Sleeping under the wagon: More spoilers for Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear

Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear has been out for ages now—well, a fortnight. That means that lots of people have had a chance to say interesting and clever things on the original spoiler thread. And I want to talk about some of those things. This post is mostly clever things other people have said and my thoughts on them.

If you haven’t read the book yet, the main thing you want to know is that you should start with The Name of the Wind (post). And the other thing you want to know is that  I’m absolutely thrilled to bits to discover that somebody else has found a piece of evidence that I missed which proves one of my theories. It’s that kind of book, a huge complicated fascinating fantasy that you can sink right into, where there are interesting things that fit together, and one where the author knows what he’s doing.

Lots of spoilers going forward.

The thing that The Wise Man’s Fear proves beyond all doubt is that Rothfuss is in control of his material. He really knows what he’s doing and he’s prepared to take the time to do it right. This is all one story, and it’s a story in which storytelling is very important. We can trust him.

RobotMonkey talks about the things Rothfuss skips here—the shipwreck and the trial, and compares this to Patrick O’Brian’s trick of doing plot significant stuff between volumes. He asks:

Why do you suppose Rothfuss is employing this trick? Space or time considerations? Future comic book or novella material? Tighter story?

I think the last is absolutely why—he’s not telling us “every breath Kvothe drew,” or even “Some nifty things that happened to Kvothe.” And he certainly isn’t leaving himself something to write when he’s sixty-four. He’s leaving those things out because they’re not important to the actual story he wants to tell, which is the tragic rise and fall of Kvothe and Denna and the Chandrian and the Amyr across two worlds. It’s those gaps that make me feel absolutely confident he knows what he’s doing. They’d have been interesting scenes. But they didn’t matter, and he’s telling us what matters. Nothing here is just scenery. He left out the shipwreck, so you can rely on it that he didn’t tell us about the time Kvothe got drunk with his friends just for fun. And according to TyranAmiros he said at a signing that he’d written some of those scenes he left out. They might show up somewhere sometime as their own thing. But they’re not part of this story, they’re not essential, so they’re not here. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. People who complain about books being too long and self-indulgent and not edited? Notice this lack of inessential detail and admire.

Because of the frame story we know certain things. We know that we are about two-thirds of the way through. We know that in the events Kvothe will relate on the third day he will be expelled from the university, kill a king, acquire Bast, lose his magic, exchange his Adem sword, fake his own death and retire to the inn. We also know the world will not end but that it will go to hell—the world we see, full of war and fae monster attacks isn’t the world he’s talking about. We can be pretty sure that this is Kvothe’s fault.

We also know, or think we know, that it’s a tragedy—that tree is on the cover!—but as tragedy is so rare in fantasy, as there’s the conversation about inevitability and free will, and as there is so much humour in these stories, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Rothfuss manages to pull off eucatastrophe in the frame after all. Kvothe believes it’s a tragedy, and his story so far must be, but I suspect, Chtaeh or not, the first and last chapter or the third book will not be the same. It could honestly go either way. And for me to say that two-thirds of the way through a story is a real treat—and even more for a fantasy story.

In any case, we now know for sure that the story is connected—that Denna and the Chandrian are central to the whole narrative. And we know that the story goes on from what we have and fits into the space between what we have and the frame, that it all connects up. Knowing these things means that when we speculate, we are speculating into a defined space. We are like people doing a jigsaw who have all the edge pieces in place and are trying to fill in the middle.

The Lackless Connection

I’m going to start with this, because I am so excited about it.

Alekhia found proof that I’d absolutely missed, beyond anything I listed, that Meluan is Kvothe’s aunt, and that Kvothe’s mother is Netalia Lackless.

Dark Laurian, Arliden’s wife,
Has a face like a blade of a knife
Has a voice like a prickledown burr
But can tally a sum like a moneylender.
My sweet Tally cannot cook.
But she keeps a tidy ledger-book
For all her faults I do confess
It’s worth my life
To make my wife
Not tally a lot less…

The song implies that he calls his wife Tally because she’s good with numbers, but the much more likely reason is because Tally is short for Netalia…(it is mentioned that the stolen away lackless sister’s name is netalia)

Furthermore, the last three lines, when spoken aloud sound like “It’s worth my life to make my wife Netalia Lockless.” It seems likely that the real reason Kvothe’s mother made his father sleep under the wagon after he made that song is not because it had a bad meter as Kvothe claims but because it gave away her identity as Netalia Lockless.

So, I think we can now take that one as proven. Well done Alekhian. And again—he didn’t tell us about the time Kvothe got drunk with his friends for fun, he told us so that we would know that, if we were paying enough attention. Wow.

We’re then left with the riddle of the Lackless box being a lot more personally connected to Kvothe. And I think we can assume that the box is what’s in his box, the box in his bedroom in the frame story, the one he can’t open and Bast can’t open. (On the possibility of eucatastrophe, I wonder if he has opened it, and I wonder if it’s like Pandora’s box, where he has let out the plagues and he needs to let out hope last?) I’m also very interested in the Yllish writing on it, and the connection to Denna’s Yllish braiding and a completely different form of magic.

TyranAmiros says:

I will laugh so hard if the Yllish inscription on the top of the box is just another version of “Lady Lackless has a box” (because as the Tough Guide to Fantasyland says, “Every BALLAD has a chorus, which seems to be nonsense but turns out to be hugely significant”).

Quite.

Denna and Master Ash

One of Kvothe’s false starts in NotW is about Denna, so we know she is central.

Master Ash is a very mysterious figure. Timpenin thinks he’s Cinder, because of cinders and ashes. There does seem to be some evidence that he’s a Chandrian. Msmcdon and Orlun think he’s Haliax. The reason for thinking he’s a Chandrian are that he takes Denna to that wedding, and he teaches her the fake story about Lanre to take the place of the real story in case anybody else tries to put it together the way Kvothe’s father did. The evidence against it is the petty sadism, which seems rather beneath a Chandrian—but what do we know about them really? We know Cinder is around and in the same part of the world at a time when we know Denna was meeting Master Ash.

RogueSock has a different theory about Master Ash:

I believe Bredon is Denna’s Patron.

Denna explained that he had dealings with the Maer, and that with the circles Kvothe has been in, he has already likely met him.
-Bredon enjoys playing games, Mr. Ashe thinks of beating Denna as a “game”, the twisted sick bastard.
-Mr. Ashe and Bredon both have a cane.
-Mr. Ashe and Bredon both have white hair.
-Bredon told Kvothe he just took up dancing, Denna said Mr. Ashe is a surprising good dancer.
-The rumors of his Bredon’s “rituals in the woods” goes along nicely with Mr. Ashe being at the wedding.
-Why spend such a large amount of time on a character that does not have a backstory given, if not to signify such a betraying and dramatic revelation.

But Bredon seemed like such a nice guy! Still, this seems possible. But why would Bredon care about Lanre and all of that? Tarcanus says:

Either that or Bredon is an Amyr. If I recall correctly, Kvothe was told that he was probably already pretty close to Amyr business while he was staying at the Maer’s court.

I like that. That works. That especially works with some of the theories about Denna’s history, below. Cynrtst countersuggests that Bredon could be Cinder. I don’t think so, because I think Kvothe would have recognised him—he almost recognised him across the battle in the dark. And could Cinder, or even Haliax, be so pleasant? Besides, there were candles burning and they didn’t burn blue. He could be Master Ash. He could be an Amyr. He could be both. Putting out counter-propaganda seems to benefits the Chandrian, but we know it’s a thing the Amyr do, and they might be doing it to prevent more tragedies. But that doesn’t go with the sadism.

Master Ash is a bad guy, whoever he is. Denna’s just like those victims of domestic violence. “No, he didn’t hit me, I fell off my horse… oh you mean that other time when I walked into a tree… no he had a good reason to hit me…” Gah.

RogueSock says about Denna:

-Denna allows herself to be beaten. Furthermore Cthaeh tells us that she thinks that’s all she is good for, so she continues to go back to him.

Obviously Denna does not think highly of herself, from NOTW she wonders if her being alive is a mistake, and from WMF she believes she deserves to be punished.

So I ask myself, what could possibly make her think these things?

Denna feels guilty about something monumental. I believe people died and she lived, perhaps her family or village. Furthermore I believe she was taken captive, like the girls in WMF, but did not escape so quickly. She could also feel guilty because she feels/was part of the cause of those deaths.

This explains her “like looking in a mirror” of the girl in the alley, her desire to not be tied down or “owned” by any man, and her behavior and choices reflecting her lack of self respect.

Elodin made some good suggestions regarding a girl who changes her name frequently as well:
1. “It could indicate she doesn’t know who she is.”
2. “Or that she does know, and doesn’t like it.”
3. “It could indicate restlessness and dissatisfaction.
4. “It could mean she changes her name with the hope it might help her be a different person.”

Denna is one confused girl, lost even. We know she is trying to go somewhere, but even she does not know where that is. At this point it could be with Kvothe (my hopeful vote), or with Mr. Ashe who desires the Chandrean to be seen as heroes.

This may lead to the betrayal that crushes Kvothe.

Kvothe also saw his family killed, but he doesn’t feel guilty, he wants revenge.

HLS11 builds on this:

Given Denna’s mysterious and likely tragic past, her desire for certain secrets, and the unbelievably close parallels between Kvothe and Denna, I sometimes wonder if Denna is on her own mission for knowledge and revenge. I think someone on a forum suggested that perhaps the Amyr, in pursuit of the “greater good,” was responsible for something happening to Denna. That would certainly set the scene for a betrayal. I’m not sure I buy into that theory, but Denna’s definitely involved in something.

They do seem strangely parallel, and maybe Denna wants revenge on the Amyr with the help of the Chandrian, as Kvothe wants revenge on the Chandrian with the help of the Amyr? Clever.

RogueSock says:

I for one want Denna and Kvothe to have a sit down and really talk. Seriously. They both precieve each other as something likely to be scared off. They simply need to communicate. My gosh I want them to explain to each other their backstories.

In NotW I thought Denna was basically a cliche pretty-but-incomprehensible-love-object. Now, however, especially after the Bechdel scene, I think she’s a lot more interesting. I also think the sitting down and talking isn’t possible. I think the way they persistently misunderstand each other and can’t find each other is actually magical—possibly a curse.

Then there’s the stone story.  RogueSock again:

I want to include The Stone Story that Denna tells Kvothe:
“This is the story of a girl who came to the water with the boy. They talked and the boy threw the stones as if casting them away from himself. The girl didn’t have any stones, so the boy gave her some. Then she gave herself to the boy, and he cast her away as he would a stone, unmindful of any falling she might feel.”

“Is it a sad story then?” (Kvothe asked). “No not sad. But it was thrown once. It knows the feel of motion. It has trouble staying the way most stones do. It takes the offer that the water makes and moves sometimes. When it moves it thinks about the boy.”

I just hope the boy and the girl finally have a sit down and discuss their pasts. See the similarities and help each other. It will be interesting to see if any of my theory comes true.

And HLS11:

I read the story about the stone four or five times trying to figure out exactly what it meant. What do the stones symbolize and what does it mean for the boy to give them to her? Does the boy throwing away the stone symbolize something Kvothe did to Denna? At first I thought it might refer to the big argument they had, but know I’m thinking it might refer to Kvothe leaving her for the University after they met for the first time. Now whenever she moves she thinks of him.

And gosh, does she move. She’s always moving. This really is a situation where if they had one clear conversation they could sort out a lot of things, but they never seem able to do that. I really think they are literally cursed to misunderstand each other. Which would pose the interesting question: who would have done that, and for what purpose?

Linguistic Theories

TyranAmiros has a terrific theory based on words:

I wonder if the Amyr established the University. I noticed that the Adem live in Ademre, which presumably breaks into Adem+re, or “land of the Adem”. So perhaps Imre=Amyr+re, with the name shortened over time like all those -cester placenames in England.

I think this is wonderful, whether or not it turns out to be the case.

CMPalmer has noticed two things, and the first goes with this rather nicely:

Another linquistic similarity that I thought might become a plot point is the similarity between ‘Adem’ and ‘Edema Ruh’. The Adem say that they were driven from their lands and moved to the places that no one wanted. The Edema Ruh have no land of their own and wander. The Adem scorn music and song and public display of emotion, while the Edema Ruh are the exact opposite. It made me wonder if they were once the same people and a schism divided them as they were driven from their lands (perhaps one of the seven cities).

Wouldn’t that be interesting, if true? And it has the kind of poetic truth that Rothfuss seems to be fond of. And talking about poetry, CMPalmer noticed something else:

There’s something no one has mentioned (that I’ve seen) that I think is weird and wonderful about the books. In several places, notably the more intimate scenes with Denna and much of the conversations with Felurian, the dialog is often in rhymed couplets with a deliberate meter. I can’t decide whether it is the way Kvothe has told the stories to himself over the years or a game that he and Denna play since they’re both musicians (I suspect the latter since Kvothe mentions distracting her by rhyming in the stone story chapter). I loved it in the Felurian scenes because it reminded me of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It just seemed appropriate that people in Fae spoke that way.

A similar thing happened in the first book when he was relating the story told by the storyteller. It started in normal prose, but as it moved into the heart of the story, it became more like an oral epic poem. It didn’t really rhyme, but it had the rhythm and meter that served as memorization aids for oral epics like the Illiad. I realized it and went back to read just the dialogue out loud and was amazed. When it was formatted as simple prose, the effect was subtle, but when read out loud it was obvious. Very cool stuff.

Very cool stuff indeed. And nobody ever notices when you do that. As long as you take the line breaks out, people don’t spot that things are poetry. But CMPalmer noticed, and to be honest I also noticed, and the reason I didn’t mention it is that I do this myself and don’t want to draw attention to it, because sometimes if people know about it it puts them off. I’ve heard people object to the way Poul Anderson does it in A Midsummer Tempest and known other people not read it because of it. But nobody minds in The Princess Bride… and we’re a long way down a spoiler thread, who’s it going to put off now?

Two worlds, one moon

First—I love this. This is the thing that fantasy can do with the fantastic that it so often doesn’t, the moon moving between the two skies. And this is what wise men fear, a moonless night. (Have we seen the moon in the frame story, and do we know how it is?)

Timpenin asks what the Chandrian are up to:

Are they looking to join the fae and mortal worlds, perhaps?

They could be trying to join them or trying to continue the theft of the moon and drive them completely apart. It seems from the fae creatures wandering about that something has happened to change the state of affairs.

And Alekhia has some thoughts:

I just reread the Hespe’s story about Jax stealing the moon, and I have a couple thoughts:

1) The description of the house: if you read closely, it’s obvious he’s talking about Faerie.

“In the end the result was the same: the mansion was magnificent, huge and sprawling. But it didn’t fit together properly. There were stairways that led sideways instead of up. Some rooms had too few walls, or too many. Many rooms had no ceiling, and high above they showed a strange sky full of unfamiliar stars.

“Everything about the place was slightly skewed. In one room you could look out the window at the springtime flowers, while across the hall the windows were filmed with winter’s frost. It could be time for breakfast in the ballroom, while twilight filled a nearby bedroom.

“Because nothing in the house was true, none of the doors or windows fit tight. They could be closed, even locked, but never made fast. And as big as it was, the mansion had a great many doors and windows, so there were a great many ways both in and out.”

Space is weird; going into one direction can lead you to another. Different seasons in different places. Different times of the day in different places. There are a bunch of ways for someone to sneak into or out of the place. And most damning, there’s no moon in that different sky until Jax put it there. That’s the exact description of Faerie.

According to Felurian, Iax was the first and most powerful shaper. He made Faerie, and didn’t just unfold it.

2) Since the folding house was actually Faerie, we can assume that the flute and the box also represent something else. The flute could be anything with the power to call something else, and the box is something that is able to hold names.

3) The old man was a Namer and familiar with their lore who was searching the name of the wind. In fact I suspect he was called an E’lir or listener. His presence in the story suggests that the Namers (or a particular Namer) tried to dissuade Iax from capturing the moon but did not succeed in doing so. This namer also had skills Iax did not have, being able to open the knot on the tinker’s pack where Iax failed.

I think that the man who tried to advise Iax was Teccam, and here’s why:

1) Teccam has been mentioned far too often for him to not be important

2) In NotW, there is an early description of the university which states:

“The University itself consisted of about fifteen buildings that bore little resemblance to each other. Mews had a circular central hub with eight wings radiating in each direction so it looked like a compass rose. Hollows was simple and square, with stained glass windows showing Teccam in a classic pose: standing barefoot in the mouth of his cave, speaking to a group of students.”

I think both the reference to the cave, and the fact that he is barefoot strongly suggest that he may be the old man in Hespe’s story of Jax.

Interesting. I don’t have any more. Clearly the house is Faerie, clearly the things are something, I wonder if the sack could be the Lackless box, since they are both hard to open? Alekhia was so absolutely right about Netalia that I’m inclined to just take this as right for now. Anybody else?

Chandrian and Amyr

Fellurian says there were no human Amyr, but we know there were, and that they were disbanded in mysterious circumstances and that they still exist and have been obscuring the record ever since. But the useful point is that there were Faerie Amyr, or something that precedes the splitting of the worlds.

TyranAmiros asks

How the Chandrian have stayed alive for 5,000+ years if they truly are human. None of the magic systems we’ve seen—not even knowing the Names of things—would let a person do this.

But we know they’re not human. Fellurian remembers sitting on the walls of Muriella when there was only one world, and Muriella is one of the cities in Skarpi’s story of Lanre. So we know the whole Lanre/Chandrian/Amyr thing happened before the Fae world was separate, she says so. She’s been alive countless aeons, so have they. They are pre-human. We can’t tell this about the Amyr—whether there are any original ones alive, we know they have been recruiting. We know the Chandrian, apart from Haliax, have something to fear from them. And since the Chandrian go around destroying everybody that knows anything about them, we know there’s some way having knowledge about them can hurt them.

If anybody finds out any more about these things, do let me know.

I honestly thought this post would take me five minutes, and instead it has taken me days and days, and made me want to read the books again! Thank you again to everyone who commented, and most especially Alekhia.

Edited to Add: There is a Weekly Rothfuss Reread going on here, people finding this post now should find that too and join in!


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently Among Others, and if you liked this post you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

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