Patrick Rothfuss Reread

Rothfuss Reread: The Wise Man’s Fear, Part 18: Die Or Go Mad

Welcome to my riduculously detailed reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 94-98 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, 4C = Four Corners, CTH—that thing I can’t spell!

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

I’m all excited. Well then!

Chapter 94 is “Over Rock and Root”

Rock and root in the woods, but it’s mostly a marsh we hear about.

The first words of this chapter are “We decided to trust the map,” which just in themselves thrill me with horror. Never trust the map! You’ll only get into trouble! (Which reminds me, when I was in Seattle signing books and failing to get on with this re-read, I discovered Unique Media Maps, which are maps of real places done like maps in fantasy books, with jagged snowcapped mountains and pictures of cool places. I found them absolutely irresistable.) So Kvothe and his party head cross-country to the road and Crosson or the Pennysworth.

Hespe’s wounded, so they go slowly, and Tempi begins to teach Kvothe the ketan—he hadn’t been teaching him before. Kvothe also starts to teach Tempi the lute, starting with notes and chords. They think it will only take them two days to Crosson, but there’s a swamp. They travel on by the light of the full moon. Dedan and Hespe are civil to each other. They find a clean stream and get clean and change into dry clothes, including Kvothe’s cloak. (This is the tinker’s cloak. I’ve lost count of how many cloaks he has at different times.) Then they hear singing.

They follow the sound of singing thinking it means shelter, but it is Felurian.

We’ve been set up quite well for Felurian—from the initial boast to mentions going on and then recently the story that has to be explained to Tempi about how she kills men with too much sex. It’s not easy setting things up so that they will have the impact to us they would to somebody in the world, but Rothfuss does very well at it. I don’t think many readers will be saying “huh?” as they hit the last word of this chapter.


Chapter 95 is “Chased

Who is chased? And is it also intended as a pun on “chaste”?

They stand looking at her, naked in the moonlight, and then we get an entire song in Fae, which resembles Tolkien’s Quenya and therefore Finnish. Department of Imaginary Linguistics got anything? Because I am absolutely sure what it means. It’s a song calling men to her, it’s saying she’s there alone and longing for company, and I’m absolutely sure “dirella. amauen.” means “alone. solitary.” I also suspect “delian” of meaning “moonlight.”

Kvothe notes that it’s the tune from Dedan’s story, and also that she’s singing too quietly for him to hear her across the clearing (let alone all the way through the woods) yet he can hear her. It also reminds him of something—which he later realises is Elodin when Elodin’s voice fills the air.

I think it’s worth noticing that despite the lewd stories, he feels pulled by the heart, not the penis. Kvothe looks at the others, Marten is saying “No,” Tempi looks surprised and Dedan’s face is drawn, while Hespe is looking between Dedan and Felurian. Then she sings again and he feels the pull but he resists, as the others are resisting. He decides to go to her by act of conscious will, because it’s magic and he wants the magic, because he’s a member of the Arcanum and an Edema.

This may be rationalisation, but it’s significant that this is the way he rationalises. He claims not to have been overcome or intoxicated, he at least says he could have resisted but he chose not to. He says he’ll meet them in the Pennysworth in three days time. Hespe wrestles Dedan to the ground and won’t let him go. Tempi is backing away—the Lethani may be protection enough. Marten tries to call Kvothe back. Felurian sees him, knows she has him, and dashes off, inviting pursuit.

Interestingly, as soon as we get into the chase Kvothe switches to present tense. He almost never does this, though of course people who are really doing oral storytelling do it all the time. But we have a transition through sentence fragments into present, so that the sex scene, when we get to it, is entirely in present—and the chapter ends on him breaking like a lute string, a very Kvothe metaphor. It’s a very poetic sex scene.


Chapter 96 is “The Fire Itself

“Asleep she was a painting of a fire. Awake she was the fire itself.” Which relates to the name of fire, too, I think, and representations generally.

Back into normal narrative past tense as Kvothe wakes on silken pillows with Felurian still asleep beside him. He looks at her sleep and obsesses over how gorgeous she is. “I have seen her equal only once.”

I find the details of how gorgeous she is entirely plausible for a teenage boy talking about what’s essentially a sex-fairy. Also, “something in his mind” is trying to warn him, and it’s probably saying just what I would say which is “Get out of there now, dummy!”

Eventually—actually only just over a page—he realises he’s going to go mad or die. He tries to go into Heart of Stone but he keeps obsessing about her. He’s sane, though, or as sane as normal, and while he’s worn out he’s not dead either. He decides to escape while the going is good—and then she wakes up.

He continues to be awed by her, even in Heart of Stone part of him starts composing a song to her. There’s no white to her eyes. She asks why he’s so quiet, and addresses him as “flame lover,” which is interesting, as “flame” is one of the meanings of the name he doesn’t have yet—but no doubt just his hair. He replies in poetry. And he realises here that her voice reminds him of Elodin.

She made men mad with desire the same way I gave off body heat. It was natural for her but she could control it.

She sees his lute and wants music. He realises she’s lonely, and everyone she lures goes mad. He plays her a song about ordinary people, because she is out of legend. And he keeps playing and the charm slackens off.

Digression on the word charm here: a long time ago I was using the thesaurus in Protext to find words for “spell” in the magic sense, because I think that word is overused in fantasy. And I realised how very much English has magic tangled up with sex. Charm, glamour, fantasy, enchanting, bewitched—they aren’t even metaphors any more, they have two meanings. Felurian is like a personification of this entanglement.

Kvothe plays for hours, and at the end he feels like himself—he can look at her:

with no more reaction than you might normally feel, looking at the most beautiful woman in the world.

Isn’t that a lovely line! And he says he must be going, and she exerts her power and he realises it’s leaving that drives men mad and she has pride and can’t let anyone leave.


Chapter 97 is “The Lay of Felurian

She controls his body but he holds on to part of his mind. He says:

My mind is my own, no matter what becomes of this body or the world around.

But we know this wasn’t the case in Tarbean, or now as Kote either! Does he still believe this? (We have no interruptions in this part of the story, which is worth noting. Bast and Chronicler are silent and forgotten, and we’re really close in, close enough it’s possible to lose sight of the frame from here.)

Then she gets control of his mind, and he’s back in Tarbean being raped, or almost raped, and he reaches inside himself and finds a part of his mind—and finds himself.

I read this before as metaphorical, but that was before I had Susan’s interpretation of Tarbean. He reaches inside his splintered self, he is thrust back to Tarbean and finds himself whole, and able to name. He finds and wakes his sleeping mind. (“The soft blanket of his sleep?”)

He looks at Felurian and understands her. I think this may be useful when thinking about Bast, now and later:

She was of the Fae. In her mind there was no worry over right and wrong. She was a creature of desire, much like a child. A child does not concern itself with consequence, neither does a sudden storm. Felurian resembled both, and neither. She was old and innocent and powerful and proud.

And again he thinks of Elodin, wondering if this was how he saw the world, truly seeing, truly awake. And he looks at Felurian’s eyes and understands her as if she were music, and he sings the song of her, which must be her name, in four notes. She tries to bewitch him again, and he sings the song again and shakes and shatters her power, frightening her. Then he calls the name of the wind and catches her up in a bubble of wind, above the ground in fear and disbelief. He realises he could kill her, but compares it to ripping the wings off a butterfly, or breaking Illien’s lute, and the world is a better place with her in it. (Worlds?) He lets her down on the cushions. He sees himself in her eyes, with his power like a white star on his brow. Then he starts to lose his sleeping mind, and his heart clenches with a loss like losing his parents.

Then he plays one of the songs he made up after his parents died, a grief song, which as we have discussed may itself be a way of naming.

She asks his name, and he hesitates and then tells her. She asks for a sweet song, and he plays her a bad song about her, and then another. This is where he does his best trick, and offers to write a song about her—and sings the one that has been singing itself in the back of his head since he woke up. I laughed aloud at the “suffice/nice” bit. He’s holding it for ransom, the unfinished song, her legend, in exactly the same way Chronicler did to him way back at the start of NW to get him to tell his story.

She agrees she will let him go to finish the song and release it, and then he promises to return. Has he done this? Is he intending to?


Chapter 98 is “Playing Ivy

So there are a pile of conventional ways of writing about sex, and it seems worth noting that Rothfuss uses two really different ones here with Felurian. First we have the wild poetic present tense, and then we have the coy euphemistic technical method here, with “playing ivy” and the other coquette techniques Kvothe learns.

The chapter begins with a philosophical digression into the nature of time—dragging in jail, fast with a pretty girl. Then the Fae, where it seems time works both ways:

Legend is full of boys who fall asleep in faerie circles only to wake as old men. Other stories tell of girls who wander into woods and return years later, looking no older and claiming only minutes have passed.

We can have no knowledge, therefore, of how old Kvothe is (under thirty to the eye) in the frame compared to the main story where he is 17 or maybe 18 now… if he has gone back into Fae at any time. Imagine going in for two days and coming out to find the consequences of your mistake spiralled entirely out of control.

Meanwhile, he considers that he has no idea how long it has been, and time is completely out of his control. He stays and leans lovers’ arts, with a “curriculum.” He lists the names of the subtle techniques she teaches him, which are reminiscent of Asian pillow book names.

In the rest of their time he tries to learn the Fae language and fails, despite having learned so many human languages so successfully. They tell stories, he knows more than she does. She knows who Ilien was, but not the other heroes, not even Taborlin. He asks her about the Amyr, and she says “there never were any human amyr.” (Felurian’s lack of capital letters makes me dislike her, like those annoying people one runs into online who refuse to capitalise.) He says the stories she knew about the Amyr were thousands of years old, but he doesn’t tell us them, even though they might give us priceless information! He may not care about the aftermath of the Creation War, but we do!

Then he asks about the Chandrian, and she refuses to talk about them. She says if he asks again she will drive him out, and she swears by a pile of stuff including “the ever-moving moon.”

She does tell him complicated stories about the Faen, but he often doesn’t understand the details and she doesn’t like being asked. The fragments he gives us don’t connect up to anything I recognise. He says Fae and men are more different than dogs and wolves, more like water and alcohol, you might not see the difference in a glass, but fundamentally different.

Again, no interruption from Bast, and we’d do well to consider how this applies to his behaviour when we get to the end of the frame later in this volume.

And we’ll pick up again with 99 next week.



The Department of Imaginary Sympathy promotes BJHomer, AnthonyPero, David C, Dwndrgn, Robocarp, Lackless, Silkki, Ryan7273 and The Bloody Nine to E’lir, and Wetlandernw and Aesculapius to Re’lar.

And thanks to everyone being patient and insightful through the weeks of summaries, even those of you who weren’t quite as patient as you might have wanted to be. It was a good tour, and it was great to meet Shalter and GBrell in Minneapolis and San Francisco, and I’m glad to be home and intend to get on with these WMF posts steadily, which will take, I calculate, about another 10 weeks. And then we can all go insane waiting for DT.


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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