The world of The Witcher or the continent is similar to our world but is also unique on its own because of how there are monsters and magic and due to the unique laws that they follow there. One such law that is universal to the continent is the Law of Surprise, which is one of the most invoked laws that people use whenever someone owes a debt of gratitude to another person. But what exactly is the Law of Surprise in The Witcher?
The Law of Surprise is a law that can be invoked whenever someone’s life is saved. Generally, what the Law of Surprise states is that the person whose life was saved should give to the savior something that they already owned but is still unknown. This can come in the form of a harvest or even a child.
A lot of people tend to get confused about the Law of Surprise because it wasn’t properly explained in The Witcher except by Geralt in brief. That said, for you to understand the entire plot of The Witcher and why Ciri belonged to Geralt is to understand what the Law of Surprise is all about and why it is something that the people in the continent hold sacred.
What Is The Law Of Surprise In The Witcher?
One of the things that are central to The Witcher’s story in the books, games, and series is that Ciri is Geralt’s child because she was the reward that came out when Geralt invoked the Law of Surprise. As such, destiny bound Geralt and Ciri together, as the Witcher became the father figure that the princess never had in a good part in her life. Of course, the entire plot of The Witcher is focused heavily on the relationship between Geralt and Ciri and what the Witcher is willing to do to protect his child of surprise.
But while we do know that Ciri is a child of surprise by virtue of the Law of Surprise, a lot of people don’t exactly understand what this law is about. In that regard, what is the Law of Surprise in The Witcher? Before we answer that, let’s look at the background of this law and how it became so important in the scheme of things in The Witcher.
In season 1, we saw Geralt attending the wedding banquet of Princess Pavetta when Queen Calanthe of Cintra was out to find a suitable husband for her daughter to forge alliances with other kingdoms. Geralt was merely there to accompany Jaskier as a bodyguard, but he ultimately found himself entangled in the mess when an unfamiliar face arrived.
As different suitors were lining up for Pavetta’s hand, Duny, a knight clad in shoddy armor and with his face covered, suddenly comes forward to claim the princess as his own by virtue of the Law of Surprise because he saved Calanthe’s husband long ago and invoked the law. As he invoked the law, the king of Cintra found out that Calanthe was pregnant, and that meant that Pavetta was rightfully Duny’s.
When the guards in the banquet forced open Duny’s armor, it was revealed that he had the face of a hedgehog by virtue of a curse. Later on, it was also revealed that he and Pavetta were already in love.
Upon seeing this, Calanthe ordered Duny to be killed, but Mousesack and even Eist, who would soon be the new king of Cintra, were against the order because the Law of Surprise was sacred. Still, the queen relented, and this forced Geralt’s hand because he too said that the Law of surprise is sacred and must be upheld at all times.
Despite that, a battle ensued, as Queen Calanthe was not willing to give her child up. In the end, the fight had to be stopped, but Calanthe was about to kill Duny before Pavetta screamed and used her powers to nearly destroy the entire banquet hall. That was when Queen Calanthe finally gave up her hard stance on the matter to let destiny play its hand. This also resulted in Duny’s curse lifting.
After the curse had lifted and Duny was now allowed to wed Pavetta, the knight told Geralt that he was free to ask him anything as a payment for saving his life. The Witcher was reluctant to ask for anything because he felt like he didn’t need to. But when Duny relented, Geralt invoked the Law of Surprise and followed it up by saying that that “give me that which you already have but do not know”.
Right after Geralt invoked the Law of Surprise, Pavetta immediately threw up to reveal that she was pregnant with Duny’s child all along. That meant that their child, who turned out to be Ciri, was already promised to Geralt as his child of surprise. Meanwhile, the Witcher was reluctant to claim his child of surprise and promised to never claim it. But, as we saw, things changed when he realized that Cintra was about to fall and that he needed to claim Ciri to keep her safe.
From there, it is now easy to understand what the Law of Surprise is all about. As you can understand from Geralt’s words when he said, “give me that which you already have but do not know”, the Law of Surprise basically allows someone to claim a boon that the debtor already owns but does not know it yet. This law is usually invoked as a life debt whenever someone saves another person’s life.
But while The Witcher series shows us that the boon that comes out of the Law of Surprise is usually a child, what you need to know is that it can be anything. In some cases, it can be something as simple as a harvest. It could basically be anything as long as the one who owes a life debt already owns it but is yet to find out about it.
Why Did Geralt Invoke The Law Of Surprise?
If you are wondering why Geralt invoked the Law of Surprise, he merely did so as a way of making Duny feel like he did not owe the Witcher a life debt. In the scene where Duny told Geralt to ask anything from him, he told the Witcher that he didn’t want to live a life feeling heavy, knowing that he owed a life debt to someone who saved his life.
So, as you probably already know, Geralt didn’t want to ask anything from Duny because he felt like it was only right for him to save him. However, when he saw how sincere Duny was, Geralt simply invoked the Law of Surprise so that he no longer had to ask for a reward. After all, the boon in the Law of Surprise can be anything so simple, and that was what Geralt was probably thinking.
But Geralt never realized that what he would be getting was a child of surprise, and you could see it in his face that he didn’t want the child. He even went on to say that he didn’t want to claim the child, and that prompted Mousesack to tell Geralt that he cannot escape destiny and that he and Ciri are already bound by it.
Was Geralt A Child Of Surprise?
One of the most confusing things about Geralt is whether or not he is a child of surprise himself. In the books, Mousesack told Calanthe that Geralt would know more about the Law of Surprise than anyone because he himself was a product of it as well. That is where the confusion comes from, as most Witchers are actually products of the Law of Surprise, as they are given to Witchers as young boys to become Witchers themselves.
However, Geralt never confirmed that he was a child of surprise. At one point in the books, he said that Mousesack was mistaken. That said, it could be possible that Mousesack was indeed mistaken, as he simply generalized that all Witchers are children of surprise. After all, no parent in the right mind would be willing enough to give their children up to be trained as Witchers with no guarantee that they would survive the process.
Is It Inspired By The Real Thing?
Strictly speaking, we have no real-life Law of Surprise, as this custom is not something that countries legally follow. However, the Law of Surprise is something that is inspired by other stories and folklore, regardless of whether they be real or not.
First of all, the story of Duny is actually derived from the German fairy tale Hans My Hedgehog. In that tale, Hans is a hybrid of a hedgehog and a man and lives in the forest. When a king gets lost in the forest, he decides to help the king find his way home as long as he signs an agreement that says that the king should give him whatever first comes to greet him when he comes home.
When the king came home, his daughter was the first to greet him, and that meant that she was already owed to Hans. This is quite similar to Duny and Pavetta’s story, as Hans ended up marrying the daughter and went on to become a handsome man after that.
In Slavic mythology, the Law of Surprise is actually one of the things you invoke when you make a deal with the devil. Meanwhile, in the Bible, in the book of Judges, chapter 11, Jephthah the Gileadite makes a deal with God he will sacrifice to God the first thing that comes out of his house to greet him on his return as long as God would promise him victory. Because it was his daughter who first greeted him, he had to sacrifice him over to God.
So, in short, while there may be no real version of the Law of Surprise, it is something that you see in different folklore and mythologies. After all, The Witcher is actually just a collection of different folklore and mythologies combined.
Could It Ever Be Legally Enforced?
If there were a real Law of Surprise and if someone were to invoke it in the real world, it would be difficult to have it legally enforced because, in most jurisdictions, the law states that both parties would need to be clear on the scope and definition of surprise for the agreement to be truly enforceable. However, the Law of Surprise is so vague that whatever the debtor owns to the creditor can basically be anything.
Of course, if the surprise turned out to be a child of surprise, that cannot be enforceable because of the very fact that giving away a child as a payment for debt is basically against public morals. It would be a different thing if it were through adoption, but giving up a child as a form of payment is something that is generally unenforceable by law.