Hey gang, my final exams are over until I have to repeat one of them in August yay! That means updates should come thick and fast for the foreseeable future.
Also I promise to never use the phrase “hey gang” again.
The Mating Habits of the Common Draccus
(the epub copy that I, uh, “acquired” has several obvious spelling mistakes in this next section, but since I can’t tell what they were originally saying I’m just going to leave them in)
“ITS A DRAGON,” Denna whispered. “Tehlu hold and overroll us. It’s a JL dragon.”
“It’s not a dragon,” I said. “There’s no such thing as dragons.”
“Look at it!” she hissed at me. “It’s right there! Look at the huge Goddamn dragon!”
“It’s a draccus,” I said.
“It’s Goddamn huge,” Denna said with a tinge of hysteria in her voice.
“It’s a Goddamn huge dragon and it’s going to come over here and eat us.”
“It doesn’t eat meat,” I said. “It’s an herbivore. It’s like a big cow.”
Denna looked at me and started to laugh. Not hysterical laughter, but the helpless laugher of someone who’s just heard something so funny they can’t help but bubble over with it. She put her hands over her mouth and shook with it, the only sound was a low huffing that escaped through her fingers.
There was another flash of blue fire from below. Denna froze midlaugh, then took her hands away from her mouth. She looked at me, her eyes wide, and spoke softly with a slight quaver in her voice, “Mooooo.”
Isn’t this so much more exciting than learning more about the Chandrian?
I honestly started to wonder if the book was turning into a parody at this point.
So lets bring some science into this. In the previous chapter Kvothe explicitly describes the dragon as a lizard. Lizards are ectothermic and we’ve been told that Kvotheland gets extremely cold in winter, raising the question of how a lizard this huge could survive there. Kvothe also describes the dragon as running extremely fast, but most ectotherms (especially large ones) become sluggish at night due to a lowered rate of metabolism.
Next lets evaluate the idea that a creature like this could actually exist in a reasonably populous agrarian society. Kvothe describes the
DraccusDragon as being six feet high at the shoulder and “as massive as a dozen bulls tied together” which even assuming he’s exaggerating indicates that the thing is pretty huge. Assuming Kvotheland fauna conforms to usual European/North American standards, and we’ve seen nothing to indicate it doesn’t, this should easily be the largest land animal in the region. And there can’t only be one of them- unless it migrated a huge distance there must be a sustainable breeding population out there.
The idea that something like that could be reclusive enough to fade into legend is pretty impossible to believe. Even if they only live in wilderness areas (which Kvothe and Denna aren’t in- they’re close enough to Trebon that they can see smoke rising from chimneys) enough people would have seen them for their existence to become common knowledge. Hell, this one lives less than a day’s journey from what is apparently the biggest and most advanced scientific institution in the world. And keep in mind we’re talking about an animal that regularly puts on pyrotechnic light shows at night.
It eats trees. Whole trees.
“Maybe five tons,” I guessed. “Five at least.”
Eating whole trees really doesn’t strike me as a very good strategy considering large parts of a tree’s trunk consist of dead cells (and never mind that its jaws would need to be supernaturally strong to even make this possible). If it was just eating leaves that would make more sense, but it would probably need a huge number of them to survive.
This is the problem with trying to make your fantasy seem plausible and grounded in the real world- if Rothfuss had just said “it’s a dragon” I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.
Next up the Dragon swallows a half-burned log whole, which is so stupid I’m not even going to get into it, while Kvothe and Denna stare at it, agog. Aren’t we supposed to be getting into the climax about now?
The dragon puts out their camp fire by rolling on it.
It starts fires and lives in the woods. If it didn’t have something in its head that made it want to put out fires, it wouldn’t survive very long.”
Okay, wait, hold on.
There’s no way this shit is getting selected for. Forest fires are very easy to start and don’t leave a whole lot of room for adaptation, which is why large animals haven’t evolved any strategy against them except running like hell. When the dragon’s ancestors started breathing fire they would have either rendered themselves extinct (along with several neighboring species, most likely) or migrated to a less flammable environment.
And why are they breathing fire, anyway? The book says it’s for mating displays. Sexual selection can result in the evolution of traits that favour breeding even to the detriment of the individual, but there’s a limit. Anything that’s likely to kill the organism before it can pass on the gene (like accidentally being immolated shortly after hatching because your mother set the forest on fire) is probably not going to go very far. And this is even before we get into the fact that fire breath carries the risk of destroying the dragon’s primary food source. Although this one is eating burnt logs so they can apparently survive on a diet of scorched carbon somehow.
“How can I never have heard of these things?” Denna asked.
“They’re very rare,” I said. “People tend to kill them because they don’t understand they’re relatively harmless.
But…. that doesn’t make any sense. If people keep killing them than people must be running into them. Something that size would likely take a huge amount of effort to bring down, there’d be people talking about it afterward.
And they don’t reproduce very quickly. That one down there is probably two hundred years old, about as big as they get.” I marveled at it. “I bet there aren’t more than a couple hundred draccus that size in the whole world.”
If they don’t reproduce quickly that would make the fire-breath thing even more unlikely, since a single bad wildfire could wipe out an entire generation in one area. Animals with low reproduction rates tend to be very prone to going extinct.
Also, if there are a “couple hundred” of these things running around then people would notice them. I know the world is a big place but we’re not talking about a species of shrew here.
There’s some more awful flirting between Kvothe and Denna and they go to sleep.
I watched her sleep with the calm contentment of a boy who has no idea of how foolish he is, or what unexpected tragedies the following day will bring.
Oh good, maybe something will happen now.
Kvothe wakes up and is extremely stiff. The book makes the obvious joke about this. Yes, really.
“Are you hurt?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “Especially in my everywhere.”
Kvothe and Denna have been throwing out these jarringly modern sounding little witticisms with more and more frequency, making me assume that parts of the book were ghostwritten by Joss Whedon.
Kvothe and Denna get down from the Waystone they had been hiding on and play with the
lodenstonelodestonemagnet some more.
“How does it work?” she asked, pulling the buckle away and letting it snap back. “Where does the pulling come from?”
“It’s a type of galvanic force,” I said, then hesitated. “Which is a fancy way of saying that I’ve got no idea at all.”
Use of magnets as a controlled technology: 12th century AD
First hypothesis that magnetism is generated by the Earth: 1600
Since I’ve pinned Kvotheland at being the equivalent of the late 19th century this makes no sense.
The dragon ate some rocks, which lizards apparently due to digest food. The Denna discovers one of the lizard’s scales and discovers that it’s made out of iron.
I grinned at her. “The rocks around here are full of iron,” I said. “The draccus eats the rocks and slowly they get ground down in its gizzard. The metal slowly filters into the bones and scales.” I took the scale and walked over to one of the greystones. “Year after year it sheds its skin, then eats it, keeping the iron in its system. After two hundred years …” I tapped the scale against the stone. It made a sharp ringing sound somewhere between a bell and a piece of glazed ceramic.
Yes, apparently it’s consumed so much iron that its skin and bones are now made out of the stuff, a rare condition which in the real world would be described as “being dead due to the fact that your skin and bones are made of fucking iron”. Extreme metal poisoning would be another name, since as you’ve probably noticed most life forms haven’t evolved to incorporate metals into their bodies on anything above the molecular level. Also that’s not actually how skin and bone formation or, like, anything works.
“Back before modern mining people probably hunted them for their iron.
And yet all traces of them have faded from legend. There are no detailed drawings or paintings of them, or accounts of hunting parties going after them, or mysterious iron skeletons sitting around the place.
Denna posits that the dragon couldn’t have burned down the farmhouse the previous night because it left obvious tracks at the campsite that weren’t there. Maybe the Chandrian were thee after all and this was all a wild goose chase. They spot some smoke rising in the distance and head off to see if it’s Denna’s patron.
We stumbled onto a patch of ripe ashberry that slowed us down for almost a full hour.
Teenagers Dicking Around: The Novel
They arrive at the site of the smoke and discover that the dragon went on a rampage the previous night. There’s a smashed up log cabin with the smell of rotting flesh coming from it, which is always a good sign. They find an arm sticking out of the wreckage. Kvothe theorizes that it was the Chandrian. The dude owned an expensive crossbow that Denna suggests was to fend off attacks from the dragon that he didn’t know existed.
All wild creatures avoid contact with people.
No they don’t.
Denna theorizes that the dragon is rabid.
“How on earth would you put something like that down?
You just said people used to hunt them.
Kvothe insists on looking around more to see if there are any signs that the house got Chandrianized but Denna points out the metal on the crossbow isn’t rusted away.
Just then, the dragon comes back!
Denna and Kvothe run into a nearby cave that shows signs of the dragon trying to get into previously, where they find a ladder leading up to a makeshift observation post with some food and crossbow bolts in it.
After all that exciting running and screaming and things happening Denna and Kvothe take the opportunity to eat some lunch. The pace of this story puts me in mind of a very unfit person (like myself, for example) trying to scale a steep hill- inching laboriously forward as though through treacle in brief, exhausting bursts of activity before stopping to regain its energy, wheezing and panting, sweat pouring from its brow.
I nodded, grinning
Damn near every single sentence in the last two chapters has been accompanied by a character grinning, nodding or doing both at once.
I don’t understand why writers feel the need to do this. To me this more than anything else signals the presence of unskilled hack.
After this we get some riveting fantasy-wank over how the dragon’s fire breath works which might have been more interesting if I hadn’t previously read at a least a dozen similar passages in books written by people who aren’t nearly as clever as they think they are.
While Kvothe is rambling on, Denna notices that the species of tree the dragon seems to favour have been planted deliberately in rows.
“What kind of tree is it eating right now?”
“I can’t tell from here,” I said. “Maple? Does it have a sweet tooth?”
The Willow Conspiracy must have really gotten lazy while Rothfuss was writing this part of the book.
Our intrepid duo explore some more and find a canyon with large earthen pans filled with what looks like solidified maple. Denna eats some, thinking it’s maple candy.
I’d like to point out here that Denna’s intelligence seems to have taken a major hit over the last few chapters. She started out apparently as smart or smarter as Kvothe, if less formally educated, but now she’s constantly asking childish questions (“I wonder if the magnet likes other kinds of metal?”), panicking, screaming and generally acting like a stereotypical airhead. Presumably we’re meant to realize what a silly little girl she is compared to Kvothe’s rugged manly intellect.
Anyway the stuff turns out to be poison. Kvothe gets Denna to wash her mouth with water and eat charcoal (which only works if it’s been made porous to increase it’s surface area, ie “activated” charcoal).
“Do it!” I shook the handful of coals at her. “If you don’t chew this up and swallow it, I’ll knock you out and force it down your throat!”
Because giving her a concussion and choking her is going to solve the problem.
Luckily Kvothe’s abusive medical practices save the day and he explains that whoever put all the infrastructure in the area has been making ophalum.
“A drug. Those are denner trees. You just had a whole mouthful of denner resin.” I sat down next to her. My hands were shaking. I lay them flat against my legs to hide it.
I’m guessing the dragon is tripping balls due to eating the trees.
“I thought I was imagining it before,” Denna said, looking up at me. “But your eyes really do change color.
For fuck’s sake, really?
“I’m guessing it’s old-fashioned lust,” I said in my roughest tones. “It’s not often a beautiful girl lets me get this close to her.”
Denna, who is apparently fake-poor like Kvothe, suggests taking the resin and selling it to nefarious sorts for mega-bucks.
I like that the characters actually consider this. Kvothe suggests selling it to an apothecary to make into painkiller instead. They take all the available resin with them.
Kvothe realizes that the dragon was trying to get into the cave because it could smell the purified resin. There are only a few of the trees that it’s been eating left.
“It’s going to go looking for more. And it’s going to be desperate. And it knows the last place where it found the trees had a little house that smelled like people… .We’re going to have to kill it.”
That’s a pretty huge leap in logic. The idea that the drug would even effect the dragon in the same way as a human is pretty unlikely. Kvothe goes digging around for a crossbow and finds a huge barrel of resin, presumably worth super-mega-bucks.
Before I could say anything, do anything, the draccus roared.
Maybe they’re going to watch it wander around the forest some more. I can’t wait.
We’re careening toward the thrilling finale with all the energy of a drunk snail here, people! Hold on to your seats.