let’s read the name of the wind ch. 50- 52


(Note: My final year college exams finish on the 24th of May. Updates to this blog may become sporadic or cease entirely between now and then. I know I said that a few weeks ago as well but it will probably actually happen this time)


Chapter fifty! Only forty-two more to go!

Kvothe goes to Imre, the town near wizard school, which is apparently something of a playground for artists.

even the lowest art of all: poetry

I’ve read quotes from the second book where Kvothe mocks poetry as well, so this seems to be something of a beef Rothfuss has. Why I can’t imagine, good poetry is awesome and poetry as an art form was if I’m not mistaken quite highly regarded in pre-industrial times as an art form.

Imre also benefited by its proximity to the University. Access to plumbing and sympathy lamps improved the quality of the town’s air.

Plumbing: only existed in its modern form in the 19th century. As far as I’m concerned this confirms that Kvotheworld is at a 19th century level of technology. On the other hand, they have an entrenched powerful nobility. I’m not enough of a history buff to know if those things seem out of place together, someone in the comments leave a note if you know more about this.

Quality glass was easy to come by, so windows and mirrors were commonplace. Eyeglasses and other ground lenses, while expensive, were readily available.

This makes more sense, since I know glass was something of a luxury up until quite recently. I wonder where wizard school gets enough money to pay for all of this, though? It can’t just be the student’s tuition, they must be trading extensively. Maybe they make magical doo-dads and sell them to other surrounding cities.

Despite the obvious benefits of living nearby the people of Imre don’t like the University because of stereotypical fantasy luddism/ xenophobia. I realize I keep praising the Harry Potter books and it sounds like I’m some huge apologist for them (I’m not) but I liked that in those books the main fantasy bigotry was coming from the powerful and “gifted” group of people toward the mundane population (with the exception of the Dursleys). In SFF, particularly SFF written by people who self-identify as geeks or nerds, there’s a strong tendency to have a class of intelligent, powerful, magical people cruelly oppressed by the unwashed masses that frankly borders on a persecution complex a lot of the time. In reality insular enclaves of privileged people with strong in-group/out-group mindsets tend to be breeding grounds for racism, sexism, xenophobia, elitism and various other toxic attitudes. Or in other words, most fantasy authors would probably be siding with the Death Eaters.

Now I’m not saying that internet nerd culture is basically like an organization of monomaniacal evil wizards out to force society to assimilate to their hollow cultural ideals, except I totally am.

To be fair, it should be mentioned that the University had a vague contempt for Imre s populace, too, viewing them as self-indulgent and decadent. The arts that were viewed so highly in Imre were seen as frivolous by those at the University. Often, students who quit the University were said to have “gone over the river,” the implication being that minds that were too weak for academia had to settle for tinkering with the arts.

This feels like a commentary on the supposed rivalry between the hard sciences and more “soft” subjects like English and the arts. I can’t say I’ve ever actually encountered any of that myself, but maybe it’s more prevalent in America.

Kvothe, in a rare fit of insight, recognizes that both sides are hypocrites as they readily benefit from the things they criticize.

Kvothe’s bunk buddies brought him over to Imre once to listen to music and get drunk but he couldn’t enjoy it.

But I couldn’t. Bare minutes after the music started I practically fled the room.

Right, because you hate the fact that you can’t play music any more since you can’t afford to buy an insrument.

I doubt very much you’ll be able to understand why, but I suppose I have to explain if things are to make any sense at all.

No, you don’t need to. I’ve been paying attention to the story. I can figure this out on my own.

Kvothe goes on to spend a page explaining this, because why use one word when you can use fifty. During this time he compares his longing to play music to a person addicted to drugs begging in the streets, which, uh, no.

Back in the present Kvothe sets off to find someone called Devi who will loan him money for his tuition.

A Cealdish moneylender could take you to court if you didn’t repay your loan. A gaelet would simply have you beaten, or robbed, or both. This was not smart. I was playing with fire.

Hey, here’s an idea, why not offer to play music at an inn if they’ll loan you a lute? You’re apparently some kind of prodigy, I’m sure they’d appreciate it. Or ask one of your rich friends to buy you a lute then play for money and pay them back out of your earnings.

I heard the sound of a heavy bolt being drawn back, then the door opened, revealing a young girl with straight, strawberry-blond hair framing a pixielike face. She smiled at me, cute as a new button. “Yes?”
“I’m looking for Devi,” I said.
“You’ve found her,” she said easily. “Come on in.”

Okay, seriously, what is it with genre writers describing apparently grown women like little girls? I come across this way more often than you’d think and it’s really creepy.

I frowned. “How much is worth your while?”
“Four talents,” she said. “That’s the minimum.”
“And the interest?”
“Fifty percent every two months. So if you’re looking to borrow as little as possible, it’ll be two talents at the end of the term. You can pay off the whole debt for six if you like. But until I get all the principle back, it’s two talents every term.”

The Name of The Wind: a thrilling tale of academia and student loans.

It turns out Devi is a former wizard and she wants a drop of Kvothe’s blood to seal the deal so she can track him down anywhere. If he doesn’t pay her back and won’t work for her to make up the loss she’ll sell the blood to someone for nefarious purposes.

I have to say I actually quite like this character. It’s one of the few times the ah-ha-do-you-see fantasy subversion of expectations has actually worked.

For some reason Kvothe is extremely skittish about this even though he has assumed the loan shark would murder him if he didn’t pay the money back.

“Feel free to let yourself out. Think fond thoughts of Devi in two months’ time, when some thug is kicking the teeth out of your pretty little head.”

You tell him Devi.

Kvothe is planning on trying to borrow money from his friends (aka the sensible solution) but sees a lute in a pawn shop and has a better idea, namely dishonestly pretending the lute is damaged to convince the pawnbroker to lower the price to what he can pay.

To all appearances I held the lute casually, carelessly. But in my heart I was clutching it with a white-knuckled fierceness. I cannot hope for you to understand this.

No, seriously. I get it. Please stop telling me I don’t understand your incredibly obvious character motivation.

Kvothe goes back to Devi and borrows four talents with the intention of paying his tuition and accommodation fee and then earning it back by playing music. Great, I guess Kvothe’s money problems are solved now! No need to spend any more time on this.

Tar and Tin

Kvothe receives permission to study “sygalrdy” which is the art of using runes to focus sympathy, or something. To be honest I’m really not sure how sympathy actually works- earlier explanations made it sound like a mental power but apparently now there are magic letters that can control it.

Except that aru and dock don’t fit together. They’re the wrong shape. To get them to fit you have to add a few linking runes, gea and teh

Presumably joined by its associates lol, pwn and omg.

Learning this stuff is extremely difficult and usually it takes a month to get past the initial stages. Kvothe does it in seven days. How?

First, I was driven. Other students could afford to stroll through their studies. Their parents or patrons would cover the expense. I, on the other hand, needed to climb the ranks in the Fishery quickly so I could earn money working on my own projects. Tuition wasn’t even my first priority anymore, Devi was.

Sounds reasonable enough.

Second, I was brilliant. Not just your run-of-the-mill brilliance either. I was extraordinarily brilliant.

Go fuck yourself.

Lastly, I was lucky. Plain and simple.

No, actually. You don’t get to say “LOL GUYZ I’M A SUPER GENIUS” and then attribute your success to luck. This is Rothfuss trying to have his cake and eat it by writing a blatent wish fulfillment character and then pretending he isn’t writing a blatent wish fulfillment character.

Kvothe goes to one of those secret courtyards I mentioned in the first wizard school chapter to practice playing his lute. However one of the nearby lectures is running late so he just sits on a rooftop and practices there. Halfway through a song he hears a noise in some bushes in the courtyard and follows them to a drainage gate. He sees runes etched on the gate and realizes that they match up to the music he was just playing? It’s described really incoherently but I’m not complaining because yay something interesting is happening. Also there’s an apple in the drainage gate for some reason. The next day having the runes synced to the music helps him pass his runeology exam.

Kvothe moves up the ranks, learning more artificing from a dude called Manet.

Truly high-level artificing such as sympathy clocks or gearwins were still beyond my reach, but I knew that it was just a matter of time. Unfortunately, time was proving to be in short supply.

And then…. the chapter ends.

I don’t think I’ve really driven home before how much of this book is completely pointless.


OWNING A LUTE AGAIN meant I had my music back, but I quickly realized I was three years out of practice.

BULLSHIT just before you got to wizard school you were knocking everyone’s socks off with your amazing musical skills.

Apparently his studying and working for Kilvin doesn’t leave much time for Kvothe polish his lute.

Combined with my paid work in Kilvin’s shop, this left me with barely enough time to eat, sleep, and study, let alone give my lute the time it deserved.

I’m so mature.

Music is a proud, temperamental mistress. Give her the time and attention she deserves, and she is yours. Slight her and there will come a day when you call and she will not answer.

I’ve noticed that whenever Kvothe mentions women it’s in creepy possessive hunter-hunted contexts. He sounds like a pick-up artist.

All this studying and working and luting starts to wear on Kvothe as he sacrifices sleep. Note again how Rothfuss is creating an entirely artificial problem- had he just left out that passage with Kvothe playing perfectly or had him do poorly like I suggested this would be completely understandable, but I guess he just couldn’t resist the chance to make Kvothe awesome some more.

Kvothe sits around with his bunk buddies trading inane banter (nearly every conversation in this book consists of inane banter) and angsts a bit over the fact that he doesn’t want to tell his friends he has almost no money left.

If you cannot understand why I couldn’t bring myself to tell them this, then I doubt you have ever been truly poor.

Oh Jesus, here we go.

I doubt you can really understand how embarrassing it is to only own two shirts, to cut your own hair as best you can because you can’t afford a barber. I lost a button and couldn’t spare a shim to buy a matching one. I tore out the knee of my pants and had to make due with the wrong color thread for mending. I couldn’t afford salt for my meals, or drinks on my rare evenings out with friends.

Where to start with this?

I understand that when approaching a book there’s a certain sort of meta-textual reading going on whereby this is ostensibly Kvothe, a unique separate person with his own views and opinions telling us what it’s like to be poor. But on the other hand Kvothe was created by Patrick Rothfuss, a unique separate construct of beard hair and gnome hats with his own views and opinions. As such this is on some level Rothfuss speaking to us about being poor.

And the problem with that is that Kvothe isn’t poor. He has a roof over his head. He has a source of food and clean water and a  means of making money. There are plenty of people even in Rothfuss’ “first world” country who don’t have those things. There are parts of the world where not having them is the norm. Some of those people could very well read this book and I doubt they’d take kindly to be told they couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to be a college student.

The bunk buddies assume Kvothe has some sort of mystery girlfriend that he’s spending all of his time with but not telling them about or introducing them to, because that’s totally a thing that people do.

Girls are wonderful, I’ll admit, but when one takes one of my friends away, I get a little jealous.” He gave a sudden, sunny smile. “Not that I think of you in that way, of course.”

Just in case anyone was getting the wrong idea. Can’t have any of them gays in our important fantasy literature.

The bunk buddies notice that Kvothe is exhausted and advise him to cool his jets before he burns out, but he insists he’s fine. This better not be setting up for a Character Flaw moment, because “I’m so awesome that sometimes I work too hard” isn’t  a flaw.

Elxa Dal stood between two medium sized braziers.

I forgot to mention this until now, but Elxa Dal is seriously the most boss name ever.

“We are the masters of fire, for we have dominion over it.” Elxa Dal struck a nearby brazier with the flat of his hand, making it ring softly. Flames kindled in the coal and began to lick hungrily upward. “The energy in all things belongs to the arcanist.

What about atomic energy? Can they command that? Do they have to be aware that the energy is there on an academic level or can they just sense it?

“But we are also servants of fire. Because fire is the most common form of energy

If he’s talking about the sun and confining “most common form of energy” just to Kvotheworld and not the entire universe, then yes. Otherwise no.

Elxa Dal makes the students compete with each other for the title of King of Nerds, currently held by Kvothe (of course).

A hundred students left the Arcanum every year, perhaps a quarter of them with their guilders. That meant that every year there were a hundred more people in the world that had been trained in the use of sympathy. People who, for one reason or another, you might have to pit your will against later in life. Though Dal never said as much, we knew we were being taught something beyond mere concentration and ingenuity. We were being taught how to fight.

Yes, dueling. Can we drop the pretense that this isn’t just magic now?

Kvothe has his friends bet on him winning duels for him to make money, but to lower the odds and get a larger payout he uses a weak “linker”, straw to link you know what never mind, he’s magicing something with magic and he’s doing it badly on purpose. Unfortunately his opponent calls his bluff by insisting they draw energy from their own body heat, making it impossible for Kvothe to win. To win you half to light your opponent’s candle without letting them light your’s, which is actually a pretty neat idea for a magic contest.

The object was to light your opponent’s candle without letting him do the same to yours. This involved splitting your mind into two different pieces, one piece tried to hold the Alar that your piece of wicking (or straw, if you were stupid) was the same as the wick of the candle you were trying to light. Then you drew energy from your source to make it happen.
Meanwhile the second piece of your mind was kept busy trying to maintain the belief that your opponent’s piece of wicking was not the same as the wick of your candle.

I still maintain that this sounds completely impossible.

There was no way I could win. It doesn’t matter how skilled a fencer you are, you can’t help but lose when your opponent has a blade of Ramston steel and you’ve chosen to fight with a willow switch.

Stop talking about willow switches this is getting way too far into Robert Jordan territory

What are people in this world even using them for? Driving cattle or something? Why would Kvothe know how to do that? Why willow in particular? It’s like Rothfuss just thinks people in Ye Olde Times carried stick with them all the time for no reason.

(I’ve comically over-reacted to things by bringing up the Wheel of Time books several times before; if you don’t know what I’m talking about check here for an explanation)

Anyway despite all of this Kvothe wins the duel when his opponent depletes enough of his body heat to fall unconscious. He wins two talents in the betting, once more staving off bankruptcy for another chapter. Thrilling.

Kvothe’s friends tell Kilvin about how exhausted he is and Kilvin bans him from working for him in the evenings. Oh noes! Money woes! I don’t care.


18 thoughts on “let’s read the name of the wind ch. 50- 52

  1. Zort

    “If he’s talking about the sun and confining “most common form of energy” just to Kvotheworld and not the entire universe, then yes.” — The sun is not fire : (
    Also what’s the most common form of energy in the universe (don’t say dark energy)? I couldn’t find the answer.

  2. braak

    I don’t really mean to keep harping on what a book like this COULD have been, but the willow-switch thing got me thinking about it, and now I’m stuck. I mean, think about: “I come from a traveling people, we use willow-switches to drive horses, and the kids play a game where we run around trying to lash each other with them,” and then think about Kvothe coming to school and getting into a duel with Ambrose, who wants to use a sword, and Kvothe just uses a willow-switch and, you know, nails him in the balls (it stands to reason that any willow-switch game invented and played mostly by young boys is going to be 90% about trying to hit each other in the nuts); Kvothe’s reputation as an uber-badass grows (“I don’t even NEED a sword to kick your ass”), but REALLY what it is is that he doesn’t know how to use a sword at all, he’s just got a specialized skill that this other culture that he’s stumbled into doesn’t know about.

    And THEN imagine if that’s his whole story: his friends think he’s crazy lucky, but actually he’s just very good at cheating at cards. He develops a reputation for being a genius, but actually — since he comes from a family of actors — he’s just got a half-dozen tricks to quickly memorize large amounts of text. People think he’s a great magician, but actually he’s just very clever about using sympathy theatrically, in a way that no one else is used to. Throughout all this, he heightens his reputation mostly by being able to write really catchy tunes about himself.

    That story, about a relatively clever kid who makes the most of his specialized (but otherwise not particularly impressive) skill in order to make a reputation for himself is not only what, at every turn, this book seems like it’s supposed to be about, and also is one that I would kind of be interested in reading.

      1. braak

        It’s incidentally, in my opinion anyway, a much better indictment of American education (if that’s what Rothfuss is trying to do with his University chapters — that’s kind of not abundantly clear), since it’s about a kid who succeeds at school by finding creative ways around traditional, hidebound methods of education.

        Mlurr mlurr mlurr, oh well. I think you’ve just got a couple more chapters before you actually get to the story. But, good news! The whole second book is…not story.

    1. braak

      AUUUGH, and then, look, LOOOK how good you could do “deconstruction of a fantasy world” if you wanted to! He’s got all these fake countries and fake histories, and his main character comes from a people of traveling actors. It’s like a premise tailor-made for examining how stories reflect and respond to the cultures that create them, and the cultures that are told to them.


      “Back in the troupe, if we were performing for Ondarians, we’d change out the villains in [x fantasy] cycle with Cealds, since the two people enjoyed a centuries-long feud; the Cealds in that case were all red-haired, short-tempered drunks…but when we got to Mon-El, whose only contact with the Cealds was the medical college in Cealdein, they were usually doctors.”

      I mean, it’s world-building snooze, in that case, obviously, but STILL. Ugh. What a perfectly well-squandered opportunity.

  3. Reveen

    Devi, Tehlu, Elodin, Elxa Dal, Cyaerbasalien and… Ambrose. This book has some of the lamest, syllable-mashingest fantasy names I’ve ever seen. I mean, it’s a bit petty, but I have a hard time getting past crappy naming, it just makes things seem sillier than they ought to be. Just search some Celtic or Latin names off the internet or something.

    Also, ancient Rome had sewers and sanitation systems going on if I recall. The Indus Valley civilizations had flush toilets that worked by the hole going into moving water, as did a bunch of others. Though maybe Rothfuss shouldn’t just throw out the word “plumbing” like that without elaboration.

    And a musician making fun of poetry in kind of punching himself in the dick, just sayin’.

  4. q____q

    I think the explanation for him not liking poetry was something like „it’s like a song but without music and because music is THE BEST THING EVA poetry just sucks.“ Yeah, it makes no sense at all.

  5. katz

    And his secret trick that lets him master a month of material in a week? He makes up a mnemonic.

    Wow, I’m sure no one has ever done that before.

    And how can this material possibly be considered difficult? It’s a list of words and what they’re used for. Anyone who’s ever studied a foreign language has memorized one of those every week.

    1. ronanwills Post author

      To be fair he describes the runes more like letters than words and there are over a hundred of them, but I’m pretty sure some written Asian languages have way more than that and it doesn’t make you a genius for learning them.

      1. katz

        Lessee, the Greek alphabet has 24 letters, and I assume if you’re taking intro Greek, you’re expected to learn those in the first week or less.

        So I guess about a month for four times that much might be reasonable for normal college students. But some people are just good at memorizing things and could probably tackle that list in a few hours.

        That’s another thing: Rothfuss, like many authors, suffers from an inability to accurately portray people a lot smarter than him.

  6. braak

    As for the willow-switch thing, Bruce Lee famously fought Dan Inosanto armed with a willow switch in Game of Death, which that might be a recurring reference to — though, I don’t know why Rothfuss would do that, since the point of that scene is that Bruce Lee kicked Inosanto’s ass. (I think, though I don’t know for sure, that willow switches were also commonly used for driving horses when a whip was unavailable.)

    1. Andrea Harris

      It sounds more like Rothfuss thought “willow switch” sounded cool and not-21st-Century-USA so he just keeps using it. I don’t think there’s anything much deeper than that to it. He doesn’t really seem to have given all that much thought to his overall setting, which is why we get clumsy names (I can’t get over “Tarbean”), and bland, vague descriptions that convey nothing to the mind interspersed with occasional detailed set pieces, like that gate with the rune and the apple. Is this an effect of people younger than me growing up getting their principle ideas of setting from movies, so they don’t actually know how to describe anything properly in plain words? I see this a lot in fantasy authors aged forty and younger… they just can’t fucking describe a landscape or any setting in any way that helps the reader visualize it. It doesn’t matter how many words they use either — they might as well be describing a strip mall in their home town. Leaving Rowling aside (she wasn’t all that great at describing either, though she was heads above Rothfuss), Tolkien at least was good at conveying what the place his characters were in looked and felt like. So many of these fantasy authors have read LOTR like the Bible but they don’t actually seem to have learned anything from it other than kings and wizards and battles are cool.

      Also, how many chapters is this fucking thing. Full disclosure: I’ve been working on a science fiction novel for some years, and I have it broken out into an outline of ten chapters. It’s going to be a shortish novel, not a foot-crushing tome of 2000 pages, but still.

      1. braak

        I definitely do get the feeling, reading a lot of modern fantasy, of a sort of absence of setting — like, if I try to think back to the book and visualize what was going on, I most have an image in my head of a bunch of black words on white pages.

    2. Someone

      They were used for driving horses. Jewish law forbids riding donkeys on the Sabbath because one might rip a branch off a tree to drive it faster. (If you have any real halachic knowledge, you know the actual reason is fuzzier, but the point still stands that this was considered totally normal by commentators through the centuries.)

  7. braak

    “Why I can’t imagine, good poetry is awesome and poetry as an art form was if I’m not mistaken quite highly regarded in pre-industrial times as an art form.”

    I mean, it was taken pretty seriously up until the beginning of the 20th century. How does Kvothe, a musician who comes from a people of travelling actors have contempt for poetry? Did his theater troupe only do plays in prose? Did none of their songs rhyme?

    This sounds, frankly, like some kind of weird prejudice on Rothfuss’ part (though, later, one of Kvothe’s friends is really into this Anglo-Saxon kind of poetry with a caseura in the meter, so Rothfuss clearly KNOWS about it; maybe this is the one place where Kvothe might grow as a character? “I used to hate poetry, but now I don’t!” Sure, okay.)

    As for the industrial development question, I guess it’s not really IMPOSSIBLE to have an entrenched nobility and also an industrial revolution. I’d actually guess that this was in the 18th century, which is when universities started looking more like the University, maybe with some extra advances to avoid “gross stuff that we don’t want to think about in our super-cool fantasy novels”, like chamber-pots and rotten food. It’s right before the prevalence of progressive social institutions like public schooling, &c. (Though this does raise the quesiton of who, exactly, is in charge of the University; is it independent, is there a king who endowed it, does the mayor run it?)

    I guess some of this makes sense; if you had germ theory in the 18th century, building a sewage system might be a priority, and you don’t NEED, like, an automatic pump to have a sewer system. But there seems to be an awful lot of mental gymnastics involved in avoiding the creation of “the engine”, especially in a world where people can turn heat directly into work and transmit it without a medium using only the power of letters.

    1. Tim

      I suppose it’s possible that a landed nobility could survive an industrial revolution of they had the sense to throw the weight of their wealth behind it early on before it had time to seriously damage the value of their holdings. One could retain hereditary seniority in something more closely resembling a corporation, which swore loyalty to the state or monarch in return for a guaranteed legal monopoly within its area of influence.

      The big old mega-monopolies like US Steel and Standard Oil do resemble the power of old nobility, they just didn’t have the same degree of influence they’d need to secure their position in the long term.

      The biggest problem would be trying to have an industrial revolution without having an Enlightenment first, since the Divine Right to Rule is kind of necessary to explain why people whose primary skill is being born should still be in charge of everything.

      This doesn’t help Rothfuss, since nobody’s mentioned anything resembling this.

    2. Cyaxares

      Almost 3 years late to the party but whatever…

      “How does Kvothe, a musician who comes from a people of travelling actors have contempt for poetry?”

      In one of the previous chapters it was made clear that Kvothe dislikes the concept of poetry *that is not set to music*.

      And in my opinion that sentiment is not all that absurd as there is good evidence to suggest that Greek and Roman poetry developed from a form of song (e.g. the entire Latin vocabulary dealing with poetry and prophecy is drawn from music and the often very complex meters are much easier to understand by way of melodies; e.g. I couldn’t write out the schema of a Sapphic stanza without looking it up but I know a few melodies that work well with Sapphic stanzas and if I sort of hum a poem written in that meter to the melody the long and short syllables just naturally fall into place).
      So presumably at some point the idea that poems without music are a thing would have been new and strange (maybe comparable to how at some point theater plays started to be written which are clearly not meant to ever be performed) and there certainly would have been people with a strong dislike for this “crippled” art form.

      1. braak

        An interesting theory, except that Kvothe’s world is not in any way obviously analogous to Rome, and is much more analogous to a late medieval period, where poetry without music had long since been established — is weird buddy not only studies poetry, but studies a poetic form (obviously that old Anglo-Saxon meter) that he specifically describes as being old.

        It’s furthermore true that Greek theater was more like opera, in that the language was accompanied by music, but Kvothe’s plays are *clearly* not like Greek theater, and are instead much more obviously late-medieval / early renaissance theatrical forms, where the speeches were highly poetical but rarely set to music.


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