Sympathy in the Mains
The mains is the part of wizard school where most of the actual classes take place. It’s a big rambling building with detours and blocked off court yards you can only get to through windows and stuff.
I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, but I’ve always wanted to go to one of those really huge, old colleges that are like small towns. I imagine you’d have a great time just rambling around the place.
Rumor had it that there were some rooms bricked off entirely, some with students still inside. Their ghosts were rumored to walk the halls at night, bewailing their fate and complaining about the food in the Mess.
Just like a certain other wizard school I’ve been hearing about. Not that students ever got sealed into rooms there, although given the shit that Hogwarts manages to go through without getting closed down you’d never know.
My first class was held in Mains. Luckily, I had been warned by my bunk mates that Mains was difficult to navigate, so despite getting lost, I still arrived with time to spare.
For some reason I read this bit as saying “bunk buddies” instead of bunk mates then I got disappointed when I realized I was wrong.
When I finally found the room for my first class, I was surprised to find it resembled a small theater
Kvothe has never been to a primary or secondary school classroom (assuming they even have those) so what’s he basing his expectations on?
The room starts to fill up and Kvothe is positively a-flutter with excitement.
There were perhaps fifty of us in all, making the room about three-quarters full
That’s pretty damn small for a university. The one I go to isn’t huge by any means and the big lecture rooms arranged like Kvothe is describing hold at least four times that.
Master Hemme entered the room and made his way onto the stage to stand behind a large stone worktable.
Master Hemme is Not-Snape, just so no one is confused.
As we’ve established Hemme is an asshole so he gives some students grief for showing up five seconds late. Maybe this is different in other colleges but none of my lecturers ever gave a shit about people showing up late, mostly because they were trying to cram tons of content into a short period already without taking time out to harass people (Labs on the other hand are a different matter entirely).
“So you want to be arcanists?” he said. “You want magic like you’ve heard about in bedtime stories. You’ve listened to songs about Taborlin the Great. Roaring sheets of fire, magic rings, invisible cloaks, swords that never go dull, potions to make you fly.”
Still not getting what the difference is between being a sympathy-wizard (sympathist?) and an arcanist. Some of the stuff we’ve seen attributed to sympathy is pretty damn impressive, and yet it’s treated like this totally boring garden variety skill that no one really gets worked up over. I get the impression Rothfuss really wanted Kvothe to learn magic but for some reason didn’t want to call it magic.
Hemme gave up all pretext of lecture and lay in wait for the next tardy student. Thus it was that the hall was tensely silent when she stepped hesitantly into the room.
It was a young woman of about eighteen. A rarity of sorts. The ratio of men to women in the University is about ten to one.
Okay, finally getting an explanation for that (and if only 10% of the students are women they’re not a rarity “of sorts”, they’re just rare). It would be nice to know why that imbalance exists. Do people not believe in educating girls in this world?
Hemme acts fucking creepy and escorts the woman to her seat in a gross grand-fatherly way then busts out this:
“Rian, would you please cross your legs?”
The request was made with such an earnest tone that not even a titter escaped the class. Looking puzzled, Rian crossed her legs.
“Now that the gates of hell are closed,” Hemme said in his normal, rougher tones. “We can begin.”
I don’t even. What is this supposed to be? Sexism? It’s a cartoonish parody is what it is.
So fun fact, a commentor just recently informed me that Rothfuss is apparently an adviser to a feminist group at a college where he teaches. Presumably this is some sort of attempt to address sexism in third-level education. But here’s the thing- most real sexism is a lot more subtle and insidious than a lecturer referring to someone’s vagina as the “gates of hell”. When you portray it this way it sets the bar high enough that real-life sexists can easily fail to meet the criteria. “I’m not telling my female students to close their legs in class, I’m not a misogynist! Well yes I expect most of them will quit their course to form babby because you see women are really more suited to wait why are you hitting me with things ouch
I quickly realized that while Hemme was discussing the principles of sympathy, he was doing it at a very, very basic level. This class was a colossal waste of my time.
Hey fuck you Kvothe, this is the way education works. Different people come to college courses with different levels of prior education so you need to start at the basics to make sure everyone can catch up. When I started a science course I could breeze through biology lectures but had no chemistry background, for example.
What kills me here is that Kvothe actually goes to complain to Hemme but gets blown off. What was he hoping Hemme was going to do? Move up to a more advanced level and leave everyone behind just for one student? You don’t actually have to attend the lectures at this level you know, just skip them for now and come back when they get to more advanced subjects.
Kvothe goes back to the archives for some self-learning and gets in this time because Not-Malfoy isn’t there.
There were two sets of double doors leading out of the antechamber, one marked STACKS and the other TOMES. Not knowing the difference between the two, I headed to the ones labeled STACKS. That was what I wanted. Stacks of books. Great heaps of books. Shelf after endless shelf of books.
This got a chuckle out of me. Well played.
Unfortunately the stacks are for Arcanum (higher level) students only, because Kvothe needs more artificial road-blocks to drag the story out longer.
I turned to ask her a question, and only then realized how close she was standing. It says a great deal about how enamored I was with the Archives that I failed to notice one of the most attractive women in the University standing less than six inches away. “How long does it usually take them to find a book?” I asked quietly, trying not to stare at her.
This better not become a habit, I’m getting Harry Dresden flashbacks here.
Kvothe gets a book on the Chandrian but it’s just a collection of fairy-tales.
I flipped through it, hoping to find something useful, but it was filled with sticky-sweet adventure stories meant to amuse children. You know the sort: brave orphans trick the Chandrian, win riches, marry princesses, and live happily ever after.
Brave orphans facing the Chandrian, you say.
Master Lorren comes over and wants to know why Kvothe is looking into the Chandrian.
For a moment I thought about telling him the truth. About what had happened to my parents. About the story I had heard in Tarbean.
Hey Kvothe, this is a crazy idea but did you ever think to just try telling someone that the Chandrian and Lord Haliax are real and they’re coming to fuck everyone’s shit up? I know most people won’t believe you but there’s always the chance someone else has seen them. You can’t be the only one to have survived an encounter with them. Plus according to the myths Kvothe heard the Chandrian’s origins are heavily intertwined with those of Tehlu, who people do seem to regard as a real deity and not just a myth.
Lorren advises Kvothe not to give anyone a reason to think he’s an immature delusional shit-head (too late) and tells him not to openly read about the Chandrian, which I guess is one more artificial road-block to stop the story from moving forward.
Look, if there’s any information for Kvothe to find here I would be perfectly okay with him just finding it. Really, it’s fine.
The next day Hemme is an asshole and doesn’t like Kvothe because, so he makes Kvothe give that day’s lecture. Of course Kvothe is awesome so he gets on stage and awesomes until everyone is amazed at how awesome he is. And a big ol’ infodump on magic.
“First is the Doctrine of Correspondence which says,’similarity enhances sympathy’ Second is the Principle of Consanguinity, which says, ‘a piece of a thing can represent the whole of a thing.’ Third is the Law of Conservation, which says ‘energy cannot be destroyed nor created.’ Correspondence, Consanguinity, and Conservation. The three C’s.”
Seriously, dude, don’t stick an actual scientific principal in with some bullshit that sounds like you plagiarized it from The Secret. It’s rea;;y jarring and it makes me incredulous at your magic system.
Anyway Kvothe shows up Hemme by sort of threatening to sympathy-set him on fire using a clay doll and everyone loves him.
While I enjoyed the notoriety, a cold anxiety was slowly growing in my gut. I’d made an enemy of one of the nine masters. I needed to know how much trouble I was in.
Then why did you do it, you stupid tit? You could have still knocked the socks off of Hemme without making it seem like grounds for an assault charge.
Kvothe’s bunk buddies are all worried and anxious that night at dinner. Someone comes and calls Kvothe up to the Master’s room for presumably nefarious purposes.
“You’re going on the horns,” Manet said. “It’s the only reason they’d call you there at this time of night.”
I didn’t know what he meant by that, but I didn’t want to advertise my ignorance to everyone in the room.
I see this is one of those spurious fictional schools where they toss students into the deep end without actually bothering to explain how anything works first.
It turns out “being on the horns” means getting called up to the Master’s fancy crescent shaped table they all sit around. It’s comforting to see that even in fantasy-land college students will invent idiotic nicknames for things.
They’re accusing Kvothe of using sympathy despite not being a member of the Arcanum, which is against the rules, and of malfeasance or using sympathy to cause harm. I’m not siding with Kvothe here- he was being an arrogant toolbox- but it’s worth mentioning that no one had actually told him these things were against the rules.
“For unauthorized use of sympathy leading to injury, the offending student will be bound and whipped a number of times, not less than two nor more than ten, singly, across the back.” Lorren said it as if reading off directions for a recipe.
So the thing about corporal punishment is that it’s generally used in situations where the victim doesn’t get a say in whether they’re going to be subjected to it or not. Or else, you know, no one in their right mind ever would be. If wizard school makes it known that they whip the shit out of people for breaking rules everyone would just say “fuck this, I’m not joining”.
I know historically there have been voluntary occupations like the British Navy where this sort of thing went on, but people put up with it because they were getting paid to. Here the students are paying large sums of money for the privilege of entering a situation in which they might be subject to horrific cruelty at the whim of their superiors. If their parents were the ones paying it would make it more believable but parents don’t seem to exist beyond the age of 12 in Kvotheland.
Kvothe explains what really happened (with a few creative licenses) and I’m glad to see the Masters actually listen to him instead of just irrationally taking Hemme’s side. Which if we’re being honest, is probably what would have happened in real life.
They decide to reduce the charges from malfeasance (which would have gotten him expelled) to reckless use of sympathy, which means he “only” gets whipped three times.
Meeting dismissed. Tehlu shelter us, fools and children all.”
So about that.
Much as Rothfuss is urging me to forget with how Kvothe is written, keep in mind he’s only fifteen here. I know this is Ye Olde Gritty Fantasy Times but having a teenager whipped seems a bit much.
“Do not bother with the Basic Artificing class you have signed for. Instead you will come to my workroom tomorrow. Noon.”
Kvothe is getting special artificer training for being such a badass. Also apparently he’s part of the Arcanum now, because his demonstration of Sympathy was so awesome. You know what, I’m just happy the plot is (sort of) moving forward at this point.
The biggest difference was in the attitudes of my bunkmates. There were scowls and glares, though for the most part I was pointedly ignored. It was a chilly reception, especially in light of the welcome I had just received from my non-Arcanum bunkmates.
They’re so jealous
Because Kvothe is so amazing do you see
I can actually summarize this in one sentence:
Kvothe wanders around the school the next day and gets one of his bunk-buddies to buy some sort of drug for him to lessen pain, then he gets whipped three times but it doesn’t really hurt all that badly and Kvothe doesn’t lose face or show any sign of pain, and gosh everyone is impressed.
A hand on my wrist stopped me. The man that had read the announcement gave me a smile that tried to be comforting. “You don’t need to go shirtless,” he said. “It’ll save you from a bit of the sting.”
“I’m not going to ruin a perfectly good shirt,” I said.
He gave me an odd look, then shrugged and ran a length of rope through an iron ring above our heads. “I’ll need your hands.”
Any real person would be scared shitless in a situation like this. The fact that Kvothe isn’t doesn’t make us like him more, it just makes it harder to relate to him. Rothfuss hasn’t been reluctant to have Kvothe break down and show his emotions before so I’m guessing this is just MANLY MAN DOES NOT CRY AT PAIN bullshit.
From these chapters I’m really not getting the feeling that wizard school is a real place. It feels like an obstacle course set up so Kvothe can do impressive things. They audition students in front of the masters so Kvothe can blow them all away with his knowledge, tuition is set according to a student’s intelligence so Kvothe can have negative tuition, one of the teachers hates him for no reason so he can show him up in front of the other students, they whip the students so Kvothe can be cool as a cucumber about it. At this rate I’m expecting the end of term exams to involve fighting a dragon just so Kvothe can be awesome at fighting dragons.