I have not played any of The Witcher games (I know). I watched the Netflix series first and then started reading the translated novels. So far I’ve read the prequels The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny which is mostly covers the content of season 1 of the Netflix series and what I’m here to talk about.
So far, I have found I prefer the original novels to the Netflix adaptation for a few specific reasons:
- Several things were much clearer to me while reading the novels, things that were lost on me while I was watching the show. And I don’t mean the whole jumping timelines thing. These were things that were either left out or not clearly expressed through the narrative that I think should have been.
- Ciri and Geralt both feel like they have more agency within the novels. In the series it feels like things keep happening to them instead of happening as a result of their own choices, and I feel like this is an important theme of the story.
I’m obviously here to talk about #2.
Narrative choices within the Netflix adaptation have, so far, stripped Ciri (and to a lesser extent, Geralt) of agency they had in the original novels.
Invoking the Law of Surprise
During Pavetta’s party, after Duny and Pavetta are allowed to be be together and things have calmed down, Duny insists on offering Geralt some kind of repayment for saving his life and allowing him to be with Pavetta.
In the Netflix adaptation, Geralt throws out the law of surprise casually, almost rolling his eyes at the whole concept of destiny — even though he just fought to allow destiny to take it’s course. When it’s revealed seconds later that Pavetta is pregnant, his reaction is a very surprised, “fuck”. He then tries to leave promising to never return because he has no interest in taking the child.
In the novels this all goes down very differently. When offered some kind of repayment, he clarifies to everyone present that as a Witcher, he’s practically required to invoke the law of surprise in the hopes of gaining a child surprise who would be destined to become a Witcher. It’s a bit of a superstition that Geralt doesn’t really believe in, but he knows very well the possible consequences. When the pregnancy is revealed, he tells them he’ll return for the child in a few years.
Geralt doesn’t accidentally invoke the law of surprise in this moment. He does it knowing exactly what he in his role of a Witcher is hoping for: a child surprise, a child destined to become a Witcher. He reluctance to take the child only comes later when he sees how much Calanthe fights it, because he doesn’t want to rip a child away from their family.
What they did to Ciri in the Netflix adaptation is really what gets me. They really went all out on the “clueless girl wanders around helplessly” idea and stripped her of her agency in the entire matter.
In the Netflix adaptation she doesn’t know anything about Geralt until Queen Calanthe is dying and the castle is under siege. All she’s told is to “find Geralt of Rivia” because he is her “destiny”. She has no idea who he is or what that means. For the rest of her time on-screen she’s running, escaping, and just trying to survive, without any idea of where she’s going or who she’s looking for. Despite being older than she is in the novels, she is clueless and helpless for almost her entire time on-screen.
In the novels on the other hand, Ciri knows about Geralt and about her “destiny” from a young age. She enters the forest of Brokilon when she’s still a young child and runs into Geralt for the first time there. For at least half of that journey while Geralt has no clue who she is, Ciri knows who he is.
Geralt tries to argue with the dryads of Brokilon to let him take her back with him but the insist on keeping her and turning her into a dryad as well. Geralt tries to leave not wanting to watch Ciri lose her memories, but Ciri insists that he stay. When the process doesn’t work on Ciri, she’s asked if she wants to stay or go, and she chooses to leave with Geralt.
The two manage to leave the forest and eventually run into Mouseack who is also searching for Ciri to take her back to Calanthe. As they camp that night, Mouseack tells Geralt he can’t run forever, not from destiny, but from Ciri. Destiny was decided for them when Ciri was born, when Ciri found out about it from her nurses, when she decided that she would go with Geralt one day. As Geralt rode away that night, Ciri woke and yelled after him, “I’m your destiny!”
The power of the destiny that binds them lives not in the promise between Duny and Geralt, but in Ciri’s own power. To take that agency away from her feels wrong, like it’s missing the point altogether.
So far, I prefer how it’s handled within the novels over the Netflix adaptation, but I’ll keep reading and when season 2 comes out I’ll keep watching. Maybe my opinion will change. Time will tell.