Let’s Read The Name of the wind: ch.1

Wind

My name is Kvothe, pronounced nearly the same as “quothe.”

Quoth the Rothfuss, nevermore.

Names are important as they tell you a great deal about a person. I’ve had more names than anyone has a right to.

The Adem call me Maedre. Which, depending on how it’s spoken, can mean The Flame, The Thunder, or The Broken Tree.

I feel like this paragraph sums up everything wrong with fantasy as a genre.

It’s all in here- valuing trivia over storytelling, conlangs that all sound the same, ham-fisted grand-standing disguised as epic scope, the idea that bigger is always better and the worth of your novel is judged by how much stuff you can cram between the covers. Our modern fantasy hero can’t just have one mysterious alias- he must have twelve, all equally stupid and each more equally stupid than the last.

Yes, he really has twelve nick-names. They’re Maedre and its three different meanings, E’lir, Dulator, Shadicar, Lightfinger, Six’String (someone please tell me what that apostrophe is doing there), Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane and Kvothe Kingkiller, confirming that Rothfuss is using the well-worn fantasy naming convention of throwing some scrabble tiles into a washing machine. As is usually the case, they’re completely lacking in any sense of originality or identity (I could swear “Shadicar” came up as the name of a location or a McGuffin or something in a Wheel of Time book).

So here’s something that bugs me about fantasy names. This book is, like a great many other fantasy novels, taking place in what is essentially just Ye Olde Times Europe with magic and giant crabs in it. The architecture, the landscape, the way people look, dress, behave and to a limited extent speak are all essentially ripped straight from Middle Ages/ Renaissance-era British Isles or northern Europe, so why not just give the characters Middle Ages/Renaissance-era British Isles or northern European names? Calling your plucky European farm lad N’Tael’Torikar Phoenicks-Briar doesn’t disguise the fact that he’s a plucky European farm lad.

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me.

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I feel like making me want to punch Kvothe in the face on the opening page is a mistake, even if Rothfuss does do a masterful job at it. The entire point of the trilogy is that we’re delving into the truth behind Kvothe’s legend, which is only interesting if we actually care about Kvothe and don’t want to see him ride a horse off a cliff as soon as possible.

Okay so now that we’re finished with the prologue let’s start the second prologue:

IT WAS NIGHT AGAIN. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

Okay, wait, no. Just stop there.

It was night “again”? Do we really need to be told that it’s been night before? Is night particularly unusual in this setting?

As for a what a silence of three parts is, I’m just going to quite this entire page because it really needs to be seen to be believed:

The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves. If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamor one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of night. If there had been music .. . but no, of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.
Inside the Waystone a pair of men huddled at one corner of the bar. They drank with quiet determination, avoiding serious discussions of troubling news. In doing this they added a small, sullen silence to the larger, hollow one. It made an alloy of sorts, a counterpoint.
The third silence was not an easy thing to notice. If you listened for an hour, you might begin to feel it in the wooden floor underfoot and in the rough, splintering barrels behind the bar. It was in the weight of the black stone hearth that held the heat of a long dead fire. It was in the slow back and forth of a white linen cloth rubbing along the grain of the bar. And it was in the hands of the man who stood there, polishing a stretch of mahogany that already gleamed in the lamplight.
The man had true-red hair, red as flame. His eyes were dark and distant, and he moved with the subtle certainty that comes from knowing many things.
The Waystone was his, just as the third silence was his. This was appropriate, as it was the greatest silence of the three, wrapping the others inside itself. It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.

Note that Rothfuss has just taken 345 words to tell us that the Waystone Inn was unusually quiet, something that could have been conveyed in a single sentence. I invite anyone reading this to try and explain why Autumn’s ending is deep and wide or what the sound of one flower cutting itself is.

You can write in a way that’s more concerned with playing with language and diving off on whimsical tangents than telling a story, but you need to be extremely good at it and even your most lyrical metaphors and similes need to have some sort of anchor point in reality for the reader to relate to. What Rothfuss wrote up there is complete gibberish. He could have said that the silence was as deep and wide as a half-eaten hot dog and it would have just as much meaning.

Back when I was fourteen or fifteen I used to write my own little stories and upload them to fiction press and if there is any justice in the world they’ve long since been erased from the internet. Back then I thought that good writing meant vomiting as many impressive words onto the page as possible and smashing the reader over the head with how verbose I was. Patrick Rothfuss was born in 1973 and started writing The Name of The Wind seven years before its 2007 publication sdate, which means he was 27 at the time, or in other words way too old for this shit unless it was his first time attempting to write anything. I strongly suspect this may be the case, as the entire opening page just reeks of amateur hour.

Anyway, on to the first chapter itself. A bunch of dudes sit around in the Waystone Inn telling stories and…. wait, I thought it was supposed to be silent? Was that prologue taking place after the first chapter? Why? For that matter why even include the prologue, it didn’t tell us anything about you know what fuck it, let’s just move on.

A bunch of dudes sit around the Waystone Inn telling stories about the Chandrian, which are scary magical beings of some sort. The story feels like Rothfuss’ D&D campaign and the idea of magic working on “true names” because Rothfuss read Earthsea I guess.

Cob nodded seriously. “So Taborlin fell, but he did not despair. For he knew the name of the wind, and so the wind obeyed him.

TITLE DROOOOOOOOP

There’s a goofy little poem about “tinkers” that gave me flashbacks to the Wheel of Time novels and then an injured dude comes in with a dead stone-spider-crab thing called a Scrael that jumped him on the road. The innkeeper, who is so clearly Kvothe I don’t know why Rothfuss is trying to pretend otherwise, recognizes it and makes some cryptic comments about how “they can’t have come this far west yet” before realizing he’s said too much and insisting that he totally doesn’t know anything, nuh uh, he just heard some rumors and stuff.

If the book had just opened here instead of messing around with prologues I’d probably feel a lot more positive about it. It’s still mediocre generic fantasy but it’s nowhere near as awful as the two previous pages and the innkeeper might have had some legitimate mystery if his identity hadn’t already been telegraphed so clearly in advance. Also Kvothe has yet more fucking names, bringing the total up to fourteen. His current alias is Kote (do you see) but his apprentice calls him Reshi, for no reason as far as I can see.

“Today, master, I learned why great lovers have better eyesight than great scholars.”
“And why is that, Bast?” Kote asked, amusement touching the edges of his voice.

[…]

“Well Reshi, all the rich books are found inside where the light is bad. But lovely girls tend to be out in the sunshine and therefore much easier to study without risk of injuring one’s eyes.”

Kote nodded. “But an exceptionally clever student could take a book outside, thus bettering himself without fear of lessening his much-loved faculty of sight.”

“I thought the same thing, Reshi. Being, of course, an exceptionally clever student.”

….. what.

It turns out there are probably more spider-crabs and they’re probably going to kill a whole bunch of people, but Kvothe and his apprentice still have time for wacky shenanigans. Here’s some of Rothfuss’ conlang:

“Begone demon!” Kote said, switching to a thickly accented Temic through half a mouthful of stew. “Tehus antausa eha!”
Bast burst into startled laughter and made an obscene gesture with one hand.
Kote swallowed and changed languages. “Aroi te denna-leyan!”
“Oh come now,” Bast reproached, his smile falling away. “That’s just insulting.”

Note that the supposedly different second language sounds exactly the same as the first, and they both sound identical to every other conlang ever.

The next day at the inn we’re told that war was declared and times are hard in a generic Ye Olde Fantasy kind of way. Then the chapter ends.

So that was….. okay, I guess. If you ignore the two prologues you’d be left with a vaguely competent middle of the road fantasy novel and a story that seems like it might potentially go somewhere interesting if given enough time. But those prologues are so dreadful I’m having trouble looking past them and knowing that Rothfuss has the potential to unleash such horrors on his readers makes me wary of the rest of the book, like a cake that might have a bomb hidden in it.

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22 thoughts on “Let’s Read The Name of the wind: ch.1

  1. SvenTheBold

    You wanted to know what people see in this book. So let me try to deconstruct your critiques. I’ve read both books twice now, but I can assure you, all of these are things I knew the instant I read as far as you’d described. When I first read this book, it was a breath of fresh air; finally, someone capable of making every word *count* for something. It was only later that I learned that he’s from my home state; it’s possible that the cultural connection is what made this book’s meaning seem far more obvious to me than it has been to you.

    “It was night “again”? Do we really need to be told that it’s been night before? Is night particularly unusual in this setting?”

    Or is night maybe particularly demonstrative of something in this context?

    He used the word “again” because he is emphasizing the cyclicality of night. And the rest of the passage makes it abundantly clear that Kvothe is frozen over the passing of time.

    (As I’m sure you know by now, the Kvothe/Kote interludes include near-constant reference to him seeming older than he is. The fact that we get this implied for us at the beginning is not a strike against, but for this book.)

    “Note that Rothfuss has just taken 345 words to tell us that the Waystone Inn was unusually quiet, something that could have been conveyed in a single sentence.”

    Well, none of that was actually about the inn, as I’ll explain below…

    …but even still; your entire article could be summed up this way: “So far = Meh. (?)”

    The reason you don’t do that is because you want to describe *why* you think this. You want to flesh it out, and give descriptions.

    The reason Rothfuss says more than “the room was unusually quiet” is because that doesn’t actually tell us anything about the room. What would normally be going on? Why would it usually be quiet?

    Why is silence particularly demonstrative in this context? And what is the silence demonstrating?

    For those of us who don’t frequent medieval European taverns, or who are looking for something other than the abridged version of one, that kind of description is actually the *only* reason we would read any fantasy novel, ever. And he gives it to us. (As any writer would.)

    “I invite anyone reading this to try and explain why Autumn’s ending is deep and wide or what the sound of one flower cutting itself is.”

    Autumn is deep and wide because those are the things we folk from Wisconsin (folk like Rothfuss and I) associate with loneliness. Someone else here decided that claustrophobia is more lonely; that’s only because they don’t live somewhere with space to be lonely in. The end of Autmumn is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year; around that time, the lack of light exacerbates feelings of loneliness and depression; autumn is a fundamentally more lonely time of year, and therefore for us deeper and wider.

    Specifically, wide refers to the wide empty spaces, the fields and forests. Depth refer to the bottom of an ocean, or the bottom of a well, or the bottom of the Great Lakes, or the bottom of any lake; it has connotations of darkness and coldness, in addition to loneliness, all of which augment the emotional impact of the passage.

    Deep and wide is also a subtle, cynical inversion of the Christian message that God’s love is deep and wide. By juxtaposing this with the messages about silence, the phrase “deep and wide as autumn’s ending” points the reader to a more cynical world-angst.

    An additional reason: by the end of autumn, there are no leaves left for the wind to blow through. The rustle of the trees has gone, leaving a silence in the world; that change in the aural structure of the world is a deep, wide change.

    As to the tavern, Wisconsin is consistently ranked among the most extroverted state; and drinking culture is a huge part of where that happens. An empty bar, autumn’s ending, deep and wide… the entire passage is a description of depression. Sure enough, the sound of one flower cutting itself is a clear metaphor for what often results from depression; suicide or self-harm. It’s the author describing for us Kvothe’s emotional state.

    Also, it’s not “the sound of one flower cutting itself”. It’s simply a “cut-flower sound”. A cut-flower sound is silence, just like all the others; and while it’s good that you got the reference to the self-harm that comes of a depression as deep as Kvothe’s, I don’t know why you would try to interpret that reflexivity into the very grammar. Putting layers of interpretation upon layers of interpretation only leads to the problem of successive-rounding. (By which, any number greater than 4/9 can be rounded to 1 if it is rounded an infinite number of times… if you don’t believe me, try it; I don’t know the proof.)

    “wait, I thought it was supposed to be silent?”

    Hint: the entire story is told in first-person, even when it’s not. When Rothfuss is talking about silence, he’s talking about how Kvothe *feels*. Subjective language is usually a signal of subjective intent, and subjectivity is about personal experience. The poetry is there in order to signal to the reader to how Kvothe is feeling about whatever is happening.

    “The innkeeper, who is so clearly Kvothe I don’t know why Rothfuss is trying to pretend otherwise”

    I know this was just a writeup of your reaction after only having read the prologues, but even I could tell Rothfuss wasn’t trying to pretend otherwise, and that it was just Kvothe not wanting to reveal his identity.

    “Conlangs that all sound the same”

    …because sprachbunds don’t exist; because languages in fiction can never be related to one another, ever, not even when they’re spoken by people of the same species; and because a linguistic version of the planet of hats trope is definitely a realistic portrayal of how languages work.

    I mean, really, I can’t figure out what you’re complaining about. Let’s use Europe as an example:

    English: I am going to the store.
    Albanian: Unë jam duke shkuar në dyqan.
    Basque: Dendan noa.
    Finnish: Aion tallentaa.
    French: Je vais au magasin.
    German: Ich gehe zum Laden.
    Irish: Tá mé ag dul go dtí an siopa.
    Polish: Idę do sklepu.

    Despite the fact that I went out of my way to pick European languages that are unrelated; despite the fact that strident nationalisms have been dividing Europe in constant war for centuries, no great difference exists in the ratio of consonants to nouns. German, Polish, and Albanian have a few extra consonant clusters; but even those languages were all heavily influenced by the Austrian Empire. Exactly two of these phrases begins with a consonant, and those two consonants are voiced/unvoiced versions of a the same stop consonant.

    Compare this with:

    Tajik: Man rafta , ʙa maƣoza doram .
    Turkish: Ben mağazaya gidiyorum.
    Uzbek: Men do’konga ketyapman.

    Or:

    Chichewa: Ine ndikupita ku sitolo.
    Malagasy: Izaho mankany amin’ny mpivarotra.
    Zulu: Ngizomenzela esitolo.

    …all of which have similarities to one another that are even more apparent, and you can see why it seems to me that making your languages too distinct from each other is actually the unreasonable thing here.

    “we’re told that war was declared and times are hard in a generic Ye Olde Fantasy kind of way.”

    …because obviously, in the real world, far-off wars have a major impact on the daily routines of everyday Americans. In the real world, everyday Americans never stop listening for news of the Iraq and Afghan wars; they buy war bonds, and send lots of packages specifically addressed to the hometown heroes that they know by name.

    (Though if you wanted to hear about people who are invested in a war, might I suggest the popular British TV series “Foyle’s War”?)

    “Kvothe and his apprentice still have time for wacky shenanigans.”

    This one made me laugh, and that’s why I’m addressing it last. The fact that you would call this a serious attempt at wacky shenanigans shows that you really didn’t understand the deep cynicism of the prior passage. Let me assure you: in a world where names have power, silence = death. The idea that this book actually goes from talking about death and depression to a happyhyperbutterflyesque mating-and-courtship display is too ridiculous to put into words. The fact was (and I did understand this the first time) that Bast was trying to draw Kvothe’s attention away from this inn, and its books, and the angst Kvothe colors it with.

    For a better understanding of what it means to wear a mask with sincerity as Kvothe does throughout the interludes, listen to this take-down of the related phenomenon of “Minnesota nice”. Watch the guy in particular:

    http://prairiehome.publicradio.org/programs/19970419/97_0419WOBEGONICS.htm

    (You can read too it if you want, though there are a few details they change in the transcript that make plain something that should’ve been left a bit more ambiguous…)

    Reply
    1. Sofy 💫

      Okay, you are the best, the name of the wind is the best book I have ever read, thanks for your comment, it’s really amazing

      Reply
      1. mahadmaand

        I very much enjoyed the silence in 3 parts when I first read it. Found it was a beautifully crafted beginning. I also enjoyed the book. A lot.

        Your article would be interesting if it weren’t dripping with venom, which neither the book nor its author deserve.

        SvenTheBold gave a measured, worthy reply to your ranting, and the only response you are able to give, months later, is lazy and immature.

        Reply
    2. Alex Bauer

      Your comment was waaaaayyyy better than the one who wrote the article. I found it actually engaging and thought provoking, versus the rantings of the author.

      Reply
    3. beregolas

      @SvenTheBold: Thank you for your comment. This read was actually worth it, as you pointed out some things about the first chapter I haven’t noticed yet, even after my third read.

      Reply
    4. Hek

      It can be meaningful. That doesn’t mean it isn’t badly written, especially for a first chapter. You keep saying that this bit or this bit should have been interpreted in THIS way because of context from the rest of the book (such as the nature of sound vs. silence, or Bast’s relationship with Kvothe), but this is NOT INFORMATION YOU HAVE when you’re starting this chapter for the first time.
      And linking to something about what it means to “wear a mask with sincerity”? For real? A doorstopper-sized book should not require extra supplementary information to be understood.
      Regarding the conlangs, I have no idea why you latched on to the idea of consonants to nouns. None. But okay, sure, whatever.

      Reply
  2. PlainT

    Reblogged this on Queering the Nerd and commented:
    In a tangent to my usual material, I just finished “A Wise Man’s Fear”, the second book in the trilogy The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss. I enjoyed it and there were some bits of storytelling that were absolutely amazing, but there were also some pretty horrendously written and developed plotlines. I’m therefore reblogging this endlessly entertaining takedown of the series by a fantasy aficionado; if you’ve read the books, this is a pretty fantastic recap.

    Reply
  3. Dana

    For as much thought as you gave these writeups, I wonder why you couldn’t figure out answers to this: “I invite anyone reading this to try and explain why Autumn’s ending is deep and wide or what the sound of one flower cutting itself is.” Good critique is undermined by mistakenly accusing something of being nonsense in a way that it isn’t.

    On to the explanation. Autumn’s ending is, as most people who have lived a few years know, the beginning of winter. It begins a part of the year that in the setting as you describe (traditional fat fantasy Europeanish temperate zone late medieval-SCA-style) is concerned with surviving very cold temperatures, lack of growing season and plant farming activities, either loneliness or small group bonding, and depression due to more darkness and less light. It is a time of year that can seem to yawn like a chasm in front of people who have to live through it and hope to get past it. Like a chasm, it seems, therefore, deep and wide.

    The sound of a cut flower is silence, as was stated ad nauseum in the quoted passage. It’s a particular type of silence where it’s withering and dying, looking pretty and maybe decorative but no longer living. This is what the author is trying to say the main character guy is doing, being like a cut flower.

    So much so obvious (to me, at least) and I couldn’t leave it unanswered even a couple years later. I’m sorry if it’s too late to help any, I only just now found your site from nostalgebraist’s link.

    Reply
    1. Saku

      So the “autumn’s ending” thing is a metaphor for a metaphor, and the “cut-flower sound” thing is a symbol that symbolises itself? That’s not precisely what constitutes fine writing.

      Besides, you still don’t explain how autumn’s ending is deep and wide. Why would it seem like a chasm in face of loneliness, depression, darkness and activities in rather than outside of the house? To me, that sounds rather claustrophobic, not deep or wide by any means. Something being deep and wide also suggests that it takes plenty of time to cross it, which is not given in the transition of autumn to winter. Quite the contrary, any preparations for winter which haven’t already been made have to be made quickly when autumn is already coming to an end.
      As for the cut-flower thing, I wouldn’t call it “obvious” when the author describes, in your own words, “ad nauseum” [sic] the silence with precisely this word and then suddenly uses a symbol symbolising itself to describe it further. “It was silent. So so so silent it was. And did I mention the silence? Because there sure was silence. And in the silence, there was a silent sound that was also silent.” I, too, can’t figure out why an author would do that.

      Reply
      1. SvenTheBold

        “So the “autumn’s ending” thing is a metaphor for a metaphor, and the “cut-flower sound” thing is a symbol that symbolises itself? That’s not precisely what constitutes fine writing.”

        Do you even poetry?

        “Besides, you still don’t explain how autumn’s ending is deep and wide.”

        Go read sci-fi if you want explanations. Rothfuss is from my homestate of Wisconsin. The reason you associate claustrophobia with loneliness is because you aren’t from a place where there is empty land to be lonely in. For the rest of us, autumn is deep and wide.

        “I, too, can’t figure out why an author would do that.”

        If you want compact language, go learn Toki Pona. For the rest of us, there’s poetry.

        Reply
  4. Pingback: Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor | A Reckless Venture

  5. Steve

    I’m glad I’m not the only one. I despise how a lot of people call this the best fantasy series ever written. I disdain the character of Denna particularly. At one point Kvothe hails her as a genius but later she eats drugs because she thought they were candy. I laughed my ass off. All the hype about this novel is undeserved.

    Reply
  6. crawlkill

    oh, no. oh no. yes, you’re right about the name being an accidental recycle. it’s the Sardaukar from Dune. hold me.

    not that it’s any fucking surprise. it’s wonderful to see some rational human thought about Name of the Wind. it cracks my mind open when people trumpet as triumphant a novel I’d call unforgivable. =\

    Reply
  7. MG

    I can barely think up enough names for the NPCs in my RPG campaigns and Rothfuss here is blowing 14 on one character? What a jerk.

    Reply
  8. q____q

    Let’s see if you can find a not shitty female character. Meaning one that doesn’t only exist to be hot for (or to be saved by (or both)) K/Quot(h)e. O, let’s do the Bechdel test. I feel like he should manage that at least in The Wise Man’s Fear (what is that, 4000 pages?).

    Also the comments here (http://ferretbrain.com/articles/article-751) point out that naming demon spider things after indigenous peoples is maybe not a very nice idea.

    Also, every time I read Kote it reminds me of German Kot = faeces. Yes, it’s hard to invent a name that doesn’t mean something silly in some language but I still think it’s nice.

    Reply
    1. ronanwills Post author

      From what I’ve heard of the books Rothfuss’ hang-ups about women are many and multi-faceted. Should be fun.

      Reply
      1. q____q

        They are. But the massive facepalms start at book two with the sex fairy and sex ninjas. I’m looking forward to finding out what he held back for book three. Has to be something like tentacle sex. Or maybe furries.

        Reply
  9. Pingback: Let’s Read The Name of The Wind: An introduction of three parts | Doing In The Wizard

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