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Rothfuss Reread: The Wise Man’s Fear, Part 27: Kvothe the Arcane


Rothfuss Reread: The Wise Man’s Fear, Part 27: Kvothe the Arcane

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Rothfuss Reread: The Wise Man’s Fear, Part 27: Kvothe the Arcane


Published on April 19, 2012

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

Welcome to my no moon left unturned reread of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. This week’s post covers chapters 143-146 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.

The end is nigh! I’ll do four chapters this week and four chapters and the epilogue next week, and that is it. And is D3 here yet? It is not! I can’t do speculative summaries for years on end (well, I could, but…) and I can’t start again at the beginning (well, I could, but…) so we’re going to have to stop. But at least I have thought of an awesome way to end this re-read. There will be a normal post next week finishing the book, then there will be two more posts on the following weeks. Wait and see.

Chapter 143 (145) is Stories

Ambrose is back—so Ambrose stayed away just a little longer than Kvothe did. I wonder if he also believed Kvothe was dead, or if he’d have heard rumours from the Maer’s court?

However, despite hearing that Ambrose is back and hearing Kvothe’s precautions and tricks, we do not see Ambrose directly or hear about anything he does, just his renewed presence.

Because of Ambrose, Kvothe makes himself a new gram. He also resumes practice of the ketan, in secret in the forest. He says this is because it looked odd the first time he saw it, but it also keeps it quiet. Is he expecting a physical attack?

Actually this mention of resuming practice, combined with how much Tempi practices, gives credence to Ryanreich’s thought about K being unable to do Adem fighting against the soldiers:

If you were ever expert in anything, you will always have the skill, but you will also always need practice to be able to perform it.

He hasn’t been practicing, and it needs to. OK, I am now happy about this. I still think something has broken his hands as well as his name.

He fumbles questions on Spring term Admissions and gets money back from the bursar again. Sales of the Bloodless pick up. So Kvothe has plenty of money for the first time ever. He buys good paper and ink from Arueh. (Which he still has, or anyway has some more of. In caravan-less Newarre, he offers some to Chronicler.) Where is Arueh and why do they make good ink? He has six sets of clothes and two pairs of shoes. He also has his own set of engraving tools and an Yllish knot dictionary and two other useful textbooks—Herborica and Termigus Techina, one each for Medica and Artificing. He buys dresses for Auri, but doesn’t tell us what she gives him in the way of whimsical return gifts, which I think means the ones we do know about are relevant.

I love this little bit, where he’s ahead for once and can get things he really wants.

Then later in the term the Felurian stories and stories of his adventures in Vintas catch up with him. He delights in his notoriety and spends time in alehouses listening to people talking about him. (I immediately thought that this is a low tech form of ego-googling.)

There are lots of distorted versions about him rescuing young girls, sometimes one, most often two, sometimes three, once seven. He rescues them from bandits, shamble men, Adem mercenaries, ogres, wicked uncles, stepmothers, and travelling players, but never Edema Ruh. He’s proud to say that. This analysis of how stories change and become myth is lovely, especially in relation to the whole story. (Did he even kill a king?) The stories end either with his fighting and killing the bad guys or with calling down fire and lightning like Taborlin the Great—which of course he did do at the bandit camp. In his favourite version:

I met a helpful tinker on the road. I shared my dinner and he told me of two children stolen from a nearby farm. Before I left he sold me an egg, three iron nails, and a shabby cloak that could render me invisible. I used the items and my considerable wit to save the children from the clutches of a cunning hungry trow.

Why is this his favourite? It tells us more about tinkers, always selling you the things you need to fix things, as we have seen. Is it his favourite because there’s no resemblance at all to reality?

The Felurian stories are of course more popular, and the details are closer to the truth because he wrote the song. Wil believes him, Sim takes a lot of convincing. What is Wil’s connection with Fae, I wonder?

Then comes the conversation when Wil and Sim and Kvothe discuss how old he really is and how much time passed in Fae—it couldn’t have been more than a year, in that three days. We talked about this when we talked about Felurian, but it hadn’t really occurred to Kvothe that he is older than he should be. He’s seventeen, or maybe eighteen, who can say?

Chapter 144 (146) is Failures

This chapter is organised thematically as Kvothe lists the things he failed at in Spring Term. First is Yllish, which turns out to be really hard. Tema is orderly and overlaps with Aturan.

Yllish shared nothing with Aturan, or Shaldish, or even with Ademic for that matter.

Thank you for telling us that! Take note, Department of Imaginary Linguistics. He does not say it does not have anything in common with the faen language, which he at least tried to learn.

Then he talks about the weird forms of genitives, where:

the simple act of owning socks somehow fundamentally changed the nature of a person

I do wonder if Yllish is an original naming language where everything matters. He tries to practice with Deoch, who isn’t much of a teacher. Deoch admits that his grandmother could read story knots. So Kvothe learns some vocabulary and some hazy idea of grammar and counts it a failure. But despite this, he is able to read the Yllish knots in D‘s hair.

Next failure is advanced chemistry, where he doesn’t get on with the teacher though the subject is fascinating:

He told me to leave his class, calling me an irreverant dennerling with no respect for authority. I called him a pompous slipstick who had missed his true calling as a counting house scribe. In all fairness, we both had some valid points.

Look, they have slide rules! And Kvothe has a problem with authority, which isn’t a surprise.

Then he fails at mathematics, which Fela loves but he can’t get into.

Instead he works in the Fishery and writes an essay for Medica on the non efficacy of arrowroot. And he has pleasant but brief romances with women on both sides of the river. He says they were brief because he didn’t have much to offer long term, which seems both disingenuous and really weird to me.

In the Fishery, he has failed at creating new schema. Some of them wouldn’t work, some weren’t original, some of them need runes forbidden to Re’lar, and the one for reloading a ballista faster is a Bad Thing according to Kilvin. Now he asks Kilvin what metal could stand hard use for thousands of years, and Kilvin says he’s all for durability but that’s a lot to ask. Kvothe is thinking of Caesura. When he asks in a general way about old swords, Kilvin says they are made with old lost arts. He says people sometimes come across them, and he himself has a device to consume angular momentum (how? how?) four ingots of unharmable light metal, a sheet of frictionless glass, and a stone that stays just above freezing temperature no matter what. He says they are mysteries. Kvothe asks if it would be inappropriate to ask to see them. Kilvin shows him the warding stones that “somehow produce a thaumic and kinetic barrier”.

Kilvin says cleverness can be reproduced endlessly, mystery can not.

Leave mystery to poets, priests and fools.

Do I think Kvothe will take this excellent advice? Not for a picosecond. Also, where did these mysteries come from and who made them and why? Are they Grammarie, or Shaping or something else entirely? I mean they’re magic, but they don’t fit anywhere.

The chapter ends with saying that despite the other failures, Naming with Elodin was going well. They go to “ridiculous lengths” to wake Kvothe’s sleeping mind. They spend hours riddling. He reads Theophany while drunk on applejack. He wears a blindfold for three days. He stays awake for nearly five days, on lots of coffee. They go out onto the roof of the Archives naked in a thunderstorm and get stuck there all night. And it all kind of works, he calls the Name of the Wind three times. Once was with Elodin on Stonebridge, once was in the Archives, when for once he has the good sense not to actually call more than a whisper of wind, and then the third time pays for all and is described in the next chapter.

Chapter 145 (147) is Debts

Although we know in advance that he calls the Name of the Wind in this chapter, it takes a long time to get to that and is a surprise when it does.

It begins by saying that he hired a cart and went to Tarbean “on a lark”. He goes alone. He couldn’t have thought of affording this before. He says he spent the first day paying debts—a cobbler and a tailor, which we know all about, and an innkeeper who had let him sleep on the hearth some nights, which is news. Kvothe is surprised to feel a strange nostalgia for a place he hated so much. He also didn’t remember it smelling this awful. He eventually finds Trapis and is recognised, which means a lot to him. He gives him five talents and spends the rest of the day helping out.

People have accused me of being hard on Kvothe, so let me say here that I absolutely approve of this and think it is exemplary behaviour. He doesn’t just give the money and leave, he stays and does some pumping and some doctoring and buys Trapis shoes.

Then he buys some lovely writing paper—he doesn’t say if it’s in the shop where he pawned the book before. He writes to Ambrose saying “The child is yours” and threatening to go to Ambrose’s father. He drips water onto it as fake tears and signs it with an initial that could be B or R or F or P or E, then sends it to Ambrose. It’s a prank, and another debt he owes, and this is where the address of the University is interestingly given as Belenay-Barren, Central Commonwealth. He disguises himself and dirties the letter and finds Vintish merchants heading for Imre and tells them he has brought it from Vint and his ship is leaving and gets them to pay to deliver it, hoping for payment in turn from Ambrose. This place needs a proper mail service and soon! Then he returns the hat he has borrowed from a beggar to hide his hair and gives him the money the merchants gave him. It’s an elaborate and petty bit of mischief, and it’s kind of pointless in terms of reward for effort.

Kvothe says he expected the stories told about him to flare up and die down fast, but they kept on being told, and people in Imre and the University knew who he was, but nobody does in Tarbean. He has a bath and pays to have his clothes taken “to the nearest Cealdish laundry”. Then he goes down clean to the taproom where they are telling the story of how Kvothe killed the Black Beast of Trebon. The draccus, of course. He learns that he owns a ring of amber than can force demons to obey him—which of course is pure fantasy, and may still be in the rhyme about rings. (But I wouldn’t put it past him to buy an amber ring to fit the story…)

And that was the first time he heard the name “Kvothe the Arcane”. We heard it long ago when Chronicler said that Kvothe the Arcane and Kvothe the Kingkiller had different stories. And here again we have embroidery and elaboration—he can only bleed if cut with pure iron, he can stop arrows dead in the air. Well, he did invent the arrowcatch. Charmingly:

I was genuinely curious as to how I was going to stop the demon beast with my ring shattered and my cloak of shadows nearly burned away.

I wonder if, had we heard the end of the story, he would have done it like Tehlu? But the door bursts open and in comes D, dying of an asthma attack and Kvothe calls the name of the wind and says the seven words “I need you to breathe for me”.

This is my favourite thing that Kvothe does, being a magic inhaler. I am asthmatic myself. What a wonderful use for the name of the wind!

And people recognise him as Kvothe, and give them space. She says she always finds him where she least expects him, which is of course also true the other way around. She asks for a ride to Imre, and he agrees. Then he says that her hair is lovely, and then clarifies that her braid is Yllish for “lovely”, Her response is:

“You can read it?” she said, her voice incredulous, her expression slightly horrified. “Merciful Tehlu, is there anything you don’t know?”

He says it’s like a story knot, and she says it’s a damn sight more than “almost”. She’s irritated with him. and she takes the braid out. She’s embarrassed, and says people aren’t supposed to be able to read it and asks how he’d feel if he’d been caught wearing a sign saying “I am dashing and handsome”. But what is the point of wearing it if nobody can read it, unless it has an effect when people see it even though they can’t read it? I mean if they see it and think she is lovely? As a subliminal message?

Then they get into talking in couplets again, which is sweet. And they end up with her saying she has missed him and come back to this corner of the world hoping to find him.

Chapter 146 (148) is The Stories of Stones

Great title.

D and Kvothe go back to Imre and talk of “a hundred small things”. She says she has been to Tinue, Vartheret and Andenivan. (I don’t know why I even bothered looking at the map. Tinue’s on it, but I knew that. It reminds me of the map in Knowledge of Angels that has Jerusalem in the middle and doesn’t have the city where it was drawn.) He tells her what happened with the Maer—presumably the whole story that he didn’t tell Threpe, about the poisoning and everything, because he says she was ‘properly indignant”. But they don’t talk about what happened between them in Severen. He says he was “desperate to avoid” reigniting their previous argument.

She has her harp and her trunk, and she must therefore be performing the Lanre song. He’s worried that she’ll play it in Imre, where it will spread, but he doesn’t say anything because he knows it will be a hard conversation—an impossible one, more like. He also doesn’t talk about her patron, even though he’s been having dreams about what the CTH told him. And they don’t talk about Felurian, despite talking about the girls and the bandit stories, and even though the Felurian song is more popular.

Then he says an interesting thing about silences, considering the silence of three parts in the inn”

silences that stretched too long, silences that were short but terrifyingly deep.

This is silence as an active rather than a passive thing, a presence rather than an absence. He says they were trapped in one when they got to Imre, and he

helped her carry her trunk upstairs but the silence was even deeper there. So I skirted hastily around it. bid her a fond farewell, and fled

I don’t see how you can bid someone farewell without breaking a silence unless it’s more of a metaphorical silence than a literal one.

That night he lies awake thinking of what he should have said. Then Fenton beats him in duels in Advanced Sympathy, and he goes to give D her ring back. She comes out with a picnic, and they go to a dell with a greystone. How many of these are there anyway?

She wades in the water and asks him if he knows the secret of stones. He says he doesn’t, and she tells him to listen. He’s tempted to kiss her but doesn’t. The story she tells is about a boy throwing stones and throwing away a girl as easily. He doesn’t understand it and neither do I. Anyone care to explain?

Then he tries to listen to a stone and she trips him, soaking him in the stream. Then he makes a magioc wave and drenches her. And they’re rhyming again, and she’s being enticing and he’s being an adolescent, because he knows what to do always with everyone except D. And they have a picnic. And he sees bruises and welts on her, and he thinks that this is the moment to mention Master Ash and abuse, and then she sees the scars on his back from when he was whipped and it totally derails the entire subject of enduring pain in order to get things. And then they talk about Kvothe’s love life and how he’s been cutting a swathe through the ladies of Imre, and she asks if they bring them all here. He asks her to love him, meaning it to come out as a joke but it doesn’t, and she says she won’t be one of many.

She braids her hair into “don’t speak to me” and then she loosens it when she sees him reading it. She must be doing this kind of thing all the time. I wonder how well it works? Then he gives her the ring, and she says she thought he was different, until she sees what it is, but even then the silence is back worse than ever.

And they go back.

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.

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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