Patrick Rothfuss Reread

Rothfuss Reread: The Wise Man’s Fear, Part 28: I Hate Not Understanding a Thing

Welcome to my insanely detailed reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 147 to the end 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 ted in WMF, none of them really came up explicitly in NW. The first is the Amtheories. The re-read index. The map. The timeline. Imaginary Linguistics.

Chapter 147 (149) is Tangled

Kvothe goes back to Ankers and sees Sim and Fela. Sim asks how his day with D went. He sighs, and Fela offers a female perspective on the problem. We don’t get the details of Kvothe’s explanation, but we do get the significant line:

“She confuses me like no other thing in the world.” I picked at a splinter in the tabletop with my finger. “I hate not understanding a thing.”

And that’s the central thing with Kvothe and D, he doesn’t understand her. It’s what he says to Bast and Chronicler when he starts talking about her, it’s what he says now to Sim and Fela, he doesn’t understand her. When your narrator confesses to not understanding something, there really can be something very large going on out of sight. We know some stuff—the knots, her interest in written down magic, her mysterious patron, her incessant moving on, her momentary death as a baby, her continuing asthma—and we have come up with some stuff—that she isn’t Denna, that she’s the moon, that she’s the wind, that she’s been in Fae, that her momentary death left her like Lanre. We have the Bechdel scene, which could have multiple meanings. But I have to say that I don’t understand her at all either. She acts like an archetype wandering through a story in which the other characters have psychological realism. There’s something really odd about D, and I also hate not understanding a thing. I wait impatiently for D3 and revelations.

(When D3 actually arrives, I don’t expect to read it at this pace, but I will definitely do something detailed here where we can all go “Look at that!” and “GBrell was right!” and so on.)

Anyway, Fela now talks directly about the male gaze, and how being looked at appreciatively makes her feel beautiful and being looked at sleazily makes her feel greasy. Maybe this is different it you are beautiful? But I have to say it doesn’t bear much relationship to my experience. Fela in any case goes on to say he gives his whole attention and now there’s something fae about it, but it’s not a threat to Sim. Kvothe offers fascination but not devotion. Sim points out that Kvothe would turn the whole world over for D, and that’s devotion if you like. Kvothe says he doesn’t love D because he doesn’t understand her, and Sim laughs.

Then Kvothe finds Elodin and eats grapes with him. He asks about name changing—we’ve discussed this passage several times in different contexts. Elodin instantly panics.

“What?” He sat up suddenly, his eyes wild and panicked. “What have you done?”

His reaction startled me and I held up my hands defensively. “Nothing!” I insisted. “It’s not me. It’s a girl I know.”

Elodin’s face grew ashen. “Fela?” he said. “Oh no. No. She wouldn’t do something like that. She’s too smart for that.” It sounded as if he were desperately trying to convince himself.

I am absolutely convinced that the existence of this passage means that Kvothe has changed his name in the frame. I know we have alternate explanations, broken alar, broken vow/hands and so on, but I think this is here as a clear signal that changing your name is a) possible and b) disastrous. (Kote.) I also think it’s funny that Elodin thinks Fela is too smart to do it but knows perfectly well that Kvothe isn’t.

Elodin then goes on to discuss use names, and that D‘s name thing could indicate that she doesn’t know who she is. But he also says he’s assuming she’s not a fugitive, which isn’t something I’m assuming—we know she leaves inn bills unpaid, and that’s got to be a crime when stealing bread is.

He tells Elodin about calling the wind in Tarbean, and Elodin is impressed that he has done it three times voluntarily and had control. He asks how long before he can make a ring of air, and Kvothe jokes that who can tell if he already has.

Chapter 148 (150) is Folly


We’re winding up all the ends neatly. Spring term continues, D goes to Anilin  without performing the Lanre song in Imre, but she went to Ankers to tell him she was going, which is utterly unprecedented. He sees it as a good sign. I don’t—honestly, there’s clearly something weirdly magical about the way they meet and can’t find each other and always do, and I think doing it that way means they are in tune and actually connecting formally is a bad sign.

The Chancellor fell ill and didn’t recover despite the best the Medica could do, and resigns. We’ve speculated that this might be a poisoning to prevent Kvothe continuing to learn Yllish. Hemme is appointed Chancellor, and Kvothe is more careful of the University’s laws. At Admissions, Kvothe gets a tuition of fifty talents, because the Chancellor has more control than he thought, but of course he has the Maer’s paper and his deal with the Bursar. He has a great night out in Imre with all his friends, drinking to Hemme’s folly.

And that’s really a great place to stop the story.

Chapter 149 (151) is Locks

It doesn’t say “Interlude: Locks” in my ARC or in the e-book, so we know we’re into closing the frame as soon as K talks about this being a good place to stop before things get dark again.

There’s a bad hand reference:

He idly rubbed his hands together, right hand massaging the left absent-mindedly.

It’s not his hands that got stomped by the soldiers, and anyway, Bast has fixed him.

Chronicler puts the pages in his satchel with the holly crown. K takes the dishes into the kitchen. Bast sits still, barely breathing. Ksuggests he might want to go back to Shep’s wake, and he says he’d rather go to bed. K looks concerned and says Bast just had a rough day and he’ll be fine tomorrow—this doesn’t fit the “jailor Bast” theory. (Is D3 here yet?)

K locks the door and leaves the key in the lock in case Chronicler is up first. He says he doesn’t tend to sleep much but tonight he might make an exception. Chronicler goes to bed. K sweeps the floor and cleans up then goes to bed.

Bast goes into his room. Nothing but “ash and cinder” remains of his morning’s fire. (This was one of the lines that made me feel Cinder was Master Ash.) He sits wrapped in a blanket in front of the cold fire until Chronicler comes tapping at his window. When he hears the sound he snatches up “something” which glints of metal. (Is it possible to have unreliable third person narration? Oh yes.) It’s a pair of long knives, we learn after he lets Chronicler in and lights a lamp. They are compared to grass and a thorn—very Fae knives, clearly. I wonder what they’re made of?

Chronicler looks at the room, which is richly furnished and full of tat—pictures, trunkets and oddments, including rings of horn, leather, and woven grass. Oh we are definitely in rural Vintas, and horn means enmity if I remember, and do we know about grass or leather? There’s also holly and a pair of leaf-bladed hatchets.

Chronicler asks about the CTH. Bast says it’s not healthy to talk about it. Chronicler says he doesn’t understand, and Bast says he’s not very smart. Bast keeps staring and the cold fireplace, is that significant? We’ve seen K chopping wood, he’d only have to go down and get some if he wanted a fire. Bast says the CTH knows everything. Chronicler says that makes it irritating, and Bast incoherently swears in Fae:

“Dyen vehat. Enfeun vehat tyloren tes!”

I think this means “You are an ignorant aardvark! An ignorant aardvark flaunting your blinkers!”

My reasoning is as follows. “Tes” is clearly a form of “you” as in “te” as in “te rhintae” etc, and I think it could well be “your” specifically. I think “dyen” and “tyloren are verb because they have Fae verb form, like “scthaiven” and “tauren” and “amauen”.  I’m guessing they mean “you are” and “you flaunt”. “Enfeun” reminds me of “embighten” (Felurian, of what the moon will do to the shaed” and “enshaedn” (Elodin, meaning “possessing a shaed”) so I think “en+word” means to add “word” to the person—thus here I’m guessing “blind yourself” or “blinkered”. And “vehat” just clearly means “ignorant aardvark”, or something very like that.

(I can’t believe how long I spent on that.)

Chronicler deals well with being sworn at in Fae, though he shows no sign he understands it. He says Bast is angry and he’s angry at Chronicler just because he’s there. He says he’s trying to help. Then Chronicler says K believed Bast about the CTH, and Bast says:

“He knows the hidden turnings of the world,” Bast said. “And what he doesn’t understand he is quick to grasp.” Bast’s fingers flicked idly at the edges of the blanker. “And he trusts me.”

So Kvothe trusts Bast, or Bast thinks so. Interesting.

They go on to discuss the CTH in detail. Then Bast says:

Be happy in your silly little ignorance. I’m doing you a favor by not telling you the truth.

Isn’t that interesting? I wonder if he’s doing that with K, too, with his apple elderberry plan? Bast says he’d rather fight all the Chandrian than talk to the CTH. Chronicler still wants this to be superstition. Chronicler slaps him, and tells him that the CTH set everything in motion, whether Bast attacks or not, and in that choice is free will, is the possibility for change and not inflexible destiny.

Bast says:

Only an idiot sits in a burning house and thinks that everything is fine because fruit is sweet.

Chronicler says the inn isn’t burning, Bast says the world is. Chronicler says Felurian wouldn’t have let him go if it was to a bad end, Bast says the Fae aren’t known for their good decisions. Then he says that if everything is going to end in tears he might as well do what he wants, and leaves with a bottle of wine.

I’m not sure what to make of all this, from the point of view of Chronicler maybe being an Amyr. It’s not “for the greater good”, is it? It’s more the Tinker thing of mending the broken house, I think, and I wonder if this may be the “mender heresy”? Fruit is sweet, all is not yet lost, do what you can starting from here and don’t despair. I think the Tinkers are the opposite of the CTH, for all that they play the same role in the Iax story and always know what people will need.

K goes to bed, and unlike Bast he lays a new fire, using a sulphur match. He gets another blanket. Then he kneels in front of the Thrice Locked Chest and tries to open it, first with nothing and then with keys. but it won’t open, even when he says “Open, damn you. Edro.” He looks “older than his years” (whatever they are). His face holds:

the expression of a man who has finally received bad news he’s already known was on the way.

As if he didn’t know for sure he wouldn’t be able to open it until he tried? And he hasn’t been trying, the keys were dusty. And why is he trying now? And why can’t he open it?

I know, D3 and until then a nice helping of patience.

Chapter 147 (152) is Elderberry

And this is where we find out that Bast set up the soldiers. Bast chants his “elderberry” song as he did at the beginning of the book, but ends pointing a burning brand at one of the soldiers. He says he didn’t get what he wanted—what he wanted is presumably for K to have dealt with them and been shocked into becoming more Kvothe. We don’t know what Bast does to the soldiers, only that his expression was “nothing like a smile”.

Epilogue: A Silence of Three Parts.

This is the fourth time we have seen what is substantially this chapter. We have the tripartite silence, which I still think is something Kvothe has deliberately created.

I think the first tripartite silence reflects what K has done. The second silence is other people not being able to reach him. And the third is the scary solid silence that doesn’t just reflect it but which is it. It’s a magical silence. It’s in the glass and the chest and K himself. And it holds the other two silences, and it is just exactly like splitting his alar, isn’t it, the way we have seen him do?

The thing he has done here, the things that are lacking, are rain and lovers, and of course no music. There have been a lot of storms and lovers in this volume, and music of course. The second silence is the sound of revelry coming from Shep’s wake, a thin thread broken by the wind—the outside world not being able to reach in. And then the third silence in “the hands of the man”. K isn’t given a name here. He’s described as the red haired man, and he goes downstairs and takes one perfect step. This may mean he’s started to practice the ketan again, and it may be a sign of hope despite everything. I would like it to be.

Then we’re back to the silence that belongs to him, and the cut flower sound.

Such beautiful writing. Such a long time to wait for more.

This re-read has been a lot of work but also a great deal of fun, and it’s all of you who have been here week after week speculating and going along with the craziness that have made it fun. I started it in the first place because of the high level of speculation on the first spoiler thread I put up and then the Sleeping Under the Wagon thread. I hope you’ve all enjoyed this as much as I have.

Don’t miss the interview with Pat next week.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently the Hugo and Nebula nominated Among Others. 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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