This is part 5 of my insanely detailed re-read of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. These posts contain spoilers for both The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, as well as well-founded guesses, speculation and wild wild theories. It would be unwise to read beyond the cut unless you have read both books—and also kind of confusing.
This post covers chapters 24-29 of The Name of the Wind.
Abbreviations: NW = The Name of the Wind. WMF = The Wise Man’s Fear. DT = Day Three, the forthcoming final volume. K = Kvothe or Kote when I can’t figure out what to call him and I’m feeling Kafkaesque. MT: Myr Tariniel.
This week we’re going to start with going back to last week’s section, on which there were many terrific comments.
First Susan Loyal’s awesome theory:
In Chapter 19, Fingers and Strings, Kvothe says: “Make no mistake. I was not myself. At least I was not the same person I had been a span of days before.” I just read over this as metaphorical, because it’s such common usage to describe trauma and grief. It may be literal. Kvothe lists the gates in the mind that protect the mind from extreme pain: the gate of sleep, the gate of forgetting, the gate of madness, the gate of death. (In Skarpi’s story, which we’ll get to next week, Haliax says these gates are closed to him.) Kvothe says repeatedly, from the beginning of his time in the woods to the point in Tarbean where Skarpi is arrested, that his mind is sleeping. He also refers (it seems somewhat inconsistently) to things that are locked behind the gate of forgetting. His parents’ death and the Chandrian seem to be behind the gate of forgetting most of the time. Sometimes the memories rise, however. And then you have his recounting his troupe’s role in the Midwinter celebrations as if his memory was completely unaffected. This seems to me like some of the inconsistencies in the Kote/Kvothe split. His geographical location is one of the things behind the gate of forgetting, or so he says when he decides to find lute strings.
This has made me change my mind entirely about the Tarbean section. He wasn’t himself. Just like in the frame, when he is Kote and not himself!
For me this resolves the inconsistencies. It also gives us a comparison. In Tarbean he didn’t do sympathy, he didn’t do music, and his memories were patchy. I think he could remember things but he mostly didn’t. And of course he skips over it, of course he didn’t do the things he could have done, of course it feels literary, because he wasn’t himself. Literally. He wasn’t who he was. He hadn’t shut his name or part of his name into a box, this was done by trauma. Or was it?
Shalter and others have been musing on what Haliax meant by “Send him to the soft and painless blanket of his sleep.” I had assumed that meant “Stop tormenting him and kill him quickly.” But it’s possible that instead it meant “put him in this state where he can’t remember.” He does sleep, and have that useful dream. He then doesn’t remember. He then snaps out of it when named by Skarpi.
And that makes me wonder whether in fact the whole murder of the troupe event didn’t happen when K was in the woods playing by coincidence, whether they cannot directly kill him for some reason, whether they waited until he was away, whether he is part of their purpose, whether they need him later.
We also had some conversation about the singers—not capitalised, my mistake. Artful Magpie suggested that Kvothe was playing Names on the lute, and that this might connect with what he did with Felurian’s name. Perhaps Naming is actually Singing. There’s no music taught at the University, it’s not taboo the way it is among the Adem, but it isn’t there. But perhaps the singers are those who can Name in song. I find this pretty convincing.
Chapter 24 is called Shadows Themselves. It’s very short, and it summarises years of life in Tarbean. Kvothe says he learned begging and lockpicking, and he that nobody would help him, and he learned to be careful of denner addicts, sweet eaters with very white teeth.
Of course this is setting up the denner-addicted draccus later on, and it’s a nice realistic detail of low-life drug addiction. But I can’t believe that in a story so obsessed with names and naming that “denner” and “Denna” are only coincidentally related. It seems it may well be a foreshadowing of Denna as addiction. We haven’t heard Denna’s name in the text yet—she’s been mentioned in the frame, but not by name.
Then we get to the time when Kvothe hears a boy caught by a gang in an alley and doesn’t help him, which again brings us to the Bechdel scene in WMF when Denna does help a girl in an alley. Kvothe could have helped but had too much to lose—his hiding place, eight pennies, a blanket, Ben’s book and half a loaf of bread. So little, but he didn’t dare risk it.
In Chapter 25, Interlude: Eager for Reasons, we’re back to the frame story. Kvothe says that the incident with the boy, when he could have helped but didn’t, was part of what made him “the Kvothe they tell stories about.” He can’t remember how many beatings he’s had, how many bones he has broken, but he remembers the boy crying, bones mend but regret is forever. Kvothe said he had learned that nobody would help him, this is where he learns that he won’t help others but he wants to. By going out to the frame he’s telling us that this is significant.
And then Bast asks all the questions we’ve been wanting to ask—why did he stay in Tarbean, why didn’t he go to Ben? His answers never satisfied me—habit, survivor’s guilt. But then he says
“You must also remember that I was not in my right mind. Much of me was still in shock, sleeping if you will. I needed something, or someone, to wake me up.”
I think this is more evidence for Susan’s theory. “Sleeping if you will” connects to the sleeping mind and the lethani.
And at the end of this chapter he says it was Skarpi who woke him, and names Skarpi. And what we know about Skarpi up to now is that he is Chronicler’s colleague. So if he is in the state he was in then, perhaps Chronicler can do what Skarpi did? Which brings us to Skarpi.
Chapter 26 is called Lanre Turned, which makes me wonder. Turned?
Before we get to Lanre, we hear why Kvothe doesn’t want to go to the docks to hear a story, even though he longs for entertainment. What he did to Pike was petty and cruel, and he doesn’t seem to regret it. Okay, Pike broke his father’s lute and was a bully, but he was a child and very like Kvothe. Susan used the word “Dickensian” about the Tarbean sections last week, and I am reminded of Orwell’s comment on Dickens—that Dickens realises that a sensitive boy like David shouldn’t have to work in a factory, but he doesn’t realise that no boy should have to. Kvothe has compassion for the boy caught by the gang, but not for Pike, though Pike is a victim of the system just as much as Kvothe. Rothfuss sees it—he gives Pike the violets that Kvothe burns. Kvothe doesn’t.
Oh, and those who thought Kvothe should be killing people with sympathy and those who thought killing is too unpleasant? Kvothe tries to kill Pike with alcohol and a phosphorus match, which is just as horrible but doesn’t require magic. He’s definitely up to attempting murder. But most of his life Kvothe could have set alcohol on fire with a scribbled symbol—but not here, and not in the frame story. The more I think about his Kote-self and his Tarbean-self the more they seem similar.
At the end of this, he remembers Lanre and wants the story, and he realises that the pain of the loss of everything has become less sharp, in three years of Tarbean.
Skarpi is an old man with eyes like diamonds and the body of a scarecrow. We’ve wondered if he might be an Amyr, and therefore if Chronicler might too. I think that’s a good guess. But anyway, Skarpi is Chronicler’s colleague, he must also go around collecting stories and telling stories, and so what is he doing telling stories to kids in a downmarket tavern in Tarbean? Collecting stories? Looking for Kvothe to wake him up?
Let’s look at a couple of possibilities here. First, Kvothe is just this incredibly gifted guy who wanders about having things happen to him for coincidental reasons. Ben joins the troupe and teaches him sympathy. The Chandrian kill his family. He putters about in Tarbean. Skarpi wakes him up. He goes to University. Etc. Or how about Kvothe is really important in a way he doesn’t know, he’s the Lackless heir with all the right blood and he’s needed for something huge and moon-shaking. So the Chandrian kill the rest while he’s away and do something to him, and Skarpi comes to wake him once he’s old enough for University? Against this is the fact that he could have died a lot of times in Tarbean.
Anyway, there are a group of kids in the bar, they buy Skarpi a drink and he offers a story. K says “Lanre” and though others ask for others that’s the one he tells.
I think it’s worth a moment to look at what the others ask for. One of them is “Myr Tariniel”—which would also be Lanre and Selitos? And that’s odd, because when Denna does the Lanre song, the place has a different name, Miriniel or something?
Somebody wants a faerie story. A couple of people want stories of Oren Veliciter, who we know is still alive and was recently interviewed by Chronicler. The others are Lartam—about which I know zilch, and “Illien and the Bear.” Illien was the Edema Ruh hero who wrote all the best songs, I don’t know about the Bear.
Skarpi prefaces the Lanre story with, “The story of a man who lost his eye and gained a better sight”. Which isn’t Lanre!
We don’t know how authoritative Skarpi’s story is. But if these guys go around interviewing heroes and taking their stories like they’re doing right now, maybe we can trust it. Kvothe certainly seems to. On the other hand….
So, the story, for which we have had such a long build up. The city of Myr Tariniel “sat among the tall mountains of the world.” Where are there tall mountains? Off the map to the east?
Selitos was the most powerful namer in the world. The empire was called Ergen and the war was the Creation War, and “even history books that mentioned them as a doubtful rumour have crumbled into dust.” This doesn’t stop Kvothe looking once he gets into the Archives….
We don’t get any hint of reasons for the Creation War here. It had been going on for so long already. Eight cities were left, of hundreds. Apart from MT, they are Belen, Antas, Vaeret. Tinusa, Emlen, Murilla and Murella—which Felurian remembers. So some people alive then are alive now, despite how long ago it was. I doubt it’s just Felurian, Haliax, and the Chteah.
Okay, so Lanre and Lyra. Lanre’s a great fighter, Lyra is a great namer, they are married and defending the cities. Then came the Blac of Drossen Tor. Blac means battle, and it has to be significant that it’s “blac” or we wouldn’t have it, surely. Keep “blac” in mind? Great battle, okay, and you know, Skarpi hasn’t mentioned who the enemy are, and we’re just supposed to assume Lanre and Lyra and Selitos are the good guys and on the right side, but we really don’t know. More people died at the battle than are alive in the world today, an astonishing claim. Lanre fought a beast—a draccus? And he was killed, and Lyra brought him back to life by the power of naming.
And then Lanre shows up in Myr Tariniel amidst rumours that Lyra is dead. He’s wearing a suit of iron-scale armour made from the beast. He goes for a walk with Selitos, and binds him with names.
Selitos knew that in all the world there were only three people who could match his skill in names: Aleph, Iax and Lyra.
Aleph is the supposed world-making God, we know about Lyra, and this is the first mention of moon-stealing Iax.
MT falls. Lanre says he was counted a good man and he has done this, and that the dead are “Safe from the thousand evils of every day. Safe from an unjust fate.” Selitos says they are also safe from joy, and Lanre denies the possibility of joy. Lanre, called back from death, can be killed but will come back from death. His power is so strong that Selitos can’t kill it any more than he could “strike down the moon.” Lanre wants to destroy the world.
He says he’s no longer Lanre but Haliax, and “no door can bar my passing.” Four plate door? Kvothe’s mind doors? No sleep, no madness, no forgetfulness, no death. (This really is a horrible fate.)
Then Selitos sees that one city is left—we don’t know which! Lanre/Haliax says “I will sow salt lest bitter weeds grow.”
Then Selitos strikes out his own eye, and with the stone and the blood he curses Lanre/Haliax by his inner name—“May your face be always held in shadow” which is the shadow hame he has, and “Your own name will be turned against you, that you shall have no peace”. And this is the doom on Haliax and all who follow him—which I think we can reasonably conclude are the other Chandrian.
Then when the story is over Kvothe talks to Skarpi, mentioning his father twice. He asks if the story is true, and Skarpi says it really happened, more or less.
Chapter 27 is His Eyes Unveiled. Kvothe connects up the Chandrian and the story, and realises he needs to get revenge on them and it’s impossible. “I would have more luck trying to steal the moon.” I’m amazed that’s there, really, in plain sight like that and long before we know its significance. Wow. Also in this chapter “parts of my mind were still asleep.”
Chapter 28 is Tehlu’s Watchful Eye. Kvothe gets late to the storytelling and we get a fragment of story. Aleph—third mention—is asking for volunteer angels from the Ruach and sending them out to judge. Selitos declines, because he needs to fight the Chandrian, and he founds the Amyr, named after MT, and gets some volunteers for that. Tehlu and a pile of other people become angels and get wings. This clearly fits well onto the story of Tehlu Trapis told—Tehlu is an avenging judging angelic thing who fought Encanis without being God, and of course people are worshipping him as God.
If Tehlu is an “angel” and he binds Encanis who is Haliax and kills him on the wheel, and Haliax of course comes back? That could all be true.
And at that point, just when nobody expects the Tehlin Inquisition, in they come and denounce Skarpi for heresy and intimidate the innkeeper. Skarpi says they should have better things to do, “It’s not as if I expect you to bound off looking for Haliax and the Seven yourselves.” As if this was a possible thing, and a thing the Church should be doing—and maybe the Amyr used to do when the Church had them?
Skarpi laughs when the inquisitor says God should have mercy on his soul. He also says “Tehlu always said” as if he knew him. Is Skarpi one of the original Amyr? He looks really old.
And (here you go Robert!) then he says “You should run, Kvothe,” and goes on to say he has friends in the church, thus contributing more to the Amyr theory. But he names Kvothe without Kvothe having first volunteered his name. He is the first person to call Kvothe by name since his troupe were killed. How could he know the name? Well, potentially lots of ways, but perhaps he is Naming Kvothe, using his real name, and waking him up not metaphorically but literally and for real, bringing him from his sleeping mind where he has been protected from some things and shut away from some things, and snapping him awake. And this is what Elodin does in WMF when Kvothe is in a funk after speaking the Name of the Wind. He brings him back to himself by Naming him. It’s what you do.
I never liked this before, but now I do. I do hope Chronicler does this to him in DT!
And Chapter 29, confirming this interpretation, is called The Doors of My Mind. Kvothe runs to his hiding place and cries, not just for Skarpi but because he is awake. “For the first time in years I used one of the tricks Ben had taught me…”
Elodin says that Naming is like catching a ball, you can’t do it intellectually. It needs your sleeping mind. But sympathy needs your waking mind, your alar, all of that. So he is awake, he is integrated, and the first thing he does when he stops crying is use one of Ben’s tricks. Rothfuss is so clever! Kvothe spent the rest of the night opening the doors of his mind. He remembers magic and music and the Chandrian, he decides to find their enemies, and he reads Rhetoric and Logic.
I wonder if he still has it.
And we’ll start from 30 and his transformation back into awake and with all of his mind next time.
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.