Apr 21 2011 1:00pm

The Patrick Rothfuss Reread: Introduction

You may have noticed that I made not one but two spoiler posts about Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear during the book’s release in March. I did this because these are the kind of books that are full of details that are important but easy to mistake for scenery when you’re reading the book for the first time.

After my second post I re-read both books again, even though they’re long books, in the light of some of the things other people had noticed. I was going to do a third spoiler post but—I kept noticing too much. Now that we know for sure that Rothfuss knows exactly what he’s doing and everything is significant, I wanted to point things out on almost every page.

So I’m starting a series of close readings—the chapters are minute, and if I did each chapter at a rate of one per week, it would take about five years. So each post will be about a little chunk, five chapters or so, to what feels like a natural break point. I’m going to be posting about it with huge honking spoilers and I’m encouraging spoilers in comments—and not just spoilers for that chunk, spoilers for absolutely everything up to the end of The Wise Man’s Fear. Speculation about the third book will also be encouraged.

If you haven’t read these books, start with The Name of the Wind and just sink into it. If you like fantasy at all, you will enjoy it. And when you’ve read it, and The Wise Man’s Fear, you can come by and catch up it in ridiculous detail, if you find ridiculous detail appealing. It’s not for everyone.

My friend Lesley and I once exchanged a whole series of long emails with the title “Sandwiches in Cherryh.” They were about the appearance of sandwiches in the Alliance-Union universe, and I am not kidding, that was a great and memorable conversation. Ever since then “Sandwiches in Cherryh” has been my shorthand for this kind of detailed reading. These threads are going to be like that, no detail too small, no theory too far-fetched, no moon left unturned.

I’m going to repeat here the way I started my last spoiler thread, because I think it should stand at the head of analysing these books:

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 U.K. 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.”

You can always reach the Patrick Rothfuss reread index by clicking the red link at the very top of the post.

Right then, onward.

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.

Melissa Shumake
1. cherie_2137
this re-read happening makes me more happy than i can express currently.
2. mironslab
"Times being what they were" which (I did not notice) brackets the first chapter reminds me of the repetitive exchange in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead:

Player King: If that's your taste
and times being what they are.

Rosencrantz/Guildenstern: What are they?

Player King: Indifferent.

Rosencrantz/Guildenstern: Bad?

Player King: Wicked.

Which could be significant because, hey, player king and, hey, setting of nigh-apocalyptic Europe during the Black Death.
Lynn McDonald
3. meal6225
This re-read is exciting! Someone to talk to about these books that have just captivated me. Was going to do my own re-read this summer over vacation and make note of every "moon" and Kvothe's mother's jewelery--now I'll just start early! Yeah!
LT Tortora
4. Lucubratrix
I am stoked about this reread. Jo, you are one of my very favorite posters on here, and I love these books. I will definitely be following this, even if I don't post much.
5. sellonc
Great Idea, it is always incredibly enjoyable to speculate on the direction and mysteries of a well crafted series.

Natasa Charlotte
6. Natasa
YES! YES! I LOVE THE NAME OF THE WIND! THANK YOU SO MUCH! I'm definitely going to be flipping through NotW while I'm reading these posts and going "oooh" and "aaah" as I discover the hidden nuggets of info. It's like a scavenger hunt, really! :D
Evan Langlinais
7. Skwid
I am so very pleased to see this, Jo! Hooray!
8. Tony B.
The thing about leaving stuff out is that you know what he leaves in is actually important no matter how inconsequential it may seem.
9. dwndrgn
Exciting news! Are you going to re-read both books or just WMF?

I suppose now I'll have to buy a copy for my Kindle so I can follow along.
Anastasia Burina
11. Radda
Wow, talk about instant wish fulfillment. Just today I was reading last chapters of Wise Man's Fear and grumbling that there is no place to discuss its many puzzles and read other fans' clever theories.
Now, as soon as I finish the book and head to Tor to read the spoiler review, I see this.
It's magic, I tell you. :) Big thank you!
12. Ava123
I read Name of the Wind right after reading Way of Kings, which was a mistake. It was like switching from listening to a rousing balad in 4/4 time where I keep jumping out of my seat or singing along, to trying to sight-read a piece of music in a 7/8ths time signature. I knew I loved Way of Kings and it was my new favorite book, but I couldn't decide whether or not I liked Name of the Wind; it didn't make me jump out of my seat and cheer, but was that a really a bad thing?

However, after reading A Wise Man's Fear I found new appreciation for Patrick Rothfuss and I felt like the pieces of the story were really coming together. The rhythm makes sense now and I'm excited about the next book. I realize I will need to read through Name of the Wind again as well because I don't think I saw the whole picture the first time through.

But that is to be expected of complex epic fantasy... I read through Way of Kings a second time as well and caught things I missed the first time. Heck, when I re-read Dragonflight in my adulthood after first reading it as a pre-teen, I had a brand-new understanding of the story.
lake sidey
13. lakesidey
*does the happy dance*

Thanks Jo! I was planning to start re-reading NotW next month, it seems I shall have to pre-pone it!

(So there was Leigh's WoT re-read, which I was trying to keep up with without letting work get out of hand. And then the aSoIaF re-read. Aaaaand now this! So much for any chance of work happening. I am tempted to say, like Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in The Three Doctors "Three of 'em! I didn't know when I was well off!")

But again, thanks!!!!

14. CorwinOfAmber
I notice you didn't post a schedule? I assume it's once a week?

@11 Radda
Marcus W
15. toryx
I guess I'm really going to have to buckle down and read these now. I've been thinking about doing so ever since The Name of the Wind got published but for some reason I've been reluctant to do so.

Now that there are re-reads planned though, I'm sufficiently motivated. Only, I've got to finish The Curse of Chalion (which I'm loving, by the way) and The Dragon's Path first.
Jo Walton
16. bluejo
Corwin of Amber: It's going to be once a week on a Thursday.
17. Lynnet1
I can't express how excited I am about this. I don't think it's possible to really appreciate Wise Man's Fear without seeing all of the ways in which it connects with Name of the Wind. I reread bits of NoTW while I was reading WMF, but all I can think of is what I missed by not rereading it right before WMF came out. I'm really looking forward to seeing the connections that you and all of the other commenters find.
Pamela Adams
18. PamAdams
Ooh, ooh, ooh!! I'm still going through PO'B withdrawal, so this will be wonderful!
James Hogan
19. Sonofthunder

Just saying.

I finally read both these books a month ago(oops, yeah I know, a little late...) and oh yes, they were worth it. So I am madly looking forward to this reread - thanks, Jo. And to Ava up above...I also read WMF right after I had read NotW for the first time. Definitely an interesting experience...

And Jo, again...CAN'T WAIT.
Erika A.
20. brownjawa
I was a very reluctant reader when I started The Name of the Wind, just after it was released. A co-worker convinced me to "keep reading, it gets better." I did and it did. While I haven't even started The Wise Man's Fear yet, I enjoyed the first re-read post! You point out some very interesting facets of the story I never would have picked up on back then.

Not having time to re-read NoTW, I'll be risking the WMF spoilers to see if the re-read helps jog my memory enough so I won't be completely lost when I start the sequel. It has been four years, after all. :)
Michael Grosberg
21. Michael_GR
It's a pity you're spoiling the second volume; I just finished reading The Name of the Wind and would really like to talk about it, but I'm afraid I'll spoil the sequel :(
Jo Walton
22. bluejo
Michael_GR: You really would. Read WMF quickly and catch up!
23. DontDriveAngry
I just finished listening to the audiobook of WMF.

Without going into much other analysis, I noticed it took over 40 hours, which, had I simply read the book in that amount of time, it would have escaped my notice. But given the framing narrative, that being that the text itself is Chronicler's dictation of Kvothe actually telling his elaborate and detailed story on the second day at the inn... the fact that it took over 40 hours to read that portion aloud- something that, given all of the portions of the day covered by the interludes where he wasn't telling the just destroys the framing device for me as completely nonsensical... you simply can't tell a 40-hour story in what, maybe 12-14 hours?

I dunno- it's just bothering me and yet another in a series of things about this series that forces me from moving it up any higher than a "nice" rating...
24. Speaker To Managers
Thank you, Jo for doing this re-read. Your timing is excellent: I just finished reading The Wise Man's Fear last week, immediately after re-reading The Name of the Wind to make sure I had it fresh in my mind.

I really loved TNotW when I first read it last year, and was astounded at how much more I liked TWMF; it's really fascinating to see how much better a writer Rothfuss has become in the second book, even though the first was very good to start with. Of course, I'm a sucker for the kind of structure he uses: frames within frames, stories within stories, foreshadowing, b0th true and misdirected, characters with multiple agendas; oh, it's a delight to read, and be surprised by how he connects things together.

There are some global comments about the books that I want to make, ones that aren't necessarily related to specific forshadowings or plot points. This seems like a good place to make them, outside of the discussion of the individual chapters of the book.

First: these books are about story-telling and the nature of stories. The books are framed as a story told by Kvothe, who may or may not be a Hero, and who may or may not be responsible for the percipitous decline of Civilization as he knows it. Within that story are other stories, told by Kvothe as having been told to him, and one of the many things that Kvothe keeps reminding his listeners of is that the stories about him have grown in the telling, and that some of them are true or partly true and some are not. So what are we to think of the overall truth of Kvothe's life, and the ultimate meaning of his story?

Second: a great deal of Kvothe's story is about his study and work as what we in our world would call an engineer, notwithstanding that many of the techniques he uses we would consider magical. The world that Rothfuss has built allows users of magic to understand what they are doing quantitatively: the magic they use is a form of natural law, not mysticism; results are repeatable and predictable. I think that's going to be very important in the resolution of Kvothe's battle with the Chandrian.

Third: the number 3 appears over and over in the book: three locks on the chest that Kote tries to open, for instance. I don't know if this is related to something that is coming in the 3rd book, or is the result of Rothfuss using the Rule of Three that asserts that humans are tuned to find three repetitions of a motif in poetry and music to be enough to recognize an emphasis and not too many to become tedious. But I wouldn't be surprised if both were true.
Jo Walton
25. bluejo
Speaker to Managers: I think with the magic, there's both. There's Sympathy and Sygaldry, which are definitely repeatable engineering magic. And then there's the whole Name thing, which is much more... magical. Hard to repeat.
26. WDR
Cool stuff. I'll be particularly interested in your analysis of the Ctheah - I got a strong feeling that the Ctheah is a serpent - the Serpent - living in the Tree of Knowledge: "I am no tree. No more than is a man a chair."
Chris Chaplain
27. chaplainchris1
I've just read these two books in the last week, loved them, excited about this reread! Thanks for doing it!
Liza .
28. aedifica
I read The Name of the Wind on Sunday (and was very surprised that I finished it in one day) and thought "Hey, I'll go read Jo's posts now!" But I haven't read Wise Man's Fear yet, so I'll hold off a while longer on reading them since I'm spoiler-averse. But I'm looking forward to reading the next book when I can.
29. Rethical
Merciful Tehlu! I just discovered this fascinating re-read series, and can't wait to read through it all, and join in on the discussion.

Just quickly. Remember that Kvother DID get expelled from the University for for calling the name of the Wind upon Ambros Jakis, and breaking his arm. The very act of calling the winds name, also promoted him to the rank of Re'lar under Master Namer Elodin.

So techincally the whole "Expelled from universty" statement is true and has already been fulfilled. I don't expect him to get expelled again...
Katy Burnside
30. DarlinKaty
I would gladly do a 3rd re-read and follow along with these, as I just found this discussion toward the end of my second re-read. Would anyone else care to join me and reanimate these discussions?
Steven Halter
31. stevenhalter
DarlinKaty@30:Do feel free to post along the threads as you follow the reread. A number of us are watching the old threads.
Katy Burnside
32. DarlinKaty
Clearly I am an idiot and I am here to ask for help. I just saw that there is a new-ish post on this from May. Is there a way to subscribe to any new posts in the re-read? I think I've individually subscribed to each thread already posted, but I don't know how to be notified of any new post by Jo.
Also, a TV show. *mind. blown*

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