Patrick Rothfuss Reread

Rothfuss Reread: The Name of the Wind, Part 1: The Cut-Flower Sound

This is the first post of my detailed re-read of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. Beyond the cut and in the comments are potentially spoilers for all of both books.

This post covers the Prologue and Chapters 1-5, in obsessive detail.

The Name of the Wind starts with dedications, thanks, and a map, which is usefully online. I originally read the book as an ARC, without the map, so I joked that the map was what I’d spend $10 when I bought the paperback. I’m linking to the copy of it on Rothfuss’s web page, because it might be useful.

The prologue, “A Silence of Three Parts” is in an omniscient and distant “fantasy style” narration. This is the first of the frames in which Rothfuss sets his story. It’s poetic and essentially meaningless before reading the rest, just a piece of atmospheric scene setting. However, it does give some useful information. First, it gives us a mood: silent and sad. Secondly it introduced Kvothe/Kote as the significant character and as an innkeeper, without giving him any name at all. We’re told several things about him. First that he has “true-red” hair, second that The Waystone and the third silence is his, and lastly that he is waiting to die. As an introduction to a character it’s an odd one, in reflection and contemplation and largely defined by absences.

He’s an innkeeper, he’s waiting to die and we don’t know why, and that’s as much of a hook as we get. The other thing of significance is “of course there was no music.” Why “of course”? The Kvothe we know can’t live without music, it’s broken strings that drive him to Tarbean, and a week without music in the Maer’s court makes him squirrelly. How is he living without music now, and why?

One of the reasons I re-read the books now was because Chrispin suggested that Kvothe changed his real name, and that this might be why he has no music or magic or other things that make him essentially himself. I hadn’t thought of that but it made perfect sense, so I was looking for everything about names, so I want to note expecially that the text doesn’t use any name for him in the prologue.

And related to that, he doesn’t get a name and he does get a silence of his own—the silence is the most characteristic thing about him, the thing the book starts with. If he’s lost his name, his magic, and his music, they have been replaced with a silence. That silence—which we hear about at the end of this volume and at the beginning and end of the second volume too, seems like more of a positive attribute than the mere absence of sound.

And the inn is called The Waystone, presumably there’s a waystone nearby?

The frame-story proper begins with “Chapter 1: A Place for Demons.” And it begins and ends with “times being what they were.” This is in a much closer more normal multiple third person point of view, with an almost folksy tone to it.

It starts with five men gathered in The Waystone Inn on Felling Night, and old Cob is telling a story about Taborlin the Great, a story with half a ton of naming magic. Taborlin the Great knew the names of all things, and that got him out of trouble. One of the things it got him away from were the Chandrian—and here they are, right up front, practically on the first page. Blue flame—and everybody knows that means the Chandrian, even the smith’s apprentice who’s from Rannish, thirty miles away. That’s our first mention of them, in a fairytale, common knowledge, Chandrian, blue flame, hunting Taborlin.

It’s interesting that it’s a story about Taborlin that introduces us to magic and the Chandrian, not a Kvothe story to ease us in or anything like that. A fairytale, just the kind of story Kvothe finds when he goes looking for anything on the Chandrian.

The innkeeper—still nameless—brings stew and bread. I can’t imagine why John Scalzi has a problem with this, but then stew is one of the staple foods of my culture. What Diana Wynne Jones complained about in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland wasn’t the existence of stew in fantasy but the way people eat it around the campfire, when in fact it takes hours to cook. But they’re in an inn, they’ve had hours, and goodness knows it’s a cheap and filling way of feeding people. Scalzi might think it’s a terrible cliche when I eat it as well. (Last summer when I was in Britain the weather was awful, and I ate stew twice, in an inn and in a castle—if you’re ever in Castell Coch, near Cardiff, order the stew. It may be a cliche, but it tastes great. You can have apple pie for dessert, unless that’s a cliche, too.)

Taborlin’s amulet sounds like a university guilder—or possibly a gram. We won’t learn a thing about them for ages, but it’s nice to recognise what it is.

The Chandrian’s attack is physical—a knife—and what they do to the camp is also physical, and at the farm, and Cinder is running a bandit camp. I hadn’t thought of this before, but while they are inherently magical and cause fires to burn blue and wood and iron to rot, the harm and destruction they cause is invariably physical—done with weapons and fire rather than magic. Even Lanre, I think.

Taborlin had got the amulet from a tinker—and this is the first introduction of tinkers and the way they reward people. I’m going to be taking notice of tinkers when we see them because I think they’re significant.

A tinker’s debt is always paid,
once for any simple trade,
twice for freely given aid,
thrice for any insult made.

That’s Kote’s version of the proverb—and this is where the text names him Kote. (We know from much later that it means “disaster”—from the phrase Kivrin says: “expect disaster every seven years.”) Well spotted Goewin and Susan!

The men start arguing about the nature of the Chandrian. Cob implies that they’re demons, and Jake says they are the first six people to refuse Tehlu’s aid, and Cob says nobody knows what they are, men or demons or spirits, which about sums it all up, really, though I think Fae is also a possibility.

“Where do they come from? Where do they go, after they’ve done their bloody deeds?”

Wouldn’t we all like to know! Rothfuss is being very clever here, layering in this information.

The men start arguing about demons when Carter comes in with a dead scrael—which they think is a dead demon. They’re surprised by this because demons belong in stories.

Certainly there were demons in the world. But they were like Tehlu’s angels. They were like heroes and kings. They belonged in stories. They belonged out there. … Your childhood friend didn’t stomp one to death on the road to Baedn-bryt. It was ridiculous.

This is the first time we get the contrast between stories and the real world. And they don’t know it but they have a hero in the room too.

Kote encourages them to think it’s a demon, but he calls it a scrael, or a scraeling. When he strikes it with iron there’s a smell of rotting flowers and burning hair. (The smells in these books are great. Loads of books don’t do scent at all.) He’s also surprised they’ve come so far West so soon.

We then cut to hours later when Kote comes back, looks at the stars, which he knows well (so he hasn’t forgotten all his lore?) and goes in. There’s a word about his name there which I think it interesting:

He called himself Kote. He had chosen the name carefully when he came to this place. He had taken a new name for most of the usual reasons and a few unusual ones as well, not the least of which was the fact that names were important to him.

Well, that doesn’t prove or disprove the changed name theory. Maybe he doesn’t want to go on calling himself Kvothe when he’s changed the essence of who he is, or maybe he’s just in disguise. Names were important to him, well, yes, names are. They are to me too.

I’m going to call him Kvothe when he’s definitely Kvothe, Kote when he’s definitely Kote, and K when I’m dithering. It gives a lovely Kafkaesque feel to a page.

Then Kote cleans up and goes up and talks to Bast, who is introduced as his student. Bast calls him “Reshi,” which we’re told is a nickname, but which is pretty obviously used as a title of address like “sensei” or “teacher.” Bast is studying with him “who else would teach me?” but we don’t know what, apart from Celum Tinture, a book which has a chapter on solvents. We also see Kote jokingly dispelling Bast with phrases, which don’t work, but then we don’t know yet what Bast is. Also, we later learn that he can touch iron, it just hurts. Most of the things the people do against the Fey seem pretty useless. Oh, and one of the words in another language has “denna” in it, in a banishing invocation. I don’t know if that’s significant.

Bast’s knowledgeable about the scrael, and Kote is as well, and they are worried about there being more of them.

And then we get K’s bedroom, and the chest.

It was made of roah, a rare heavy wood, dark as coal and smooth as polished glass. Prized by perfumers and alchemists, a piece the size of your thumb was easily worth gold. To have a chest made of it went far beyond extravagance.

The chest was sealed three times. It had a lock of copper, a lock of iron, and a lock that could not be seen. Tonight the chest filled the room with an almost imperceptible aroma of citrus and quenching iron.

It has been suggested that it might be made of Chteah wood, but I think this directly contradicts that, it’s made of roah which is expensive but known. This is objective third person text, it doesn’t say it looks like roah or people would think it was roah, it says it was made of it, so I think it was. Otherwise, it’s clearly significant, and it’s clearly bothering K, and we know from later that neither he nor Bast can get it open. It’s not a lockless box, it’s a thrice-locked chest, and I do wonder whether it has a lockless box inside it? Or what? I look forward to seeing it opened in the third book.

The next night the men come back and chat about rumours. The Penitent King is having a hard time with the rebels. I think we know literally nothing about the Penitent King? Which reminds me, where is The Waystone? Where is Baedn-Bryt, and Rannish, which it is near? Where is Treya, which is no more than a few days away by horse, where Chronicler’s going?

Then they talk about how awful the roads are and how they didn’t buy anything from the caravan, and how there’s going to be a third tax. Things they didn’t buy from the caravan include coffee and chocolate, which are interestingly unusual things for a fantasy world. It implies tropics and a trade with them. The tech level is unusual here too, thought through but a much higher level of technology than you usually see in fantasy. There’s a lot of magic—sympathy—but there’s also a lot of technology, and technology combined with magic. Clockwork. Pyrex. There’s no gunpowder or steam, but apart from that I’d judge this somewhere like mid-nineteenth century.

“Chapter 2: A Beautiful Day” introduces Chronicler and shows him being fleeced by bandits—ex-soldiers—for his horse and money, or what money he keeps visible. I don’t think there’s much to say here apart from how we’ve just heard the roads are dangerous and here’s a practical demonstration, and how much of Chronicler’s character is revealed in this little bit. Oh, and it’s autumn, and we have North American vegetation. Interesting.

“Chapter 3: Wood and Word”—Graham brings Kote a board for mounting his sword, “Folly.” Graham thinks Kote looks as if he’s wilting—back to the cut flower metaphor.

Bast asks him what he was thinking, and K says he thinks too much and his greatest successes came when he wasn’t thinking and just acted. Which now sounds to me like the “Floating Leaf” mindset he developed for the Lethani. If the Lethani is right action, that would fit wouldn’t it?

Then a caravan comes and we hear the children’s song about the Chandrian for the first time. And there’s a tinker, and people buy things. I don’t see this tinker doing anything significant, nor does K talk to him or buy anything. Also, there is singing. Also, Kote sings “Tinker, Tanner” with lots of verses, and this is the first mention of that song. But “of course” there was no music? Only now he can sing? He doesn’t play an instrument. But I’m out of theories on this one.

Then a young man recognises him as Kvothe the Bloodless. This is the first time we’ve heard the name, and this is the first form of it we hear. The other information we gain here is:

“I saw the place in Imre where you killed him. By the fountain. The cobblestones are … shattered. They say no one can mend them.”

Now isn’t that interesting? Kvothe killed the king (what king? Ambrose?) in Imre. Imre’s in the Commonwealth, or it was the last we heard, and doesn’t have a king. And he did it with magic, which has to have been malfeasance, because a knife between the shoulderblades doesn’t leave cobblestones shattered so that nobody can mend them. (But he also killed a poet with Caesura. What poet?)

Then Kote denies being Kvothe and gets Bast to drug the young man. In the morning he buys an iron bar from the smith and some old gloves, for nettles.

“Chapter 4: Halfway to Newarre.” Newarre is where The Waystone Inn is. But what a useless map this is!

Chronicler comes across K laying a trap for the scrael. He’s using the arm he broke off the one in the bar to attract the rest—it smells the same. And then Chronicler approaches the fire, talks to him a little, then gets knocked out as K fights the scrael. K knows how to fight the scrael—cold iron bar, and the gloves from the smith for protection. He successfully kills them all. He stands perfectly still waiting for them to attack. It really doesn’t seem as if he’s lost his physical fighting skills, not at this point anyway.

“Chapter 5: Notes.” K comes back to The Waystone carrying Chronicler to find Bast, grumpy at having been left behind with a note. They put Chronicler to bed and Bast remains grumpy that K went off to fight them without telling him. K killed five of them, and Bast is impressed by this. Bast sews up K’s wounds, using his own bone needles, not K’s iron ones. “It’s frightening how primitive you people are,” he says. Then he sees the wounds and says that Kvothe wasn’t supposed to bleed, to which K says “Don’t believe everything you hear in stories.”

The chapter ends in the middle of the night when Bast goes into K’s room and sings him a very strange lullaby.

How odd to watch a mortal kindle
Then to dwindle, day by day.
Knowing their bright souls are tinder
And the wind will have its way.
Would I could my own fire lend.
What does your flickering portend?

Apart from being that rare thing in fantasy, actually good poetry, this is puzzling. It is described as being “almost a lullaby,” which makes me wonder if it might be a charm, and Bast might actually be doing something that’s helping keep K alive. Certainly Bast cares a lot about him. And who is Bast, and where does he come from, other than Fae? What’s he doing here?

That’s the end of Chapter Five, and we’ll stop there, hoping to cover 6-10 next time.

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.


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