Author of novels and fantasy stories, as well as essays and dictionaries about the fantasy genre. His most famous creation is The Witcher. Born 21st June 1948 in Łódź, where he currently resides and works.
The most popular Polish author of fantasy tales and novels. Educated as an economist and merchant. He has repeatedly been awarded all the major Polish prizes.
An economist by education, Sapkowski worked in foreign trade from 1972-94. He is a five-time winner of the Janusz A. Zajdel Award, the most important honour for fantasy writers in Poland. He received Polityka magazine's Literature Passport in 1997. What's more, Sapkowski's popularity is not limited to Poland; his novels have been translated into Russian, English, Czech, German, Korean and Chinese. The English translation of his novel, Blood of Elves, received the David Gemmel Fantasy Award in June 2009. Sapkowski was given the freedom of his home city, Łódź, in 2008.
Sapkowski began his literary career as a translator affiliated with Fantastyka magazine. He made his debut thanks to the magazine's 1985 fiction competition (The Witcher, his short story, won third place; the first prize went to Marek S. Huberath). His subsequent stories were first published in Fantastyka, and later in Nowa Fantastyka, the re-launched version of the magazine. All his novels were published by superNOWA, a publishing house specialising in fantasy.
Sapkowski gained his popularity thanks to The Witcher saga, comprising three volumes of stories and a five-volume novel. The saga originated in short forms included in The Witcher, The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny. The structural motif of reworking plots from fairy tales, making them darker and more brutal than the original, can be seen in most of his work. For example, in his short story, Lesser Evil, the heroine – Snow White's distant counterpart – joins a gang of seven dwarves specialising in mugging. Likewise, the evil stepmother's cruelty is attributed to a prophecy according to which princesses born on the day of a solar eclipse are prone to psychopathy, as well as to biological mutations (confirmed by autopsies performed on a number of the prophecy's victims). Yet the story chooses not to confirm whether or not Renfri, the heroine, is a member of the cursed group.
Out of the short stories the framework of a large work slowly emerges. The reader learns of new characters who later prove essential to the development of the plot. Geralt of Rivia is the main hero; he is a man who earns his living by killing monsters, a job he has been trained to do since childhood. In his actions, he adheres to the moral code of his guild that, among other things, favours neutrality in any morally dubious situations (the story, Lesser Evil, is again worth noting here). Other remarkable characters include the sorceress, Yennefer, entangled in a complicated relationship with Geralt, and Dandelion, the poet.
During one of his adventures – which entails breaking a spell cast on a princess turned into a vampire – Geralt asks to be paid. In his demand he refers to the law of surprise, a request known from many other legends, where the host is asked to offer something he has in his own home but is not yet aware of. The situation becomes complicated, for the host happens to be the queen of Cinthra, and the surprise turns out to be her daughter's premarital child, a girl later named Ciri. The fates of the witcher and the girl become entwined once again after her parents' death and the fall of the kingdom. Geralt requests the same payment from a man whose life he had saved during his journey. Again the surprise is Ciri who accidentally wanders up to the house. It turns out soon afterwards that the girl, of mixed human and elven blood, will have a crucial influence on the world the book describes.
The fragmentary nature of Sapkowski's short stories is characteristic of his work and is especially evident in the five-volume saga. The plot does not develop in a linear fashion, and crucial information is often stated in passing. The loss of a letter key for political scheming is presented in the form of a short story about a royal messenger named Applegat. The author encourages the reader to think of the messenger as the main hero in the novel, only to kill him with an arrow shot by rebellious, partisan elves.
Another element of Sapkowski's work is his allusions to the present day and recent history. Thus Kovir, an overseas mercenary and isolationist superpower, a country that appears now and then in the saga, is a clear reference to the United States. Similarly, the pogroms directed against elves and dwarves, or the annexation of a country in the name of defending minority rights, hints at the Soviet invasion of Poland of September 17, 1939.
Sapkowski is an outstanding master of stylization. He frequently invents unusual forms to describe the action in his novels. For example, the battle of Brenna – crucial to his fictional world as it manages to hold back Nilfgaard's imperial designs – is shown from a dozen or so fragmented yet complementary points of view. The most important ones include a story told from the perspective of the field hospital, a text from a chronicle written by one of the battle's participants (a clerical student who fights as a volunteer in the peasant infantry), and finally, many years later, from the perspective of an exam taking place in an army college of the empire defeated in that battle.
The witcher is a hero who has influenced popular culture. The character can be found in Bogusław Polch's comic books, which he drew from 1993 to 1995. Aside from the short stories, Sapkowski gave him at least one idea which he had not previously used in his prose. In addition, Geralt of Rivia was played by Michał Żebrowski in a poorly received film (2001) and television series (2002), both directed by Marek Brodzki. Based on some of the themes from the five-volume saga, a computer game of The Witcher was also created. It has been the best-selling Polish product in the industry so far. The dialogues included in the film interludes skilfully imitate Sapkowski's style, though the sexual allusions occasionally prove bolder than the original (some excerpts can be found on YouTube).
Despite readers' pleas, Sapkowski gave up the idea of continuing The Witcher saga. His next series was a Hussite trilogy, the main character of which is Reinmar from Bielawa, also called Reynevan von Bielau. The plot is set in the fifteenth century during the Hussite wars that took place on Polish, Silesian and Czech soil. The protagonist is a fairly amorous trainee in magic, always running away from danger while making the wrong decisions with odd regularity. He joins the Hussites at one point, which does not make him feel any safer.
According to Mariusz Czubaj,
Sapkowski's trilogy is a form of polemics with the Polish tradition of the historical novel, with let's say Kraszewski and Sienkiewicz, who wrote about cruel times while depriving them of that dose of atrocities and a most basic human dimension. Yet the author of The Witcher does not hide that his characters are not exactly subtle, but who nonetheless bask with delight in what the literature theoretician Mikhail Bakhtin once called 'the material bodily lower stratum'.
This point can be confirmed by the numerous linguistic allusions to Henryk Sienkiewicz and by the different ways in which the historical figures are viewed, such as Jagiello and Queen Jadwiga, known, for instance, from The Knights of the Cross. In 2009, Sapkowski yet again surprised his readers, setting the novel, Viper, in Afghanistan during the time of the Soviet intervention. The main hero is Paweł Lewart, a Soviet Army warrant officer with Polish roots, endowed with paranormal skills. Although his supernatural abilities have been smothered by a stay in a mental hospital, an encounter with the eponymous viper makes them reappear.
Given these works, you can see that Sapkowski's writing is heading toward an even deeper embedding of fantasy motifs in the real world. The Witcher saga is set in an invented world (although some argue that the plot might have taken place on Earth before the ice age); the Hussite trilogy is set at the beginning of the fifteenth century; and Viper comes close to the here and now – the Polish intervention in Afghanistan is mentioned in the epilogue.
In 2013 long-awaited Season of Storms was published – it belongs to the Witcher series, but is not a sequel to the original saga, but rather set between the short stories in the first book in the series, The Last Wish. A twenty-hour long audio play was based on the book and over eighty actors took part in the project (Krzysztof Gosztyła, Krzysztof Banaszyk, Anna Dereszowska and Adam Ferency among others).
In 2012 Sapkowski was awarded the Medal for Merit to Culture - Gloria Artis.
Andrzej Sapkowski is one of the most popular Polish writers abroad: his books were translated into English, German, French, Italian and Spanish. His work was compared to books by Neil Gaiman or China Mieville, since they all give new life to a genre with quite strict rules and repetitive motifs.
His books became famous also because of widely acclaimed action role-playing video games that take place in the world of Geralt: The Witcher (2007), The Witcher 2: Assasins of Kings (2011) and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015), with its expansion packs, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Hearts of Stone (2015) and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Blood and Wine (2016). The Witcher Universe is also the basis for the digital board game The Witcher Adventure Game (2014), the digital card game Gwent: The Witcher Card Game (2018) and a combination of a computer-based RPG and card game, Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales (2018). In 2019, the popularity of his Witcher creation was increased even further with the release of the TV series The Witcher on the streaming service Netflix.
- Wiedźmin [The Witcher], REPORTER, Poznań, 1990.
- Ostatnie Życzenie [The Last Wish], superNOWA, Warszawa, 1993 (English translation: Gollancz 2007, Orbit 2008).
- Miecz Przeznaczenia [The Sword of Destiny], superNOWA, Warsaw, 1993.
- Coś się Kończy, Coś się Zaczyna [Something Ends, Something Starts], superNOWA, Warsaw, 2000 (includes short stories unrelated to The Witcher series).
- Krew Elfów [Blood of Elves], superNOWA, Warsaw, 1994 (English translation: Gollancz 2008, Orbit 2009).
- Czas Pogardy [Times of Contempt], superNOWA, Warsaw, 1995 (English translation: Gollancz 2011, forthcoming).
- Chrzest Ognia [Baptism by Fire], superNOWA, Warsaw, 1996.
- Wieża Jaskółki [The Swallow's Tower], superNOWA, Warsaw, 1997.
- Pani Jeziora [Lady of the Lake], superNOWA, Warsaw, 1999.
- Narrenturm, superNOWA, Warsaw, 2002.
- Boży Bojownicy [Warriors of God], superNOWA, Warsaw, 2004.
- Lux Perpetua, superNOWA, Warsaw, 2006.
- Żmija [Viper], superNOWA, Warsaw, 2009.
- Oko Yrrhedesa [The Eye of Yrrhedes], MAG, Warsaw, 1995 (role-playing game made as an introduction to the genre).
- Świat Króla Artura. Maladie [The World of King Arthur]. Maladie, superNOWA, Warsaw, 1995 (essay).
- Rękopis Znaleziony w Smoczej Jaskini [The Dragon Cave Manuscript], superNOWA, Warsaw, 2001 (dictionary of fantasy literature).
- Historia i Fantastyka / History and Fantasy, superNOWA, Warsaw, 2005 (extended interview conducted by Stanisław Bereś).
- Stylizacja na Zgorzknienie / Styling as Bitter, Lampa 8/2004 (interview conducted by Konrad T. Lewandowski).
- Mariusz Czubaj, Smutek Dolnego Śląska / The Sorrow of Lower Silesia, Polityka 48 (2582)/2006.
- Jakub Z. Lichański, Nadgryziony Rękopis czyli jak (nie) Pisać o Fantasy / The Worn-Away Manuscript, Or How (Not) to Write about Fantasy, Nowe Książki 11/2001 (on The Dragon Cave Manuscript).
- Wojciech Orliński, Bohater Głupek / The Moron Hero, Gazeta Wyborcza November 6, 2002.
- Aleksandra Piekara, Niedaleko od Wiedźmina? / Close to the Witcher?, Opcje 1 (78)/2010 (on Viper).
- Anita Krupa, Sapkowski i Tolkien / Sapkowski and Tolkien, Ha!Art 1/2000.
- Tomasz Wojnarowski, 'Lux Perpetua', czyli Quasi-Historyczny Koniec / 'Lux Perpetua' Or the Quasi-Historical End, Portret 23/2007.
- Czech: Zaklinac, Prague: Winston Smith, 1992, Krev elfu, Ostrava: Leonardo, 1995; - Cas opovzeni, Ostrava: Leonardo, 1996, Krest Ohem, Ostrava: Leonardo, 1997.
- English (UK): Blood of Elves, Victor Gollancz Ltd., 2008 (translated by Danusia Stok); Time of Contempt, Victor Gollancz Ltd., 2013 (translated by David French); Baptism of Fire, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 2014; Sword of Destiny, Victor Gollancz Ltd., 2015; The Swallow's Tower, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 2016; Lady of the Lake, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 2017. American editions by Orbit.
- German: Der letzte Wunsch, München: Heyne Verlag, 1998, Das Schwert der Vorsehung, München: Heyne Verlag, 1998.
- Lithuanian: Likimo Kalavijas, Kaunas: Dagonas, 1997.
- Russian: Wied'mak, Moscow: AST Publishers, 1996; Krov Elfov, Moscow: AST Publishers, 1996, Chas Priezrieniya, Moscow: AST Publishers, 1997, Krieshcheniye Agniom, Moscow: AST Publishers, 1997
Author: Paweł Kozioł, October 2010; updated by AP, November 2019
Translated by: Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer