let’s read the wise man’s fear ch. 43-47

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Without Word or Warning

I just realized I completely forgot what was going on in the plot. Literally, I’m not joking. I sat down to write this and couldn’t remember a thing that had occurred since the start of the book. Something about Ambrose and…. a fire, or something? Falling off a roof? And Devi was there, I think? That’s about it.

Anyway, Kvothe is in Anker’s Inn moping and playing with Denna’s ring (you wouldn’t believe how many iterations of that sentence I went through trying to find one that doesn’t sound like an innuendo) when a Cealdish man comes in. I can’t remember what “Cealdish” actually signifies, although for some reason I’m picturing a really big burly dude with a crew cut. According to the Kingkiller wiki- there’s a wiki, enjoy- they’re associated with money and trade. Alrighty.

Mr Crew Cut gives Kvothe a letter from Denna and then promptly leaves the book. That was probably a smart decision. It turns out Denna left Imre for greener pastures abroad and she’s thinking of Kvothe. But not enough to tell him before she took off, apparently. Later Kvothe goes to Elodin’s class to get quirked at some more. But it turns out Elodin is in srs business mode today.

“Only through skill in naming did students move through the ranks. An alchemist without any skill in naming was regarded as a sad thing, no more respected than a cook. Sympathy was invented here, but a sympathist without any naming might as well be a carriage driver. An artificer with no names behind his work was little more than a cobbler or a smith.

I said repeatedly throughout my posts on the first book that I didn’t get how naming and sympathy worked, or what the difference is between alchemy and chemistry. That’s become more clear at this point, but all of the wizard stuff in the book- the University, the magic system, Kvothe going to lectures- feels so inconsequential and disconnected from the plot. Kvothe and his pals only ever use sympathy on rare occasions, and name magic has come up exactly once, in a fairly inconsequential scene. None of this appears to tie into the Chandrian or the wider story in any way.

To once again go back to the Harry Potter parallels, regardless of what you thought of the quality of those books 90% of the time if something was included in the story it had some sort of purpose (the big exception being the last book, where everything started to go off the rails). When the characters learned about something you could be sure it was going to be relevant, usually pretty soon and not at some vague point in the future. If they learned about a type of magic a character would use that magic, or it would feature in the backstory. If someone talked at length about an historical event or a societal attitude or whatever, it would inform some element of the plot. And even with the long-term Checkov’s guns, you could generally see how they would fit into the overall story eventually.

In other words, it felt like someone had sat down and tried to get the entire story hashed out before the books were actually written, whereas with the Kingkiller trilogy, with the exception of Felurian and the Adem which I happen to know come up later, I can’t shake the feeling that Rothfuss is just making this shit up as he goes along. Nothing sticks, nothing appears to actually matter. The pieces don’t fit together. People used to hate the Wagon Bros, but that’s not really a big deal in the time the story is set in. People used to hate wizards, but they don’t really any more so I guess that’s pointless. People don’t believe the Chandrian exist? They may as well not for all the impact they’ve had so far.

I once again have to wonder how much of this is Rothfuss writing himself into corners in an attempt to distance himself from his “inspirations”. My hard drive is littered with half-finished or barely started attempts at writing projects I’ve discarded over the years, some of which are pretty obvious rip-offs of whatever I was into at the time. One thing I’ve learned is that if you’re going to copy something either say “fuck it” and just go for it, or don’t bother. If you play this coy game where you try to throw up smoke screens to fool people you’re just going to end up with a pale imitation of whatever your inspiration was, but with all the interesting parts sequestered behind layers of obfuscation so no one will cotton on to what you’re doing. These books would be so much better if Haliax and the Chandrian really were just imitations of Voledmort and the Death Eaters, hatching all these crazy over-elaborate schemes and jumping out of closets to try and murder Kvothe. This business with people hating the Wagon Bros and wizards and non-namers all feels like a Wizard/Muggle dynamic that got cut out of the story for being too obvious. No, just leave it in. It was bullshit in Harry Potter and it would be just as much so here, but at least it would be something.

Hell, Rothfuss, you’ve obviously read the HP books in enough detail to want to copy them, but in all that time you failed to notice that they don’t consist 90% of nothing happening?

Anyway! It turns out Fela has learned the Name of stone so Elodin has her demonstrate in front of the class. Maybe they’ll all get their own elemental powers or something, which if so would be the longest and most tedious build-up to such a cliched idea I’ve ever seen. Elodin wants to give her a special ring to signify her awesomeness, but she had to make it herself with Earth-bending or whatever.

Elodin stretched out a hand in front of Fela and opened it, revealing a river stone, smooth and dark.

I guess this is where the “smooth and whatever as a river stone” thing in the prologue came from.

Fela is initially unable to do anything, but then Elodin slaps her on the back of the head to activate her magic. I guess wizards work like old TV sets in this universe.

Fela opened her hand and a scattering of sand and gravel spilled out. With two fingers she reached into the jumble of loose stone and pulled out a ring of sheer black stone. It was round as a cup and smooth as polished glass.

This is actually kind of cool. I really wish stuff like this would happen more often. You know, interesting stuff.


The Catch

Kvothe has finished whatever he’s been working on at the workshop, and invites Kilvin to come and have a gander at it. Kilvin apparently had no idea what he was doing until this point, which isn’t really how college projects work. Generally the staff will want to look over your plans to make sure you’re not trying to do something impossible or dangerous without realizing it.

It turns out that Kvothe’s invention is a magic lantern shaped thing that blocks arrows. I don’t know why, but I find that really anti-climactic and un-interesting. Kvothe has never had trouble with arrows, why would he choose to invent something like? It doesn’t fit into the story in any way. I would have thought he’d make something with some connection to the Chandrian.

“No one should ever die from ambush on the road,” I said firmly.

I…. guess that makes sense? His troupe wasn’t killed by arrows though.

Kilvin gives his approval for the arrow-whatsit to go on sale for twenty-five talents, but our hero nobly offers to price it lower so poorer people can afford it. Take the money you stupid tit, that way I won’t have to read about your student finances any more. Luckily Kilvin offers to give him twenty-five for that particular model, as he wants to put it in his private collection.



Kvothe is playing in Anker’s inn when some dudes come in and arrest him.

“Kvothe, Arliden’s son,” he read aloud to the room, his voice clear and strong. “In the sight of these witnesses I bind you to stand to your own account before the iron law. You are charged with Consortation with Demonic Powers, Malicious Use of Unnatural Arts, Unprovoked Assault, and Malfeasance.”

Um. Okay. That was kind of sudden, but yay for stuff happening I guess.

After so many chapters of wading through treacle the plot suddenly barrels forward in the space of a few pages, so here goes:

Kvothe was arrested for using airbending on Ambrose at the end of the first book. Even though the matter had been handled by the University several influential nobles went to the courts about it, presumably under Ambrose’s directions. Kvothe is charged under archaic anti-wizard laws but the University masters spring to his defence.

In the end, I was cleared of any wrongdoing. I thought I was vindicated. I thought I had won….

But I was still terribly naive in many ways.

Since Rothfuss spent chapters upon chapters on Kvothe faffing around doing nothing but skipped over a dramatic trial and acquittal in the space of a few paragraphs we must face the terrifying prospect that he actually finds all of the time-wasting interesting.


Interlude—A Bit of Fiddle

Chronicler is astonished that there’s so little to the trial, since it’s apparently a major part of Kvothe’s legend.

“But that’s the first story I ever heard about you when I came to the University,” Chronicler protested. “How you learned Tema in a day. How you spoke your entire defense in verse and they applauded afterward. How you …”

I still don’t get how these rumours are getting started. Even assuming Kvothe becomes incredibly famous later in the story (and whatever it is he does, it better be damn impressive) I don’t get how this level of mythologizing could have taken place in such a short time. Most religious figures don’t even have such elaborate back stories millenia after their deaths.

I also don’t get how this is supposed to be some sort of clever commentary on the nature of myths and stories; it’s just Chronicler saying “but I heard that you-” and Kvothe going “NOPE”.

Kvothe claims that there’s already two detailed written accounts of the trial, and there were dozens of eyewitnesses. Then how the hell did the crazy legend spread? How poor of a historian is Chronicler if he didn’t already find the other accounts?

“I’ve probably kept us at the University too long, anyway,” he said.

You don’t fucking say.

The local morons come around to stop the plot from advancing for awhile.

“That,” he said in a booming voice, “was a damn fine pie.”


“Oh honey,” the big man said. “Don’t get yourself in a twit. Damfine is a kind of apple, innit?”

…. did he just say “innit”?


Interlude—The Hempen Verse

Another interlude? Seriously?

The morons start talking about Kvothe’s trial im Imre (how about that) and throw around lots of wild rumours and legends and oh God this is so stupid let’s just move on.

You see, there’s two lines in the Book of the Path, and if you can read them out loud in the old Tema only priests know, then the iron law says you get treated like a priest. That means a Commonwealth judge can’t do a damn thing to you. If you read those lines, your case has to be decided by the church courts.” Old Cob took another bite of pie and chewed it slowly before swallowing. “Those two lines are called the hempen verse, because if you know them, you can keep yourself from getting strung up. The church courts can’t hang a man, you see.

Okay this is actually kind of interesting. I’m pretty sure this is a riff on pseudo-law like the “freeman on the land” thing, where idiots believe they can make themselves immune to the law by exploiting obscure loop-holes in the legal system. Feel free to take some time to research that, it’s way more fascinating than anything in the book.

One of the morons tells the legend-version of Kvothe’s trial at length which I think is the first time we’ve had the real and false versions of Kvothe’s antics contrasted so directly.

Kvothe starts trolling Devan by telling stories of “The Chronicler”, a legendary figure with super writing powers.

The innkeeper nodded. “And if he learns your name, he can write it on
the blade of the sword and use it to kill you from a thousand miles away.”

Is that a Death Note reference?

Old Cob will talk about Chronicler to a dozen people while they’re bucking hay and drinking water in the shade. Tonight at Shep’s wake, folk from ten towns will hear about the Lord of Stories. It will spread like a fire in a field.”

I still maintain that the way stories spread in this book only makes sense if everyone is stupid. It’s like they exist solely to propagate rumors and myths at the slightest provocation.

I’m giving you my story with all the grubby truths intact.

Dude, have more “grubby truths” than you do and I’m the most mundane person alive. The fake versions of your life are more interesting than the real one.


21 thoughts on “let’s read the wise man’s fear ch. 43-47

  1. Rakka

    As it happens I was just reading a microhistory book about a trial of a heretic miller, and the introduction explains about the odd but firmly held belief that there’s no such thing as folk culture that is independent of what they’re told is approriate. Because ideas never move along the same societal level, or generationally, but always from top to bottom. Obviously Rothfuss is secretly of the same opinion, and his peasants/farmers/noble tons of soil are just starved for some nifty new mythy stories to tell and hear.

  2. Gabriel

    I dunno about benefit of the clergy or freemen on the land or whatnot, but it is true that in the early days of universities, because they were run under the auspices of the church, all students were treated (by law) as members of the clergy, which meant they could only be tried by ecclesiastical courts, not civil ones.

    Take a moment and picture your favorite frat.

    Now picture those assholes with what amounted to DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY.

    Students in ye olden days were even more in-fuckin’-sufferable than they are today. 😀

  3. lampwick

    As you suspected, Rothfuss didn’t make up the Hempen Verse. There was a law that priests were exempt from civil trials, and to prove you were a priest you would have to recite a verse from the Bible in Latin. It was definitely used in Elizabethan times, and probably earlier, and I think they even called it that.

    But — well, in this world we know what priests are, and what Latin is, so this story has some resonance. It makes sense that Rothfuss would come across it somewhere and want to use it. But in Rothfussverse I’m not sure what the Book of the Path is, or what Tema is, so the whole story seems to come out of nowhere. (Well, I don’t remember them, anyway. It’s also possible that I should have been paying more attention.)

    1. ronanwills Post author

      Oh, I didn’t realize it was based that directly on a real thing. Thanks for explaining it.

      I should probably have been clearer on this, but the Hempen Verse thing is said by a farmer dude as an explanation for how Kvothe got acquitted; I’m pretty sure from the context we’re supposed to assume it’s bullshit.

    2. braak

      I am not 100% sure, but I think that this point — a third of the way through the second book — is the first time that anyone mentions the name of the holy book of the culture’s primary religion.

      1. ronanwills Post author

        It’s been mentioned a few times in the past, although the actual specifics of the religion haven’t been explained before now. Just like with this “iron law” thing we keep hearing about.

      1. braak

        Not to be confused with the “neckbeard-verse”, which is actually the dimension composed entirely of the aggregate of grimdark fantasy literature + Battlestar Glactica.

  4. shardbaenre

    That picture pretty handily illustrates why this book is so terrible. She lives in an underground area, doesn’t seem to eat regularly or properly because of the crazy and the quirk, and is basically a homeless person. How does she appear to be so healthy?

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but shouldn’t she seem older and more world weary because that’s what happens when you go crazy due to magic and living underground? How about some pox? Unkempt hair? Odd clothes?

    1. ronanwills Post author

      If she was ugly Rothfuss wouldn’t be able to keep the possibility open for Kvothe to bone her at some point in the future.

      1. shardbaenre

        So fantastically gross that it’s unreal. Since this is fiction, I might even let it go if she were just mussed. But that picture is unrealistic and unbelievable. How can anyone possibly suspend their disbelief when confronted with that image and reality…or even just based on what Kvothefuss has said of her history?

        Ya know, it would be really different if Auri had this destructive magic that she incidentally exhibits but since it’s what drove her crazy, her doing magic is dangerous. Put some moral dilemmas up in this joint.

      2. Reveen

        To be fair, it’s fan art. But the others pictures of kawaii-chan aren’t much more realistic, and they’re all pretty indicative of how Rothfuss presents the characters.

        Shit, alot of the fan art makes the series look like YA romance or manga-based light novels rather than epic heroic fantasy. Is Rothfuss actually aware of this, or has he deluded himself into thinking he’s writing in the tradition of Martin or Jordan?

        1. ronanwills Post author

          The artwork for that playing card Kickstarter project that he was wetting himself over was much the same. It’s not surprising that that’s the kind of crowd who are attracted to the books, since their content is pretty YAish anyway (I’ve seen multiple reviewers who even classified it as such). At least until we get to all the sex that apparently happens later.

          I have actually found some pretty cool fanart of Kvothe, but most of it makes him look like this steely-eyed badass and is in no way indicative of the actual character.

      3. Reveen

        Has anyone else brought up the cover for In Have No Plot and I Must Scream In the Name of the Wind yet? Because it kinda makes the thing look like it was written by Storm Constantine or something.


        Not that there’s anything wrong with any of this, if Rothfuss was a dudely white dude writing magic romance with bishonen guys I’d be cool with it. But he clearly has no actual idea what it wants to be or where to take the plot, and he attracts a smorgasbord of demographics completely by accident.

      4. magpiewhotypes

        Auri might turn out to be a spirit or a fairy or the avatar of some god, meaning that she isn’t affected by stuff like mental illness or Vitamin D deficiency.

        However, since the entire story is told through Kvothe’s eyes and Kvothe is a dumbfuck who isn’t curious about a girl who stays perfectly healthy while living in a sewer, after 2,000 pages all the reader knows is that she’s quirky and sort-of-boneable.

  5. Reveen

    Speaking of the Kingkiller wiki, this is what Moon-fey apprently looks like.

    I hate this goddamn series.

    Also, is the woman Elodin slaps the exact same one he acted like a creeper towards earlier? Why was it necessary to have write guy abusing this one student? He must have a really fucking good tenure deal.

    1. ronanwills Post author

      I believe it is the same person. Elodin wouldn’t last five minutes in a real college.

  6. braak

    Anyway, at a slight distance this whole thing gets weirder and weirder. A legal precedent that allows you to circumvent common-law court, but only if you can learn an archaic language in a day? A wizard trying to learn the secret name of the Wind so that he can take revenge on the murderer of his people?

    Sure, ideas like this are kind of cliched, but they are also rad as hell. Who decides to write a book about a wizard who fights a dragon and has to vanquish an ancient evil and then spends nine hundred chapters saying, “No, the point is that all those things DIDN’T happen!”

    Yeah, Rothfuss, come on; I had money trouble when I was in college, too. Lots of people did. That’s why we don’t need to read books about it.


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