footnote in a rapid-fire season three plot? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, I’m doing my own exploration of how stories shape stories — the characters in my WIP are influenced a lot by the stories told about their mother. I’m still figuring how those stories will be told and by whom, but it’s nice to see others acknowledging the same basic truth about how stories shape the world.