A few years ago I did a video review of the original OVA for Record of Lodoss War. At that time, the OVA was out of print, as was (and still is, sadly) the manga adaptation of the novels. Since then, Funimation (not the company I expected to do it) license rescued all of the anime, and now Seven Seas has done something I never expected to happen – they licensed the first novel, and gave it a fantastic edition in 2017. I got it for myself for Christmas, and finally was able to read it in February.
The OVA and the novel share a common framework and characters, but have some very dramatic changes from the novel to the anime. Some of these are clearly due to the change in medium. Others appear to be due to budgetary restrictions and length.
The book follows the party of Parn – a young inexperienced warrior seeking to prove himself and try to make the world a better place, Deedlit – an elf looking for adventure who finds herself drawn to Parn and his companions, Etoh – a priest of Pharis and Parn’s childhood friend, Slayn Starseeker – a wizard searching for knowledge and something else… he doesn’t know what yet, Woodchuck – a thief out for wealth and with a chip on his shoulder, and Ghim – a Dwarf looking for the missing daughter of the priestess of Marfa and his friend, Neese. The party goes on their adventures along the backdrop of an invasion of the island of Lodoss by the forces of the dark empire of Marmo, lead by Emperor Beld. Beld is advised by a mysterious sorceress known only as Karla.
And that’s where a lot of similarities end. Probably the biggest example of this is the characters of Ashram and Pirotess. In the anime they are set up very early on as the dark opposites of Parn and Deedlit – both are skilled warriors (though Ashram is very skilled from the beginning), and both care for each other, though Ashram and Pirotess aren’t particularly able to show it because in Marmo it would be a sign of weakness. In the anime, Ashram and Parn first meet during the sacking of an Alanian fortress, with Parn witnessing Ashram’s attack and swearing revenge. Further, throughout the anime, when the narrative moves to the Marmo camp, in addition to seeing Beld and Karla plotting, we also see Beld and Ashram together (setting up Ashram as Beld’s #2), and Ashram and Pirotess (again, setting up Ashram and Pirotess as the dark version of Parn and Deed).
In the novel, on the other hand, while we cut back to Beld and Karla, Ashram barely shows up in this the book, only appearing briefly in the battle between the Empire of Marmo and the Valis Alliance, and Pirotess doesn’t show up at all. Wagnard, Beld’s court magician, is dramatically much more visible, and has a much more direct connection to our protagonists, though he and the Heroes of Lodoss don’t interact in this story.
This leads to the other really dramatic change. Much more time is spent on characters backstory in this installment. In the OVA, we get backstory for Parn and his goal to redeem his father’s memory, and Ghim and his goal to bring back Lydia to Neese. However, here we also get more backstory for Woodchuck and Slayn. We learn about Slayn’s time at the Wizard’s academy, why he left, and we get a connection through him and Wagnard – that Wagnard was a classmate of Slayn’s who was not only expelled, but also had a lock placed on his magic so he cannot cast spells without great physical pain. Also, the book sets up that Woodchuck had been incarcerated for almost 20 years for a heist gone wrong, and was only just released, putting a chip on his shoulder that leads to him making a particular decision at the end of the story that he didn’t make in the anime.
Additionally, the dungeon crawl that takes up the OVA’s first episode takes up about two paragraphs in the novel.
The other changes are a little less dramatic. Parn and company meet Deedlit and Woodchuck in the middle of a festival in the novel, which would have been really expensive to animate in the OVA. Also, in the OVA, the battle between the Valis Alliance and Marmo is just a general pitched battle, without any real tactics or maneuvering (and which generally goes badly for the Alliance before the end), while in the book, it’s a more strategically planned battle, with Parn and Kashue taking on a flanking force of Marmo, and only after they are repelled successfully do they join up with the main force, and then at that point do they lose the track of the battle and things start to look closer.
As an aside, there’s another change from the book to the OVA, but the Chronicles of the Heroic Knight TV series incorporates and shows the book version, so it less merits mentioning.
Karla is still one of my favorite antagonists, because her worldview is internally consistent, and while it doesn’t make sense from a human perspective – that’s the point – she’s lived so long and through so many bodies that she’s effectively lost touch with her humanity, which makes her a more interesting and unique protagonist. The character of Mordenkainen in Greyhawk is the closest character in tabletop RPGs as far as motivations go, through as near as I can tell, the depiction of his motivation as being similar to Karla’s doesn’t seem to appear until after Lodoss gets a US release in the late 80s, so I don’t know if that aspect of the character was inspired by Lodoss .
The Grey Witch isn’t exactly a ground-breaking novel now, particularly when it comes to modern heroic fantasy. As with Legend of the Galactic Heroes, it’s a genre that has become well trod, and numerous other works have paid reference to and been inspired by. Still, it’s worth reading seeing where all those stories came from, and honestly, it’s an exciting read.