analysis · fantasy · video games

Paying Homage or Plagiarism ; Geralt of Rivia vs. Elric of Melniboné Part I

So, I’ve seen this going around for a couple of years. Some Elric fans, and even the author, Michael Moorcock have pointed out the similarities between Geralt of Rivia from the Witcher series and Elric of Melniboné. Some even went as far as to make claims of plagiarism. I’ve heard that Moorcock at some point planned to sue Andrzej Sapkowski because of this. And it doesn’t help that Sapkowski refuses to acknowledge one way or the other if he was inspired by Moorcock or not. As far as I know the lawsuit never went anywhere because in my opinion, there wasn’t any ground to stand on. The only similarities I’ve noticed is:

  1. Their looks; white hair, very pale skin, and strange eyes. Elric is an albino with red eyes, and Geralt has orange cat eyes from the mutations to enhance his body.
  2. Their use of potions.
  3. Both are anti-hero protagonists.
  4. Both are skilled swordsmen. Elric having Stormbringer and Geralt having two swords made of silver and iron.
  5. Both are called the nickname; The White Wolf.
  6. They fall in love with a dark haired beauties. Cymoril to Elric and Yennefer to Geralt. And are known to be great with the ladies despite their frightful looks.
  7. Their use of magic.

Now, I’m only a decent way into the first Elric novel compilation and I’ve read nearly all of the Witcher novels, and played all the games. So, likely I’m missing a couple of similarities in Elric. If I have, please feel free to tell me. At first glance, these look fairly damning, except let’s give it some context.

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Warning: There’s a lot of text to read. Sorry, not sorry.

First, Elric was born albino, whereas we assume Geralt was a fairly normal baby, until he endured Witcher training and mutations called “The Trial of Grasses” under Vesemir, the eldest Witcher in the School of the Wolf, and father figure to our hero. Because his training was so successful he endured more mutations. He’s the only Witcher to survive these experiments. After these mutations and experiments, his body is modified to age slower, endure a lot of damage and recover quickly from injuries that would kill a normal human. It also makes his reflects faster, and to take potions designed solely for Witchers that enchanted their abilities. But we’ll revisit this.

Some boys die throughout this ritual, but the ones who live become Witchers. Geralt went under more modifications than the average Witcher and has white hair and pale skin as a result.

Now, back to the potions. Elric needs these to survive after giving up Stormbringer at the behest of his third wife, Zarozinia. According to the Wikipedia article I read, Stormbringer enhances his health, strength and fighting prowess.

Geralt doesn’t need his potions to survive, but instead it enhances his abilities. For example, the Cat potion allows him to see better in dark places. In Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, it’s used to detect a trail of blood in the forest. The Swallow potion accelerates his Vitality. If anyone else besides a Witcher were to drink this, it would kill them or at the very least cause a considerable amount of pain before disabling them.

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Those gargoyle monster thingies never stood a chance.

Both are typical anti-hero protagonists. Dark and brooding and prone to making morally questionable decisions. From my research on TvTropes, Elric has jumped from pragmatic to a villainous hero over the course of his books, whereas Geralt has been consistent throughout the books and it’s the players choice in the games. Elric is considered odd by his people because he has a conscience, and sees the hedonistic decadence of his culture. His cousin, Yrkoon, considers his self-loathing of Melnibonéan traditions and brooding as a weakness and tries to usurp the throne from him and plot his death.

Geralt is a Witcher, scary and misunderstood. He travels from town to town, solving the monster problems for gold. The village people treat him as a necessary evil, tell horror stories of witchers to their children, and when the job is done, suddenly become frugal on his pay. They find his use of magic, and abilities as something to fear. He’s regarded as a freak of nature in a world where humans dominate the population, whereas other races such as; elves, dwarves, and halflings are pushed into ghettos and discriminated against. Some of them are the subject of hate crimes and pogroms. And witchers are something stuck in between.

Geralt is one of the best, if not the best witchers of that era. He’s so good that he’s famous across the realm and there’s stories of his love for the sorceress Yennefer and his many monster encounters and battles. He can cut through small armies, kill creatures with ease and has been honored by monarchs. There are two swords that he carries on his back. An iron sword for some creatures, but reserves that for fighting humans, whereas the silver sword is used for monsters. Sometimes, if the person is especially heinous, he’ll use the silver blade for spite.

They’re both called the White Wolf. Some have pointed a finger at this similarity as undeniable proof of plagiarism. But I have a very different opinion.

It’s a typical nickname in fantasy. Combine a color, a powerful animal and boom, you’ve got a protagonist with a cool nickname. I mean, no one wants to be known as the Turquoise Butterfly when they look like Elric or Geralt. Wolves are used to signify; strength, independence, and freedom. It’s even used in the George R.R Martin’s epic fantasy novels A Song of Ice and Fire. The character Lord Wyman Manderly calls Jon Snow, “The White Wolf.” It makes sense as a nickname for Geralt because of his white hair and pale skin and his Witcher school being the School of the Wolf. Each Witcher wears a medallion to represent their school. There’s the School of the Cat, School of the Griffin, and in the games there’s the School of the Viper, School of the Bear and School of the Manticore. You get it.

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Brooding. (c)

Elric had three wives, and is known to get around. Geralt has never married, but has devoted himself to Yennefer, his love. The two share a parental love for their adopted daughter Cirilla (Ciri). But that doesn’t stop him from sleeping with many women. Including one of Yennefer’s good friends Triss. In the games this is exaggerated, but there’s always an option to say no. Plus witchers can’t get diseases or father children.  So, no little Geralt’s running around as proof of his indiscretions. Besides, the dark and broody Byronic hero who gets around is nothing new to fantasy. I mean there’s; Oberyn Martell, and Robert Baratheon in A Song of Ice and Fire, Zevran and Isabela in Dragon Age, Kratos in the God of War video games, Loki in Norse mythology, Zeus in Greek mythology, Rollo in Vikings etc.

And finally, their use of magic. Elric is a master sorcerer. He read all the books in his library about magic. Voldemort would get nervous around that guy. Geralt uses magic as well. Except his magic is reduced to signs which most sorcerers and sorceresses laugh at. I’m fairly sure, Elric would actually crack a smile at Geralt’s Igni fire sign. Geralt’s lover, Yennefer is more powerful magically than he is.

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Yennefer is a boss and my favorite character. All day, every day.

So, maybe you’re saying; “Well, Mo-Mo..there’s some minor differences, but they’re similar enough.” Well, yes, but they’re only skin deep. Once you start unpacking the series, there’s much more to it than that. As I stated before, I’ve only just started to read the Elric series, and I’m sure there are points I’ve missed in my research. But the differences are huge.

Elric is an emperor of Melniboné, a loner, religious and is a weakling without his sword, Stormbringer. Geralt is the bastard son from a sorceress and a warrior, agnostic, and has no time for such things as religion and politics. He’s super human, and holds no titles or lands. These are two very different characters with two very different goals and different themes. Elric’s story centers on the decline of his people and his dependence on Stormbringer. The sword only brings him misery, taking the ones he loves most with it. He’s lost many people that he’s loved for this power, but like any drug, he’s addicted to it. Michael Moorcock created Elric as the “Anti-Tolkien.” A dark inversion of Bilbo and Gandalf.

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He’s got better legs than me. Michael Whelan

Geralt and his story are retellings of fairy tales with a Slavic twist to it. The short stories from The Last Wish are inversions of Beauty and the Beast and Snow White. Later, the themes begin to expand. Geralt becomes a father to Ciri, a young orphan girl who has Elder Blood running through her veins, which gives her remarkable abilities of prophecy and traveling through space and time. Everyone seems to want to marry her, kill her, use her or take possession of her gift. It takes the premise of “The Chosen One” and turns it on its head. Geralt and Yennefer don’t care about her gift, and love her as their daughter. Despite not being blood related, they care for the orphan girl as if she were their own, and she brings them closer together as a couple.

Geralt doesn’t have a traditional family. Neither does Yennefer or Ciri. That’s when they decide to make their own. In his travels, he expands a family of his own. Friends such as Dandelion (Jaskier), Zoltan, and Regis foster a union as they battle their way through war, and political plots to save a member of their family. Yennefer and Geralt have a complicated tale of love, and through the work of a jinn, they’re tied together through fate. But it’s one of the most true and passionate bonds I’ve read in fantasy. They’re great together, strong and both with stubborn personalities that make it hard to compromise, but eventually they do. And best part about their union is, they accept each other for who they are.

From what I can see, this is two different stories, two different characters, and no plagiarism. If Sapkowski considered Elric an inspiration to Geralt, it would be nice for him to acknowledge it, but no more than that. There are other characters who resembles Elric. Another cute broody albino with an affinity for dark sorcery and magic, Brynden Rivers, a.k.a Bloodraven from A Song of Ice and Fire. If simply looking like a character is qualification for plagiarism, George R.R. Martin better prepare his pocket book for a lawsuit.

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“How many eyes does Lord Bloodraven have? A thousand and one.” *Badum-tis.* ProKirk

So, what’s the difference between paying homage and plagiarism? As writers how can we avoid it? These pressing questions will be answered soon in Part II.

Do you think that Geralt is a carbon copy of Elric? Are you a fan of Elric or Geralt? Do you like the character Bloodraven as much as I do? Comment down below!

Credits:

Header image of Elric by John Picacio 

Brynden Rivers a.k.a Bloodraven by ProKirk

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