Welcome to my extremely detailed re-read of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 50-56 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
I want to start this week with an observation I made in last week’s comments — We say we want DT, and of course we do, but we’re actually very lucky to be here at this time reading a text we can trust like this, without the answers but knowing we will get them.
Chapter 50 is “Chasing the Wind”
Which for once is fairly self-explanatory. Kvothe has decided not to go through admissions this term, and three quarters of his life disappears. He enjoys the midwinter pageantry — presumably the same stuff he mentioned in Tarbean, demons and Encanis and so on. He doesn’t say how they do it in the University or compare it to either Tarbean or his troupe, which is a pity. Then spring term starts and he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He can’t find D, but he spends time in the Eolian. He thinks about leaving and going somewhere so people can forget him, but doesn’t have anywhere to go. He thinks about trying to find D in Yll.
He tries to repay Devi but can’t find her, Mola tells him she’s on holiday. I wonder where Devi goes on holiday? I can’t see her on the beach with umbrellas in her drinks. Also, holidays are a modern idea. Well, in Europe they got started in the C.18 with the idea of visiting picturesque places and Grand Tours and so on, and holidays in the modern sense for ordinary people were a C.19 thing. Medieval and Renaissance people travelled for specific reasons or on pilgrimage. They might take time off, but they’d stay at home — festivals are medieval. Going on a trip as a vacation is modern. We never see anybody else in this world taking a holiday either — nobody with the caravan for instance. But Kvothe accepts it as relatively normal, so they must have it as a cultural thing, at least in the Commonwealth.
Spring slowly starts, and Threpe finds Kvothe a job — a distant job. He’s been looking for a more distant patron.
“It hardly matters where he lives.”
I nodded. My troupe had ranged all over the Four Corners under the protection of Lord Greyfallow’s name.
It’s odd that even thinking that he doesn’t consider going to Lord Greyfallow and telling him his name didn’t protect them and he’s left and deserving of patronage. Or even writing to him.
Threpe mentions Maer Alveron, whose ancestors were kings of Vint, and who is a high noble in Vintas. “Every bit a king except for the title and crown.” He has written to Threpe asking for a young man who is good with words. What he wants one for, he leaves open — of course we know it’s to help him court Meluan Lackless in a Cyranoesque way. It’s odd he writes to Threpe to find him somebody, but he’s been having a correspondence with Threpe, they have done each other favours, and Imre is known as a centre of arts. He definitely wants somebody distant and dependent. Maybe it’s not odd at all.
Kvoth immediately thinks the Maer will be able to help him search for the Amyr. Even in his mind it’s started to be a search for the Amyr, rather than the Chandrian.
He leaves the next day. He receives “heartfelt handshakes from Wilem and Simmon, and a cheerful wave from Auri.” I’m surprised she’s so cheerful. The masters are restrained, except Elxa Dal who tells him to have fun. He leaves some things — notably the treasures he had from Auri — at Ankers, and leaves with a travelsack and his lute in lutecase.
He runs into Elodin on Stonebridge, swinging his bare feet over the hundred feet drop. Elodin does the same trick Auri did — Kvothe says apologetically “I’m afraid I’m going to be leaving...” and Elodin asks if he’s really afraid. He hasn’t been acting as if he is. Elodin tells him figures of speech have meaning and he should be careful of them. He tells him to sit on the parapet. Kvothe says he’d rather not, Elodin tells him fear doesn’t suit him. He sits on the parapet. Elodin asks if he can see the wind. He tells him it’s a good place for a namer. Kvothe says because it has wode wind, strong water and old stone. Elodin says it’s a good answer but why else. Kvothe admits he doesn’t know, and Elodin is delighted — this is probably the first time ever Kvothe has said this to him. Then Kvothe asks him, and Elodin says because it’s an edge.
Then Elodin says they call leaving the university “chasing the wind” because it literally is chasing the name of the wind in places with edges, and that this might be better than staying and studying. A dark man with a pinched face walks across the bridge, and Kvothe is afraid of being pushed off. Elodin tells him to spit for luck.
He finds Devi. He leaves Rhetoric and Logic, his thief’s lamp, his talent pipes, and D’s ring as collateral against his current debt, so he has the cash to get to Severen.
I wouldn’t have guessed that all of this is setting him up for being shipwrecked and losing everything he has with him but making sure all these things are safe for when he gets back! Clever Rothfuss.
Chapter 51 is “All Wise Men Fear”
And we know what!
He meets Threpe and Threpe puts him on a boat for Tarbean, whence he can get a boat to Severen.
Threpe turns into a pocket Polonius and starts giving last minute advice, about the Maer’s high breeding and that nobody will take Kvothe seriously if he looks as if he’s chasing money. Then he quotes Gregan the Lesser but says it’s Teccam:
The cost of a loaf is a simple thing, and so a loaf is often sought, but some things are past valuing: laughter, land and love are never bought.
Three things about this — first it’s very trite. Second, note “land” in there, which isn’t what I’d expect. I’d expect blood or birth. Because you can buy land... except not in feudal societies, where it’s granted. And third, look at that clever misattribution, which tells us very clearly that Teccam is sufficiently famous that things get misattributed to him.
Let’s review what we know about Teccam. He lived in a cave and taught students and the stained glass window at the University where he’s doing this is described as “typical”. He wrote a book called Theophany, which means “appearance of God” or “appearance of the gods,” and another called Underlying Principles, both of which survive and which Elodin makes Kvothe read as part of learning naming, so he’s clearly deeply connected with naming. Devi owns his books. He invented a winch that’s still in use. He has a theory of “narrative septagy” which relates in some way to folklore. (“Septagy” isn’t a word, but it would seem to have something to do with sevens?) And he’s famous enough that people misattribute all sorts of things to him.
We also have some direct quotations. There’s the one where he claims it’s better to have a mouthful of poison than a secret of the heart, which is true knowledge actively concealed. There’s: “No man is brave that has never walked a hundred miles. If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass.” And there’s the famous one about the three things a wise man fears.
We have speculated that Teccam may be the man in the cave in the Jax story.
Kvothe puts Threpe’s letter in the secret compartment in his lutecase, with Nina’s drawing and some dried apple. The dried apple is an adorable detail:
There was nothing special about the dried apple, but in my opinion if you have a secret compartment in your lutecase and don’t use it to hide things in there is something terribly terribly wrong with you.
Now Threpe has been coming out with quotations all through this conversation, and he’s clearly nervously babbling. “Fortune follows favor.” Then the Gregan one. “He that speaks least is most often heard.” “Know a lady by her manner, a man by his cloth.” “Small thaws make great floods, so be twice wary of a slowly changing season.” Then he comes up with the three things all wise men fear “the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.” We’ve seen that one before, attributed to Teccam, when Lorren gets angry with Kvothe in NW.
Chapter 52 is “A Brief Journey”
Oh, sure I’d be on for a full and complete and irrelevant account of a shipwreck here. But Kvothe isn’t going to give us one, and I’m so glad he doesn’t.
He tells us his route.
Downriver to Tarbean, through the Refting strait, down the coast towards Junpai, then up the Arrand river.
I know, let’s check the map! Tarbean is on it, and presumably the strait between Yll and the mainland is the Refting strait. Part of that sea is “the Reft.” Junpai is marked, an island to the east. The Arrand river isn’t marked, and neither is Severen, but we know he’s going somewhere in Vintas. The only mapped river in Vintas is the one up the border between it and the murky south, but maybe the border between the Small Kingdoms and Vintas is also a river? I don’t see why Severen isn’t marked. Looking at where the Eld is, Severen could be pretty much anywhere in Vintas. Gah.
The alternative route he didn’t take would be through Atur and the Small Kingdoms, where “only priests and fools expect the roads in that part of the world to be safe.”
He went by sea to save time, but was afraid of boredom. Instead
several unfortunate complications arose during the trip. In brief, there was a storm, piracy, treachery and shipwreck, although not in that order.
“Treachery” is the unexpected one in that list. The others are reasonable hazards of a sea voyage.
Over the course of the trip I was robbed, drowned, and left penniless on the streets of Junpai.
Wow. More excitement here than in the preceding 410 pages. But it’s not what the story’s about, so we don’t get it. It took him sixteen days to reach Severen, and at no time was he bored.
It’s also worth noting I think that none of this is absolutely necessary — he could have just said the journey passed uneventfully, or just put in the theft if he needed to arrive penniless. Also, Bast and Chronicler learned their lesson interrupting last time he left something out, I suppose, because there’s no whining and no interruption here.
Chapter 53 is “The Sheer”
Which is a geographical feature.
He arrives in Severen hungry and penniless, but with his lute so everything is all right really. The case saved his life on one occasion! He has lost Fela’s cloak, which he’d been forced to tear up and use for bandages in Junpai. And his gram is sunk.
Is Kvothe deliberately being irritating in giving us these tantalising details about the trip we don’t need to know about?
Severen is divided by a cliff, the Sheer. Rich people live at the top, the others at the bottom. It’s two hundred feet tall in Severen, but outside the city it loses height and stature. So it’s not a river cliff, it’s that some of the land has risen or fallen? I’m picturing this like Edinburgh, especially the peninsula that sticks out into the city where the Maer’s estate is.
Kvothe doesn’t know anyone in Vintas except Ambrose, in his father’s estate “some miles to the south.” (Also not on the map.) Desperate, he pawns his lute for a span. He can get it back for the same money within the next eleven days. He buys noble clothes and boots, and a haircut, shave, bath, and meal, and no longer looks like a beggar.
Then he tells us about the difference between the Commonwealth and Vintas.
In the Commonwealth, the gentry are people with power and money. In Vintas, the gentry have power and money and privilege.
Kvothe copes with this by acting as if he has more rank than anyone, and bullies a baronet into escorting him to the Maer’s estate.
Chapter 54 is “The Messenger”
The name of the bow he gives the Maer. “Low and formal, deferential but not obsequious.”
Kvothe bluffs his way as far as Stapes, and then gives Stapes Threpe’s letter.
Stapes is interesting, a servant in this hierarchical place, but more powerful than most of the nobility. He’s wearing a dull iron ring with gold letters — the Maer’s ring, doubtless.
Alveron is older than Kvothe expected, and he finds him at a map strewn table with a veteran soldier. The Maer says Kvothe is very young “Barely past twenty” when in fact he is barely past sixteen. Alveron accepts him, gives him rooms and says Stapes will outfit him when he explains he lost his luggage to shipwreck.
His rooms are opulent but he hates them because he’s stuck in them without his lute. The food’s great, so is the bath, the tailor makes him two suits of clothes and a burgundy cloak with little pockets.
Chapter 55 is “Grace”
This chapter begins with the kind of reversal I love. Maer Alveron is dressed fairly plainly in excellent fabrics, and Kvothe muses that wearing clothes that never show a hint of wear is more luxurious than having them ostentatiously elaborate. Of course, most of us wear clothes that never show a hint of wear, because we have washing machines and clothes are cheap. But at tech level, it’s a sign of immense wealth.
Kvothe thinks he looks old but he’s not. He has been watching him through the hedge, as the clock strikes he steps out to meet him. He has an invitation to meet him in the gardens. Kvothe realises Alveron is sick. Kvothe offers his arm. They walk for an hour, talking about the gardens and the people they pass. Alveron tells him to be secretive about who he is, and says it will do wonders for his reputation.
Back in his room, Kvothe consoles himself with the thought that if the worst comes to the worst he can sell his clothes and redeem the lute, even though this would embarrass Threpe badly. He wants the Maer as a patron for protection against Ambrose — finally taking that seriously! — and to continue his education, and to investigate the Amyr. He’s willing to live without his lute for a span for the chance — but only just.
And of course rumour erupts around him as the Maer wanted, and he thinks it’s like watching stories being born — as he just did with The Chronicler.
And we’ll go on from there next week.
Last week’s comments
Sillyslovene suggests that if Chronicler might be searching for something more valuable than a princess it could be K’s story.
Abs wonders if The Chronicler’s book might be related to D’s writing down magic. I find this intriguing.
Shalter suggests that K isn’t intending to let Chronicler go anywhere with the story, so it doesn’t matter what he tells him. I find this unsatisfying — so much of the story is about stories that I don’t want this story to be smothered.
CV12T wonders if K has another reason for not describing the trial in detail — like for instance that it would reveal something he doesn’t want Chronicler to know. Very interesting!
Silentia suggests that the ring without a name could be the silence that surrounds K. I like this, but it seems that he has lost his rings somewhere — though they could be in the Thrice-Locked chest, I suppose? Wetlandwrnw suggests it could be the Name of Silence. My problem with that is that it’s more like a curse, as if somebody has stuck the Name of Silence on him, not as if he has mastered it.
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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.