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Real Lawyer Reacts to The Witcher (Law of Surprise?!) // LegalEagle

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Summary from Vulture:
Forget monsters and curses, the most confusing thing in Netflix’s The Witcher is the Law of Surprise. It’s a tricky concept that’s introduced early on, but the show doesn’t do much to explain it in season one. Hardcore fans of The Witcher books or video games will immediately understand what it means, but for everyone else, we’re here to help.

The fourth episode of The Witcher, titled “Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials,” tells a largely self-contained story about Princess Pavetta (Gaia Mondadori), the daughter of Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May). The timeline of The Witcher can be tricky to follow, so it’s worth noting that Pavetta’s daughter Princess Ciri (Freya Allan) isn’t alive at this point and Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) is a smidge less embittered by a world that considers him a mutant and doesn’t even pay him even when he gets the job done. Anyway, Calanthe has big plans for her daughter’s hand in marriage, until a knight named Duny (Bart Edwards) — a charming gentleman with the head of a hedgehog — arrives to claim Pavetta as his bride, and he invokes something called the Law of Surprise to do so.

But what the heck is the Law of Surprise? It’s an ancient concept within the world of The Witcher, loosely tied to actual mythology of Slavic and Polish origin — two folk histories to which Andrzej Sapkowski’s novels and the show return to regularly. The law is relatively simple: As payment for a great deed like saving someone’s life, one can lay claim to something which the indebted does not yet possess. It turns out that Duny, the hedgehog gentleman, saved King Roegner’s life years earlier. “By tradition, I chose the Law of Surprise as payment,” he explains in the episode. “Whatever windfall he came home to find would be mine.” The “windfall” in this case is Roegner’s daughter, Pavetta.

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I get asked a lot about whether being a practicing attorney is like being a lawyer on TV. I love watching legal movies and courtroom dramas. It’s one of the reasons I decided to become a lawyer. But sometimes they make me want to pull my hair out because they are ridiculous. Today I’m taking a break from representing clients and teaching law students how to kick ass in law school to take on lawyers in the movies and on TV. While all legal movies and shows take dramatic license to make things more interesting (nobody wants to see hundreds of hours of brief writing), many of them have a grain of truth. This is part of a continuing series of “Lawyer Reaction” videos. Got a legal movie or TV show you’d like me to critique? Let me know in the comments!

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Comments

LegalEagle says:

📺What TV show deserves to get ruined?
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Tim W says:

Since the “Law of Surprise” seems to be a widely recognized concept in the Witcher world, does that mean a hero doesn’t need to directly state the terms before he saving someone?

If everyone knows about the law then when you allow a hero to save you, you are entering an “Implied-in-Fact” contract by not refusing his help.

SL S says:

Objection: "I'll save your live (which loss is imminent), if you…" 
Seems like such contract wouldn't be binding b/c the offer was accepted under duress, effectively forced to accept (or die).

Jefferson Armstrong says:

Fun analysis, but rather than filtering against modern law it would be interesting to see this compared to more real world pre-magna carta legal standards like weregeld

Reprehensible Wombat says:

The story of Duny the Hedgehog is based on a fairy tale in which a Hedgehog/Man thing saves the life of a king who has lost his way. The surrounding circumstances and events afterward are different depending on version, but the Witcher is the /only/ version I've ever seen where the Hedgehog and the King DIDN'T have an oral contract before the Hedgehog helped him.

In fact, given mumblemumblemumble, Duny probably DID make the king agree to the Law of Surprise before saving him, if Netflix decides to mumblemumblespoilersmumblemumble.

Though I think I've only seen/read four versions of this story (that specifically mention the Ugly Creature being a hedgehog.)

In summary, making an offer before saving the kings life is how traditionally how this is done.

KuruSeed says:

I don't think you actually watched the show.

A White says:

I like this but I wish he'd acknowledge that this 'law' is a 'law of the universe' and that's a large reason why Geralt is okay with it. Because he's seen it work and also, in general fighting the universe means no happy endings at all

noxteryn says:

What does feminism have to do with this? The Law of Surprise never mentions gender in any way. You're making this a gender issue simply because there are women involved? How is that not sexist in itself?

Blainy Kid says:

Objection your honor! The law of Surprise may only include the hand of a daughter (or son) in marriage (if said daughter – or son – agree to the marriage, I think) not the actual transfer of ownership of any people. Thus, the law doesn't contradict the 13th amendment of the U.S constitusion.

Necron00b says:

Wouldn't it have been better to read about Medieval Polish law and try to apply that instead?

adamgrogory says:

OBJECTION! In The Witcher there is a duchy of the Nilgaardian Empire called Touissant which is very clearly inspired by France, complete with massive royals courts, intrigue and borrowed French. Since Touissant is generally seen as a very pleasant area I'd say it's reasonable for the Cintrans to have borrowed the word "Soirée" from Touissant!

French Flacco tv says:

Objection: I would argue that the arrangement of exogamous marriage in this case was substantial. The third party did in fact make a contractual agreement verbally and both bride and groom had consent. I would like to also argue that although not claimed in one year; an “engagement” has no timeline. Two parties can engage for any amount of time. Although it’s illegal to force marriage a marriage is not solidified until it becomes a legal binding and an engagement is an agreement to go through with this process by two parties.

benedictify says:

WHY did they make a porcupine person….?

petros mavromichalis says:

The more I learn about copyright law the more I appreciate the sheer irony of a copyright lawyer making reaction style videos on youtube… he's got us all beat with his transformative criticisms and reviews.

Rhyas9 says:

Game of what? Huh? A series that rushed and butchered it's last season so badly that it stained the entire series?

Never heard of it.

NiTessine says:

Objection: contract law made for some pretty great fantasy fiction when Max Gladstone founded the magic system of the Craft Cycle on it. It has lawyer-necromancers, and it is great. First book is Three Parts Dead.

powerthrucontrol says:

Law of surprise is a contract in magicks, not in US law. As such, a violation to the law of surprise will bring about karmic repercussions, like the invasion of Cintra; as opposed to the repercussions of disobeying the law. What kind of laws do you think a lawyer would write to govern magic?

Christopher Chilton-Smith says:

I think "law" in this context isn't meant in a legal sense but in a naturalistic one.

Nigel Green says:

Scene: Professor Kingsfield walks to the blackboard and in broad strokes writes "The Law of Surprise." He returns to the lectern and scans his seating chart, looking over his pince-nez. "The Law of Surprise", he intones. "An example of the basis of every human transaction. Law at its most basic, yet something that reaches into every aspect, every fibre, every tenet of law. I give you something and you promise to give something in return." He let' this last thought hang in the air as he begins to pace slowly backwards and forwards in front of his Contracts 101 class, then his eye alights on his chosen target and the Platonic lesson begins. "Mr…Stone…what are the elements of a contract and how do they apply to this fictional "Law of Surprise..?'"

David Fisher says:

Objection – Creation of a material fact (more literal than legalese) – You can't apply real life to a fictional world. =D

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