Let’s Read The Wise Man’s Fear ch. 109-110

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Barbarians and Madmen

Kvothe and Tempi make their way to Ademland.

TRUTHFULLY, I WANTED NOTHING more than to make my way back to Severen. I wanted to sleep in a bed again and take advantage of the Maer’s favor while it was still fresh in his mind. I wanted to find Denna and make things right between us.


Tempi tells Kvothe that he’s in trouble for taking on a student without getting clearance from the other Adem and he’s in super-trouble for taking on an outsider, who aren’t supposed to know the ways of the Lethani.

Tempi nodded at me. “Shehyn will ask you of the Lethani to see if I were right in my seeing. Shehyn will decide if you are iron worth striking.” His hand circled, making the gesture for uneasy.

I sure hope Kvothe doesn’t totally fuck this up. Also I really want to know what about Kvothe impressed Tempi so much that he wanted to teach him.

Not killed then, but exiled. I started to breathe easier until I looked in Tempi’s pale eyes. For just a moment there was a crack in his perfect, placid mask, and behind it I saw the truth. Death would be a kinder punishment than being cut away. He was terrified, as frightened as anyone I had ever seen.

A proud warrior race that views exile as a fate worse that death? I’ve never seen that before!

They resolve to work as hard as possible over the next fifteen days to ensure that Kvothe is way awesome at the Lethani by the time he gets to Ademland.

Tempi explains that the Lathani isn’t a path, but it helps us to choose the path, generic warrior culture nonsense. Tempi says that to prove Kvothe is truly Of The Lethani he should be able to answer questions about it from the gut, with no need to pause for thought. As they travel, Tempi drilling Kvothe constantly on the KETAN, Kvothe begins to stop viewing the Lethani from an intellectual point of view and starts giving more instinctual answers. I would point out that it’s fantastically unlikely an outsider would understand another culture this quickly but as I’ve said before, the Lethani really doesn’t seem to be all that complex or difficult to grasp. For example, after Kvothe collapses during a training session:

He shook his head. “You came far before falling. You did not complain. You showed your mind is stronger than your body. That is good. When the mind controls the body, that is of the Lethani. But knowing your limit is also of the Lethani. It is better to stop when you must than run until you fall.”

The Lethani basically seems to amount to common sense, plus some specific fighting etiquette. I’m expecting to hear that brushing your teeth twice a day and washing your hands regularly is also “of the Lethani”.

It is better to stop when you must than run until you fall.”

“Unless falling is what the Lethani requires,” I said without thinking. My head still felt light as a windblown leaf.

He gave me a rare smile. “Yes. You are beginning to see.”

Yeah, I’m gonna say that any ideology which requires you to harm yourself or others purely to ensure obedience to the ideology with no further justification can go fuck itself. “Because we/I/God/society says so” is always a red flag.

Tempi complements Kvothe on his Adem-speak but says he’s a bit of a blabbermouth and the Adem prefer to say a llot with few words.

“Too often you say more than you need.

I know, Tempi. I know.

*bro fist*

“I go to Severen, and there are people who stink. There are people who do not. Both are people, but those who do not stink are people of quality.” He tapped my chest firmly with two fingers. “You are not a goatherd. You are a student of the Lethani. My student. You should speak as a person of quality.”

Hey apparently the Adem are also classist douches, he and Kvothe will get along just fine.

Kvothe begins to think of the mental state that allows him to do Lethani good as Spinning Leaf. So we now have Heart of Stone (for wizarding) and Spinning Leaf (for kicking people in the face). This is starting to get very anime.

After eight days on the road Tempi and Kvothe spar for the first time after practising the KETAN. I should note that this is the first time Kvothe has actually practiced fighting at all in the entire trilogy, despite being able to counter a few attacks from the Adem woman earlier. Then he practices with the sword that he’s been carrying around since the bandit camp for some reason even though he admitted he had no idea how to use it. Kvothe actually describes it as “incorporating the sword into the KETAN” which seems a little dangerous considering he’s never even held one until a few days ago.


Beauty and Branch

After fifteen days Tempi and Kvothe finish the 300 mile journey to the foothills of the Stormwahl mountains. According to google it takes Appalachian trail hikers roughly this long to walk 300 miles so Rothfuss must have done some research.

However! This provides us with an exciting opportunity to get a rough estimate of the size of Kvothe’s world.


Assuming (probably unrealistically) that Tempi and Kvothe travelled in a straight line from the middle of the Eld, where the bandit camp was, to the foothills of the mountains around Ademre, the red line is a distance of 300 miles. You can see that this means the distance from the westernmost to easternmost point of Kvotheland would be roughly between 1000 and 1200 miles, give or take a few hundred. By comparison the width of Europe is (according to sources I’ve looked up) about 2,400 miles which means Kvotheland is roughly half that size. Either the planet the story is taking place on (which has yet to ever be named, by the way) is smaller than Earth or the “four corners of civilization” are just unusually tiny. Or maybe this is the only major land-mass on a planet heavily covered in water. I don’t know. This is one of the only times I’ve ever thought a fantasy story needed more world building.

The Stormwahl mountains are, true to their name, often hit by powerful storms so the Adem make their houses blend into the environment.

Homes were built into the sides of hills, or outward from the leeward walls of sheltering cliffs. Some were dug downward. Others were carved into the stony sides of bluffs. Some you could hardly see unless you were standing next to them.

I should probably mention that despite the whole warrior-monk shtick there’s no indication that the Adem are a fantasy-Asia. They appear to be just as European as the rest of Kvotheland.

They arrive at a series of low stone houses standing out in the open and Tempi goes inside to talk to his teacher while Kvothe waits outside. The Adem town is, unsually for these books, quite well realized with only a minimal amount of description. When Rothfuss is leading us through generic Tolkienana (ie most of the book) he goes on auto-pilot but he seems to take more care over things, like this and Fairyworld, that are more original.

Kvothe gets into a discussion with an Adem woman about the wall of her house.

“Is it fascinating, our wall?” she asked, gesturing gentle amusement, curiosity with one hand. “What do you think of it?”

“I think it is beautiful,” I responded in Ademic, careful to make only brief eye contact.

Her hand tilted in an unfamiliar gesture. “Beautiful?”

I gave the barest of shrugs. “There is beauty that belongs to simple things of function.”

“Perhaps you are mistaking a word,” she said. Gentle apology. “Beauty

is a flower or a woman or a gem. Perhaps you mean to say ‘utility.’ A wall is useful.”

“Useful, but beautiful as well.”

“Perhaps a thing gains beauty being used.”

“Perhaps a thing is used according to its beauty,” I countered, wondering if this was the Adem equivalent of small talk. If it was, I preferred it to the insipid gossip of the Maer’s court.

“What of my hat?” she asked, touching it with a hand. “Is it beautiful because it is used?”

I’ve noticed in fantasy novels (or among a certain breed of travel writer) cultures foreign to the protagonist often exist only for the characters to be taught simplistic but wise life lessons by quirky locals.

The woman leads Kvothe off on a walk to go look at a cool valley.

“What would you say of such a thing?” she asked, gesturing to the hidden valley.

“It is much like Ademre.”

These people need some hardcore drugs something fierce. The woman leads Kvothe to a cool pool of water and I’m just going to quote more of this because seriously, what the hell:

“Would you call this beautiful?” she asked after we had looked a while. “Yes.”


Uncertainty. “Perhaps its movement.”

“The stone moved not at all, and you called it beautiful as well.” Questioning.

“It is not the nature of stone to move. Perhaps it is beauty to move according to your nature.”

No one fucking talks like this, especially not to complete strangers. Do Adem families sit around the fire at night debating the aesthetic versus utilitarian qualities of a lump of coal?

The woman leads Kvothe to a cool tree, which is a Letantha- a “sword tree”.

“I was considering the reason for its beauty,” I admitted.


“I could say it both moves and doesn’t move according to its nature, and that grants it beauty. But I do not think that is the reason.”

“Why then?”

I watched it for a long time. “I do not know. What do you consider the reason?”

“It simply is,” she said. “That is enough.”

There are no words for how inane this all is.

It turns out the old woman is actually Tempi’s teacher Shehyn, who I guess came out to troll Kvothe a bit. She starts to spar with him and he can’t land a single hit on her.

I blinked my eyes to clear them. My voice was harsh from the exertion and emotion. “You are beautiful, Shehyn. For in you is the stone of the wall, the water of the stream, and the motion of the tree in one.”

Instead of immediately kicking Kvothe in the nuts for this Shehyn is momentarily stunned; Kvothe uses the oppurtunity to try and throw her but she counters easily and tosses him to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

Okay so the cool tree is filled with really sharp leaves and Shehyn goes on a little speil about attacking the tree at the weak point, which in terms of the throw Kvothe tried earlier would be the knee. Kvothe figures this out all on his own, which Shehyn is super impressed with.

I had a much longer description of the following section written but it for some reason got deleted so here’s he cliff’s notes version:

Shehyn and the Adem who Kvothe tried to fight earlier (Carceret) question him on the Lethani and Kvothe spews a bunch of nonsensical bullshit which somehow impressed Shehyn:

“Who knows the Lethani?” Shehyn asked.

“The windblown leaf,” I responded, though I cannot honestly say what I meant by it.

“Where does the Lethani come from?”

“The same place as laughing.”

Shehyn hesitated slightly, then said, “How do you follow the Lethani?”

“How do you follow the moon?”

Keep in mind Kvothe himself fully admits he has no idea what any of this means or why he says it. It’s not coming from anything Tempi taught him, he just comes out with it.

Carceret is all for “destroying” Kvothe (they don’t clarify if that’s literal) and exiling Tempi but Shehyn argues that Kvothe is Of The Lethani and they should induct him into its ways. To be fair this isn’t quite as dumb as it could have been- earlier Tempi says he started to teach Kvothe because he believes Kvothe “needed guidance” so I think the idea is that Tempi believes Kvothe needs to learn to control his wizardly abilities. That makes sense. Can’t just have wizards running around popping off willy-nilly. Although I kind of wonder why Kvothe is happy to faff around Ademland learning martial arts when there are certain other more pressing matters waiting in other parts of the world.

It’s announced that Kvothe will be taught by someone called The Hammer because cliches. Tempi and Kvothe go to the Adem cafeteria that they apparently have for some eats.

Despite my expectations, this dining hall didn’t resemble the Mess at the University in the least. It was quieter for one thing, and the food was far better. There was fresh milk and lean tender meat that I suspected was goat. There was hard, sharp cheese and soft, creamy cheese and two kinds of bread still warm from the oven. There were apples and strawberries for the taking. Saltboxes sat open on all the tables, and everyone could take as much as they liked.

This all sounds oddly modern. People are way impressed with Kvothe red hair, of course. Tempi leaves Kvothe to his room, saying that Kvothe will likely not see much of him after this.

So, I do actually quite like Tempi. In terms of the plot he exists only in relation to Kvothe just like all the other characters, but it feels like there’s a bit more flesh on his bones.


12 thoughts on “Let’s Read The Wise Man’s Fear ch. 109-110

  1. Signatus

    I have to admit that, aside from all the spiritual filosophy BS, I quiet liked the Adem. I found them far more interesting than anything I had ever seen in these books up to this point.
    There is nothing original or compelling about them, but this whole part had more flesh than everything else, including the steampunk magic university, the magic faerieland and the totally cliché medieval fantasy city.
    I believe this was the only part that kept my interest long enough to not simply give up on the book.

    Unfortunately, as fresh as it seems, it still has too many issues to justify the length of this drivel.

  2. Andrea Harris

    Ugh, that “profound” spiritual bullshit talk, just… ugh. I can’t even think of any words to communicate my disgust. You need a certain kind of talent (and immersion in years of study of non-Western philosophy) to even begin to be able to bring this sort of thing off, an education few people who go into writing fantasy these days seem to have had. But, most contemporary American fantasy writers, or so it seems, apparently think that the stunted education we provide here plus a couple of anime viewings and just not believing they’re “mundane” because they write fantasy is enough. They’re the equivalent of the car owned by old white hippies that parks on my street with all the bumper stickers on it that say things like “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” and “Lost Indian.”

    1. RWC

      “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” doesn’t seem that problematic to me TBH. “Lost Indian,” OTOH, there’s no excuse for :p

      1. Andrea Harris

        “Lost Indian” probably refers to an old song or type of song played on a fiddle. But it also reminds me of the New Agey trend of white people appropriating real and/or made up “Indian” spiritual beliefs.

    1. q____q

      Maybe they do it like us earthloving beings: going to the store and buying strawberries from south africa and apples from new zealand any time of the year?

    2. katz

      Strawberries like sunny Mediterranean or temperate coastal climates with mild winters, so mountains in the north would be…completely terrible for them.

      Apples, despite their association with Washington State, grow best in sunny, dry climates, and of course orchards are planted on flat ground without preexisting trees, so mountains in the north would be…also completely terrible.

      In fact I don’t think there’s been a single place in all of Kvotheland that would be optimal for either apples or strawberries. Remember how snowy Tarbean was in the winter? That’s in the south! Ademre should be friggin’ Siberia!

      1. braak

        Maybe the whole word is actually in the Southern Hemisphere, and all the directions are reversed, and actually Ademre is the equivalent of a southern temperate mountain locality, like Georgia or something?

        1. ronanwills Post author

          Kvothe doesn’t mention anything about temperature, but Tempi is shown to be unused to the warmth of the weather in the Eld and has to take off his shirt when they’re walking which makes me think Ademre is supposed to be quite cool.

      2. braak

        Yeah, and Sheyheyn wears that wool hat around all the time. I dunno who knows, it’s not like climate has anything to do with CULTURE and WORLDBUILDING.


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