Reasons why some people don’t like Yennefer
Having been part of the witcher fandom for more than a year now I have had all the time I needed to watch the never ending waifu war between Triss fans and Yen fans. And I’ve read a lot of things. Among other things, Triss fans saying again and again and again that “normal” people should choose Triss and that the one choosing Yen must have some kind of serious issues. On the other side, Yen fans seem so often desperate about the fact that the other team doesn’t see Yen’s true self and vulnerable side. I’ve also read so many times Triss fans saying that we don’t see Yen’s flaws and can’t stand it when people point them out. Today as a Yen fan (who happens to like Triss as well by the way, but this is not the point), I’m trying an experiment. I’ll try to find an answer to the “how can people not like Yennefer” question.
Well first I think that it was intentional from the very beginning. And when I say beginning I’m not talking about the games. Sapkowski himself stated that he never intended to write Yennefer as a likable character, as a character who would “please the reader”. And indeed to be honest Yen can be hard to like.
First because she hides who she is very well behind a cold and emotionless mask. And thing is, a lot of people won’t try to look beyond that mask, simply because a lot of people think that actions define who you are as a person. So if you act cold then you are cold. If you don’t show emotions then you don’t have them. If you pretend you don’t care, then you don’t. But fact is, life is not that simple. A lot of people actually hide their emotions in order to protect themselves, we all do to some extend. Yen is a master at that game and who could blame her knowing her past? That is a side of her personality to which I very strongly relate because I’m very much the same. For this reason maybe, I have become very good at noticing masks and people who use them and I always try to see beyond those masks. It’s something I do naturally, without even realizing it. And there are two things I learned from it : first, people who use masks and hide who they are at first are usually great people and they are worth the trouble, and second : some people will never be able to, or want to look beyond the masks. For that reason, to some people Yennefer will never be more than the cold, bossy woman you can see when you first meet her. And maybe they are not entirely wrong, because in a way Yen IS that cold, bossy woman, in her actions she is in any case. Plus I think it is not entirely wrong to say that what you choose to show the world about yourself defines you in a way. But I still think some people are missing half the information they need to see the big picture.
I know what some of you will think at that point : “But I’m pretty sure I understand Yennefer perfectly and I still don’t like her”. Well I think that’s very possible and once again very intentional. Because let’s face it, even beneath the mask Yennefer is not perfect at all. I love that character very much. I love how strong and resilient she is despite all she has been through. I love her self confidence probably because I would like to have a little bit more of that myself. I love the way she is willing to give everything she has and everything she is for the people she loves because I’m very much the same and can really relate to that. I love her wits, I love her sarcastic sense of humor. I love how smart she is, how much she loves to learn things, how good she is at teaching other people. I think she really has a good heart too, and as a matter of fact there are several examples of her randomly helping strangers in the books.
That being said I understand very well that there are downsides to all that. I understand that her self confidence can be seen as arrogance, especially when it leads her to make mistakes or to think that her way of getting things done is necessarily the best. I get that some people don’t like sarcasm. I know that sometimes Yen will see some sacrifices as « necessary » to protect the people she loves and will not hesitate to make these sacrifices and I get that some people will see that as selfish.
And I think all of this is great. I think it shows that the character is very realistic and very well written. Because here’s a fact : one cannot please everyone. The thing you love about someone could be the very reason why some others will dislike that person. And I love the fact that this is true of Yen (and every single character in the witcher books). I love that Sapkowski took that HUGE risk. Because yes most writers, especially fantasy writers, will prefer to write their main characters as unrealistic to make sure that every single reader out there will like them and thus like the book. Either that or they will write about a huge cast of characters, because when you write about a lot of characters every reader can find one they like (that would be, let’s say G.R.R Martin’s style). Sapkowski didn’t do any of that. He kept a small cast of three main characters and yet decided to write them as flawed, and realistic, and somehow not entirely likable. And I admire him for that, it makes me love his writing and Yen as a character even more.
So yes, Yennefer cannot be liked by everyone who reads the books, that’s a fact, but what about the games. Well even though the games are not perfect regarding the way they wrote her I think overall they did a really great job, and to some extend everything I’ve said so far about the books stays true in the games. But I also think that CDPR’s take on the universe gave people more reasons not to like Yennefer, artificial reasons this time.
First, well obviously Yen is not in the first two games and CDPR presented in those games the Triss romance as “obvious” without giving the player any background from the books. I must say that I have played the games first and well I kinda liked Triss and I kinda liked the romance with her. I wasn’t THAT much of a fan, it wasn’t one of my all time favorite ships, but well it was kinda nice. And even though I didn’t think the chemistry between Triss and Geralt was that great I still thought of Yen as a bit of an intruder before playing the third game. So I can very well imagine the way some people, the ones who were really invested in the Triss/Geralt relationship, felt about it. I mean it happens to me sometimes when I play a new game, or read a new book to kinda “hope” that it won’t be that great because I want my old favorite stuff to still be my favorite and I feel kinda guilty about feeling otherwise. It’s stupid maybe, but I get that sense of loyalty to something you like very much. And in order to protect that love you have for the old stuff sometimes you voluntarily don’t see how great the new stuff is. I’m not saying here that all Triss fans still prefer Triss because they are being reluctant to let go of her and see how great Yen is. But I think it does have an impact on the way some people see Yen as a character. I think they “have” to dislike Yen in order to make sure that she won’t interfere with their canon romance, with the picture they have in mind.
Finally, I think unfortunately that the games have had an impact on the way people see the books, and this is the thing that makes me just a little bit sad. Because the last point I think is relevant to understand the way people see Yen is the fact that everyone is reluctant to change their opinions on things. Once you think you know something and have made up your mind about how you feel about that thing it takes a very open minded person and some kind of courage and effort to change your point of view. And even though I really like CDPR’s take on Yennefer, I do think that they didn’t show the entire picture. And I’ve seen so many people reading the books after having played the games and taking their opinion on the characters with them and transposing those opinions into the books and having an interpretation of the books which is in some way based on the games. And I think it’s a shame. Because fact is, whether you like the books or the games better is up to you BUT the games are based on the books, not the other way around. Meaning that CDPR’s characters are an adaptation of the books characters, they are CDPR’s view on the characters. So transposing CDPR’s characters into the books is a little bit like choosing deliberately to see only one side, one interpretation of the characters instead of seeing the whole picture and making your own interpretation. It’s a bit like seeing the sunlight through a green glass and then being able to only see it through that same glass even though you are missing on a whole part of it. Or to use Sapkowski’s own words it’s like mistaking the stars reflected in a pond at night for those in the sky.
I have to add there that I don’t intend to start yet another waifu war with this post, I’m not blaming anyone, just trying to understand the way people see Yen as a character and how the games can have an impact on the way people see the books. I am fully aware that this is not a one sided thing, that some Yen fans also have a need to dislike Triss for some reason, that some of them won’t like her in the games because of the books, or the other way around and that could probably make a topic for another post just like this one. This post only intended to make people reflect on the issue so please read it with an open mind.