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Rothfuss Reread: The Wise Man’s Fear, Part 2: So Sharp He Can Hardly Help But Cut Himself


Rothfuss Reread: The Wise Man’s Fear, Part 2: So Sharp He Can Hardly Help But Cut Himself

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Rothfuss Reread: The Wise Man’s Fear, Part 2: So Sharp He Can Hardly Help But Cut Himself


Published on September 8, 2011

The Patrick Rothfuss Reread on Speculative Summary 11: Te Rhintae?
The Patrick Rothfuss Reread on Speculative Summary 11: Te Rhintae?

Welcome to my ridiculously detailed re-read of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 5-10 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

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


Chapter Five is “The Eolian”

And for once I think the title means what it says.

The chapter begins with Kvothe trying to scrape together money for tuition—making lamps, unloading carts, covering someone’s shift in the Medica, then losing money gambling. Then he goes to the Eolian with Wil and Sim and Manet, and is challenged getting in. Manet hasn’t been there before. Sim wants Kvothe to sing the Jackass song, and we get another two lines of it, but Kvothe refuses, saying he’s done with Ambrose.

Now Sim is a sensible person and an Aturan noble, and Sim is also well aware of what trouble Ambrose can cause. Sim has his own reasons for hating Ambrose, but he must really really hate him to keep on wanting to hear that song. Now I hate Ambrose too—I’m fairly sure we all hate Ambrose here. But do we want the level of trouble it could cause Kvothe to sing the song in public after the apology?

They discuss how tuition isn’t fair and how Kvothe’s is going to be high because of running off to Trebon, being promoted to Re’lar, and being called on the Horns. Marie plays music.

Kvothe looks for Denna, and astonishingly finds her. She’s with a Mondegan gentleman and is dressed in silk and jewels. Kvothe kisses her hand. The Mondegan, Kellin, acknowledges Kvothe only because he has his pipes. Kvothe is jealous.

To be both rich and handsome was bad enough. But to have a voice like honey over warm bread on top of that was simply inexcusable. The sound of it made me feel like a cat grabbed by the tail and rubbed backwards with a wet hand.

I mostly quote things because they are significant details, I’m quoting this because it’s such lovely phrasing.

Denna is going by “Dinael.” Kellin plays the Mondegan court harp. He corrects “harper” to “harpist” and asks Kvothe if he’s a piper, which Kvothe corrects to “pipist,” which makes me laugh. When Kvothe confesses to lute, Kellin calls that “folk music.”

Denna fakes losing an ear-ring and comes back for it. Kvothe swears “God’s body,” a Tehlin oath, and a little later “Tehlu save us from perfect gentlemen.” Then he swears “Skethe te retaa van” when he hears that Kellin is a lord in his own right. I don’t know what language it’s in or what it literally means, but my loose translation would be “It’s enough to make you sick” or “There ain’t no justice.”

Then Kvothe goes back to the table and says he can’t find Threpe, and there’s a discussion about patronage. Kvothe thinks of Lord Greyfallow and the two suits of clothing, but not about finding him, he never thinks of that. Manet demonstrates how patronage works with beer and brandy. The entertainers keep the people entertained so they pay taxes happily.


Chapter Six is “Love”

And we see for the first time the lute for which Kvothe has paid so much that he can’t afford tuition. He loves it. He knows it has flaws. “Unwise love is the truest love”—gosh that’s a young person’s thing to say.

Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love a thing despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.

Are we still talking about the lute? Because he looked up at Denna and saw her face “clear as the moon” just before this.

And then Kvothe does his trick. He plays “Bellweather” a folk tune so simple anyone could carry it in a bucket, and makes it look hard. Then he plays “Tintantatorin” an amazingly hard piece, as if it’s boring and easy. The musicians love it, the rest of the audience feel tricked.

Stanchion says “Young six string here is so sharp he can hardly help but cut himself,” and Manet says “You’ve noticed that too?” It’s a true thing about Kvothe.

Sim makes a pun and says Kvothe played a joke on a lute.

Ambrose is mentioned, and Sim says he’s thirteenth in line fore the throne of Vintas.

The entire Surthen family was lost at sea two months ago. Ambrose won’t shut up about the fact that his father’s barely a dozen steps from being king.

(And the sooner Kvothe kills him the better, I say.) Kvothe says the patron well has been poisoned and he couldn’t get one anyway, why not make fun of the non-musicians. He’s done something that is simultaneously very clever and very stupid. Just typical.

Marie, a beautiful fiddler with her pipes, defends him. But even she says:

“You keep thumbing your nose at folk,” she said. “I swear I’ve never met a man who has your knack for lack of social grace.”

Manet makes a date with her, impressing the heck out of the other students. They play cards. Kvothe’s mind wanders. Manet says:

“Here’s a primer for admissions.” He held up his hand, three fingers spearing angrily into the air. “Lets say you have three spades in your hand and there have been five spades laid down.” He held up his other hand, fingers splayed wide. “How many spades is that total?”

This would be a reasonable comment in context, except for Elodin asking the same thing at Admissions. There are several possible explanations. Elodin might be there, either unnoticed or invisibly. The wind might tell Elodin. Manet might tell Elodin. Wil or Sim might tell Elodin—this seems less likely. Or Elodin could read it from Kvothe’s memory, perhaps? Or Manet might be Elodin in disguise—have we ever seen them together? But it seems odd, in retrospect—not saying it, but saying it and then it really being asked.

Sim asks him again to play Jackass. Kvothe swears “Black hands!”

Then Manet explains to the others about sounten—water, so Kvothe can save the price of the drink. Over the evening, Kvothe makes a talent and six jots—more than doubling the amount in his pocket. And he leaves with some Bredon beer, which is full of trace nutrients—he’s getting it for Auri of course.

But I just noticed something. We’ve talked before about the connection between Bredon and Bredon beer. But what he says is “In the small kingdoms, women drink it when they’re pregnant” and then Wil says “Sim and I don’t mind that you’re a pregnant Yllish woman.” The interesting thing is the connection between the small kingdoms, Yll, and Bredon. The beer is available in Imre, and known to Sim and Wil, so we don’t know where it comes from by the fact of small kingdom consumption. But does it suggest that Bredon the person comes from the small kingdoms? Or Yll?

Kvothe finally sings Jackass when there’s nobody around.

Then he wanders past the grey stone of Masters’ Hall, where a single light illuminates a stained glass window of “Teccam in his classic pose: barefoot at the mouth of his cave speaking to a crowd of young students.” I am picturing this like Fra Angelico’s Harrowing of Hell, only kind of reversed, with a Socratic hermit in the cave and a crowd of students at the side. (This fills me with a desire for a nifty secular stained glass window.)

The Crucible smells of chemistry. The Archives still remind him of a waystone. Lorren keeps it open all night during Admissions. Then he goes home to Ankers and it feels like home, and that surprises him because he has always been a wanderer. And this is love as well, his love of the University.


Chapter Seven is “Admissions”

Another relatively straightforward title—except that as well as “admissions” the entrance interviews, it’s the things Kvothe admits when under the influence of the plum bob.

Rothfuss has set this up so that it looks as if it’s going to be all about not having enough money and not being able to study in the Archives, when in fact it’s Ambrose and the plum bob. Very clever use of misdirection. A woman in Ankers buys him a drink to celebrate him breaking Ambrose’s arm. She’s wearing gloves, she gets the mug wet, he touches it, and therefore the poison. He can smell nutmeg and plum. She runs out crying… oh dear.

And the first stupid thing Kvothe does is buying a pie when he needs every penny. This does show how incredibly disciplined he normally is with this kind of thing. He knows what it means to be poor. Then he buys honeyed almonds. He goes to talk to a girl he knows slightly from the Fishery, and talks too loudly about what a silly process Admissions is. This is all very clever, as by reporting what he did it doesn’t feel that different from normal—Kvothe doesn’t have that many inhibitions normally, but it slowly creeps up. It isn’t until Ambrose asks if he doesn’t fancy plum that he realises something is wrong.

He goes to see Sim, and Sim (who has studied alchemy as Kvothe has not) recognises what it is and explains. It’s “moral amnesia.”

Sim swears “Merciful Tehlu” in relief when Kvothe gives him the knife instead of killing Ambrose with it. Kvothe curses by “Tehlu’s tits and teeth” which is pleasingly alliterative at least. When he wants to see Fela naked he says women are naked in paintings. Ryanreich pointed out last week that we haven’t seen any paintings in the text at all, and this is only the second mention of them, and both times in connection with Fela. I don’t know what the significance is, but it has to be significant.

Fela changes tiles with Kvothe and goes through admissions. Kvothe stays in Sim’s room in a morally bad state.

“Which would be worse, killing Ambrose or stealing a pie?”

“A meat pie or a fruit pie?”

He says he doesn’t think he has any secrets. Ha. Then he goes back to Ankers and goes to bed and remembers everything in painful clarity and the worst memories are of being happy when he was a child. I know exactly what he means about that. Then Auri taps on his window and she holds him while he cries. He talks to her about his mother—just as a mother singing to him, saying he misses her, which he’d never admit when in his right head. And Auri says the same thing she says before “I’m here. You’re safe.”


Chapter Eight is “Questions”

Kvothe remains emotionally labile—crying when tryint to inscibe a heat funnel. And then he fixes Anker’s magic fridge. I like the magic fridge—a major piece of artificing anywhere else, a normal thing around the University. And then he sees Elodin, who picks a terrible time for testing his self control. Elodin’s reasons for not teaching him are:

You are too eager to be properly patient. You’re too proud to listen properly. And you’re too clever by half. That’s the worst of it.

This is all perfectly accurate. And then he gives Kvothe a practical demonstration. Hemme has just been rude to both of them, and they go into his rooms and burn his clothes, with Kvothe thinking they’re Elodin’s rooms.

“You know you’re clever. That’s your weakness. You assume you know what you’re getting into, but you don’t.”

Elodin’s giving Kvothe a lesson and getting revenge on Hemme, but Elodin really is mad.

The questions are the questions Kvothe asks Elodin, of which the right question turns out to be “Whose rooms are these?”


Chapter Nine is “A Civil Tongue”

Admissions, finally. Arwyl asks sensible medical questions. Brandeur asks a question about percentages which… sounds like math and makes my brain switch off. Then he asks one about trifoil compasses, which fortunately you guys were all over this in the Speculative Geography thread, starting with Shalter:

the trifoil compass does seem to have gold platinum and cobalt indicators. And to give you reading in terms of “points” for each of these.

However, the reading isn’t quite a GPS reading or you wouldn’t need the painstaking triangulation part. The compass gives you three numbers. If you could just draw three lines on the map corresponding to those numbers to get your position, it wouldn’t really be painstaking.

Also, what do the three numbers relate to? Is it latitude, longitude and altitude? Or, are they distances from something? Very interesting.

AhoyMatey guesses:

My guess is that the trifoil compass doesn’t use points on “earth” for each indicator. What if one of the indicators points to the moon? That would probably take some extensive calculations to figure out position.

Shalter again:

I am now picturing a Trifoil compass as having 3 needles. Each of the needles would point to something in the world. The needle could be made to point at its goal through a sympathetic binding. So, the needles would give you the direction to three things, these could then be drawn on a map to determine your location. You only really need two needles, but three would give you more accuracy.

Bad Platypus:

Another possibility would be if there are (e.g.) multiple “platinum” locations in the world, and the compass gives information about the nearest one. Then you’d have to try multiple possibilities and there could be several places that are “close but not quite,” thus requiring the painstaking labor to distinguish among them.

My guess would be that “points” are like degrees of a circle, so they give direction only, but any of your explanations could work as well.

Danielrixy wonders:

if the existence of the trifoil compass means that the standard magnetic compass that we use can’t exist in this world. Maybe because the planet generates no electomagnetic field? Which could possibly be because it isn’t round/doesn’t spin?

Shalter in response to that:

That’s the general conclusion I’m being drawn towards. It would be pretty cool if it is so. When you cople the existence of the trifoil with Kvothe’s interjection about Fae being seemingly spherical, it kind of fits.

Of course, they could be using trifoil compasses in the four corners since it lets you find your position more easily than a single magnetic needle compass.

A Fox proposes:

Our world has more than two (north and south) poles. What if the 4c’s also has this. Different poles exerting diff influences over fields. (by which i mean something similar to electromagnetic, gravitatioal etc. though not obviously, literaly, those!) Each of the substances gives a reading to where you are in regards to the pole of that field field.

If you imagigine them image of a trifoil, you envisage three circles meeting. The meeting point is where you are. The readings give the mesurement to the nearest pole of its particuar field. This would be the radius of one of the circles. If you only went by one reading you could essentially be anywhere on the perimetre of that reading. By taking three different readings, of differnent poles, you would have an almost exact reading. (Makes you wonder what would be at the centre of a tifoil that had equaly sized circles…doors of stone or somesuch ;) )

Thats how i envisged it, and you would certainly need to do a little math to use those readings.

prn060 takes that further:

if each of the foils works the same way a compass in the real world works (except they point to different places, of course) you would still need three to triangulate your exact position in some cases. The issue is that if you’re anywhere on the exact line defined by two of the foils’ targets, you would only be able to determine that (a) you are between them somewhere, or (b) both of them are in the same direction. You could figure out where you were exactly by moving a bit off the line, but you may have to move a long way depending on where you and the foils’ targets are located. Much easier just to create a third target that lets you figure out where you are on the line (assuming the compass system was created and operates via sygaldry instead of using some gold/cobalt/platinum magnetic system made up for this fantasy world)

Kvothe, however, doesn’t know.

Elodin asks the question Manet asked about spades in exactly the same words. And then Elodin gets cross because the other masters roll their eyes, and he asks:

“Where does the moon go when it is no longer in our sky?”

Which again sounds like whimsical nonsense but is in fact exact and specific and a question only a namer can answer—it’s in Fae. But Kvothe doesn’t yet know, and admits that he doesn’t.

Elxa Dal looks like a bad magician, but he asks sensible Sympathy questions that Kvothe can answer. Mandrag the alchemist passes. Lorren only asks the rules of the Archives. Kvothe is annoyed because he read the books Lorren doesn’t think he can have read—but actually he’s lucky, because if he could answer those questions Lorren might ask him how he knows. Then Kilvin asks him easy artificing questions. And then Hemme says:

“Did you set fire to my rooms you little ravel bastard?”

I think this is the first time we’ve run across the racial slur “ravel”? Kvothe says he didn’t but he wished he had, with the taste of plum in his mouth. The Chancellor demands a civil tongue. Kvothe apologises quickly and says that “ravel” is particularly offensive. The Chancellor tells Hemme he is finished and rebukes him “You’re as bad as the boy and with less excuse.”

The Chancellor’s question is on the etymology of the word ravel, which Kvothe gives.


Chapter Ten is “Being Treasured”

Kvothe’s tuition is nine talents and five. With the money from the lamps he has a little more than six. He walks to Imre and visits Denna, who is talking to a pretty young man. Pretty, sweet, clean-shaven—could he be a girl in disguise? Geoffrey is introduced as a poet, and leaves. Denna feels sorry for him because he’s so sweet and trusting. This isn’t like Denna with men. Kvothe gives her some herbal asthma medication, which is a surprisingly thoughtful present. Denna plays the harp, and Kvothe thinks how beautiful she is.

The inn has a magic bell that rings downstairs when Denna rings it upstairs. Denna gets excited when she realises that sygaldry is “a magic where you write things down” and asks how it works, but their drinks come before Kvothe has to answer. Denna says she hates being guarded like a treasure and at Kellin’s beck and call.

“Several hours later” Kvothe goes to see Devi. She won’t lend less than six talents, at fifty percent interest. Or she wants a way into the Archives, and she’d give him forty talents and sex… and he doesn’t agree because of invading Auri’s home, not out of any loyalty to the University as a thing, though he knows Devi was expelled.

And we’ll start next time from Chapter 11.


Last week’s comments

Lots of great stuff. Shalter says there are one person cider presses and that manifold maths is real and might be useful for magical world unfolding! Sillyslovene suggests that apples are thematic and we should take notice of them.

Greyhood says:

it occurred to me that maybe we’re wrong in thinking he only killed one king. Kingkiller maybe suggests that he killed a bunch of them.

I don’t believe it for a minute, but I love it as an idea. Lots more speculation on this one.

Promotions: The Department of Imaginary Sympathy raises to E’lir n8love, Dominiquex and Beerofthedark. The Department of Imaginary Medica would like to promote Dr Food to E’lir for observations on Kvothe’s hands:

What I wanted to bring up was K’s hands. I’m concerned that he’s lost some of the function of his hands. He swears to Denna “by my good left hand” that he won’t attempt to uncover her patron. (He offers the right, she says she prefers the left.) Later, he swears to Meluan “By my hand, I will not speak of what I see to anyone.”

I wonder if Kvothe broke his vow to Denna and lost some function in his hands. Not all, obviously (he can make pie!), but maybe some sensation, proprioception, fine motor control. . . this would have a serious adverse effect on his lute skillz. When he’s trying to make a wreath of holly and stabs his thumb, it really doesn’t seem to hurt at all—it’s almost like he has to see the injury to know he’s injured. His reaction to this apparently minor setback is rather intense. (“All the laughter faded from his expression, and his eyes were hard and dark.”)

When Kvothe is examining the Lockless box, he feels the faint carving that he postulates may be Yllish story knots. Neither Alveron nor Meluan had noticed any carving. He explains “I have exceptionally sensitive hands—they’re necessary for my work” and he later clarifies this is for his music, as well as for his magic.

So, if something has happened to his hands (or to one hand) could that explain why “of course there is no music”?

We’ve talked about the “good left hand” before, but not about the unusual sensitivity or the clumsiness in the frame. LAJG suggests that the blood on his hands may bring out his inner Ciridae, which could well be.

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.

About the Author

Jo Walton


Jo Walton is the author of fifteen novels, including the Hugo and Nebula award winning Among Others two essay collections, a collection of short stories, and several poetry collections. She has a new essay collection Trace Elements, with Ada Palmer, coming soon. She has a Patreon ( for her poetry, and the fact that people support it constantly restores her faith in human nature. She lives in Montreal, Canada, and Florence, Italy, reads a lot, and blogs about it here. It sometimes worries her that this is so exactly what she wanted to do when she grew up.
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