In 1993, Polish fantasy writer Andrzej Sapkowski released the first book in his The Witcher series. Sapkowski’s novels play out on an ancient continent where men and magic beings live side by side, with terrifying monsters of various species plaguing them both. The main character of the story is Geralt of Rivia, a skillful monster-hunter who finds himself an outcast as a consequence of his particular line of work. Netflix decided to adapt the fantasy novels — which had also been turned into a successful video game series — and cast buff god-among-men Henry Cavill as the titular witcher.
In the show, the former DC Universe star dons a white wig and a heavy sword as he travels the land, taking down whatever monsters dare to get in his way. On his journey, Geralt comes across two women that alter the course of his life forever: a young princess named Cirilla (Freya Allan) and Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra), a century-old sorceress.
When we first meet Yennefer, she is far from the powerful witch that fans of The Witcher know that she is destined to become. In Vengerberg, young Yennefer is mistreated by all who come across her, family included; as the love child of a human and an elf, she has been cursed with a twisted spine and a locked jaw. Her father sells her into the service of a witch, and she is is taken to a faraway castle in Aretuza. There, Yennefer is able to tap into her powers and become a full-fledged sorceress. But before she becomes official, Yennefer voluntarily undergoes a painful magical procedure to alter her physical appearance, and the shy, insecure girl of yesterday is soon replaced with an idealized version of herself, driven with political ambition.
A fated run-in with a djinn (an evil genie that even Will Smith's magic in Aladdin probably wouldn't try to counter) some episodes later leads Geralt and his traveling companion Jaskier (Joey Batey) to Yennefer. The pair don't get along at first — Geralt's naturally gruff demeanor doesn't rub Yennefer the right way — but soon enough, sparks fly between them. The witcher, notorious for his lack of feelings, is bewitched.
But Geralt isn't the only one taken in by the violet-eyed witch; viewers of the Netflix series are absolutely obsessed with her. In fact, Yennefer has developed somewhat of a following in the short hours since The Witcher premiered on the streaming platform. Yes, Geralt gets his flowers (as a dues-paying member of the Henry Cavill Fan Club, I obviously swooned), but on the internet, it's the sorceress who reigns supreme. Yennefer Hive, it's time for roll call!
However, there are some viewers who are understandably uncomfortable with the series' treatment of the character. Suffering and prejudice may be canon for Yennefer (and a key part of her development in The Witcher), but in 2019, is it really the best look?
Gonna say that The Witcher's portrayal of Yennefer is not great! I'm mostly enjoying myself, and I understand this is something that got carried over from the books, but it's frustrating to see a show portray physical disabilities this way.— Jennifer Unkle (@jbu3) December 20, 2019
In both Sapkowski's novels and the many video games they spawned, Yennefer suffers horrible treatment from nearly everyone she crosses paths with because of her appearance, and to make matters worse, she's only able to unlock her true power as a sorceress after becoming beautiful by "fixing" her physical appearance — what kind of message does that send?
It would be easy to chalk up the portrayal to "staying true to the story," but it has also been more than 25 years since Sapowski first penned The Witcher. Things have changed (mostly) for the better since 1993, and it would be great if the Netflix series reflected that. Yennefer is a complex character, and her trauma from her childhood fuels her forward, but even as we stan, we have to be mindful about the message that her story sends. Binge-watching, but make it thoughtful.