I just started reading the Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski, and to my understanding in the first two books the stories are versions of popular kids' fairy tales. But I can't seem to understand which one is which. I did understand that the third one in the first book is "Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs" but other than that I have no idea and I'm too lazy to pound my head over this. So can anyone tell me which fairy tales are which stories in the first two books?
It's not quite as simple as each Witcher story being based on one classical fairy tale, but there are indeed many references to classical fairy tales scattered through the books.
The Last Wish
The stories included in this collection are:
- The Voice of Reason (Głos rozsądku)
- The Witcher (Wiedźmin)
A Grain of Truth (Ziarno prawdy), based on Beauty and the Beast - see the following summary:
In this interpretation, the beast is a young man, Nivellen, who under pressure of his mates, rapes a priestess of a death god. She spits in his face cursing him and transforming into a revolting creature, which is doomed to loneliness. The beast lives in a castle and pays merchants travelling through the forest to leave their daughters with him for a year. If they truly fall in love with the beast during this time, the curse will be broken.
The Lesser Evil (Mniejsze zło), based on Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs, e.g. see the following quotes:
Aridea quite often turned to Mirror—
With the usual question, I take it, interrupted Geralt. "Who is the fairest of them all?" I know; all Nehelenia's Mirrors are either polite or broken.
Then, four years later I received news form Aridea. She's tracked down the little one, who was living in Mahakam with seven gnomes whom she'd managed to convince it was more profitable to rob merchants on the roads than to pollute their lungs with dust from the mines.
A Question of Price (Kwestia ceny), which has elements of both Rumpelstiltskin and Cinderella:
Remember Zivelina, who became the Queen of Metinna with the help of the gnome Rumplestelt, and in return promised him her first-born? Zivelina didn't keep her promise when Rumplestelt came for his reward and, by using magic spells, she forced him to run away. Not long after that, both she and the child died of plague.
Last winter, prince Hrobarik, without such pleasantries, tried to hire me to look for a pretty girl, who having enough of his boarish advances, ran from the ball leaving a little glass slipper behind.
The Edge of the World (Kraniec świata), which contains a reference to The Pied Piper of Hamelin:
Do you remember? And the ratcatchers with pipes? Everybody was fighting over their services. But they were finished off by alchemists and their effective poisons and then domesticated ferrets and weasels...
The ratcatchers... Well, you'd better not copy them, because they, to a man, took to drink and went to the dogs.
The Last Wish (Ostatnie życzenie)
Sword of Destiny
The stories included in this collection are:
The Bounds of Reason (Granica możliwości), based on the Polish folk tale of the Wawel Dragon - see the following summary:
In open pastures near the city called Hołopole, a dragon has been devouring some sheep. The local master shoe-maker, named Kozojed, has an idea how to finish off the dragon. He kills a sheep then stuffs it with poison and places it among sheep in a herd. The dragon swallows the bait and, with difficulty, flies off suffering. The party of the Reavers, wizards, knights, and dwarfs heads for the dragon’s vault to kill the creature and take the valuables stored there.
A Shard of Ice (Okruch lodu), which contains a reference to The Snow Queen:
There is an elven legend – said the sorceress pondering – about a Queen of Winter, who travels the realm during the blizzard on a sleight with two white horses harnessed. While travelling she scatters little shards of ice around and woe to the man who will get one of them in his eye or heart. For he is lost.
Eternal Flame (Wieczny ogień)
A Little Sacrifice (Trochę poświęcenia), based on The Little Mermaid - see the following summary:
Prince Agloval wants to marry a mermaid Sh’eenez, but as long as she drinks a magical potion which would change her tail into human legs. Sh’eenez disagrees and offers Agloval a similar thing – with a sea witch’s help he may devote his legs to living with the mermaid under the water. Algoval rejects this idea.
The Sword of Destiny (Miecz przeznaczenia)
- Something More (Coś więcej)
That is not exactly true. Sapkowski tends to toy with the reader by hinting that the story they are reading is somehow related to the fairy tales. As you mentioned Renfri from "The Lesser Evil" was a (apparently cursed) princess exiled by her stepmother that spent time among seven gnomes and was later entombed in crystal; this is a very direct shoutout to "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", but in case of other stories it might be more subtle.
Anyway, let's try:
Story about cursed undead princess that could be saved by spending night in her coffin is probably related to Dutch story The Princess in the chest. In this story a smith saves the princess by spending three nights near coffin while she was trying to kill him.
Grain of Truth
Cursed noble looking like a monster in haunted castle with a beautiful girl that managed to fall in love with him by looking beyond his appearance is of course the Beauty and the Beast. Of course in Sapkowski's version
the girl is in fact a vampiress, but nevertheless her true love managed to lift the curse.
As mentioned early its the "Snow White and seven dwarfs".
But this time Snow White is a psychotic killer...
Matter of Price
Hedgehog trying to marry a princess is a version of Grimm Brothers Hans My Hedgehog. In that story a half-man half hedgehog Hans saves two kings (on two different occasions) under condition, that they will give him first thing that will greet them when they return home, which in both cases are the king's daughter. The first king attempts to cheat Hans, who in turn hurts his daughter with his quills, the second king is faithful to his promise and Hans is turned into handsome man.
The Edge of the world
It is not based on any story, but its worth to point that at the end of the story (the farewell from "devil") is a nod to Polish saying "where the Devil says goodnight" which means "place in the middle of nowhere".
The Last Wish
Djinn granting three wishes is a nod to many Middle Eastern fairy tales, mainly to the story of Alladin from "The Arabian nights". In that story a boy finds a lamp with a djinn hidden inside, which grants him three wishes, that Alladin uses to marry the princess.
The Bounds of Reason
While there are a dozen-a-dime stories about knights fighting the dragon, there is a definite nod to the Polish story about Shoemaker Dratewka who killed the dragon by stuffing the sheep with tar and sulfur. Dragon ate the sheep and became so thirsty that it drunk whole river and exploded - in Sapkowski's version shoemaker Kozojed only managed to weaken the dragon.
A shard of ice
I don't believe that the story about love triangle between Geralt, Yennefer and Istredd is based on any folk tale.
The Eternal Fire
As above, I can't find any fairy tale reference here.
A Little Sacrifice
Prince in love in a siren is probably a nod to The little mermaid, although with much happier ending - In original story mermaid falls in love with a prince and makes a deal with a sea witch exchanging her tail for legs but loosing the ability to speak. The prince in the end marries another princess and the mermaid commits suicide.
Sword of Destiny
The side story about Freixenet who used to be a cormorant is probably based on the The Six Swans story, where evil stepmother turns six brothers into swans and their sister tries to remove the spell by making the shirt out of nettles.