let’s read the wise man’s fear ch. 54-56

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The Messenger

Our hero manages to bluff his way into the inner chambers of the Mayor, navigating past his suspisious manservant Stapes, who shall henceforth be known as Staples. Staples is cold and imperious to Kvothe and so I predict he’ll turn out to be evil.

The Mayor is consulting with a military leader named Dagon (HP Lovecraft jokes in the comments will result in instant death by orbital laser strike). The Mayor explains that he’s too busy to speak to Kvothe at the moment and tells Staples to get a room ready.

My rooms were so pleasant it took me almost a full day to realize how much I hated them.

God I hate this trope.

This comes up in fiction a lot, where our blue-collar hero happens on a bit of luxury and realizes he’s not meant for it- see also movies in which a character must choose between a traditional down-home working class lifestyle and extravagant wealth and invariably goes for the former even though no one, ever, would turn do that. It’s a false dichotomy wherein wealth and some nebulous definition of “real life” are seen as mutually exclusive.

Now, don’t get me wrong here and interpret anything I just said as being against criticism of economic inequality or anything like that. The current narrative of our times casts the lesser off as the “good guys” and the one-percent types as villains, and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with viewing things that way. In fact, the trope I’m talking about works into the agenda of societal factions that would rather we didn’t question the status quo by portraying people who are unsatisfied with their lot in life as misguided and deluded, and striving for more wealth or financial security as an empty and meaningless goal divorced from “true” happiness and fulfillment, the simultaneous acquisition of which is treated as an impossibility for reasons that are never quite explained. Or put another way, being rich is all fine and dandy but becoming rich is a fool’s errand that must inevitably end with the hero realizing they’re content with their life as it currently stands.

What would have made much more sense here is for Kvothe to say “holy shit check out these rooms, this is fucking sweet after being poor for so long, I’m going to milk this Mayor job for all it’s worth”.

Anyway, even though the rooms are hella bourgeois and chafe at Kvothe’s preferred lifestyle of living in dingy pubs, he appreciates the fact that he gets a large private bathroom with drains and stuff.

I had not expected to find such conveniences so far from the civilizing influence of the University.

Well, there’s a whole lot of weird assumptions packed into that sentence.

Is wizard school the font of all advanced technology in this world? Surely there must be more Universities than just that one? Even a single country with only one University, one center of research and engineering, would have trouble making significant technological advancements due to the collaborative nature of those fields and the sheer amount of effort it takes to make any headway in them.

But it goes further than that. Kvothe’s statement here seems to indicate that these things aren’t just invented by the University, they’re only produced there as well. So what, someone invents plumbing and that knowledge never travels further than the borders of Imre? Don’t students ever go to distant lands and set up their own businesses there?

Then there’s the issue of the whole idea of “civilizing influences”. I can’t read that phrase without picturing Kvothe as one of these people who go to countries in Africa or Asia and take some sort of weird personal credit for the fact that people have iPads (whereupon, in a just world, they are immediately devoured by a swarm of flesh eating bats).

Later, Kvothe gets a visit from the Mayor’s private tailor and exaggerates the value and fanciness of the clothes he lost so they can be “replaced”.

The result was a richly colored burgundy cloak. It wouldn’t keep the rain off worth a damn, but I was quite fond of it. Not only did it make me look rather dashing, but it was full of clever little pockets, of course.

Yes Kvothe, you’re very quirky and internet with your hidden pockets and your secret compartments. I’m going onto 4chan to make lolcats about it right now.



Kvothe is stalking the Mayor in his garden for some reason and notices from his clothes that he’s rich as all get out.

I took in the tired lines of his face, the slight tremble of his hands, his posture. He looks old, I thought to myself, but he’s not.

How do you know how old he is?

Apparently he’s sick with some disease that makes walking difficult. He calls Kvothe over and they go ambling around the garden for awhile.

Occasionally the Maer would point out a particular piece of statuary and tell which of his ancestors had commissioned it, made it, or (he spoke of these in a quieter, apologetic tone) plundered it from foreign lands in times of war.

I love how monarchs that the hero becomes friendly with are always exclusively of the progressive, modern variety whose kingdoms are built on generations of bloodshed and slavery, but of course they wouldn’t dream of doing anything like that these days and it’s all in the past now.

Royalty - Trooping the Colour Ceremony - Buckingham Palace

And I guess giving the statues back as a gesture of goodwill would be out of the question.

The Mayor informs Kvothe that everyone is wondering who he is, because every atom of the god damn universe hangs on his very being, and that he should refrain from telling everyone so they’ll pay more attention to him. Presumably the Mayor is a wily fox and this ties into his plans in some way.

I idly wondered how exactly one was supposed to lounge. I couldn’t remember ever doing it myself. After a moment’s consideration, I decided lounging was probably similar to relaxing, but with more money in your pocket.

Terry Pratchett is still writing books. You’re not him.

Naturally the real drama in this part is whether Kvothe will be able to get enough money to buy his lute back, which has happened already, like, 37 times? I might be mis-remembering.

For a chance of having the Maer as a patron, I was willing to grit my teeth and spend a span bored and anxious, without music.

Holy shit, the drama. I just…. I’m not sure if I can go on with this, my hands are shaking here. It’s just too intense. Also people are spreading rumours about Kvothe, as they tend to do if he so much as farts in the presence of another sentient being.



Kvothe and the Mayor go back to the gardens again and walk around slowly while talking about things that aren’t important.


Their conversation is meandering and dull even by the standards of these books so I’m just going to skip it and I’ll bring it up again if it becomes important to the plot.

Oh bother,” the Maer said, his expression souring. “I must go take that dreadful nostrum of mine or Caudicus will be completely unmanageable for a span of days

His doctor is actually called Caudicus. I see we’re fully in JK Rowling naming convention territory.

Terrible woman. New man every span of days.

GOOD HEAVENS I MUST RETREAT TO MY FAINTING COUCH. Of course she has a “wicked smile” because women who sleep with lots of different partners instead of Rothfuss Kvothe their One True Love are evil harpy slut whores.

Kvothe and the Mayor talk some more and the Mayor quickly brings Kvothe into his confidence for no reason as far as I can tell other than that Kvothe is the protagonist. Supposedly it’s because he has all of these qualities like intelligence and insight that the mayor favours, but I’ll be damned if I can see any of them myself.

Various members of the court come to gawk at Kvothe and talk to him, including several seduction attempts.

but at that point in my life I knew so little of women that I was immune to those games

Uh huh. Sure, Rothfuss, we believe you. No really, keep going. I’m fascinated.

Once more it feels as though this entire world revolves around Kvothe. None of the other characters feel as though they have any life or existence apart from how their orbits intersect his. They exist solely to react to him, usually by immediately becoming fascinated by him for no obvious reason. Kvothe enters a room and everyone else immediately swivels around to stare at him, like that bit in Inception where the mind-people catch on to Leonardo Di Caprio’s antics.


42 thoughts on “let’s read the wise man’s fear ch. 54-56

  1. Sam Hanawalt

    Stopping in to say that I’ve read all your TWMF posts so far and I applaud them wholeheartedly.

    As a side note: I’ve heard, perhaps apocryphally, that Rothfuss originally wrote ALL THREE of the books we’re getting now as one mega-book. I think that would account for the incredible unevenness of the books–something I definitely noticed. Some sections I thought were rather good, especially in TNOTW, but so many more are just turgid and… overwritten, in the most amateur way, I guess I’d describe it as. I actually liked The Name of the Wind, despite its numerous bad bits, but Wise Man’s Fear just cranks the awful to eleven and pops on earphones.

    Anyway, while I can’t wait for you to get to Felurian, I’m even more eager to see how you take the Ademre section. So many facepalms. So gloriously dumb.

    1. Aaron Adamec-Ostlund (@AaronAO)

      “Lyrical Style” LOL! I cannot wait for this to happen, it will be worse than Game of Thrones. I expect they’ll sex everything up, which will actually be truer to the story than all the “I know nothing about women” bullshit.

      1. Zenobious

        It probably will be worse than GoT, but I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that a TV series could actually be better than the books. TV producers are unlikely to be as willing to put up with the endless repetitive sequences, for example; I imagine a lot of dead weight would get cut out and the plot and pacing tightened up suitably.

        Now, it will still be mediocre fantasy TV at best, but there’s a chance for whoever makes it to fix at least some of the flaws… much as it may pain oh so many Kvothfuss fans.

        1. ronanwills Post author

          My first instinct would be to assume that the tv series would tighten up the plot as well, but on the other hand the Game of Thrones series (which I’ve watched every episode of despite not being able to get through three chapters of the first book) is also falling straight into a lot of the pacing problems I’ve heard the books are plagued with later on.

          On the other hand, I can see why the Kvothe books would be tempting to adapt- they’re much more straightforward than Game of Thrones, with only one viewpoint character and much less of a requirement for CG and special effects, and so far no big battles or huge action scenes to speak of apart from Trebon burning down. For a network looking to cash in on the GoT craze they’d be far more appealing than, say, trying to adapt Wheel of Time or something.

      2. braak

        Does anybody know how that Seeker of Truth series compared to the books? That actually seems a more likely referent than GoT — and my understanding is that Seeker departed pretty drastically from the books, as the producers or whoever kept having to have to think up adventures for the guys to have. (I have not read those books, or seen more than the first two episodes of Seeker, so I can’t say.)

        Like how in those Hercules and Xena shows, regardless of what the plot actually was, some bandits would have to show up for Kevin Sorbo to fight.

        Ugh. I do not envy the guys who have to adapt this. Even assuming it’s just a 13-episodes season, can you imagine trying to get forty-five minutes out of “Kvothe is in the library looking for a book. He does not find it.”

      3. braak

        Though, I guess alternately it could be the best experimental anti-fantasy in history. If the whole show was written in the style of Beckett, just thirteen hours every year of Kvothe waiting for a Deus ex Machina that never comes.

      4. Reveen

        Atleast Game of Thrones has scope and if you don’t like watching people wander around in the snow you have about 2,000 other plotlines to like.

        No such luck here. It’s gonna be all Kvothe, all the time. Maybe they’ll expand the story to include other viewpoints. But whatever skinny, dweeby, white dude they cast is going to be the focus 90% of the time.

        And you know it’s going to be a skinny, dweeby, annoying white dude with alot of quirky geek-appeal like the new Doctor Who’s or Merlin or something. It’d be a colossal miscasting if it wasn’t.

      5. braak

        Oh, dang though, what if they broke it up so that there were, say, three or four major events per season, and then each event was told four times from four different perspectives? Like, one episode is Kvothe’s story about what happened, and then the next episode is about the same thing, but from that professor who doesn’t like him’s perspective.

        And in the Kvothe episodes, Kvothe is all handsome and chisel-jawed, but then in the not-Snape episode he’s played by some skinny punk kid with a bad haircut.

      6. zornhau

        ‘Does anybody know how that Seeker of Truth series compared to the books?’

        The Legend of the Seeker was pure generic fantasy dreck. On the other hand, it was pure generic fantasy dreck and not Goodkind-type silliness like having the protagonists slaughter peace protestors for their “hatred of moral clarity”.

      1. TACJ

        So yeah. I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve mentioned before that I read the first book and I kind of enjoyed it at the time (*flinches from imagined onslaught of rotting vegetables*). Here are three reasons I think the books are popular:

        1) The writing is slightly better than average for fantasy. Yes, it *is* awful when Rothfuss tries to write what he imagines is elegiac, euphonious prose. Yes, there are lots of clunkers. But the prose style is *slightly* better than a lot of fantasy novels. This isn’t saying much, but if all you read is fantasy, then you’re not going to be in a position to know that Rothfuss is a mediocre-to-bad prose stylist. You’re going to be under the impression that he’s pretty good.

        2) For most readers, the Gary Stu-ness of Kvothe is a plus not a negative. People want a “badass” character they can project themselves onto. The fact that Kvothe is a smug, bumptious, black hole of insufferability doesn’t matter. He’s portrayed as a badass and that’s all that really matters, at least for the majority of readers. (I don’t buy the argument that Kvothe is *meant* to be read as an anti-hero. Rothfuss has no idea how to create the kind of ironic narrative distance required for a good anti-hero).

        3) Most people are too sexist to recognise all the sexism. Or: most people are too numb to sexism to realise that Rothfuss’s portrayal of (for example) Denna is sexist. Or: some people think that Denna’s portrayal is actually *feminist* because she’s like, an independent woman, despite the fact that her characterisation is utterly inconsistent and she exists largely to make Kvothe look good.

      2. Andrea Harris

        “People want a ‘badass’ character they can project themselves onto.”

        I’ve never read anything this way, never. But I’ve had more than one person tell me that’s the way they read: not putting themselves in an MC’s shoes but having to have an MC that they can already imagine as themselves. It’s a different thing. It’s why white kids increasingly refuse to read books written by and about non-whites, males refuse to read anything written by, never mind featuring as MC, icky girls, and so on. If a book isn’t pre-written in a way that readers “identify with” the protagonist, they won’t read it.

        Or rather, the main character has to be their ideal own self, not their actual self. It’s as if I only wanted to read books about starchy take-no-nonsense spinsters instead of… well, an actual sort of doughy, compromises-more-than-she-would like spinster that I actually am. Actually I don’t much have an ideal self any more, since I’m so perfect. 😉 — but if I did that would be it.

        Anyway, this is just a reading habit and I think it could be unlearned, but it would take effort on the part of the reader to actually read stuff they find difficult and alienating, and few people want to take an effort these days. They want to be “entertained” and learning new things isn’t seen as entertaining.

    2. braak

      I like how the post author doesn’t think

      “The Kingkiller Chronicles tells the story of Kvothe, a streetwise young man who hopes to one day hunt down the mysterious group that murdered his family”

      is a summary that does the books justice. I am pretty sure that this is basically the only thing that actually happens in the book.

  2. Aaron Adamec-Ostlund (@AaronAO)

    So if Lovecraft jokes are out can we at least make August Derleth jokes?

    And LOLOLOLOL about Kvothfuss not knowing how to lounge about, if anyhting he doesn’t know how to do anything else? Was there any more “If this was a story…but this is the real world.” bullshit?

  3. Zenobious

    I’m not sure which is worse: the terrible conlang names, or the ones straight up lifted from history and mythology — but such varied history and mythology that there is no unified theme, of course. Can’t we at least get some consistency in the awfulness? The regular addition of totally out-of-place names of both types would be jarring even in a better book.

    Dagon is possibly worst of all, because Rothfuss simply *can’t* not know that it’s also a name from the (exceedingly internet- and nerd-famous) Lovecraft. I never figured out if this is supposed to be a clever reference to Lovecraft, to the original mesopotamian god, or if Rothfuss just thought it sounded cool and went with it, consistency be damned. I’m leaning towards the last one, myself.

  4. braak

    That part in Crocodile Dundee where he sleeps on the floor instead of in the really comfy bed is pretty funny, though.

    1. Andrea Harris

      Well that’s one way of making the trope work: have the character be so rough and ready and wacky that they just can’t deal with soft luxury.

      Another way is to show that the luxurious rooms aren’t really comfortable, their elegance is all surface, where in actuality the big rooms are cold and drafty, the silk sheets inadequate, the gorgeous bed hard… so that the hero remembers with nostalgia how warm and comfy his shabby little home was. Or have the hero look out the window and see a servant get beaten for some tiny infraction and realize that the rich surroundings are based on a horrid system of oppression. OR have the hero just not be able to cope with the rich surroundings by flaws in his own personality: he feels out of his depth among all these swank folk, or he’s bitterly envious, or something.

      But it doesn’t look like we get any of that. Kvothe just hates his fancy-pants room because he’s a superior person who knows Wealth Is Bad. It’s a very American type of hypocrisy, which is why we have people who make triple figures refusing to wear ties and only drinking cheap beer, and so on, to show that they’re really “of the people.”

      I also note with amusement that Kvothe’s snotty attitude towards luxury vanishes when it comes to getting a fancy, “impractical” cloak. Hey, Rothfuss, we know you like to cosplay and when I was in high school Miami, Florida and deep in Hobbitlandia I wore my dark green 100% wool all over the place. But I didn’t write a book with a character based on my imaginary secret self that actually got published. The editor really should have caught that one even if they missed all the rest of the crap.

      1. Andrea Harris

        My dark green 100% wool cloak, that is. Yes, I had one, with a hood. A friend of my mother’s made it for me. In my defense, my high school had an a/c system that was always set at 55F, and no heating system so the one week out of the year when the temps dropped below 75F the place was just as cold.

        1. ronanwills Post author

          I encourage out-there political and historical speculation in these here comment threads. The more tenuous the better.

      2. Andrea Harris

        The glorification of “natural”, simple, rustic living among the “authentic” people of the soil instead of the “false” people who live in cities is definitely a facet of Romantic thought, of which the glorification of the “Volk” which led to Nazism was an offshoot. Fantasy is a type of Romantic literature, so yeah, it’s something writers in that genre don’t watch out enough for, because Tolkien did it (one of the things he was so pissed off at the Nazis for was “ruining” his nice fantasy of German folk in their cute rustic inns — or, as some would say, revealing what was really behind that fantasy in the first place).

        1. ronanwills Post author

          What bugs me about this is that so often the idea of the simple good-hearted rustic community not only isn’t true, but has *never* been true. The first prime minister of Ireland tried for decades to encourage people to “return” to a rose-tinted agrarian utopia that had never really existed anywhere except in his own mind- instead we had the one of the highest poverty rates in Europe for centuries, along with famine and cholera outbreaks. And right-wing types in America love to masturbate over a fantasy version of the 1950s that conveniently doesn’t include the rampant racism, xenophobia, social inequality, misogyny, lack of workers rights…..

          (well, some of them gloss over that stuff, others seem to view it as the main attraction)

      3. braak

        Also, a perfectly legitimate response is that “actually, because I am used to sleeping on a hard surface, this aggressively soft bed actually hurts my back.”

      4. ronanwills Post author

        I’m becoming increasingly skeptical that an editor ever so much as glanced at these books.

      5. q____q

        Conan (and other Howards works?) are also doing this trope all the time, where everything civilized is weak and bad opposed to noble (racist, misogynist) The Barbarian(tm).

        1. ronanwills Post author

          I’m going to be charitable and assume that whatever she won the award for was better than these books.

      6. braak

        Oh my gosh, q_____q! That link leads to another post where he talks about how much editing she did for Wise Man’s Fear!

        You have to see it, it is amaaaaaazing.

        (Though, Rothfuss’ conversational blog style fills me with a sort of unaccountable rage; I don’t why, I guess I have some soul-searching to do.)

      7. Reveen

        I imagine step one of editing is an appointment with the chiropractor after throwing out her back lifting the manus-

        Wait, what the fuck?

        1. The manuscript I gave Betsy was 150,000 words shorter than the eventual print version of the book.

        4. There are whole chapters that were nothing more than this:

        Chapter 31: [need title]

        (Something happens with Ambrose here.)

        How the hell does that work? How does Chapter 3857: Bullshit at Elodin’s not only survive editing, but get expanded? Did Rothfuss hire his editor from Bizarro World or something?

        1. ronanwills Post author

          Wait, hang on.

          The manuscript was 150,000 words SHORTER *before* editing? Why would anyone decide to do that?

          I was also under the impression that an editor wouldn’t work with a manuscript that contained “insert plot here” breaks, but apparently I’m wrong about that.

      8. braak

        Right? How is rule number one of editing NOT, “If you don’t know what happens in this chapter, then IT’S NOT FUCKING IMPORTANT”!?!??

      9. Austin H. Williams

        Two things strike me about that post where he sings the glowing praises of his editor:

        1) “Cat-girl three way” as something on his bucket list (along with an illustrated “achievement” to highlight the event). Obviously the very bastion of high-minded and critical feminist thought.

        2) Aren’t writers supposed to do everything they can to make as few edits necessary as possible before they send in the manuscript? Am I just not on Reddit enough, or creeping on enough editors? Is the entire process where I go through a work-in-progress to make sure it isn’t shit a fool’s errand? IS MY ENTIRE LIFE A LIE?

        At least Ms. Wollheim was observant enough to note that “There are some real problems here.” Unfortunately, she was still foolish enough to say, “Well, let’s do this,” instead of throwing the what-I-can-only-imagine-was-twenty-kilo manuscript back in his face.

      10. Austin H. Williams

        On a second reading of that “Why I Love My Editor” post though, it does appear that it’s TWMF that’s in discussion, and she does essentially throw it back in his face. Kudos… I guess…

        That still doesn’t explain why she picked up TNotW in the first place.

      11. q____q

        Another thing I would be interested in when you’re finished with TWMF: He spend 14(!)* years on the first book and only, I don’t know, four? on the second one. Which book is worse? Or are they equally bad but he can put them out faster now?

        *That totally matches your theory of some parts being much (much, much) older then others.

        1. ronanwills Post author

          “Which book is worse?”

          So far The Wise Man’s Fear is much worse. I as assuming that may have been due to me starting it immediately after finishing Name of The Wind, but I’ve heard the same from people who waited the three years between the two books.

          I haven’t looked into this in any detail but I strongly suspect at least parts of the Wise Man’s Fear were written a long time ago as one volume, then split apart some time later. That’s the only way I can explain how Rothfuss’ style and writing skill changes so drastically between the early parts of Name of The Wind and the rest, unless there are secretly multiple people writing these things (which has actually happened before, so I wouldn’t entirely discount the possibility).

      12. welltemperedwriter

        I also note with amusement that Kvothe’s snotty attitude towards luxury vanishes when it comes to getting a fancy, “impractical” cloak.

        I noticed that, too. I mean, I’m not really expecting consistency here but the juxtaposition in this post was kind of hilarious.

      13. Reveen

        Well, that’s one thing geeks like Kvothfuss can relate to; dressing like a complete asshole.

        If Kvothe ends up getting his grubby hands on a “nice hat” I’m pitching my ass overboard.

        1. ronanwills Post author

          Oh God, I knew several neckbeard types who had Hats (you could hear the capitalization when they said it). Sweet jesus.


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