This is the second post in my intensive close re-reading of The Name of the Wind. It covers chapters 6-10 of the book. And it is full of spoilers, not only for The Name of the Wind but for The Wise Man’s Fear, too. Do not go beyond this point unless you have read both books or are for some unimaginable reason obsessed with the details of them without having read them.
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.
Chapter Six is called “The Price of Remembering.” Chronicler wakes up in the early evening and comes down to the bar. K doesn’t try very hard to deny who he is. Chronicler says, “You can call me Chronicler” and when pushed says he’s Devan Lochees, and K asks if he’s related to the Duke...do we know about a Lochees Duke? Is this a branch of the Lackless family? Is he related to Kvothe? And does Kvothe know?
What K does know is that Lochees wrote The Mating Habits of the Common Draccus. Lochees states that he went looking for a legend and found a lizard. K turns that back on him a little later and says he went looking for a myth and found a man. The first time I read The Name of the Wind, this part is where I started to really, really like it. For one thing the title of the book is perfect—while of course setting up for the draccus episode later. And then those balancing lines are beautiful. And then there’s disproving the existence of dragons, on page 46 of a fantasy novel. You have to love that.
K asks if he has come to disprove Kvothe’s existence, as he did for dragons. Chronicler says that he and Skarpi heard a rumour. We know nothing about Skarpi at this point, and not much by now. Skarpi is the old man who tells the story of Lanre in Tarbean, and that’s the one and only time he has appeared in the story up to the end of WMF. But Chronicler talks about him as if he’s Kvothe’s friend, so I think we can confidently expect to see more of Skarpi in DT.
When Kote offers Chronicler the comforts of the inn, this is the first time (or the first time I’ve noticed) that dialogue becomes verse. “Old wine, smooth and pale? Honey mead? Dark ale? Sweet fruit liquor! Plum? Cherry? Green apple? Blackberry?” As well as being a rhyme, this also clearly reflects the choosing game “Elderberry” Bast plays at the beginning and end of WMF, though there the line breaks are put in.
K says he is not what he was, and when asked what he was says “Kvothe.” This is clearly evidence in favour of the name-change theory.
Then Chronicler tries to get him to agree to tell his story. K holds out through myth, and being known as a kingkiller, and even new Chandrian, but when Chronicler says “Some say there was a woman,” he makes a bottle of strawberry wine eight inches away explode. This has to be magic—but what kind? If sympathy, what source? It’s not a name, he doesn’t speak. And strawberry wine is of course connected with Denna—it’s what he doesn’t buy from the tinker near Trebon, and does take back when she isn’t there. And I think they drink it on a picnic in Imre, too. (I’m damned if I’m buying a Kindle just to have a searchable copy!)
When the bottle explodes, Chronicler has a thought that I think is meta-significant. “This is the difference between telling a story and being in one, the fear.” This is a book in which stories are told and also things happen and the difference between those things is part of the tension that draws the whole thing forward.
Then Chronicler thinks of a story he’s heard about Kvothe, which is a story we do not yet know, and which is therefore likely to be in DT. Kvothe went looking for his heart’s desire. (Denna? Or...?) He had to trick a demon to get it, and he had to fight an angel to keep it. This is the face of a man who has killed an angel, Chronicler thinks. Okay, isn’t that interesting in the light of all the stories about Tehlu and angels and demons and Amir that we have heard and not put together. Skarpi’s second story has Selitos recruiting the Amir from angels including Tehlu (“there never were any human Amir”, Fellurian said) and the midwinter story has Tehlu killing demons, and binding Encanis, and I am looking forward to hearing Kvothe’s version of this one.
Then K says “You’d use my own best trick against me. You’d hold my story hostage.” This “best trick” we’ve seen him use. It’s how he gets away from Fellurian. Is that the only time he’s used it?
Then for the rest of the chapter there’s a lot of haggling about the three days it will take to tell.
Chapter Seven is “Of beginnings and the names of things.”
Beautiful bit of description of sunlight and morning and the sword making the light stop seeming like a beginning and reminding them of endings. Interesting sword, Folly.
Then K asks how people usually tell stories, which segues into K figuring out Chronicler’s shorthand system in fifteen minutes. This is one of the few things we actually see K doing (as opposed to hearing about) that demonstrates his cleverness. It leads to Chronicler asking if he really learned Tema in a day, and we now know we’re not getting that story in detail but it was when he was on trial for malfeasance for speaking the name of the wind against Ambrose.
Then he begins his story. There are three false beginnings, all of which I want to look at.
It began when I heard her singing.
This is Denna in the Eolian, of course. But it isn’t when he met Denna, which was on the caravan from Tarbean to Imre, which is when he picked her up like the stone in her stone story I think. For him, it began with the song, but for her, before that. So Denna in any case is one place he could begin.
Then he stops after a couple of lines and starts again.
No, it began at the University. I went to learn magic of the sort they talk about in stories.
So the University is another, the University and why he went there and what he learned there.
But again he breaks off and starts with the Chandrian:
I expect the true beginning is what led me to University. Unexpected fires at twilight.
So we have three possible places to start the story of Kvothe, Denna, the University, and the Chandrian destroying his family. Okay.
Then he gets diverted:
In the beginning, as far as I know, the world was spun out of the nameless void by Aleph, who gave everything a name. Or, depending on the version you prefer, found the names all things already possessed.
I find that a surprisingly interesting creation story for this universe. For one thing, it’s obsessed with naming and finding names. For another, it’s never mentioned again, and there’s a church and priests who are into that whole Tehlu and demons thing. And thirdly, because there’s controversy already about whether Aleph named or found the names.
And you know, I can see going on from there to “Then there was the Creation War, and Iax stole the moon, and then Lanre, and the Chandrian, and...” And actually I know that wouldn’t make anything like such a good story if we had it all laid out like that, but it’s how most people would tell it. Just saying.
Then Kvothe begins properly, with a digression about his own names. And this is all online, so I’m going to copy-paste the whole thing and add comments:
My name is Kvothe, pronounced nearly the same as “quothe.” Names are important as they tell you a great deal about a person.
Is that why names are important? Really? Or is he being disingenuous? And if he can state outright that his name is Kvothe, is that evidence against him having changed it, and possibly for Smileyman’s interesting theory at comment 16 last week that K is doing this “is he, isn’t he” stuff with Alar and separating his mind into different parts.
I’ve had more names than anyone has a right to. The Adem call me Maedre. Which, depending on how it’s spoken, can mean The Flame, The Thunder, or The Broken Tree.
“The Flame” is obvious if you’ve ever seen me. I have red hair, bright. If I had been born a couple of hundred years ago I would probably have been burned as a demon. I keep it short but it’s unruly. When left to its own devices, it sticks up and makes me look as if I have been set afire.
“The Thunder” I attribute to a strong baritone and a great deal of stage training at an early age.
I’ve never thought of “The Broken Tree” as very significant. Although in retrospect, I suppose it could be considered at least partially prophetic.
Okay, how could it be prophetic? Could he have broken that Ctheah? (I find that incredibly difficult to spell.) Or could it be that it has broken him? Or...other theories on this?
Also, the first time reader has no idea who the Adem are or why they’re important, and by the end of NW all we know is that they’re red-cloth mercenaries. But knowing what we know of them now, we know that firstly Kvothe was given that name and told not to divulge it—they at least act as if it’s a True Name and full of power, so he shouldn’t be spreading it about. He doesn’t know what it means and they’re reluctant even to tell him. And also, we know they didn’t give it to him because of his hair or his voice or whatever, the shaman came up with Maedre and the others protested, Vashen was upset and thought it ill omened. It’s not a happy name.
My first mentor called me E’lir because I was clever and I knew it.
Well, that’s Ben, we know about that. And Puppet addresses him the same way, even though he’s been promoted by then. And it means see-er, doesn’t it?
My first real lover called me Dulator because she liked the sound of it.
Is that Felurian? I don’t remember it. But it sounds like something she would do.
I have been called Shadicar, Lightfinger, and Six-String.
Do we know anything about any of those? Six-String would be a reference to when he won his pipes?
I have been called Kvothe the Bloodless,
Because of taking the nahlrout so he wouldn’t bleed when he was whipped.
Kvothe the Arcane,
As far as I know, only by Chronicler just now.
and Kvothe Kingkiller.
We have two theories on king-killing. One is Piapiapiano’s great theory that it’s Vashet’s poet-king, in the Small Kingdoms. This fits with “kaysera poet-killer.” But how would it plunge the whole world into war—if it has. It could be the moon. There’s a Penitent King now. But I still think it’s Ambrose, and Mochabean at 28 last time points out that Ambrose is a poet, too. He’s a terrible poet, but we frequently see him writing poetry. So.
I have earned those names. Bought and paid for them.
But I was brought up as Kvothe. My father once told me it meant “to know.”
I have, of course, been called many other things. Most of them uncouth, although very few were unearned.
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings.
Really? When? Interesting. Something to look forward to in DT?
I burned down the town of Trebon.
Yes, well, it was the draccus really. You were trying to stop it.
I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life.
More than the night, months. Maybe a year.
I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in.
Okay, well caught BAM on this one in comment 6 last time. Kvothe has already been expelled, he was just let back in again straight afterwards.
I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day.
That reads differently when you know more about the moon, doesn’t it!
I have talked to Gods,
Talked to Gods, huh?
loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.
And so modest, too... You know, on the author’s web page where I cut this text it says “so begins the tale of Kvothe.” But it would be a really different book if the book began here, if this was the beginning of chapter 1 instead of the end of chapter 7. I mean I love Kvothe’s voice and unreliable narration, but it works so much better in the frame.
Also, does anybody who is really telling a story waffle around like this? I can’t think of a time when I was writing when I have made these kinds of false beginnings, and I don’t when I’m telling anecdotes either. But I know I’m weird. How about other people—does this feel realistic? Also, Kvothe is hardly going to draw breath for the next six hundred pages, he doesn’t hesitate once he’s into it except for the occasional “Not eaten by eels at this time.”
Chapter Eight is called “Thieves, Heretics and Whores.”
And this is another beginning.
You must remember that before I was anything else, I was one of the Edema Ruh.
The chapter goes on to tell us about the Edema Ruh, that not all traveling players are Ruh, but they are essentially traveling players. I cannot help imagining them exactly like the ones in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. I think it’s because of the line about using the wagon as a stage, which immediately brought me the visual from the movie. We learn that Kvothe’s mother was a noble, though not which noble, we learn about the Ruh way of life, and we learn about Kvothe’s early education. Then we get to the introduction of Ben and Ben calling the wind.
Not so much to comment on here, and that’s probably a good thing!
Chapter Nine is “Riding in the Wagon with Ben.”
That’s what this chapter is, too, Kvothe’s early education from Ben. Ben’s guilder, just like Taborlin’s, his wide education, the first explanation of the University. It’s funny that Kvothe doesn’t believe that they have more books than he could read, considering what happens with him and the stacks. There’s a lovely line here that he doesn’t like being treated like a child, even though he is one. That made me laugh out loud the first time I read it, with joy of recognition. So Ben is an Arcanist, and he’s teaching him chemistry and science and mental exercises that stretch his mind.
Chapter Ten is “Alar and Several Stones.”
Ben starts to teach Kvothe sympathy, by teaching him the mental trick of Alar—believing something contrary to fact and believing two or more contradictory things at the same time. This is a great explanation of it and how it works and learning it, it feels absolutely real. I love it when people write about magic like this. He also learns to play “Seek the stone” and he learns “Heart of stone.” And there’s the lovely comment about how arcanists tend to be eccentric, and that sympathy is not for the weak of mind.
So, three chapters in to the story proper, and we’re deep into the details of magic and daily life in the troupe, and quite immersed in Kvothe’s voice, too. I think it’s because his voice is so characteristic and so very much himself that it pulls against him being Kote and not being the Kvothe we so soon get to like.
Not all the chapters need the kind of intensive meta-reading some of these early ones have needed, and it’s just as well. It’s odd, reading for clues is a different kind of reading from ordinary reading where you get pulled forward in a normal way. Both have something to be said for them. But I am reminded of Andrew Rilstone’s comment that he couldn’t evaluate The Phantom Menace the first time because seeing new words scrolling up the screen in that Star Wars way was too much for him. After reading these five chapters and writing this it was nice to sit down afterwards and read a whole book in one gulp.
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.