The OF Blog: Part I of the June 2008 Fantasymundo interview with Andrzej Sapkowski

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Part I of the June 2008 Fantasymundo interview with Andrzej Sapkowski

I read this June 2008 interview Friday and thought it'd be something of interest for those curious about Sapkowski, now that he's starting to have his stories translated into English. Due to time constraints and the length of the interview, I'm dividing this into two parts and hope to have the first part up later in the week:

The chat was vivacious and pleasant, certainly, but Sapkowski is as equally caustic and unpredictable as are the majority of the characters that people his works.

Taking advantage of the presence of Andrzej Sapkowski (Lodz, 1948) in Madrid, at the Feria del Libro, where he signed volumes of his most famous saga, Geralt de Rivia, we decided to suggest to him an interview for tackling some questions which we considered interesting. Warned that he was fed up with insubstantial interviews, we planned to focus on the person, before all else the character, with unsuspecting results: the person and the character were one together and, on occasion, exceeded by the fiction itself. There is no better character emerging from Sapkowski’s pen but Sapkowski himself.

To many, Andrzej Sapkowski is a genius, a living legend of the best Fantasy. An inexhaustible person, plagued with ideas and projects, which only in Spain can he observe them, to our great fortune, as it signifies to us that Sapkowski will remain for a while, albeit in a reduced capacity. It was enough for us, for now, considering him, without risk of us being mistaken, as the great renovator of the genre, the greatest phenomenon since J.R.R. Tolkien, of whom he would not stop invoking, reverentially, during the entire chat.

The chat was vivacious and pleasant, certainly, but Sapkowski is as equally caustic and unpredictable as are the majority of the characters that people his works. For that we have to reflect, as far as possible, his particular manner of expressing himself. We hope to have gotten it right in our depiction, more or less. Many thanks to Luis G. Prado, editor at Bibliópolis and Alamat, and to Faraldo, the translator of Sapkowski’s works into Spanish. In the near future we will have a draw at Fantasymundo related to this interview, be ready…

Fantasymundo: What do you believe is the health of “fantasy literature” and of Science Fiction at this time? In truth is it as bad as others have painted it elsewhere?

Andrzej Sapkowski: No. It always has had quality and has been very popular, including before (John Ronald Reuel) Tolkien, and it continues to be now. That of which before was better and then worse is an invention of the critics.

Fantasymundo: You have “renovated” the fantasy genre by synthesizing “fiction” and “reality” through the use of the mythology of your own social environment.

Andrzej Sapkowski: You have to comprehend that I’ve been doing fantasy for twenty years. When I began to write in Poland there was no one, I was the pioneer. That is not an immodesty, it is the truth: I had to create Polish fantasy. I believed to part from my readings and my knowledge of the genre, because the Polish reader, extremely discerning, was not going to accept hybrids of the middle road between Fantasy and other genres, or a simple copy of Tolkien. S/he was searching for something new, special. And that eagerness for creating something new, special, that is what drove me to write.

Fantasymundo: So that would be the fundamental contribution of your work to the genre?

Andrzej Sapkowski: No, by God, it is not that. I’m not a “contributor,” someone who has contributed something fundamental to the genre. Perhaps when I have died inside of twenty years the critic will encounter something in my work which merits called such. Although well it is true that also I have made something special, but, having done it, I am not able to speak of it.

From a non-egoistical point of view, it is certain that yes I would be able to say that I have made a small contribution, having opened a door wide enough for other writers which have come after me. I was the first to accomplish these things, by demonstrating that not only the Americans and British are capable of writing Fantasy, but instead a simple Pole can also do it. That is my true merit.

Fantasymundo: What are the creative steps that you follow in writing a book?

Andrzej Sapkowski: (Laughing) Well, that which one always thinks is that the idea is foremost, and that from it the book grows. I am not in absolute agreement with this opinion: the quality of the writing, the formal aspect, is the most important, since that I was the uncle which learned to write from the great masters, like Roger Zelanzy, Samuel R. Delany, Norman Spinrad, Jack Vance, or the grandmother, Marion Zimmer Bradley [this term was spoken in Spanish by Sapkowski. The other “Spanishisms” that Sapkowski mentions will appear, from here, in italics (English in this translation)]. To a point one can write of something so hackneyed as King Arthur and the Round Table: that which matters is how you write about it.

Fantasymundo: In the collection of short stories, “Road Without Return” (published in Spanish by Bibliópolis), I have enjoyed enormously your “fragments” of Science Fiction (“Battle Dust”). Is it possible that we see some day in Spain a SF novel of yours?

Andrzej Sapkowski: Who knows!? Anyways, that story which you mention, “Battle Dust,” I wrote as a joke, because Space Opera is not a genre that makes me enthusiastic, with its laser rays and all those things. The rule is that you never write something that doesn’t please you, because you will not write it well.

Fantasymundo: In “Road Without Return” is, in my humble opinion, one of the best “short stories” that I have ever read and, for that, a masterpiece: “In the Bomb Crater.”

Andrzej Sapkowski: Thank you very much.

Fantasymundo: You’re welcome. Tell us, what is the secret for constructing a story with such a deep thematic broadness, so many socio-cultural references, and at the same time, capable of reuniting indignation and tenderness without avoiding falling then into gaudiness?

Andrzej Sapkowski: Well, “talent” is the first word which comes to the mouth (laughter). Seriously, to say these things in Poland sounds bad, because there the magazine editors are very demanding, among other things because “political fiction” is a genre for this. Think of it this way: in Poland you cannot say “I am famous” and sell a laundry list, no: since the editors and readers demand quality, you must give them quality, or they won’t buy your work. This story collection, “Road Without Return,” it is the result of this circumstance. Certainly, there is a story, I will not say which it is, that was initially rejected by a magazine and I had to sell it to another.

Fantasymundo: A more boring question. Your thing with cats is, a liking, a passion, a mania?

Andrzej Sapkowski: (Laughing). For me the cats are an obsession. Cats please me, I believe that they are supernatural creatures, with an identity and personality of their own, well that there are not two equal cats, different from dogs, which there are. Not only are they all distinct, but also they have an impressive capacity to see the invisible. It is very good to have one in the house, because then no demon will cross the shadows, because this [the cat] is in the shadows, waiting and vigilant. I wrote a story over this, “The Golden Afternoon,” indisputably my best-written story from the cold professional point of view, but it is not my favorite, which is “Maladie” [pending publication in Spain: the short novel “Maladie” appeared in Poland together with an essay entitled “The World of King Arthur” and is Sapkowski’s version of the myth of Tristan and Isolde], my most personal portrait, from the depths of my heart. Isn’t it published in this collection? [Luis García Prado, sitting near him, quickly denied it]. Well, what a pity! It is my preferred story!

Also in “The Musicians” [Premio Ignotus 2003 in the category of Best Foreign Story] there is a similar fragment, in which the Demon tries to enter the habitation and the cat from the windowsill, says to it, like Gandalf on the bridge at Moria, “You cannot pass.” “You have come here in order to fight against the defenders, but I am alone, so fight against me.” And the Demon, astute, ends up retiring.

Fantasymundo: This vision of cats to which you allude, is this part of Slavic mythology or is it strictly yours?

Andrzej Sapkowski: It has nothing to do with any mythology, least of all Slavic. In fact, in Poland cats are viewed poorly, they are not much loved. A proof you have of this in the Feria del Parque del Retiro itself, where I encountered some wild cats to which I called and they came to me: this would not have been possible in Poland, they would have left running, because they have a fear of people. It is considered a false beast, dangerous, at which one has to throw stones, to expulse it.

Fantasymundo: We’ve been speaking for a while and still I have not asked you (deliberately) about which the whole world asks you: Geralt de Rivia. Tell me, what is Geralt for you, a character more or the work of a lifetime?

Andrzej Sapkowski: Geralt de Rivia is the character of my first story, of my literary debut. In my first encounter with the Fantasy and SF readers, my proposition was to do something atypical, completely new. I had to rethink the fairy tales, where some problem with a dragon in a kingdom was solved, the king was disposed to offer to the first one which passed his daughter and half the kingdom for solving it.

My vision of Fantasy is almost real. You have to believe that which occurs in the stories, because they are not a fairy tale. No one comes to believe that a king can be so stupid as to give half the kingdom and his daughter to some cretin. It can take some time to imagine how one is going to kill the Dragon, perhaps with dynamite, or with an AK-47, since with this you can kill all. I re-wrote the story, since it is not a poor shoemaker who kills the dragon and saves the kingdom, but instead a professional, who works for money. I have turned to construct the fantasy story: it is almost real, you have to feel it, to believe all. It is not the typical fair tale, all is fucking real.


Part II deals much more with the Geralt storyline. Hope some found this to be of interest, despite the occasional rough spot in the translation.


Anonymous said...

Very well done...I should check here more often as I wouldn't have seen it unless you had pimped it at wheel of time mania...never feel bad about pimping your own stuff ok? ;)

Larry said...

Yeah, I posted it at wotmania after I finished both parts and I'll see about doing future projects like this in the near future, if it's of interest to others, of course ;)

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. BTW, it's not clear from your post but you should make sure you have permission to do the translation and post it, otherwise you're breaching copyright.

Larry said...

Didn't think of that, although I shall next time.

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