...and Steel for Humans:
What frightens a warrior who spends his life hunting monsters? Humans.
Beginning in the early 1990s, Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski began publishing stories about a white-haired monster hunter named Geralt of Rivia. Given away by his mother at an early age, Geralt is subjected to magical experiments that forever change him into one of the Witchers...mutated humans bred for the purpose of killing monsters.
Warning: Major spoilers for the Netflix television series ahead.
The tragedy of Geralt of Rivia is that he genuinely means well - which is more than can be said for most. Despite having been essentially tortured as a child and turned into a trained killer, Geralt shows very few signs of vindictiveness. Good intentions often aren't enough, however, and that's certainly true in the case of The Witcher. Geralt's destiny pulls him time and time again into the affairs of human society, often placing him into scenarios that feel unwinnable.
So, while Geralt carries a short sword and plenty of potions for dealing with monsters, he also carries a steel longsword...for dealing with humans. And, sure enough, it is human beings that present the greatest threat to Geralt's way of life. Whether refusing to pay him, manipulating him into working against their rivals, or simply raising up an angry mob, Geralt as much time warding off the schemes of humans as he does fighting monsters.
Given all the difficulties society puts him through, we might expect Geralt to be a vengeful scourge of humanity. The reality couldn't be farther from the case. Time and time again, Geralt steps into human conflicts to save the helpless and needy, often risking his own life along the way. For much of the series, the source of this philanthropic attitude is a mystery. Then, Geralt's mother appears to him during a hallucinations brought on by severe wounds and tells him the following words:
"We have to cling to something. If we don't, the world falls into chaos."
While Geralt's moral code often drags him into trouble, it's also the core of what gives his life structure and meaning. Without it, he'd be unable to bear up under his life's history of tragedies. In other words, Geralt believes there is a significance in how he chooses to act.
As a show, The Witcher has many, many shortcomings. Yet it excels in one aspect: It always stresses the importance of decisions made by individual characters, no matter their social standing or political importance. Strangely enough, this aspect of the show is often what makes it seem so fantastical compared with contemporary human experience. Especially in the 21st Century United States, it is difficult to feel a sense of serious importance to the daily moral decisions one makes. Instagram posts are judged by their number of likes, rather than their internal beauty. Political campaigns are driven by massive rallies, rather than person-to-person conversations. For many of us, it can be hard to point to how our choices really matter at all. Yet, like Geralt, it's important that we remember the greatest threat to our world isn't some monster lurking in a lake (looking at you, Nessie). The real threat is losing sight of our own moral responsibilities as human beings.
That's why it's important to live by a code. Whoever you are, you won't go far without a sense of core principles that give direction and purpose to life. And, while your at it, adopting a few simple rituals might not be a bad idea either.
Personally, I like silver for accessorizing...and steel for shaving.
Okay, fine, I'll stop.