Welcome to part four of my insanely detailed re-read of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This post covers chapters 16-23 of The Name of the Wind but contains spoilers for all of The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear.
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.
Spoilers and speculations below.
Chapter Sixteen is called Hope, and it is the terrible chapter in which Kvothe’s troupe are killed by the Chandrian. The hope is that his parents didn’t waste their time preparing dinner but had a little time to be together before they died... and that’s about as hopeful as it gets.
There’s a lot in this chapter. To start with, they’re traveling fifteen or twenty miles a day, for more than a month after they leave Hallowfell. This is how they get from there almost to Tarbean. But this is a long time after Arliden sings the Lanre song in public. Are the Chandrian stalking them or what? Did they put that tree down across the road as an ambush? I never know how real they are—how much they are in the real world. They physically kill the troupe, with swords, not with magic. Later Cinder was with the bandits. I imagine them as much more magical—because they vanish the way they do, into Haliax’s shadow. But maybe they are stalking them and setting up an ambush. It makes sense.
During that month or so, Kvothe learns more acting from his father, begins stage sword-fighting, and his mother teaches him how to be polite to the nobility—titles of rank and so on. I wonder what her purpose is there—just what she says, so that if he’s performing he can address them properly? Or does she plan to tell him eventually that he’s a Lackless? Pity she doesn’t teach him the status of bastards in Vintas.
Then the attack. There’s a lot of distancing and reminding it’s a story and hesitation before we get up close to it. Kvothe says he’d rather pass over it, except that it is a place where the story starts, a hinge. Interesting word, that. “hinge.” Reminds me of boxes and doors.
We see the Chandrian signs, blue fire and rotting wood and metal. We see death and destruction—they have killed everyone. Then Kvothe finds them sitting around the fire. Only three of them are described—Cinder, who is all bone white except for his dark eyes, a bald man with a grey beard, and Haliax, who is wrapped in shadow and speaks in italics. Cinder is capriciously cruel, Haliax reins him in and masters him. He uses the word Ferula to do this, which is pretty clearly Cinder’s Name, his true name. In the Adem poem, it says “Ferule, chill and dark of eye” so this is some evidence that the Adem names are nearly right.
Haliax seems bored or sickened by the cruelty of the others. Cinder is tormenting Kvothe and the others are laughing, but Haliax just wants him sent “to his sleep.”
“Who keeps you safe from the Amyr, the Singers, the Sithe, from all that would harm you in the world?” Haliax asks Cinder, getting the answer that he, Haliax, does. We know something about the Amyr, though not enough. We know a little about the Sithe—they are the Fae who stop people approaching the Chteah. Have the Singers been mentioned elsewhere? The impression I get from this is that any of these groups and/or others could hurt the other Chandrian, but Haliax is more powerful. Haliax is a different thing. They are six plus one.
Another useful thing Haliax says is, “I am glad I decided to accompany you today. You are straying, indulging in whimsy. Some of you seem to have forgotten what it is we seek, what we wish to achieve.” What’s their plan? What’s their plan? This does tell us for sure they have one, even if it doesn’t give any clue what it is.
They leave, and Kvothe falls asleep, the wagon sets on fire, and he escapes with his father’s lute and Ben’s book.
This is a very grim chapter.
Chapter Seventeen is called Interlude — Autumn. It’s back to the frame story, to the Inn. Bast is moved to tears by the story, and K is rough with him, rejecting his sympathy (in the mundane sense of the word) saying it was a long time ago and time is a healer, and goes out to get wood. Bast and Chronicler talk a little and become better friends, actually apologising and reconciling over the attack, bound together by what they have heard. Meanwhile, outside, K gathers wood and then breaks down and cries—he actually was moved by telling the story.
I don’t think there’s anything here but a break of tension after the awful things in the last chapter and a triangulation on the emotions. K doesn’t care for pity, Bast pities him and hopes telling his story will cheer him up—clearly Bast doesn’t know this story!
Chapter Eighteen is called Roads to Safe Places, and it begins with Kvothe saying that he went mad in the forest, shutting away his memory and half his mind so that he could heal and bear the shock. He has a dream, an interesting dream. First he’s with Laclith, who is showing him woodcraft—which is what he’ll immediately need. Then Laclith becomes Ben, teaching him knots. Ben becomes his father, about to play his song, and talking about greystones—and then Ben, saying they are roads to safe places or safe roads leading into danger. Then Kvothe is in a huge circle of greystones, and then he wakes up. I don’t know what to make of it, but I’m sure it’s significant.
When he wakes he follows Laclith’s woodcraft—he finds water, he finds a greystone, he catches and fails to kill a rabbit, and he makes a shelter for his lute. If his sleeping mind has taken over, it’s doing a good job with necessities for the time being.
I like him failing to kill the rabbit—he is traumatised, however oddly he’s taking it. It feels like a very real detail.
Chapter Nineteen is Fingers and Strings—Kvothe lives wild in the forest and plays the lute obsessively, learning how to play tunes and other things, and how to manage when the strings break. It isn’t until three out of seven strings have broken and summer is over that he moves on, to find new strings. He heads southwards because it’s cold—if he had half a brain he’d have gone back to Hallowfell, but the whole point is that he doesn’t, he’s going on instinct.
I don’t really like this, I find it too convenient that he loses his brilliant focus and then gets it back unharmed later. It’s as if he needs to pass some time stupidly, so he becomes stupid. This section, and the stuff in Tarbean, is my least favourite part so far. He’s got the intelligence to know that lute strings will be found in cities anyway.
Chapter Twenty is Bloody Hands Into Stinging Fists—Kvothe gets to Tarbean, gets beaten up and breaks his lute, and stays in the city. It’s worth noticing the way he rejects the friendliness of the farmer Seth, because he can’t face telling him what happened.
In the fight, the other boys get into a quarrel about religion. One of them quotes “Do not call on Tehlu, save in greatest need, for Tehlu judges every thought and deed.” This seems like more evidence for the power of names.
And now Kvothe gets trapped in Tarbean for three years.
Chapter Twenty-One is Basement, Bread and Bucket—Kvothe is begging on the streets of Tarbean. If it instantly occurred to me to wonder why he wasn’t busking, I wonder why it never occurred to him? He’d lost the lute, but he could sing or juggle or tell stories or recite monologues from plays, and the pay would have been better. Okay, he was feeling stupid, but even so.
He finds a basement with children tied to beds and he immediately remembers every story he’d heard about the Duke of Gibea (secret Amyr, and boon to anatomy, only he doesn’t know that yet). In the basement is Trapis, doing his best to care for the hopeless—he’s a kind of Mother Teresa, but not formally affiliated with the church.
Chapter Twenty-Two is A Time for Demons—in Tarbean, at Midwinter.
At the beginning of this chapter there’s a really beautiful bit of writing and in-cluing. We’re given a lot of information about Midwinter in the form of Kvothe critiquing the way they do it in Tarbean. Midwinter normally is celebrated by having professionals playing demons and Tehlu—Kvothe’s troupe have always done this and it’s safe and everyone has fun. In Tarbean the church sells demon masks, the amateur demons make mischief. Kvothe disapproves. This is the first time we hear the story of Tehlu versus demons, and really this is all we hear of it, except that the chief demon is called Encanis, and Kvothe’s father used to play him.
Kvothe celebrates by going to the good part of town to beg. A lady gives him a penny, but a town guard beats him up. Then on his way “home” to his rooftop shelter, when he’s about to freeze to death, a man playing Encanis rescues him, gives him a silver talent and his gloves. This allows him to buy food and warmth and survive. So the demon is the good guy. I suspect this of being symbolic.
Chapter Twenty-Three is The Burning Wheel. In his fever, Kvothe gets himself to Trapis. A child there asks for a story, and when Trapis says he doesn’t know any, Kvothe thinks that everybody knows one story, as if this is proverbial. Then Trapis tells a story of Tehlu.
We’ve heard of Tehlu before, as God. I’ve just realised I’ve been pronouncing it all this time like a Welsh word, because it ends in a u—but I bet Rothfuss meant it to be Teh-loo, not Taily, oh dear. Well, too late now. We’ve heard him cursed, and we’ve heard about the Tehlin church giving bread for prayers, and we’ve just heard about the Midwinter festival. But this is the first actual story we’ve heard about him.
Trapis’s story wanders. It’s impressive how Rothfuss manages to make it a good readable story while keeping enough of Trapis’s indecisions that you can tell it isn’t well told. He mostly does this by using formal storytelling patterns with the occasional dither, which works very well. “His church was corrupt—no, wait, there was no church yet...”
Now we learn something about Encanis—“the swallowing darkness. No matter where he walked, shadows hid his face.” Does this remind anyone else of Haliax? What are these demons, if not Chandrian and their friends? Trapis says this story happened more than four hundred years ago but maybe not as much as a thousand years ago, but he clearly has no idea—we have more than two thousand years of detailed recorded history.
So, we have a story and a church that resembles Christianity. The god who made the world selects one good woman and becomes her child, saves the world and sacrifices himself for it, returning to heaven as a more powerful and compassionate god.
Tehlu is his own son. “Menda” grows up very fast and reveals himself as Tehlu. He draws a line in the road and says on one side is pain and punishment, and on the other side is pain and punishment and himself, and demands that everyone cross to him. When they cross he hits them with a hammer and then embraces them and gives them new names—look names. Rengen becomes Wereth.
In the end everybody crosses but seven people. Seven of them—Chandrian. But Trapis doesn’t say that. Six of them he struck down, but one of them was a demon in human form, which again sounds like the Chandrian, or may be a clue to them. When the demon is struck, “There was a sound of quenching iron and a smell of burning leather.” It’s not what happens when K strikes the scrael, that’s a crack, and the smell of rotting flowers and burning hair. But it sounds related—and it’s a smith’s hammer Tehlu’s using, and therefore iron. It sounds like one of those fairy-tale specific things.
Tehlu then went around destroying demons and destroyed them all except Encanis. Encanis isn’t explicitly identified with the demon standing with the six men.
For six days Encanis fled, and six great cities he destroyed. But on the seventh day Tehlu drew near... and so the seventh city was spared.
This is also suggestive of the cities on the plain and the story of Lanre as we will get it from Scarpi. But this is our first mention of any of this.
Tehlu catched Encanis and binds him to an iron wheel in the fire, and eventually holds him to the wheel and burns with him, losing his mortal form and going back to heaven. This happens in the city of Atur, a city that still exists as Trapis speaks, and which was the capital of a religious empire with Amyr in it for a long time. And now we know where the iron wheels as religious symbols come from.
We’ll continue from Chapter 24 next time.
Comments on comments
In comments on last week’s post—C12VT notes that Arliden quotes the Amyr’s motto “All for the greater good” about Kvothe’s torn shirt. Worth thinking then that it wasn’t—it was torn because he was being an idiot and nearly killing himself. Maybe this whole thing relates to the way the Amyr go about things—especially if you naturally say it when something is broken. And thinking about the Duke of Gibea torturing people for medical information, ick.
I love Greyfalconway’s idea that “raveling” means “little ravel” and means Kvothe.
I also like CMPalmer’s connection of the lockless box with eggs and Adem’s theories of reproduction. Now, I laughed at that while reading WMF, but there is absolutely no reason in a fantasy world why it shouldn’t be true, or partly true. Reproduction in fantasy doesn’t have to work the way it does in reality—I’ve written fantasy worlds myself where it doesn’t, and we know Rothfuss likes my work. Perial might really have borne Tehlu parthenogenetically and so might Netalia have Kvothe, and indeed every Lackless woman back to whenever. And this relates to what ClairedeT says, too. In fact the whole thing of “her husband’s rocks” being in the box could relate to this if whatever children Lady Lackless produces are hers alone. If this is the case it is amazingly clever.
Herelle and Speculations speculate about Netalia’s marriage status before she runs off with Arliden—I think if she were married, it would have come up in what Kvothe learns in Vintas. But I also think that the best evidence that she is is that the pattern of their romance is clearly the real world song “The Gypsy Rover,” in which the seduced lady is married. But... she says “nobles’ daughters” not “wives”. So I think not.
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.