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I Love When A Book Feels Like A Good Role-Playing Game

Concept art from Divinity: Original Sin 2
Illustration: Larian Studios
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.  

Role-playing games are one of my favorite genres. They’re also the genre I came latest to. I didn’t play video games for most of my teenage years, the time when I would have lost entire weekends and nights to them. Coming to love them as an adult has been a minor tragedy, because the amount of time I have to dedicate to 60-hour epics is shrinking dramatically with each passing year, and I am not quite ready to admit that I cannot play them all.

So I look for that sprawling feeling elsewhere when I can—books, mostly, since the time I spend in front of screens is probably best described as “unconscionable.” Strangely, I don’t really gravitate toward fantasy literature, since I’m not particularly interested in swords and magic and courtly intrigue. I specifically want the feeling of role-playing games: I want to be so transported I feel outside of myself, watching the beautiful little struggles of people who are ultimately small cogs in something incomprehensibly big.

Recently, I finished reading award-winning novelist Marlon James’ latest work, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, precisely because that’s what it offered. In a recent profile, James—who previously made his name in literary fiction with novels like A Brief History of Seven Killings—declared his intent to “geek the fuck out” with an “African Game of Thrones,” to give the kinds of people and folklore that rarely get centered in Western fantasy their due. It rules—partly because it feels a hell of a lot like playing through a Baldur’s Gate game.

The novel is about a man known only as Tracker, who recounts his personal history to a mysterious inquisitor who ultimately wants to know what happened when Tracker accepted a job to find a missing boy, a job that ultimately leads to something horrifying.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a dense, difficult book that slips in and out of focus from one passage to the next. It’s a tall, thick volume at 620 pages long—to read it for long stretches is to fall into a trance where you’re aware of the shape of things, even if you can’t always make out the details. It’s reassuring to have some kind of horizon to look toward, a wall to lean against when I felt disoriented.

That’s why I say it feels like a good role-playing game: The story starts with Tracker coming of age in the villages of the Riverlands and follows him until he comes to a city and joins a party. They venture out and face monstrous horrors on the road, and then, at another city, they find answers. Along the way, we meet characters who tell their stories at length and have their own agendas and side quests, some of which seem like they’re detracting from the main plot but ultimately end up being diversions you’re glad you took. (The story of Sad Ogo—a massive man you should not call a giant—is devastating.)

This isn’t something we haven’t seen in fantasy literature—it’s good narrative structure. You can recognize this in all sorts of stories across media. It’s just cool to see video games fall so neatly in this tradition, another voice in one big story that we’re all telling. It’s becoming more explicit, like the way the current generation of fantasy authors are openly influenced by Japanese role-playing games. (If you want something that will rock your goddamn world, put Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings next to Suikoden II.)

Reading Black Leopard, Red Wolf, I felt small. Maybe it’s weird to say this, but that’s one of my favorite feelings in video games—I like big sprawling games that suggest a wealth of stories unfolding around me, with nothing but my time and attention keeping me from finding them. And man, how I wish I had more time.

Source: Kotaku.com

Breaking Down the Magic, Monsters, and Burly Men of the Witcher Trailer

Wotcher, Witcher.
GIF: Netflix

At Comic-Con last week, Netflix finally, after months of teasing, gave us our first look at The Witcher in action. Not only did it reveal some pretty major, if unsurprising connections to the world of Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels, it also gave us some intriguing hints to what fans familiar to the CD Projekt Red games can get out of this new show.

The trailer opens, unsurprisingly, with a shot of Henry Cavill as the titular Witcher: Geralt of Rivia, a mercenary monster hunter who travels across the world killing monsters for gold. Geralt can do this—and has all that white hair to boot, a marker that sets him apart from even his fellow Witchers—because he is part of the self-named ancient order that exposes its warrior recruits to dangerous, toxic mutagens to transform them into Witchers, giving them enhanced strength, agility, senses, and the ability to cast magic, which is otherwise a very rare ability in The Witcher’s world—a place called The Continent.

“I remember hearing stories about Witchers… is it true what they say?” the narrator tells us, as we cut to a brief shot of of Geralt doing what he does best: fighting monsters. We see a little more of this encounter later on, but it appears to be an adaptation of the very first short story Sapkowski wrote about Geralt, “The Witcher,” eventually collected in the first short story anthology in the series, The Last Wish. In that tale, Geralt is tasked with slaying a beast called a Striga—who is actually the raised body of a Princess named Adda, cursed to transform into a monstrous beast for having an incestuous relationship with her brother, the prince of Temeria. “The Witcher” sees Geralt fight the beast and lift the curse from Adda.

Before we see too much more, we cut back to another brief shot of a bloodied Geralt in the town from the opening. Geralt is from a splinter faction of the old Witcher order called the School of the Wolf, hence the wolf medallion he’s wearing in these town scenes and elsewhere in the trailer.

Next, we get a brief shot of a forested realm and its warrior women inhabitants: these appear to be Dryads, and this is the realm of Brokilon—home to the all-female race and the toxic waters that can be used to transform members of other species into Dryads themselves. We see them encountering a young girl who is actually one of the most important characters on the show: Ciri, played by Freya Allan. A young princess from the kingdom of Cintra, Ciri is being hunted by a whole host of nefarious parties because of both her royal connection and her untrained, but vast, magical powers.

As we cut across shots of some interesting figures—a caravan of black-armored soldiers, a young, disfigured woman, who will become very important momentarily, and a woman using magic to casually lift a rock—we hear another figure provide more narration. This time essentially setting up the backstory for The Continent at large, explaining the history of magic and how, in an event known as the “Conjunction of the Spheres” in the books and games, supernatural beings and monsters began appearing across the world: “Elves are the original sorcerers of the Continent—when humans and monsters arrived, elves taught humans how to turn chaos into magic…”

“…and then, the humans slaughtered them,” the narrator—a mage named Istredd (Royce Pierreson) concludes, revealing himself as having been speaking to the disfigured young woman from earlier. This woman is another major Witcher character, known to fans of the books and games alike, but perhaps not in this particular form: this is Yennefer of Vengerberg, played by Anya Chalotra. A powerful sorceress herself, Yennefer was born with a severe curvature of the spine, and an abusive upbringing with her father leads to further traumas being inflicting on the young woman.

Yenn is what is known as a “source,” someone with natural-born capacity to wield magic, a rarity among humans. Eventually, she can harness this ability to completely alter her appearance to other people, casting an ever-present glamour that presents herself as a physically able, attractive young woman… which is why it’s slightly less peculiar that she eventually becomes one of Geralt’s love interests in the books and the games.

We next cut to a shot of the show’s version of the Isle of Thanedd, home to Aretuza. That’s a magic school for young women that Yen and several other sorcerers we’ll meet in the series, as well as Ciri herself eventually, honed their magical abilities.

“Chaos is the most dangerous thing in this world,” the green-robed sorceress we saw floating a rock earlier says to one of her students. This is Tissaia de Vries (played by MyAnna Buring), who plays a huge part in Yennefer’s backstory, being the woman who took the young Yenn in and helped hone her magical abilities to treat her conditions.

“But without control, Chaos will kill you,” Tissaia warns, as we get a few more intriguing shots: Ciri on an icy plain, Yennefer smashing a mirror, and what could be an overhead shot of the Chapter of the Gift and the Art, the higher conclave of sorcerers on Thanedd that Tissaia is part of. Eventually, in the books the Chapter is destroyed by infighting in a coup over whether not to support the invading Nilfgaardian Empire, a major faction in the series that we’ll see a bit more of soon.

We cut to cool shot of Geralt swinging a silver whip back in the same ruined castle he was shown briefly fighting in earlier. This feels like once again more affirmation that this action sequence is Geralt’s fight with the Striga in “The Witcher” as this twirl is basically ripped from the introductory cinematic for the first game in CD Projekt Red’s beloved video game trilogy, which depicts the same fight.

As we get to see a few more shots of Geralt’s battle with the Striga—and picking up some coin as a reward, as Witchers are wont to do—we get yet another narrator, this time a woman. “So that’s all life is to you,” she asks, of Geralt. “Monsters and money?” Basically…yeeeeaaaaah.

We cut to a wounded, recovering Geralt to see that this narrator is none other than not just another sorcerer, but another important figure in the books, games, and his life in general: Triss Merigold, played by Anna Shaffer. Triss, like Yenn, is also a source, and, like Yenn, is a love interest of Geralt’s. This scene presumably takes place shortly after Geralt’s encounter with the Striga, as when he first meets her, Triss is an adviser to the King of Foltest, who recruits Geralt to cure his daughter of her monstrous curse. “It’s all it needs to be,” Geralt says of the monsters and money.

“Something out there waits for you,” Triss ominously warns, as the trailer really starts getting into the main premise of the show: an adaptation of what is actually the first proper novel in Sapkowski’s series, Blood of Elves. “This child will be extraordinary,” a man tells Geralt, as we cut over shots of Ciri and her homeland, the kingdom of Cintra. This man is actually another interesting character from the books and the games—Mousesack (Adam Levy), better known to gamers as the druid Ermion. Mousesack has a small but important role in the books, guiding Geralt and Ciri to their eventual meeting.

As we mentioned, uh, a while back, Ciri isn’t just the princess of Cintra, but has elven blood, giving her magical abilities. We appear to cut to either one of her main abilities—magical visions and, at this point in the series, uncontrolled teleportation—as we see the young Ciri in a desert region looking upon a distinctly magical-looking tree.

In a brief interlude from Ciri and Geralt’s story, we cut back to moments between Tissaia and Yennefer during the latter’s brutal training. “Yennefer, imagine the most powerful woman in the world,” Tissia instructs, presumably beginning to teach Yen the magical ability to alter her appearance. “Do you have what it takes?” (not really a spoiler: she does! Yen is eventually one of the most powerful sorcerers around).

But now we’re back to Ciri’s story, and an important introduction of just one of the primary threats in the series: the invasion of the Kingdom of Cintra by the Nilfgaardian Empire. Nilfgaard attacks Cintra during the First Northern War. The woman we see here standing dumbstruck as the Nilfgaardian army attacks is likely Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May), Ciri’s grandmother. “She is why they came,” Calanthe says, presumably referring to Ciri. Calanthe leads her people in the fight against the Nilfgaardian’s until the bitter end, when, as we see briefly here, Cintra’s capital (also named Cintra, helpfully), is razed to the ground by the Nilflgaardian army.

As we see a brief moment of Ciri’s vast magical powers displaying themselves in the Cintran court—blasting the gathered crowds back suddenly. Mousesack continues to urge Geralt to face his destiny: protecting Ciri from the clutches of Niflgaard’s emperor. We also get some brief shots Yennefer’s glamoured form here, too—the appearance she projects to those around her to mask her true body.

“Find Geralt of Rivia,” Calanthe tells Ciri.

We finally cut back to the town we saw Geralt in at the start of the trailer. Note that Geralt isn’t fighting monsters here, but humans—this could be a town called Blaviken, where Geralt earns the nickname “The Butcher of Blaviken” for killing a bunch of thieves and mercenaries on the hunt for a local mage. Or it could just be any town and Geralt’s in a scrap because, at this point in history the Witchers themselves have become a rare breed, and aren’t really held in the highest regards, because they’re…well, kinda creepy monster hunters? Usually one of them being present is a portent that bad things are going down, so commonfolk tend to not particularly be too keen.

A few more random shots follow: Another shot of the Striga, Ciri begging with Calanthe that she can’t face her destiny alone before fleeing Cintra, and Yennefer encountering Geralt, at a masquerade that is likely the Belleteyn, a May Night festival Geralt and Yen meet each other at in Sword of Destiny, the second anthology collection in the book series. This isn’t actually how they first meet in the book series—that’s detailed in the short story “The Last Wish,” which collected in the anthology of the same name.

“No matter what you choose,” Mousesack continues, “You’ll come out bloody.”

We see Geralt getting involved in what appears to be a fight between Cintran soldiers and commoners—and we actually get a very brief glimpse of another character from the books.

This peculiar looking character is Duny and…is actually really important, but saying why would constitute ruining a major spoiler for the series at large. Suffice to say, at this point in the series, Duny is actually a prince who was cursed to look like a strange, hedgehog-like being.

We get another few glimpses of Ciri—first, encountering the Dryads after fleeing Cintra, and then second, what appears her escape from capital (you can juust about make out the blue cape she’s wearing throughout the trailer).

The trailer climaxes back during Geralt’s fight in the town from the opening—it’s cut to make it look like Yennefer is calling on Geralt and is in this fight as well, but it appears to be two different shots, given the inclement weather Yennefer is being drenched by is not present in Geralt’s scrap.

Back on Geralt though, you see him do something very familiar to fans of the game—point out three of his fingers. This is how Witchers cast magic in combat, called Signs, making runic gestures. He’s likely using Aard, one of the most basic signs in the game, which is essentially a telekinetic blast.

We sharply cut to a very brief, very peculiar shot of Tissaia catching a bolt of lightning and redirecting it through a hole in the ceiling. It’s hard to say where this is from, but if we were right earlier and Tissaia’s fellow sorcerers in the Chapter of the Gift and the Art are in the series, this could be part of the coup attempt, but that actually comes quite a bit into the series.

The trailer actually instead concludes with a very game-fan pleasing shot: a giant, spidery creature emerging out of a swamp as an incredibly messed up looking Geralt prepares to face it down.

The creature has a few more limbs that suggest it could even be an Arachnomorph, spider-creatures introduced in DLC for the third Witcher game, Wild Hunt, but given the books are the major source material for the show this looks like it could more likely be a Kikimore, a giant insectoid creature Geralt battles as a prelude the short story “The Lesser Evil,” a fight with which eventually brings Geralt to the town of Blaviken, where he earns his infamous nickname. It’d make sense if it is, given the town we saw him fighting in earlier!

Anyway, it’s this last shot that’s going to be especially pleasing to fans of the games: Geralt’s got black eyes here because he’s…poisoned himself to near death? Preparation ahead of combat is as important to the actual fight itself in The Witcher, and Witchers often temporarily boost their mutagenic abilities even further by drinking potions before going into a fight. But the potions are actually, essentially, various strengths of poison, so Geralt has to balance a fine line between giving himself a temporary boon and, well, killing himself.

In the games, this is represented by a toxicity meter that fills as players chug potions in and out of battle. As Geralt looks sicklier and sicklier the more it fills, a near-maxed-out meter is represented by, you guessed it, black eyes. It’s a cool visual callout to fans of the games to indicate that some serious business is about to go down.

Although short, our first look at The Witcher is a sweet one, whether you’re coming to it as a fan of the original books or of the gaming saga that catapulted their world into the wider cultural sphere. So far the show’s take on the novels seems to expand on the world in some interesting ways—especially on its focus beyond Geralt, particularly Yennefer’s origin story—while at the same time drawing in some familiar, fearsome foes that fans who devoured the Witcher games will get a kick out of seeing replicated on screen.

How much longer we’ll have to wait for this version of The Witcher to fully reveal itself remains to be seen—Netflix wouldn’t give a release date beyond later this year.

For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.

Source: Kotaku.com

The Witcher’s Showrunner on Getting Video Game Fans Into the Series, and Season 2 Hints

Ciri (Freya Allan) on Netflix’s The Witcher.
Photo: Netflix

When Netflix first pitched Lauren Schmidt Hissrich the idea of doing a series based on The Witcher, she turned it down. She was a fan of the books and video games—so much so she even included a bathtub Easter egg in the first season—but was afraid of taking on a fantasy saga. What finally convinced her? Getting to tell the story she wanted in a way that not just appealed to fans of the books, but the games which are even more famous than the source material.

During a press roundtable at San Diego Comic-Con, Hissrich talked about why she ultimately decided to do The Witcher. Joking how “Netflix loves that story,” Hissrich shared that she agreed once the streaming network showed how much they cared for and valued the story she was most interested in telling:

I read the books and I basically said, “I loved The Last Wish. It was an incredible read. But I’m not a fantasy writer, guys, like I’m not who you’re looking for.” And they said, “Well, what would be your entrance into the story? If we said you have to write this, What would be your entrance in?”

I said it would be about what happens when Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer meet, and how we can craft a really disjointed family that’s meant to be together. That’s something that I knew that I could bring. That’s the base of all fantasy right? It’s just human experience. It’s maybe human experience in a world that we don’t live in, with monsters and with magic, but it really comes down to just what it’s like to walk through the world.

Hissrich emphasized that the core of the first season is about bringing Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer together and creating that core which defines many of the books and games. However, it is going to take some time to get there. Freya Allan, who plays Ciri, told io9 that Ciri and Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) don’t spend a lot of time together this season—at least, not without Geralt—but that she’s looking forward to having more of that relationship develop between the two of them in the future.

“That’s something we haven’t explored yet. But I’m really looking forward to looking at that more, and I think it’s going to be a great relationship, because I think it’ll be very maternal one, [with] two strong female characters together and so I’m very excited,” Allan said.

For now, it’s about setting the stage. In fact, there are a few other things we won’t be seeing in the first season, but Hissrich hinted they could arrive in the second season should the series get one. She wouldn’t go into detail, as she doesn’t want to spoil things, but she did note how Istredd, one of Yennefer’s many lovers, is being introduced in the first season. He’s only in one of the original stories, but his early, more teasing presence in the first season hints at something bigger later on. Hissrich said it’s all about laying the groundwork for a larger story, instead of overloading the first season with too many characters or references.

“There is so much that I intended to put in this season, but I’m actually a really big believer in not cramming in story just for the sake of cramming in story,” Hissrich said. “It’s about letting these characters breathe and grow, so there’s definitely things that we didn’t get to.”

However, letting the characters do their own thing might be especially challenging for fans of the video games. Hissrich confirmed in the interview that the series is based on the original books, and will not be a video game adaptation. However, there will be Easter eggs and references that game fans will appreciate, like the aforementioned bathtub, but it’s it’s not based on the version most fans will recognize. It presents a unique problem because the games are arguably more well-known than the books. Several folks, including myself, weren’t even aware there were books until fairly recently.

I asked Hissrich about the unique challenges in developing a TV show based on a series where arguably the adaptation, meaning the video games, is more famous than the source material. She said video games are a powerful medium in that viewers, or players, feel a sense of control and autonomy over Geralt. But in this case, that control is being handed over to Henry Cavill. The themes and tones are similar but the presentation is different, and she trusts that audiences will be able to move seamlessly through both:

What I will always say to gaming fans when they say, “Is the show for me?” And I say well, what you love is based on the same books as this show is going to be based on, which means we’re all dealing with the same set of characters, the same themes, the same tones. What’s different is is the look, of course.

I think that people who really love the games are gonna love the show too. I think you just have to be open to seeing it as a journey where you’re sitting back and it’s happening, as opposed to you being in charge of it. And I think that’s gonna be a challenge for some people, certainly it’s a challenge for me to not feel like I get to control everything. I mean, I guess in this case I kind of do!

The Witcher hits Netflix later this year.

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Source: Kotaku.com

Here’s Why The Witcher Auditioned 207 Other Guys for Geralt When Henry Cavill Was Right There

It’s been a long road, Geralt of Rivia.
Image: Netflix (YouTube)

When Netflix revealed it was making a television adaptation of The Witcher, Henry Cavill immediately wanted in. However, producers still auditioned over 200 actors for Geralt before choosing him for the job. Why did it take four months and hundreds of actors before going with the leading man who wanted to be there in the first place? Showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich explains.

During a press roundtable at San Diego Comic-Con, io9 asked Hissrich to elaborate on a revelation from The Witcher panel that they’d auditioned 207 other actors before choosing Cavill—even though he’d gone to the streaming network expressing interest, well, basically as soon as he heard about the show existing.

“As soon as it was announced it was going to be a show, he contacted his agents who contacted Netflix and said he wants to be part of this. And Netflix was like, ‘We don’t have a show yet, there’s nothing to be a part of!’” Hissrich told me. “Once I came on board they expressed that to me, and I sat down and met him. But I was really honest with him and I said, ‘It’s really great to meet you, you seem like a nice guy. But we don’t have a script, we’re not even casting.’ And he sat back and understood.”

Over the course of about four months, Hissrich and the other producers auditioned 207 actors for the part of Geralt of Rivia. That’s not necessarily an unprecedented number, but it is pretty high—especially knowing that Cavill, a headliner who played Superman in several DC films, not only wanted the part but knew The Witcher series like the back of his hand. Hissrich explained that she thought it would be best to cast a wider net and see who else was out there, because she wasn’t sure Cavill was the right fit. But as talented as the actors were, it kept coming back to him:

The really interesting thing is that I do think with casting you have to see everything to know that you have the right thing. And having met with Henry, I knew he wanted the show but that didn’t mean that he necessarily was the right person for the show. So I met everyone else that also thought they were the right person for the show.

We had great auditions, but honestly I couldn’t get Henry’s voice out of my head as I started writing, and ultimately I called him back and said, “Are you still interested?” And he was like, “Absolutely. What do I need to do?” And I said, “I need to hear you be Geralt.” So we both flew to New York and basically did an audition, and he was pretty much hired on the spot.

Cavill’s casting did result in some interesting choices and changes for the character. For example, Cavill insisted on doing all of his own stunts. Every time you see Geralt performing an action sequence, it’s actually Cavill, and Hissrich explained that the actor had all the cuts, bruises, and “exhaustion to prove it.”

Hissrich also noted that there was one thing she ended up changing to better suit Cavill’s take on the character: This version of Geralt talks way less than he was originally supposed to.

“One of the things that probably shifted the most once we cast Henry is that Geralt speaks a lot less than I initially intended. In the books, Geralt’s actually quite chatty. He talks a lot. What I found, though, is that on-screen—especially with Henry portraying him—a lot can be done in looks and in grunts. Henry’s a big grunter. I mean that in the best way possible,” she said. “It’s kind of amazing what is accomplished in silence, and I think makes him that much more powerful of a character.”

The other interesting casting story from The Witcher is connected to Ciri, played in the series by Freya Allan. According to Hissrich, the whole process was “really difficult.” She’d initially planned for Ciri to be played by a child, following the character’s story and trajectory in the books. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find the right young actor for the part—especially because they needed someone who could “grow up fast” to match the show’s faster-paced progression. Combined with complicated child labor laws that limit an actor’s ability to shoot at night, eventually, Hissrich came to an impasse.

“Someone said to me: ‘I’m not sure that Ciri is going to be able to be a big part of the series.’ And I was like, ‘Well, that’s not gonna work for me.’ So we skewed a little bit older,” she said.

Hissrich went on to share the story of choosing Allan for the part of Ciri, who was a newcomer who’d initially been cast for a different part:

We had actually cast her for another role. She had signed the contract, and was signed on for a one-episode role in episode one. We met everyone we could meet for for Ciri and I still just wasn’t finding it, I couldn’t find that sort of the person who embodied her in the way that I wanted them to…Sophie Holland, our casting director, actually called me and said, “I think we should think about Freya Allan for this.”

In the end, the casting of Cavill, Allan, and Anya Chalotra as Yennefer was kind of kismet. While Chalotra was the first and easiest casting of the trio, all three actors were hired on the spot once they’d finally gotten a chance to read for the roles. As Hissrich put it, it showed they’d found the right fit.

“For Henry, for Anya, and for Freya, each of them was cast in the room when we finally got in the room, which was incredible,” she said. “That’s how you know [you have] the right person.”

The Witcher debuts on Netflix later this year.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Lauren Schmidt Hissrich’s name in a few places. We have updated to correct and we regret the error. 

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Source: Kotaku.com

Yes, There Is a Bathtub in Netflix’s The Witcher

Get ready for this view.
Image: CD Projekt Red

Eagle-eyed viewers might have noticed Geralt (Henry Cavill) and Yennefer at what appears a masquerade sex party in Netflix’s first The Witcher trailer. But apparently, that’s not going to be the only nudity on the show. There’s a certain bathtub. You may have heard of it. And yes, it’s making a comeback—in a manner of speaking.

During a press roundtable for The Witcher, io9 asked showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich (Daredevil) about what Easter eggs fans of the books and video games can expect in the series. Of course, by that we meant the bathtub that Geralt takes a sexy dip in during Witcher 3. Obviously.

The scene has practically taken on a life of its own, inspiring memes, statues, even a birthday cake. But it also showed us a softer, more vulnerable side of Geralt. So, will Netflix’s The Witcher have a bathtub scene of its own?

“There is a bathtub this season. There is a bathtub,” Hissrich revealed. “I won’t tell you who’s in the bathtub, but there is a bathtub.”

Hissrich went on to explain that—as fans of the original books and video game adaptation—she and the writers wanted to honor the little details they’d come to love about the series. Whether it’s a little Easter egg, like the bathtub, or a much-bigger part of the lore.

She mentioned that the story she personally wanted to include was “A Question of Price,” a short story that explains how Ciri became Geralt’s surprise child, from the now-obsolete book, Wiedźmin, which is now part of The Last Wish.

We’re fans of the series too. We’re fans of the franchise. So one of the things that I asked the writers when they showed up on the first day was, having read the books, what did you love the most? It could be the tiniest thing. It could be, you know, something Jaskier says over and over again, or it could be something huge. For me, it was ‘A Question of Price.’ I was like I have to do ‘A Question of Price.’ And so I think people who are big fans of the franchise will find a lot of fun stuff.

The Witcher debuts on Netflix later this year. We’ll have more on the way from our interviews so stay tuned.

Update: Thanks so much to our internet sleuths who were able to identify the name Hissrich was citing: Jaskier, also known as Dandelion! Y’all are the best.

For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.

Source: Kotaku.com

A New Legend Begins in the First Trailer for Netflix’s The Witcher

Screenshot: Netflix
Trailer FrenzyA special place to find the newest trailers for movies and TV shows you’re craving.  

We’ve had teases. We’ve had butt shots. But now, it’s finally time for us to properly introduce ourselves to Henry Cavill’s take on Geralt of Rivia, best known to fans of the CD Projekt Red RPG series and Andrzej Sapkowski novels as the Witcher.

After months of concerns, primarily fueled by Cavill’s questionable wig, the trailer showcases a world that looks pretty damn entertaining.

Showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich has previously said the show would be heavily based on the books, not the games familiar to American audiences. What we see in the trailer appears to confirm that fact. The complex origins of Ciri and Yennifer are both central to the action. But don’t worry, the physical action is mainly reserved for Geralt, who takes on a whole host of men, monsters, and giant spiders.

The Witcher hits Netflix later this year.

For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.

Source: Kotaku.com

Of Course, Of Course, Henry Cavill’s on a Horse [Updated]

This Old Town Road remix looks weird.
Photo: Netflix

We’ve met Geralt of Rivia. We’ve met some of his closest allies. Now, it’s time to meet the most important character of all in Netflix’s adaptation of the Andrzej Sapkowski fantasy series The Witcher: this horse.

This is horse is, of course, Roach, Geralt’s trusty steed and steadfast companion in both the novels and the popular video game series inspired by the novels from CD Projekt Red, where Roach, uh, occasionally spent his time getting stuck on the top of buildings?

Anyway, that’s probably not going to happen in Lauren Schmidt Hissrich’s The Witcher series, because it would be incredibly weird, but still, Netflix gave us our first look at the show’s version of Roach via some new pictures of Henry Cavill’s Geralt looking very tired and miserable, but also on horseback.

What else can you say about a picture of a man on a horse? Not much, but, if you glare hard enough, you can see the pommel of Geralt’s silver monster-slaying sword hanging off of Roach’s left flank.

Fans of the games had wondered where Geralt’s second blade was when recently released shots of Cavill in costume showed him with only one sword strapped on his back. Although the Geralt of the Witcher games kept his two swords—one made of iron, for fighting most of his foes, one of silver, for fighting certain monsters he hunts in his duty as a Witcher—on his back. But in the novels, Geralt always stored his silver sword on Roach, to prevent it from getting damaged in regular combat.

It’s a nice little touch to see the show doing it like that as well, even if it’s not the Witcher imagery most fans who are aware of the series are familiar with. Plus, it gives TV Roach something to do other than ferry Henry Cavill from shot to shot. We’ll bring you more on Netflix’s take on The Witcher as we learn it.

UPDATE 11AM EST: Cavill has taken to Instagram to add his own commentary on the arrival of Roach, teasing the show’s presence at San Diego Comic-Con in the process:

The road to San Diego is long. The good news is, on her worst day, Roach beats the company of Men, Elves, Gnomes and even Dwarves. She’s not always easy, but she knows more than most and cares just enough to be the only kind of company worth enjoying.

For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.

Source: Kotaku.com

A Familiar Star Wars Face Returns in This Exclusive Thrawn: Treason Excerpt

Thrawn finds himself torn between loyalties.
Image: Two Dots (Del Rey/Lucasfilm)

Timothy Zahn’s return to his most famous creation, Grand Admiral Thrawn, has been one of the consistent highlights of the new canon of Star Wars under Disney. So far we’ve got to see Thrawn’s early days in the Empire and a fateful encounter between him and Anakin Skywalker, and io9 can now give you an exclusive look inside the third entry in this new Thrawn series.

Set before the climactic events over Lothal in the finale of the animated series Star Wars: Rebels, the third entry in Zahn and Del Rey’s Thrawn saga, Thrawn: Treason, hits shelves this month. The book finds the Grand Admiral at odds—not just with fellow Imperials, as he finds his TIE Defender project stalled in favor of a certain battlestation project courtesy of Rogue One’s Director Krennic, but his loyalty to both the Empire and his own people, the Chiss, when a dire threat to his homeworld brings Thrawn crashing back into an encounter with the Chiss Ascendancy.

That dire threat is brought to Thrawn’s attention by the return of a familiar face, as you’ll see: Thrawn’s former protege, Commander Eli Vanto, returning for the first time since the original book in the series, Thrawn, released in 2017! Back at the end of that book, Eli had found himself on a mission on Thrawn’s behalf, sent into the Unknown Regions to serve as an Imperial attache to the mysterious Chiss Ascendancy itself.

Ahead of Thrawn: Treason’s early release at San Diego Comic-Con this week, check out our exclusive excerpt below—in both text and in Marc Thompson’s narration from the Thrawn: Treason audiobook—to see what Eli’s been up to in his time among the Chiss, including rubbing shoulders with another face fans of Zahn’s Star Wars expanded universe material will remember…

It had all started out well enough, Lieutenant Eli Vanto thought as he paged through yet another data listing filled with delicate Chiss script. Thrawn had told him that the Chiss Ascendancy had vital need of his talents and abilities, and that he’d arranged for Eli to be quietly released from his current duty aboard the Chimaera. Eli had accepted the new assignment and left Imperial space, arriving at the rendezvous point Thrawn had sent him to full of hope and expectation, with the excitement of the unknown tingling through him.

I am Admiral Ar’alani of the Chiss Defense Fleet, the blue-skinned woman had greeted him from the bridge of her ship. Are you he?

I am he, Eli had confirmed, making sure to fill his voice with the mix of confidence and respect that had served him well during his years in the Imperial fleet. I am Eli Vanto. I bring greetings to you from Mitth’raw’nuruodo. He believes I can be of some use to the Chiss Ascendancy.

Welcome, Eli Vanto, she’d replied. Let us learn together if he was correct.

That had been over a year ago. In retrospect, Eli thought a little sourly, he should have realized from Ar’alani’s neutral words and tone that she wasn’t impressed.

His first act aboard the Steadfast was to receive demotion from Imperial commander to Chiss Defense Fleet lieutenant. No real surprise there—different militaries would hardly have equivalent rank systems. His second act was to be dropped into an intensive course in Cheunh, the main Chiss language. Again, no surprise—though many aboard spoke the Sy Bisti trade language Eli was fluent in, it was certainly unreasonable to expect everyone to bend to the needs of a single crew member. Especially a newcomer and an alien.

But in and through all of that, Eli had expected to be put onto some kind of leadership or command track. Instead, he’d been dumped down here in the analysis department, sifting data, looking for patterns, and making predictions.

It was something he was very good at. Even Thrawn, with all his tactical and strategic genius, had recognized Eli’s superiority at such things, and had utilized his skills to their fullest. In retrospect, it wasn’t all that surprising that he’d passed that information on to Ar’alani.

The problem was that as far as Eli could tell, none of the data he’d been tasked to analyze meant anything at all.

They weren’t listings of ship movements or cargo or smuggling manifests. They weren’t groups of personnel, or alien troops, or alien operations. They weren’t even anything internal to the Steadfast, patterns of power usage or data flow or something else designed to spot flaws in ship’s functions or to predict imminent system failures.

To be honest, the whole thing felt like busywork. Eli had always hated busywork.

Still, Ar’alani struck him as a subtle sort of person. Maybe this was a test of his patience, or his willingness to enthusiastically obey even orders that seemed to make no sense. He’d certainly gone through a lot of such scenarios with Thrawn.

And really, it wasn’t like the tour had been all routine. There’d been a seriously nasty skirmish with the Grysks and some of their allies near the Imperial edge of the Unknown Regions, which had made for a very interesting couple of days. After the excitement subsided, he’d hoped things might pick up a little.

To his disappointment, they hadn’t. In fact, in many ways they’d actually slowed down.

Which wasn’t to say the Steadfast wasn’t in danger. On the contrary, it was in about as much danger right now as it had ever been.

The intercom at his station gave a little three-tone warble. “Lieutenant Ivant, report to the bridge immediately,” First Officer Khresh’s voice came over the speaker.

“Acknowledged,” Eli called back, mentally rolling his eyes. The vast majority of Chiss names were composed of multiple syllables in three distinct parts, the first of which identified the person’s family, the second of which was the given name, and the third of which reflected some social factor Eli hadn’t yet figured out. Since using multisyllable titles all the time could seriously bog down conversations—and worse, timely military orders—the normal convention was to use core names for everything except in the most formal situations.

But there were a few exceptions to the norm. Admiral Ar’alani herself, for one, apparently had only a two-part name and no core name at all. The ship’s navigators, the young Chiss girls gifted with Third Sight who used their ability to guide the Steadfast through hyperspace, also followed that pattern. Eli also hadn’t figured out why they got the same naming convention as senior flag officers.

Early on, Ar’alani had explained to her officers and crew that Eli was another such exception, and that he should be addressed as Lieutenant Vanto or Lieutenant Eli’van’to. But for most of them the explanation didn’t seem to have taken. Someone had taken Ar’alani’s conversion of Eli Vanto into a standard three-part Chiss name, then created a core name out of the middle of it, and the name had stuck.

At first, Eli had wondered if it was a subtle insult, either to him or to the admiral who’d brought this alien into their midst. But Ar’alani hadn’t taken offense at the flouting of her order, at least not in public, and eventually Eli decided to treat it as their way of accepting him as one of their own.

And it could have been worse. If he’d been unwise enough to tell them his middle initial—N—the name might have become Invant, which was way too close to Infant for comfort.

He was halfway to the bridge, passing the standard green- and blue-rimmed compartment doors, when the double-red-rimmed door to the navigation ready room a dozen meters in front of him slid open. One of the navigators stepped out into the corridor and turned toward the bridge.

Normally, seeing the back of a navigator’s head wouldn’t have given Eli a clue as to who she was. All of the Steadfast’s navigators were girls, nearly all of them between the ages of seven and fourteen, when Third Sight was at its strongest. On top of that, they tended to keep to themselves, and in all his time aboard he’d only met three of the five.

Vah’nya was the exception to all the rules. She was twenty-two years old, and unlike the children who shared her job she felt perfectly comfortable mixing with the rest of the adults aboard. Eli had seen and talked with her on a number of occasions, and had found her congenial company.

“Navigator Vah’nya,” he called.

She turned to face him, a small smile touching her lips as she saw who it was. “Hello, Lieutenant Eli,” she said. “What brings you to this part of the ship?”

“I’ve been ordered to the bridge,” he said, eyeing her closely. Not just good company, but also highly intriguing. Though her Third Sight was slowly fading, as it did with all navigators, even at twenty-two she still had greater skill than all but one or two of the younger girls.

He’d looked into it a bit, and as far as he could tell no one knew why her ability had lasted this long. But then, with the whole Chiss navigation system a deep, black secret, it wasn’t surprising that it hadn’t been very well studied.

On top of all of Vah’nya’s other interesting qualities, she was the only person aboard he’d been able to persuade to call him by his real name. That alone would have earned her high marks in his book.

“Ah,” she said. “So you were not merely coming to see me?”

“No, not at all,” Eli said, feeling his face warming. He wasn’t entirely sure of the protocol regarding fraternization among the officers and crew, and he had no intention of learning about it the hard way.

“Too sad,” Vah’nya said, in a tone that could have been mild sarcasm or complete sincerity. “Did Junior Commander Velbb say what it was about?” she added as the two of them continued forward.

“Actually, it wasn’t Commander Velbb,” Eli told her. “The order came from Senior Captain Khresh.”

“Really?” she said, frowning. “That is unusual.”

“I know.” Eli gestured to her. “What about you? Are you coming on watch?”

“Yes,” she said. “Though I feel I’m unlikely to be needed.”

Eli wrinkled his nose. She had that right. Barely three hours after the Steadfast arrived in this system, Ar’alani had ordered a hard shutdown of the entire ship, a stage below even dark stealth mode, cutting unnecessary power use and all emissions, including active sensors. She’d given the ship one final burst from the drive, and from that moment on they’d been drifting, dark and silent, through the loose asteroid belt three hundred million kilometers from the system’s sun.

That had been nearly a week ago. Eli had checked the ship’s position, and studied the passive sensor reports, and he still had no idea what they were doing here. His best guess was that they were still following the ship they’d been tracking ever since leaving the Unknown Regions and that Ar’alani was afraid of spooking it.

As well she might. They were a long way from Chiss space and the various vague threats arrayed against them. This was a system deep within the Galactic Empire.

And the threats here were anything but vague.

Thrawn: Treason is out later this month, with fans attending SDCC getting the chance to pick up an exclusive early edition featuring new cover art from Two Dots, starting from Wednesday, July 17. But that’s not all—io9 is excited to reveal a look at the brand new poster by Darren Tan, for fans who pick up a copy of the Barnes & Noble edition of the book when it releases soon, featuring not just Eli, but Chiss Admiral Ar’alani!

Eli and Ar’alani make quite the team.
Image: Darren Tan (Del Rey/Lucasfilm)

Thrawn: Treason hits shelves on July 23.

For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom.

Source: Kotaku.com

What Palpatine Left Behind

The Emperor has been playing a long game—one that persists beyond even death.
Image: Lucasfilm

A cackle in the dark. That was all it took for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to deliver its biggest shock—a shock that not even a title, a Death Star, or a host of other reveals in its first trailer could compare to. Sheev Palpatine, Darth Sidious, Emperor Palpatine, call him what you want: He’s back. And it’s a moment that’s been planned for.

The resurrection of Emperor Palpatine after his trip down a reactor shaft—a shaft that was then promptly blown to bits—in Return of the Jedi might, at first, seem to come out of nowhere. On the surface, it might even seem like Star Wars is returning to its easiest impulses, the cyclical rhyming poetry in which the present constantly echoes the past that came before, a nostalgia the franchise forever struggles to move on from. But the idea of a revived Palpatine been around for decades, in the context of the old Expanded Universe and in Lucasfilm’s plans for this sequel trilogy, stretching back to The Force Awakens’ development, something Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy acknowledged to press in the wake of The Rise of Skywalker’s reveal this past Friday. And the Star Wars universe we have right now has been slowly but quietly laying the groundwork for the return of a villain that has stalked the Skywalker Saga from the very beginning.

This is what Emperor Palpatine left behind—not just his plans and his hopes, but a Star Wars galaxy far more mystical and magical than we might have thought. One where the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise might be less of a legend, and more of a reality.

The ruins of the Death Star II, as seen in The Rise of Skywalker.
Image: Lucasfilm

The Second Death Star

The Second Death Star’s destruction was certainly explosive, but it wasn’t total—the Rebellion’s decisive attack on its core split the battle station into oceans of scrap, parts flinging around into the space above Endor and, judging by The Rise of Skywalker’s trailer, smacking right into other worlds around and beyond it.

Originally planned to appear in early forms of The Force Awakens, the ruins of the Death Star II—also partially sunk under oceans, as they appear to be in The Rise of Skywalker—would’ve been home to the sunken remnants of the Emperor’s tower, and within it the mystical map to Luke Skywalker that both the Resistance and First Order were chasing. It won’t be now, of course, but it establishes that Palpatine’s bases of operation were hiding artifacts and keys to places strong in the Force—an idea we’ll see has been picked up elsewhere in tie-in fiction.

Palpatine posthumously delivers orders to activate Operation Cinder via Sentinel Droid in Battlefront II.
Image: EA/DICE

Project Cinder

First introduced in the Marvel Comics miniseries Shattered Empire and then expounded upon in the story campaign for Battlefront II, if Palpatine’s other machinations were about rebirth, Project Cinder was very much about destruction. Implemented as what initially seemed like a posthumous “screw you” to the Rebellion that upended him, Project Cinder was a plan delivered to high ranking Imperial admirals to activate satellites above key worlds in the Empire that would agitate the environments of those worlds to such an extreme degree that all life on them would be wiped out, Imperial and Rebel alike.

It was, at least to the surviving Imperials, the ultimate display of the Tarkin doctrine, a fear so profound that Imperial worlds that escaped its calamities would never dare to join the fledgling New Republic, and a reminder to would-be rebels of the Empire’s might, even without its ruler. But in actuality, Cinder was meant to help wipe the slate of the Imperial remnant off the map entirely—and hasten a destruction that Palpatine had planned for prior to his own death, one that would allow select survivors to flee and reforge a new and better Empire elsewhere.

Luke Skywalker and Del Meeko explore the Pillio Observatory in Battlefront II.
Image: EA/DICE

The Observatories

Another idea expounded upon in Battlefront II, having appeared elsewhere in tie-ins like the Aftermath trilogy of novels, is that Palpatine housed dozens of collections of relics strong in the Force in mysterious Observatories across the galaxy far, far away. They were connected to his research into the true source of the Dark Side’s power out in the beyond, and we know primarily of two already. Battlefront II introduced us to the Pillio Observatory, where Luke Skywalker found the compass that guided him to the first Jedi Temple on Ahch-To—and a reminder that Palpatine was interested in the Force across all of its spectrums, light and dark.

The second, covered in Aftermath: Life Debt and Aftermath: Empire’s End, was on none other than Jakku, and housed enough Force relics that Palpatine (or someone on his orders) could dump them into the planets core and tear the world apart, a contingency plan he demanded of Gallius Rax in an attempt to wipe out the Imperial Remnant and New Republic in one explosive swoop.

The Executor, the Eclipse’s sister ship, was famously destroyed over Endor.
Image: Lucasfilm

The Eclipse

In the years following the Emperor’s death, the Empire’s number of capital ships dwindled rapidly—the remnant went down from 13 Super Star Destroyers at the Empire’s height to just a single, the Ravager. But the most important of all, the Eclipse, wasn’t actually destroyed as had been assumed by what was left of the Empire. How does a Super Star Destroyer go missing though? By not really going missing. Because the Eclipse, Palpatine’s flagship, was deliberately given a mission that would outlast its master.

In Life Dept and Empire’s End, we learn Palpatine had spent years calculating coordinates that ultimately lead out into the Unknown Regions—tasking the Eclipse with traveling out there to uncover whatever Palpatine saw as this nexus of Force power. The Eclipse made it out there, but Palpatine didn’t, and it served as the base of origins for remaining elements of the Empire after the Battle of Jakku to re-establish themselves as the First Order. Given his propensity to do so elsewhere, it’s safe to assume that the Eclipse didn’t just hold military might to traffic into the Unknown Regions, but more artifacts of Force power, intended for Palpatine and his new Empire to capitalize on once it reached its destination.

Palpatine attempts to reach out into the World Between Worlds.
Image: Lucasfilm

The World Between Worlds

Everything we’ve covered so far has been, despite being awash with the mystique of the Force, material—objects, artifacts, raw material, manpower, all the elements to rebuild an Empire. But how can that help rebuild a single man? We don’t know the extent of the power of the relics in Palpatine’s vast collection of Force-sensitive items, but the Star Wars Rebels TV series introduced us to a wild concept that could perhaps more directly connect to Palpatine’s resurrection, or rather technically, his return: Force-assisted time travel.

Uncovered by the Empire on Palpatine’s behalf in the depths of the Jedi Temple on Lothal during Rebels’ final season, the World Between Worlds exists out of time and space in the galaxy far, far away, a nexus point of all moments that can’t just be witnessed, but accessed—and with enough strength in the Force, manipulated to save people from seemingly certain fate. Rebels also expounded the idea that in order to access the World Between Worlds, users had to be pure in how they wielded the Force—Palpatine tried, but couldn’t reach out in the way Ezra ultimately did to navigate it. Which is why he attempted to work through Ezra to access it, and why Ezra ultimately chooses to destroy the portal on Lothal.

But we’ve learned since that not only are there multiple ways to access the World Between Worlds (or something similar to it), it’s also not something that is indeed as strictly tied to the Light side as Rebels presented it to us.

Momin resurrects himself on Mustafar in Darth Vader #23.
Image: Giuseppe Camuncoli, Daniele Orlandini, David Curiel, Dono Sánchez-Almara, and Joe Caramagna (Marvel Comics)

The final arc of Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s Darth Vader comic series delved into the creation of Darth Vader’s infamous castle, first glimpsed in Rogue One (but with a history that reaches far further back than that). Built on a focal point of Dark Side energy on Mustafar by Vader with the help of the Force spirit of an ancient Sith named Momin—who had died untold years before the events of the Star Wars movies—the castle was designed in such a manner to specifically channel all that power into finding a way to resurrect Padmé Amidala.

Vader didn’t succeed in that regard at least, but most importantly here, the forces he and Momin tapped into worked. Momin betrayed Vader and managed to pull himself out from a time before his death centuries beforehand and into the present, even if Vader almost immediately killed the “revived” Sith and attempted to access whatever plane they had opened himself. But it confirms at least one thing: the World Between Worlds, or something like it, exists in a way that acolytes of the Dark Side can access it, and exists in more than one place in the galaxy. If Palpatine ultimately found a place to do so—or perhaps even the source of power he sent the Eclipse to track was another way to access the World Between Worlds—and use time itself to dance around his death, it might be the answer to his return.

Supreme Leader Snoke lead the First Order, but more so out of opportunity than some grand design.
Image: Lucasfilm

A Fear of the Unknown (Regions)

But what was all this meticulous planning for, and how might it play into The Rise of Skywalker? Palpatine was scared, and intrigued by, some mysterious Dark Side power out in the galaxy beyond the one Star Wars inhabits—the Unknown Regions that the Chiss come from (like Thrawn, who was also aware of some existential threat coming that his own people were not prepared for), the place where much of the First Order as we know it was forged.

All these artifacts, all this tweaking, even the hastened self-immolation of his own Empire’s remnants, were all designed to push the birth of a new order out in those regions, built around the search for the power to control or confront whatever was hidden out there. Even with Palpatine’s death, those plans marched on—now, the groundwork it’s laid just needs a figurehead.

The last time the Star Wars universe revived Palpatine in Dark Empire, it did so through science—specifically, cloning, something that would become oddly prescient to the movie saga. But from what little we can figure of this latest attempt already (if it does indeed involve bringing Palpatine back as physical, returned person rather than merely the kind of Force spirit we’ve only seen manifested by light-side practitioners in the movies so far), Star Wars is perhaps laying the ground for a return much more mystical and magical. One with an understanding of the Force as an entity more powerful—and much weirder—than we could have possibly imagined it being, in the hands of Jedi and Sith alike.

We’ll no doubt find out more as we get closer to December 20, when Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters to bring this nine-movie journey to a close.

For more, make sure you’re following us on our new Instagram @io9dotcom. 

Source: Kotaku.com

HBO’s Lovecraft Country Could Be Everything Green Book Wasn’t

Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley, with the cover of Lovecraft Country.
Image: Universal, HarperCollins

There are as many valid criticisms of Peter Farrelly’s Best Picture Oscar-winner Green Book as there are listings in Victor Hugo Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book. But an upcoming adaptation has a lot more potential to tell the real story, even if there are Lovecraftian monsters involved.

The Negro Motorist Green Book (published from 1936 to 1966) was a guide to the places black people driving across the Jim Crow-era U.S. could stop to rest and replenish themselves without fear of being denied service by businesses, driven out of town by racists, or murdered. With the growth of interstate highways came the promise that Americans could more easily travel long distances and experience more of the country. But that same promise was not afforded to black and other non-white drivers who faced the risk of being caught in sundown towns, places where white members of the local community—including law enforcement officials, in some cases—would not hesitate to kill them should they be seen within city limits.

Though the specters of Jim Crow and segregations are things most often associated with the South, sundown towns proliferated throughout the U.S., meaning that black drivers had no choice but to be strategic in their travels so as never to be caught after dark in a place where their lives might be very much in danger. Green’s book was an invaluable asset for black travelers at all points along their journeys. Each trip planned with the help of The Negro Motorist Green Book is a story about black Americans collaborating in order to persevere and thrive in a land that did not love us, and because that continues to be true of the country, it’s easy to understand why the book is an important part of our history and why folks would want to create stories around it.

The problem with the recent Peter Farrelly-directed Green Book film is that it ignores the cultural significance of Green’s book and doesn’t even center it as the heart of its story.

In Farrelly’s take—written by Nick Vallelonga and Brian Hayes Currie—Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) is a gifted black musician who hires Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), an Italian bouncer, to work as his driver during an upcoming tour throughout the U.S. that’ll take them from the Midwest into the Deep South. Through the power of road tripping, the unlikely pair become friends as substantive interrogations about race or the men’s inner lives are passed over in favor of scenes about how everybody likes fried chicken and good music.

Green Book is, put simply, another story about racism that’s much more concerned with making white people feel good about sitting through a movie about racism, in which a white person resists the urge to be egregiously racist because their one black friend told them to. Even setting aside all the issues of Green Book’s historical accuracy and alleged disrespect to Shirley’s family, the film’s utter lack of regard for The Negro Motorist Green Book makes it difficult to see it as a story that truly understands the cultural factors in play that made its existence possible.

The Negro Motorist Green Book deserves a telling of its tales that both respects what the book meant and can speak to the large audience that can and should know more about its importance. Where Green Book failed, HBO’s upcoming adaptation of Matt Ruff’s novel Lovecraft Country can and should succeed in ways that are readily apparent the moment you begin reading the book.

Atticus Turner, one of Lovecraft Country’s central heroes, is a young, science fiction-loving black veteran recently back from time in the Korean War. He soon realizes that his service to his country doesn’t actually mean all that much back home because of the color of his skin. While Atticus’ family and friends love him dearly, the racist micro and macro-aggressions he faces on a daily basis are a constant reminder of what it means to be black in America. Racism is a demon all of Lovecraft Country’s characters must face, but they there are also actual demons out there in the world they cross paths with, and its when these literal and metaphorical evils intersect that Lovecraft Country begins to really shine.

Lovecraft Country’s cover.
Image: HarperCollins

When Atticus’ father Montrose goes missing, leaving only instructions for Atticus to come looking for him in the fictional (and very Lovecraftian) town of Ardam, Massachusetts, he sets out to find him with the help of his uncle George, who runs the Safe Negro Travel Company, and his friend Letitia Dandridge, a devout Christian. Together, the trio uses George’s knowledge of safe zones to make their way from Chicago to Massachusetts, and as they journey they encounter all manner of supernatural beings—both very literal monsters and embodiments of the horrors that The Negro Motorist Green Book was designed to help people avoid. Here’s an excerpt:

George had begun publishing The Safe Negro Travel Guide as a means of advertising his travel agency’s services, and though the Guide had ultimately become profitable in its own right, the agency—now expanded to three locations—remained his primary business and source of income. The agency would book trips and tickets for anyone, but specialized in helping middle-class Negroes negotiate with a travel industry that was at best reluctant to accept their patronage.

Through his network of contacts and scouts, George kept up-to-date files not only on which hotels allowed Negro guests, but which air and cruise lines were most likely to honor their reservations. For those wishing to vacation abroad, the agency could recommend destinations that were relatively free of local race prejudice and, just as important, not overrun by white American tourists—for nothing was more frustrating than traveling thousands of miles only to encounter the same bigots you dealt with every day at home.

The power that the Ku Klux Klan’s grand wizards have lies in the reach of their organization’s networks and their ability to enforce their hateful ideology through coordinated violence. Lovecraft Country imagines a world in which that’s still very true, but the wizards also happen to be actual wizards of a sort, something that Atticus and company can barely wrap their minds around as the story unfolds.

Lovecraft Country shifts between focusing on its allegorical monsters and its human ones with a deftness that’s just shy of letting you assume it’s a work of pure magical realism. It wants you to understand that the racist ghost and the shady realtor who purposefully sold the house it haunts to black owners are both real problems the book’s characters have to face. Like a carefully crafted highway system, Lovecraft Country’s larger plot is made up of a handful of intersecting stories that all feed back into one another, reminding you of what’s keeping its heroes safe: their togetherness, their adaptiveness, and the knowledge afforded to them by their guide book and the wisdom it holds.

With Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams producing, and Underground’s Misha Green attached as showrunner, there are any number of directions HBO’s adaptation of Lovecraft Country could take. So long as it honors the source material, and bears in mind the larger cultural significance of the stories it’s telling, it’s likely to do The Negro Motorist Green Book’s legacy justice in a way Green Book never could.

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Source: Kotaku.com