It will come as no surprise that I criticize The Crones of Crookback Bog, some of the central villains of The Witcher 3.
The reason I have a beef with them, is because they’re pretty much fulfilling every checkbox of the abject horrific feminine. In the confrontation between Ciri and the Crones on Bare Mountain, the Crones first appear to the player as three naked and beautiful young women. While I have no doubt that this is a gratuitous catering to a primarily male audience, I also believe that the display of young women, bloodstained and cackling over a cauldron of human body parts is intended to show the “corrupt” nature of women.
Ciri barely makes herself known before the Crones make themselves known. In some instances fat, faceless, betaloned. In another, completely open to the outside, with no bodily boundaries, as there is more or less a hive of insects living in her head.
It is clear that the Crones’ transformation is meant not only to be shocking but also revolting. It says “look at these beautiful women! Aren’t they pretty! But HA, the joke is on you because they are actually hideous!” It reminds us that no matter how beautiful the outside of a woman is, the inside is rotten to the core.
This isn’t a new concept. Going back to as long as men have been able to write about women, this idea has been present. It did get an upswing during Christianity, though, the idea that behind a beautiful façade crawls a dirty monster intent on corrupting and defiling men’s purity.
With the concept of original sin, we were even stripped of our own will in the matter.
It is even apparent in the method of combat the Crones employ. They dissolve, reappear, poison and claw. They don’t use weapons to attack, they use their own bodies as weapons, invading, poisoning and corrupting.
It’s the oldest trope in the world (forgive the hyperbole) and to me it only helps cement the toxic view of women, both in Sapkowski’s books and in The Witcher Videogame.
Just like the Broodmother in Dragon Age Origins and Awakening, the Crones are used to great effect.
They’re found, just like the Broodmother, in an underground cave, strongly connected to nature. Nature is – by its nature – chaotic, disorganized, irrational and so on. Coincidentally, so are women.
The Crones represent distorted, grotesque and disfigured bodies to the player. All of these things, especially the fact that two of them are also fat, “prove” that these Crones are transgressive, other and permeable. There is something culturally repellent about these women.
The fact that they can transform at will, to move from physically desirable and thin bodies to something repellent and disgusting calls on the deceptive nature of woman.
[…] the symbol of the monster, the abject, exists to embody and assuage our fears of the natural and unruly body in order to maintain the current social order which privileges the intellectual and social over the emotional and biological. Fat bodies must become monstrous. They are failures. They are the abnormal that delineates the boundaries of normalcy.
– Monstrous Freedom: Charting Fat Ambivalence, Lesleigh J. Owen
The Crones are representations of nature in its most feminine form. Deceptive in its sexuality, uncontrolled, unruly, corrupted while also hiding that corruption.
The Crones won’t give the player a fighting chance because they can hide their true nature, and of course they hide their true nature behind attractive women’s bodies.
The village they have under their thumb is oblivious to the sacrifices they make. People are chosen to meet the crones and the villagers believe they move on, out of the village and into the world. But of course they don’t. Instead the gruesome sight awaiting the player when Ciri enters the den are three women, smeared with blood, stirring a cauldron with dismembered corpses. There’s even an indication of a sexual relationship between the Crones and between the Crones and the tree that rests atop bare mountain.
The villagers have been tricked by the hags.
The Crones are also invasive. Not only do they allow their own bodily integrity to be compromised, they also compromise the integrity of others. The Bloody Baron’s wife Anna, made a deal with the Crones. In exchange, they direct her where they want her to be, tell her what they want her to do and ask quite a lot from her. They also enjoy torturing her. They like pain.
I admit, we’ve always had crones and witches, we’ve always made villains out of women. It doesn’t matter if they’re young, fat, old, thin – whatever the format, women are “evil”. The Crones is just an extension of that, just like the Broodmother in Dragon Age the Crones of The Witcher follow the same pattern, with the exception of the toxic fecundity of the Broodmother. I also find it interesting that just like the Broodmother and the Architect in Awakening, the Crones are juxtaposed against the male enemy – the leader of the wild hunt – that seems to be above nature and beyond those restrictions. The wild hunt is literally cold, rational, logical and with technology (magic) at their beck and call. The wild hunt uses swords. The Crones use their bodies.
It isn’t surprising that the pattern repeats nor that it is so easy to find it, if you bother to look. We are all creatures made from a similar culture, after all.
To be honest, I don’t even believe it is a problem to find the Crones gruesomely enjoyable. They are, after a fashion, and they are well made, just as the Broodmother and the Banshees are well made, despite the problematic nature of them.
The main point I wanted to make is that this is a pattern and that the pattern builds on sexist practice, and a sexist view of women. We should be aware of it so that we can counter it and maybe build other patterns, not quite as reliant on women as deceptive, corrupt and manipulative.