Patrick Rothfuss Reread

Rothfuss Reread: What Can We Learn From The Name of the Wind Playing Cards? (Part 2)

My obsessively detailed reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles is over, but we want to keep on talking about the books. I’m going to post the occasional continuation post when the last one gets too long or if there’s something to say.

Spoilers for all of The Wise Man’s Fear and The Name of the Wind—these discussions assume you’ve read all of both books, and frankly they won’t make the slightest bit of sense if you haven’t. But we welcome new people who have read the books and want to geek out about them. This post is full of spoilers, please don’t venture beyond the cut unless you want them.

Abbreviations: NW = The Name of the Wind. WMF = The Wise Man’s Fear. D3 = 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. D = Denna, 4C = Four Corners, CTH—that thing I can’t spell! IID3Y = Is it Day Three Yet?

Useful links: The Sleeping Under the Wagon post. The reread index. The map. The timeline. Imaginary Linguistics.

So last time, we considered the box of the Albino Dragon The Name of the Wind playing cards, created after the immensely successful Kickstarter project.

This time, we’re going to look at some actual cards.

The back of all the cards is a lovely design, symmetrical around an axis. There’s an eight-spoked wheel at the centre, making me wonder if it’s more significant than we have been thinking. Have we been dismissing Tehlu’s wheel as mumbo-jumbo because we’re suspicious of religion? Could it represent something really significant about the universe and the way things turn? And the Four Corners, there are four spokes really on an eight-spoke wheel?

Beyond the wheel are two sets of talent pipes, two lutes, two books, two candles and a lot of twiddles. I’m not making anything in particular of the twiddles.

It’s a deck of cards, so naturally it’s in four suits. And first come Spades.

The Name of the Wind playing cards ace of spades

The spade symbol on these cards contains a sword. The sword is explicitly identified on the Kickstarter page as Folly. So that’s interesting, this is a representation of Folly—like a sword made out of all swords melted down in a crucible, essence of sword. I guess. It’s pretty symbolic standard Western fantasy sword, a little shorter than I’d imagine it, in proportion.

And the cards—the Ace is Folly. It’s a sword—again, very much a canonical sword, mounted on a spade shaped board, dark brown (roah, no doubt?) with holly twined around the base, and the sword sticking straight up. The holly is put on at the beginning of WMF. The words “Be Wary of Folly” are arranged in scrolls around it, each word separately, with “of” crossing the sword and “Folly” under the pommel. This is an allegorical, rather than representational, painting. The scrolls are floating in the air, and the sword and mounting board are backed by a night sky. There’s a full moon. And clouds are passing in front of it! Now isn’t that interesting, considering the moon on the box!

Floating about behind are two quills and some sheets of parchment covered in writing—perhaps Chronicler’s text, or perhaps Kvothe’s abortive attempt to write his own story. There are other sheets and quills in the wind behind, and two withered autumn leaves that look to me like oakleaves at the bottom of the card. (There’s no question of orientation here because of the writing.)

The ordinary cards have the sword on the spade, and each one has a little black and white doodle in the corner. These are mostly the same ones on each suit, but in different order. I’m going to look at them here. The drawings all appear in the lower left hand corner, and mostly use that corner—two lines—as part of the picture.

The two has a leaf floating down in the corner towards another leaf lying on the ground in a shaded corner.

The three has another shaded corner with an Edema Ruh wagon in it, under a tree.

The four has an eight-spoked wheel, and some grass.

The five has a sword, perhaps Folly again.

The six is confusing—I think it’s a sympathy lamp on a book? I’m not sure. Anyone?

The seven is a candle in a saucer, set down on the ground.

The eight is a pile of books.

The nine is a waystone.

The ten is a quill in an inkwell with a sheet of manuscript next to it.

The Jack is one that completely threw me. I had no idea who it was meant to be. I considered Sim and Fela. But it’s Bast and a Kickstarter contributor as his random girl of the moment. The card is, in typical card fashion, doubled, with the same image on the top and bottom. Behind them is a gold curtain and a wall of stone “bricks”, evenly sized mortared stones. If this is the Waystone, that’s information.

Also, why does Bast go with spades, swords, Folly? It’s not where I’d have naturally put him. There’s a “swag” dividing the card in two, and it contains something I can’t make out at all, very dark, black and white, and I have no idea but my guess is that it’s incredibly significant and I want somebody to tell me what it is!

The Queen is Denna, and here Shawn Tyree does a clever thing and uses the normal card reversal to show her present in the top and absent in the bottom—the same scene, without her. (Though it’s not exactly the same, more in a moment.) I can’t think of a better visual image to represent D the way she has been shown in the books. What we have is a city street—Imre? Tarbean? Presumably not Severen as this is NW. D is a pretty girl in a red dress running along the street smiling. arms and legs bare, hair blown back. Behind her head is something that could be a line of bunting, or reddish leaves on a string. There’s a man in the shadows watching her, and a woman behind taking no notice. The man in the shadows is older, sinister, unidentifiable—Master Ash? (I bet it is.)

In the reversed picture the street is empty, no woman, no man, no bunting, but there are two pieces of paper blowing in the wind (her messages to Kvothe?) and there’s also something that’s blocked by her figure in the first picture and which I can’t make out. It looks to me like coal carts—little trucks. It could also be furniture outside a pub, or signboards—anyone? Whatever it is, there are two things, and they are in shadow, and very visibly shadowy and dark against the white and fairly classical architecture of the street. There’s also, visible in both, a series of regularly spaced streetlamps, which makes me think it’s Imre. You can have streetlighting without magic or technology, but it’s way less likely.

Why is D in spades?

The swag here contains leaves blowing about randomly—we know what that means, but would it be interesting to consider how it connects to D?

The king of spades is Kote—or Kote/Kvothe, again using the reversal of the card to do a double image that’s different. In both we can see Folly and rows of bottles behind the bar. In one it’s daylight, K is polishing a goblet and smiling like an innkeeper. In the other, it’s darker and so is K. The scene is lit by a candle. He’s holding a bottle and a goblet and frowning. Of course there was no music.

Why is K in spades? The swag has the sun with clouds, and a crescent moon with clouds in front of it. But it’s the other crescent from the one on the box. Am I learning anything here or just getting more confused?

Why are Bast, D and K together as the “family” of spades?

Now, Hearts! Spades are swords, and Hearts are the “talent pipe” suit.

The ace of hearts is another allegorical picture, like the ace of spades. This shows a heart with the words “pride pays silver and plays golden” on scrolls around it. The heart is draped with talent pipes, and begind it is a lute, a bottle, and a tankard which I thought was smoking but which seems to have a feather in it. The heart is standing, floating, something, on wooden planks, and behind that is a purple sky with a quarter moon in it and clouds passing in front of it. In front! So at what point do they go behind? What an interesting question, maybe somebody else can answer it!

The hearts have talent pipes in them. The 2 has a waystone in the corner.

The 3 has the weird thing, maybe Kvothe’s sympathy lamp? These are the same objects but not the same order as spades!

The 4 has the candle.

The 5 has a lute—this is different!

The 6 has the quill and inkwell.

The 7 is new—a little plant, with drifting leaves.

The 8 has the falling feather.

The 9 is new—a full moon, with clouds in front.

The 10 has the sword.

The Jack is Sim, blond and smiling, with his collar open. He’s mirrored the same. And in the dividing swag is a pile of books. Behind him we can see two people sitting at a table. They’re both white so neither of them is Willem. I thought they were playing cards, but on closer inspection they don’t seem to be. They have books in front of them. There’s a light behind with a trellis across it, and a lamp at the side. I was thinking it was the Eolian, because Sim goes there and this is the talent pipe suit, but I think it must be the archives. Oh cool!

The Queen is Fela, standing with a pile of books under her arm. I think she must be in the Archives too! There’s a golden diffuse light, and tables, yes, it could easily be a university library. She has bare arms and a bracelet and her vest accentuates her breasts, the features Sim praised in Eld Vintic verse that time in WMF. She’s Modegan, you know, and that seems to be reflected in darkish skin and coppery hair, unusual and striking. There are three people visible behind her, and I’ve got nothing. Anyone? The swag has books again, exactly the same as Sim’s.

The King is Deoch and Stanchion, one on each half, and it’s in the Eolian. Deoch’s at the door, with his arms folded, looking skeptical, and behind him is a room full of people having a good time. Stanchion has a mug in his hand and he’s smiling. Behind him we can see the stage, and some patrons. The people in the background here are all very fuzzy and generic. I can’t see anything Yllish about Deoch. He has really muscular arms. In the swag are talent pipes and a foaming mug.

Do Sim, Fela, Deoch and Stanchion make a “family” in any useful way? They’re all really positive for Kvothe, unequivocal friends, nothing but positive. And they’re all in University/Imre, and they all know each other.


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published three poetry collections and nine novels, including the Hugo and Nebula winning Among Others. She has just published a collection of her Tor.com posts, What Makes This Book So Great. She has a new novel My Real Children coming out in May. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here irregularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

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