Patrick Rothfuss Reread

Rothfuss Reread: The Name of the Wind, Part 7: My Sympathetic Representation

Welcome to part 7 of my intensely detailed re-read of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 36-42 of The Name of the Wind, but also contains spoilers for the whole book and the whole of The Wise Man’s Fear — these discussions assume you’ve read all of both books in a slightly obsessive way. It wouldn’t make any sense unless you’d read them. But you could go and read them now. We’ll still be here when you come back.

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.

Useful links: The Sleeping Under the Wagon post, in which there are lots of theories. The re-read index. The map.

We begin this week with Chapter Thirty Six, Less Talents, and Kvothe’s first admission to University. Those of us who read this title the first time and corrected it in our heads to “fewer talents” are in fact wrong.

The first time Kvothe crosses the bridge between Imre and the university, he describes it as a piece of:

ancient mammoth architecture scattered throughout the world, so old and so solidly built that they have become part of the landscape, and not a soul wondering who built them or why.

Who built it? And why? Is this the end of the Great Stone Road and a clue that our speculations last week about Belen and MT were on the right track? Or was it just the Arturan Empire, who seem sufficiently analogous to Rome than I feel safe attributing bridges to them?

The University, over the river from the actual city of Imre, has accreted a small city around it to serve its needs. Kvothe mentions the specialised nature of the place:

two glassblowers, four fully stocked apothecaries, two binderies, four booksellers, two brothels and a truly disproportionate number of taverns

I really like the level of thought about the specialist needs here, and also it reminds me of medieval Louvain.

The University itself is made up of “about fifteen” disparate buildings. Kvothe mentions Mews, shaped like a compass rose, Hallows, with the “typical” stained glass window of Teccam in the mouth of his cave, and Mains, cobbled together from smaller buildings. And of course, the Archives, looking like a greystone. Over the door it says Vorfelen Rhinata Morie. He doesn’t recognise the language and neither do I—he says it’s not Siaru, maybe Temic or Yllish. It doesn’t look like Temic—well, it doesn’t look like Tema, which looks like Latin, and it doesn’t look like Italian either. Could it be Faen? Some of you are very clever with imaginary languages, or it might be explained somewhere I didn’t notice—any ideas? Why would the inscription be in another language? Temic/Tema would imply a religious affiliation. What would Yllish imply?

Next question—why does the Archive have no windows? I mean yes, they have sympathy lamps, but… daylight is better. I suppose daylight, or anyway sunlight, can hurt books on a long timescale, but surely Tomes at least could have windows. There has to be an arcane reason for it. Also, magic air conditioning. Very useful.

And he goes in, isn’t allowed a peep at the books, and meets Wilem.

Then he goes to Admissions and impresses the pants off the instuctors and is let in for “less three talents”—they pay him three talents instead of charging him. To be admitted you need brains or money, the more of one, the less of the other. Interesting system.

When he’s talking about admissions he says “it would be easier for me to get a piece of the moon than that much money.” “Crying for the moon” is a real world proverb for wanting what you can’t have, but I wonder if it means more than that here, or rather something different—wanting what it would be hubris to have.

Most of Kvothe’s brilliance doesn’t need discussion, but when he’s asked the cause of the fall of the Aturan Empire that seems worth noticing as a piece of history.

Partly because Lord Nalto was an inept egomaniac. Partly because the church went into upheaval and denounced the Order Amyr who were a large part of the strength of Atur. Partly because the military was fighting three different wars of conquest at the same time, and high taxes fomented rebellion in lands already inside the Empire. … They also debased their currency, undercut the universality of the iron law and antagonized the Adem. … But of course it’s more complicated than that.

Lorren asked the question, and Lorren at this time is positively disposed towards Kvothe. It has been suggested that Lorren might be a secret Amyr, and if so then how interesting that he asks a question that will force Kvothe to mention them.

As a list of reasons for an empire to collapse, that does seem rather comprehensive. But it’s interesting that the Amyr are in there, isn’t it? Collapsing empires for the greater good, perhaps.

I love Kilvin asking a real question instead of a test question. I also love him wanting ever-burning lamps.

Elxa Dal’s third question, which causes Kvothe to look at him oddly because it is out of sync with the other two questions about sympathy, is “What is the synodic period?” Kvothe clarifies “Of the moon?” and gives the answer “Seventy-two and a third days.” This answer, which is apparently correct, causes Elxa Dal to smile.

Wikipedia defines “synodic period” in contrast to “sidereal period” thus:

The sidereal period is the temporal cycle that it takes an object to make one full orbit, relative to the stars. This is considered to be an object’s true orbital period.

The synodic period is the temporal interval that it takes for an object to reappear at the same point in relation to two other objects (linear nodes), e.g., when the Moon relative to the Sun as observed from Earth returns to the same illumination phase. The synodic period is the time that elapses between two successive conjunctions with the Sun-Earth line in the same linear order. The synodic period differs from the sidereal period due to the Earth’s orbiting around the Sun.

So it’s how long it takes to go from being in the same phase. Our moon’s synodic period is therefore 28 and a bit days, and theirs is 72 and a third. So there are seventy-two days between full moons, or between moonless nights. Isn’t that interesting? I don’t know if it’s useful, but it’s certainly interesting. Fantasy generally isn’t interested in having moon-phases different from Earth’s. Marion Zimmer Bradley has a forty day moon in Darkover, and consequently forty day menstruation periods. I wonder how that works here? I really seriously do, I’m not being silly, I want to know how it affects fertility.

Elodin asks about the seven words that can make a woman love you.

Lorren recognises the name of Arliden, and comes to talk about him. Kvothe doesn’t react well because he doesn’t understand that he is being given three talents. Kilvin is his official sponsor.

Chapter Thirty-Seven is Bright-Eyed. Lorren takes Kvothe to the Bursar, agrees that he’ll sell Kvothe back Ben’s book when Kvothe has the money, and then leaves Kvothe with Simmon. Throughout this Lorren has been expressionless and quiet.

The University terms are two months long. I was thinking that’s very short, but at 88 days it’s longer than the standard 10 week term of a medieval university—and Oxford and Cambridge now. Accommodation at the Mews is one talent for a bunk and three meals a day for the whole term—good value for money.

Sim introduces him to Manet and Wilem, who he has already met. They talk about tuition. Sovoy shows up, slumming because his tuition was so high, complaining they soak the nobles. Sim is nobility, but Sovoy is rude about Aturan nobility—”a paper duke bowing to a tin king.” But a duke’s son all the same. Sovoy is a Mondegan noble. Mondeg is north-east of Atur, between it and the Stonewal. So Sim and Sovoy are nobles but good people and this is all setting us up for Ambrose.

And Kvothe goes into the Archives again and meets Ambrose for the first time. Ambrose humiliates him just out of reflex, and Kvothe perversely reacts by being made comfortable by this—people being nice to him disconcerted him. We know what he will do to settle a grudge—Pike—and Ambrose gives him a grudge. And Ambrose is that force of nature a noble’s son, and Kvothe should know to leave him alone. But he doesn’t, he is spurred by pride. Oh dear.

Chapter Thirty-Eight is Sympathy in the Mains, a punning title because both those nouns have two meanings. Mains is “the oldest building” and like “an ambitious architectural breed of lichen.” It’s easy to get lost in. But he finds the hall, and it’s a lecture theatre.

I found this a bit disconcerting actually. I’d been picturing the University as Louvain, or as Cambridge, and then suddenly I imagined the lecture theatre as one of the 1970s ones in Lancaster. And Hemme behaves like the worst most annoying professor anyone ever saw, waiting for people to be late so he can be sarcastic at them, and attacking the class for wanting to learn what he’s there to teach. I wish I could say I found this implausible, but in fact it felt horribly familiar. Give me Haliax any day.

We do get a piece of information about Yll. The first boy to be late is told to write a report on a sympathy clock. To the second he says that Yllish tribes use the sun to tell the time and have no concept of punctuality. Using the sun to tell the time (sundials) doesn’t seem all that odd to me, but it implies that people outside Yll have had clocks for a long time. And the boy has to write a report on Yll’s lunar calendar as contrasted with the civilized Aturan calendar. Interesting to have a lunar calendar, isn’t it, with a 72 day periodicity and the moon actually in another world the rest of the time?

We learn a fact about gender—the ratio of men to women is ten to one. This is brilliantly enlightened and advanced of them, and I applaud them for it. I’m serious. It was the twentieth century before it was this good anywhere in our world. Also, Rothfuss later tells us they all have to live in one dorm, so the women they all know each other. And I think he keeps up the one in ten ratio pretty well.

After the lecture, he tries to tell Hemme he already knows the principles of sympathy, but Hemme brushes him off. He goes to the Archives, where he meets Fela. He can’t go into the Stacks, but he goes into Tomes. I’m not at all seeing this as a medieval library. He asks for books on the Chandrian and picks up Chronicler’s book on the Common Draccus. (We already discussed what this means about Chronicler’s age and education.) He gets given a children’s book of sickly sweet stories. He then requests things on the history, origins and practices of the Amyr. Before he can get given them, Lorren comes over and discourages him, saying he doesn’t want to be thought childish.

I always took this at face value before, but Piapiapiano noted last week that this might be significant. And it has been suggested here before that Lorren might be an Amyr, this seems sinister—it isn’t when he asks about the Chandrian he’s stopped, but about the Amyr, a perfectly respectable piece of history, only three hundred years old and not especially childish. It’s like asking first about Satan’s imps and then about the dissolution of the monasteries and being told monks are a childish interest. Definitely more to this!

Kvothe ends feeling as if he has disappointed Lorren. Do you think that might be because he didn’t tell the truth about why he was interested in them? Because if Lorren is an Amyr he may already know about the troupe and the Chandrian. Maybe.

Chapter Thirty-Nine is Enough Rope, and yes, enough rope to hang himself, but as Kvothe says once the noose is tied it will fit any neck. Horrible Hemme tries to humiliate Kvothe by getting him to give the lesson, and instead Kvothe humiliates him, gets applause, and burns Hemme’s foot. This is giving us another lesson in how sympathy works, it’s getting a well-deserved revenge on Hemme and I just love this chapter. It’s terrible long term policy for Kvothe, of course—this has consequences that last for as long time.

Chapter Forty is On the Horns, and this is where the first lot of consequences catch up with Kvothe. Hemme brings him up on a charge of malfeasance. He is at first terrified at the thought of being whipped and expelled, then goes into heart of stone and defends himself—he had permission, it wasn’t malfeasance. He is condemned instead for reckless use of sympathy—and so he’s to be whipped and admitted to the Arcanum. Elxa Dal, Kilvin and Arwyl are sympathetic—in the normal sense of the word. So is the Chancellor. Elodin is unpredictable.

Chapter Forty-One is Friend’s Blood. Kvothe walks around with Wilem, who is kindly keeping him company before the whipping. The meaning of “the road to Tinue” comes up. And Puppet is mentioned for the first time. Then Kvothe repays Wil’s friendship with lies—sending him to buy nahlrout and saying it’s to settle his stomach. Then Wil leaves and Kvothe is whipped, the nahlrout making the pain endurable and preventing bleeding. He takes off his shirt because he doesn’t want to ruin a perfectly good shirt. He’s glad it’s a single whip, he’s seen the six-strand whip in Tarbean.

Chapter Forty-Two is Bloodless. There’s not much in this chapter. Kvothe goes to the Medica and Arwyl asks him about the odd combination of nahlrout and no shirt, and he tells the truth—he needs to show he can’t be hurt. Mola comes in a stitches him, and Arwyl says he can come back and study in the Medica if he doesn’t split his stitches.

And we’ll stop there and continue with Kvothe’s next idiotic act with consequences next week.

Some great stuff in the comments to last week’s post, especially speculations about Denna. Great catch Shaltar on “denna-leyan” being a word in Fae.


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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