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.