Patrick Rothfuss Reread

Rothfuss Reread: Speculative Summary 3: “Fire, Thunder, Broken Tree.” Speculations on Kvothe

Welcome to the third of the speculative summation posts I’m going to be doing in between volumes of my unnecessarily detailed re-read of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. Three weeks ago we finished The Name of the Wind, and after we’ve summed up some of the speculation we’ll be moving on to The Wise Man’s Fear — but 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. 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. MT: Myr Tariniel. D = Denna

Useful links: The Sleeping Under the Wagon post, in which there are lots of theories. The re-read index. The map.

Kote of the frame is different from the Kvothe of the first person narration, and the possible reasons for the difference are really interesting. We have several conflicting theories.


Broken Alar

K has broken his alar — which was like a bar of Ramston steel, “the best knife you’ll ever have until it breaks.” Or, he has used his alar against itself — here’s Freelancer:

The function of the alar is to believe something so strongly as to give it the force of reality. It seems likely that he used his alar, “like a bar of Ramston steel”, to convince himself that he has no alar, and therefore no magic. For his disguise to be thorough and complete, he cannot afford to make a single mistake of using Sympathy, so the logical move is to block it from himself.

and Bephers:

He describes two separate experiences fo us while playing Seek the Stone.

I remember one time I looked for the stone for almost an hour beforeI consented to ask the other half of me where I’d hidden it, only to find I hadn’t hidden the stone at all. I had merely been waiting to see how long I would look before giving up… Another time I asked for hints and ended up jeering at myself. (p.72)

Perhaps, if Kvothe is maintaing himself as Kote through splitting his Alar (Ramston steel or not), he has hidden his true self so well that he until he truly asks Kote for it, he cannot get it back?

So by the Alar explanation, either he has broken his alar, or he is using his alar, in other words using Sympathy, to hide part of himself from the rest of himself.


Name Change

K has changed his name to Kote, which means “disaster,” making himself lesser and different to utterly disguise himself. This fits with what Elodin says about name changing at the end of WMF.

Artful Magpie sums this one up well:

Kvothe changed his true name, perhaps in remorse for something he’d done? His memories wouldn’t change, and some of his very basic abilities might still be there, like the ability to fight the scraelings. (Anyone who is reasonably athletic and has the necessary knowledge might well be able to beat up monsters with a bar of iron, after all. ) But the essence of what made him so remarkable would be different or gone. None of the magic. None of the music. None of the Adem fighting skills.

The “essence of what made him so remarkable,” yes. If this is what he has done, Bast doesn’t know or doesn’t understand, because Bast is trying to jerk him awake. (Bast thinks he’s becoming what he seems.)

Jon D says:

In the first book he fights like an innkeeper, not a warrior: he takes an iron bar and gloves and uses the fire as a trap. He has a sword but doesn’t use it.

He also sings like an innkeeper. Tinker Tanner is explicitly (recall the incident where Kvothe wants to leave work early) an audience sing-a-long song. This is something that an innkeeper might sing.

At the end of the second book, he tries to fight like Kvothe, using the move he learned from the Adem. But that fails, similarly at the end of the first book when he tried to use alar to fight like a sympathist.

I think this points to how he changed his real name. To change your real name, you have to change yourself. When describing real names, Elodin talks about how they encapsulate everything about a person. So to change his real name, Kvothe had to change who he was in a fundamental way.

And Smileyman:

The discussion about Naming Kvothe to wake him out of his fugue in Tarbean is a direct line to his current disguise as Kote. Remember the alarm about changing Names? What if, instead of Kvothe using his alar to hide himself, he’s actually re-Named himself Kote? That way he still has the memories of being Kvothe (thus being able to tell Chronicler his story), but the aura or personality of Kvothe isn’t his.

This all fits really well, and it’s the explanation I’m inclined to believe.


In the Box

But what I really believe is this variant. Part of his name, the V and the H, are shut in the Thrice Locked Chest, the way part of the moon’s name was shut in Jax’s box.

He has shut part of his name (the V and the H) in his Thrice Locked Box, where he can’t get at it. When he’s trying to open it he reminds me of somebody I know who really wanted to give up smoking so he put all his cigarettes in a plastic bag and froze that in the middle of a really big block of ice. The idea was that he’d weaken and get it out of the freezer, but he’d remember his resolution before it melted and put it back. This worked for a long time, but eventually he went at it with a blowtorch… and I think this is what K will do. Maybe not with a blowtorch. But the way he is with that chest is really really similar.

I like this because it allows for the possibility of eucatastrophe. I also think there may be hope in the bottom of the box. But I am just a cheerful positive person.



Something very weird happened to K after the Chandrian killed the troupe, he slept and woke changed, and was changed all through Trebon until Skarpi woke him.

He wasn’t himself — he says he wasn’t himself, and this is also what has happened to him in the frame.

This is Susan Loyal’s awesome theory, laid out here in detail:

I’ve found something that I missed entirely. In Chapter 19, Fingers and Strings, Kvothe says: “Make no mistake. I was not myself. At least I was not the same person I had been a span of days before.” I just read over this as metaphorical, because it’s such common usage to describe trauma and grief. It may be literal. Kvothe lists the gates in the mind that protect the mind from extreme pain: the gate of sleep, the gate of forgetting, the gate of madness, the gate of death. (In Skarpi’s story, which we’ll get to next week, Haliax says these gates are closed to him.) Kvothe says repeatedly, from the beginning of his time in the woods to the point in Tarbean where Skarpi is arrested, that his mind is sleeping. He also refers (it seems somewhat inconsistently) to things that are locked behind the gate of forgetting. His parents’ death and the Chandrian seem to be behind the gate of forgetting most of the time. Sometimes the memories rise, however. And then you have his recounting his troupe’s role in the Midwinter celebrations as if his memory was completely unaffected. This seems to me like some of the inconsistencies in the Kote/Kvothe split. His geographical location is one of the things behind the gate of forgetting, or so he says when he decides to find lute strings.

This is what happened in Tarbean, and it’s the same thing that has happend in the frame — music and magic (and now Adem fighting) shut away behind the gates in his sleeping mind.

We know there are four gates, and we know there are four plates in the four plate door. We know the curse on Lanre/Haliax is that he can’t use those gates. K doesn’t seem to sleep, in the frame….



K hasn’t lost anything, he’s just hiding his abilities really really well, hiding by becoming somebody else. This is BAM’s summation of this:

Kvothe has not lost his magic or his music or his fighting skills. But Kote doesn’t have any of these. Later, when he gets beat up by the bandits that Bast hired to rob him, he says “I almost forgot who I was” about starting a fight. Kvothe is hiding (from the Chandarian?) by becoming someone else. Kote. Who doesn’t play the lute, doesn’t have an alar, and can’t fight.

Which would be fine, except that he takes that one perfect step at the end of WMF, and then there’s killing the scrael, and singing Tinker Tanner.

Mknecht01 says:

From the perspective of two books in, it seems in these early chapters as though Kote is doing a lot of “forgetting who he is for a moment.” He jumps in with the rhyme about the tinker, he’s thinking out loud about the scraeling when Carter brings it in, he’s humming to himself without realizing while cleaning bottles, though he “would have stopped himself if he had known.” He’s become a little too complacent in the character he’s been playing for the last year or so?

The problem with this theory is that he doesn’t let the soldiers beat him up, he’s surprised when his move doesn’t work. And the same seems to be the case with the alar and the skinchanger. If he was just hiding, and breaking character as often as he does, he’d really break character. There’s something more wrong than this, I think.


The Waystone

Maltheos suggests:

Another thing I have noticed Kvothe can fight. Kote cannot — this may be more significant than it sounds. When K is Kote — he cannot fight, has no magic, etc. When K is more like Kvothe — in the wild — taking action and initiative, he can fight. Thus the scrael fight being quite doable, but other fights/ tale spinning/etc within the inn where he is Kote, not doable. I wonder if he would be able to open the box when he is outside the inn and is (more) Kvothe.

It might be something in the inn itself that makes him Kote, and hidden. And the inn is of course by a Greystone.

Smileyman also thinks this:

When he’s Kote, he’s not simply wearing a mask or disguise (we know he’s a master at those), but he is an actual boring, average innkeeper. Away from the inn he can revert to Kvothe. When he says I almost forgot who I was, he was being quite literal.

I also have to wonder if he’s not maintaining more than one alar split. One (or two I guess) to separate Kvothe and Kote and another one to maintain a defense or a disguise somewhere against the Chandrian. This is why it’s so important for him to not forget who he is—if he lets the alar slip it’ll all come crashing down.

I think this also explains why he wasn’t able to do anything when the inn was attacked.

This is an intriguing thought.


K vs K

(This subtitle is a reference to a long running controversy about the end of Dorothy Dunnett’s Pawn in Frankincense.)

I want to sum up what the differences are, for the benefit of further speculation.

In the frame we never see K make music, apart from singing Tinker, Tanner. We never see his lute. We never see him sleep. We never see him do Sympathy, and we never see anybody else do Sympathy either, though we don’t know if Bast or Chronicler can. (We do see Chronicler use the Name of Iron and Bast do some Fae healing.) We see K try to do Sympathy and it not work, with the skinchanger or whatever it is. We do not see him use Adem fighting, except possibly that one perfect step, and though he has an Adem sword it is not Caesura. Also, when he tries it he fails.

We know he has killed a king. We also think something he has done has broken the moon — I mean broken the moon more, but I feel this more as a hunch than anything real. There is moonlight in the frame. There is no Denna, and there’s no sign of Wil or Sim or any of his other friends, only Bast, who has his own agenda that’s quite different from K’s. And we don’t know what Skarpi and Chronicler really are, or what their agenda is, or whose side they are on. It has been suggested by AO and by Arra that K could be setting a trap in the frame, and that the whole story is part of the trap. There has to be a whole lot of frame action in DT. And I’m just going to have to wait for it.

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.


Back to the top of the page


Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.