Welcome to my obsessively detailed re-read of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 45-49 of The Wise Man’s Fear but also contains extensive spoilers for the whole book and the whole of The Name of the Wind — these discussions assume you’ve read all of both books. These posts are 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
Chapter 46 is “Interlude — A Bit of Fiddle”
The violin a local boy can play? Or fiddling around making lunch?
Fresh from the account — non-account — of the trial, K pauses and makes lunch plans. Chronicler is as horrified as I was the first time I read this “That’s it?” We have three chapters about the time when you got drunk with your friends in Imre and two lines about this trial which you’ve been trailing before us as a lure since the beginning? What?
But of course, K is being coy and Rothfuss isn’t wasting time on giving us information that isn’t essential. You may say that in a book 1107 pages long you could have stood another few pages on a description of the trial and learning Tema (see also shipwreck) but the fact that we don’t get it shows that everything we do get is essential, and makes this kind of reading possible. We’re having fun here because we know that Rothfuss isn’t wasting our time, but is rather dangling the moon in front of us so we don’t even notice it’s been stolen until he spells it out. Also, it’s not like we don’t find out about it. We don’t need K’s personal account of the trial. It needs to have happened and the consequences of it are very significant, but we don’t need the trial (and we don’t get the trial) but we do need Chronicler complaining about missing it, and later we get Cob’s version of the popular story of the trial.
It’s interesting that Chronicler complains. Chronicler got K to talk by using his “own best trick” against him, keeping the story for ransom. But this is K’s story, not the story Chronicler thought he wanted. He already knows what he needs to know about the trial, and so do we — we’ve known the bones of it since way back in NW, and now we know the context.
K says there are already two full written accounts of it. Chronicler misunderstands and thinks K has told someone else or written a memoir. Chronicler’s indignation is twice compared to that of a lover — and K even says his story is still virginal. Why does Chronicler want this story so very passionately? Bast is quiet until K pretends he doesn’t know where the few pages of memoir he’s written are.
The two written accounts are the Church and Commonwealth records. K says his account of the trial would be tedious, and he should save the time for things nobody has seen or heard — and weirdly, at that, Bast distracts him with the quotidian. Bast, who has been going to all this effort to get K to be Kvothe and his reshi, suddenly gets horrified and shouts with alarm at the thought of beets in the soup. I do wonder about this. Does Bast really suddenly care about beets? Or what was he afraid K was going to say? Or what’s up with this? Bast offers to finish the soup, and goes into the kitchen. K gives Chronicler a lazy smile.
Real world cooking comment, and you can trust me on this. If it’s a vegetable soup with carrots and beets, it’s going to take a minimum of 40 minutes from when you start cutting the carrots — you need to seethe the roots and the onions in a little fat, then add the stock and some rice, and simmer it for twenty minutes, then liquidize it — and at tech level that means through a sieve — and reheat and reseason. If it’s a stew and it’s mostly done (which “finish off” suggests) you just need the fresh vegetables to cook through to edibility, so you started it yesterday, now you bring it to the boil and then simmer it for at least 15 minutes. I wouldn’t put carrots and beets in at the last minute if I had any choice. It isn’t an instant process anyway. So Bast saying that K should get the smoked sausage and cheese while he does it is odd, because the soup is going to take a lot longer than that.
The other odd thing about this is that whichever it is, soup or stew, it needs about five or ten minutes of human attention followed by twenty minutes to half an hour where the human can be checking their email or writing a post or dictating their life story, and then another five or ten minutes of human attention. So if I think about this too much I lose suspension of disbelief. Moving swiftly on!
People come in, Chronicler does a brisk business writing down their wills, Bast and K serve soup and cheese and bread, roast mutton (presumably room temperature from yesterday) and fresh apple pie. There’s a comfortable gossip, but under everything tension.
What people don’t talk about: taxes, armies, locking doors at night, what happened last night. What they do talk about: jokes, sex, children playing. This is described in terms of darkness and silence underneath the light and noise, in a way that’s reminiscent of the threefold silence.
Then Cob comes in and praises the cooking. There’s a joke about a “damfine” pie made with “damfine” apples named after Baron Damfine. Cob says they should get a musician in to encourage custom, there’s a local boy who plays the fiddle. K agrees, colourlessly, and the text calls him Kote. Bast interrupts with a suggestion of drinks, and K brings food.
Chapter 47 is “Interlude — The Hempen Verse”
The two lines of Tema you need to know to get tried in a church court and not risk execution.
Everyone is having pie, and they start arguing about the very thing K hasn’t wanted to talk about — the trial in Imre. Cob says Kvothe called up a demon, which was against the law “over in Amary”. Then he says that Kvothe knew a trick to read two lines of Tema and get tried in the church courts — which worked in medieval England too. The “hempen verse”. Then in two days before the Tehlin Justice came, Kvothe learned Tema. (We know this is true, he admitted it in NW.) And then, Cob says, Kvothe made a magic potion to make his voice so sweet everyone would agree with him and the trial took fifteen minutes and he won. And K puts in ironically from behind the bar “And he lived happily ever after”.
Then they finish their pie and as they’re finishing their beer K says he doesn’t care for Kvothe stories, he likes a proper wizard like Taborlin, or Serapha, or The Chronicler.
We’ve heard a lot about Taborlin, Serapha is completely new to me.
And of course, K is being clever with “The Chronicler” — showing Chronicler how stories work and how they can cut both ways. He pretends The Chronicler is a legendary figure and Cob starts telling stories about him right away. I love this — I love how it works and the dynamic of it and what K’s doing. It’s just wonderful.
K says the Chronicler carries around a great book and whatever he writes in it comes true, and if he knows one of your secrets he can write whatever he wants about you. Bast says he has a sword called Sheave that kills with paper cuts, and if he learns your name he can write it on the blade of his sword and kill you from a thousand miles away — but in his own blood, and there’s only so much room.
Now we come to the bit that might be true of the real Chronicler — he used to be a member of the High King’s court in Modeg, but he fell in love with the High King’s daughter, and has to give the king something more valuable than the princess, so he travels looking for something. Cob starts telling a story about how The Chronicler went looking for magic fruit, and leaves telling it.
Chronicler asks what the hell that was about, and K says it’s to give him perspective.
You go rummaging around in other people’s lives. You hear rumours and go digging for the painful truth beneath the lovely lies. You believe you have a right to these things. But you don’t. ... When someone tells you a piece of their life, they’re giving you a gift, not granting you your due.
Because Chronicler’s been trying Kvothe’s trick again, prodding for Cob’s version of the story so that K will set him straight. But beyond that, this is a fine reproach. There’s a way in which Chronicler is a character with character functions, and there’s a way in which he stands for us, the readers. We’re not entitled to it either. Kvothe “is not our bitch” as Neil Gaiman so memorably put it. We get what he wants to give us, and so does Chronicler. Very specifically, Kvothe is talking here to “Ipood” from last week’s comment section, who clearly didn’t get this point:
certainly rather disappointing to those of us who enjoy that sort of thing, but that he has written the trial and the sea voyage, and excluded them from the actual novel due too them not contributing.
It couldn’t be much clearer: Giving you a gift, not granting you your due. You are not entitled to any more than he wants to give.
The other interesting thing K does here is saying “I might have overreacted a bit. I’ve never responded well to manipulation.” I wonder what that refers to!
Chapter 48 is “A Significant Absence”
The Amyr from the history books, of course.
We jump straight back in with Kvothe preparing for Admissions, trial out of the way. He has 13 talents and a familiarity with the Archives, and he thinks he’s doing fine. He’s not finding any solid information about the Amyr in any of the books, though there’s lots of hearsay and speculation. He sums it up to Wil, either nothing was written down (unlikely) or by chance nothing has come to the Archives (even less likely) or somebody has removed or altererd the information. Wil asks who would do that. Kvothe suggests it was the Amyr themselves, and Wil suggests it was the Tehlin church. It’s worth noting that this is a perfectly sensible suggestion of the kind you so rarely see — a rational counter-theory. Of course, Kvothe’s theory rests on his secret knowledge of the Chandrian vase and so on, which he doesn’t explain because he doesn’t want to sound crazy. When he tells Sim his theory, Sim says he should suggest it to Lorren — but Kvothe doesn’t, because he’s still intimidated by Lorren. He thinks Lorren would be horrified at the thought his Archives had been pruned and censored.
(Are we the only people who think it’s Lorren who has been doing it?)
Chapter 49 is “The Ignorant Edema”
Kvothe runs into Elxa Dal, and says he’s been meaning to thank him for speaking on his behalf at his trial, which is an interesting specific — I wonder who else did? Kilvin? Not Hemme?
They go into the White Hart for lunch and both have trout. Elxa Dal works his way around to saying Kvothe ought to take a term off to let the memory of the trial die down. Then he tells him the story of “The Ignorant Edema” — a wise man tries to talk to an Edema boatman about educated subjects, but when the boat sinks it turns out that being able to swim is more important.
Later, Manet explains in words of one syllable “You’re a king-high idiot if you go through admissions this term.” Wil and Sim agree. Wil tells him Ambrose is avoiding admissions too and taking a term off. Sim tells him three times to do it — as he did with the plum bob.
Kvothe has no idea what to do — he thinks of getting access to other libraries elsewhere, but that’s hard without a patron. He’s been at the University for a solid year and now he’s utterly at sea.
I’m really sympathetic here, about as sympathetic as I ever am to Kvothe. I was exactly the same in the long vacation every year when I was in university — having to leave and work for the summer months felt like a weird hole in my real life.
And we’ll start from 50 next time, when he starts to have an idea of what to do.
A horrible thought.
It’s only a couple of years between the frame and the events of the narration — let’s say ten years at most. Therefore, all the people other than Kvothe whose stories he is intermingling with his own — not just D but Sim and Devi and Auri — must be dead, or he wouldn’t betray them like that. I don’t think this applies to Kilvin or Elodin, but I fear it must for anyone whose secrets he tells us. Gweef.
Last week’s comments
Awesome, as usual.
GBrell is hereby promoted to Re’lar for the wonderful and well reasoned long comment on Kvothe’s rings, and rings and Naming in general. Go and read it. (Just hit the “Previous” link below.) There’s also great discussion on blue flame and on the Chandrian signs.
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.