Let’s Read The Wise Man’s Fear ch. 112-113

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The Hammer

Can we take a moment to appreciate what an enormous cliche “The Hammer” is as a nickname? Although given Rothfuss’ usual naming conventions we should be glad he didn’t try to come up with something himself and give us a character named The Dancing Wolverine.

As Vashet approached, the first thing I noticed was that she didn’t wear her sword on her hip. Instead she slung it over her shoulder, just as I carried my lute. She walked with the most subtle, solid confidence I have ever seen, as if she knew she ought to swagger, but couldn’t quite be bothered.

Most of the important Adem characters, including warriors and high ranking leaders, are women. I applaud the decision to include some women who aren’t meek blushing waifs, but I suspect the reason for the sudden influx of women is going to turn out to have an element of fail.

There were a few lines around the mouth and the corners of her eyes, so I guessed she was perhaps ten years older than

I’m ten years older than Kvothe and I don’t have “lines” around my eyes or mouth. Neither do any of my friends who are the same age. This is yet another indication that the book itself is not aware of what Kvothe’s stated age is.

Kvothe asks why Tempi isn’t teaching Kvothe and THE HAMMER points out that Tempi

barely speaks your language, has little experience with the real world, and, to be completely frank, he is not terribly bright.

To be fair this is pretty accurate. I had assumed Tempi’s naivete and general lack of awareness was due to him being an Adem but none of the others we’ve seen act like that.

“That is my name. Vashet. The Hammer. The Clay. The Spinning Wheel.”

Is there anyone in this fucking story who just has one name?

Vashet’s dialogue is also riddled with inane cod philosophy, although to a lesser extent than Shehyn’s which is a relief because I’m not sure how much more of that I could take.

“Now, go find a long piece of wood and bring it back to me. Then we will begin the lesson.”

I can’t say I’d find this very encouraging.

Can you guess what type of branch Kvothe brings back? Can you guess? Can you?

Eventually I found a willow tree


Yeah so Vashet just starts beating the shit out of him with the stick.

“Here is your lesson,” she said matter-of-factly. “I do not think well of you. You are a barbarian. You are not clever. You are not welcome. You do not belong here. You are a thief of our secrets. Your presence is an embarrassment and a complication this school does not need.”

Vashet contemplated the end of the willow rod, then turned her eyes back to me. “We will meet here again, an hour after lunch. You will pick another stick, and I will try to teach you this lesson again.” She gave me a pointed look. “If the stick you bring me does not please me, I will choose my own.

“We will do the same after dinner. Then the same the next day. This is the only lesson I have to teach you. When you learn it, you will leave Haert and never return.”

Chances that this is actually a secret test of character that Kvothe will ace through plucky determination: ~100%

I’ve always hated this trope. If you set up a challenge designed solely to make people so miserable that they’ll give up, most of them will give up. This isn’t a failure of character because there’s actually nothing wrong with not wanting to be beaten with a wooden stick (the same goes for Elodin’s riddle bullshit). If Kvothe responded to this by concluding “this person is obviously an asshole who doesn’t want to teach me, I may as well just leave” what failing on his part would that actually represent?

The only area I can see this sort of “teaching” being employed is in the military, where as I understand it some special forces soldiers have to pass tests of extreme endurance. But in these situations the soldiers know they’re being tested and that they can prevail; here Kvothe is literally being told “if you keep showing up here I’m just going to keep beating the shit out of you for no reason so there’s literally no point”.

Kvothe goes back to the ninja cafeteria where Carceret acts creepy and weird.

“I heard you cry out,” she continued softly. She spoke slower now, as if talking to a child. I wasn’t sure if it was meant as an insult, or to ensure I understood her. “It was like a tiny bird.”

Kvothe naturally decides that this requires a Sick Burn in response:

I looked up at her. “You speak as a dog barks,” I said. “With no end. With no sense.”

This book is going to be the death of me.

The next day Kvothe decides to call Vashet’s bluff in a way that is actually fairly clever but has the potential to backfire horribly. Assuming (correctly as it turns out) that Vashet’s training from hell is indeed a secret test of character he pulls out a heavy wooden training sword when told to get a stick that would probably shatter his bones if she tried to hit him with it as she had done the day before. He also shows her his scars from the whippings he’d gotten at Wizard School and basically tells her to bring it.


Vashet acts as though she’s actually going to do it, but gives in at the last minute and admits she was just testing Kvothe, to make sure he wasn’t a wimp.


Barbarian Tongue

Now on much friendlier terms, the two talk about some pointless Adem world-building fluff

“It hurts worse than the whipping ever did, I’ll tell you that for free.”

I somehow doubt that being whacked a few times with a wooden stick would be worse than getting several lashes with a real whip-each severe enough to leave permanent scars, although to be fair Kvothe was drugged up to the eyeballs at the time of the whippings.

Vashet is also super impressed at the answers Kvothe gave during his interview two days ago. When he tells her he has no idea what he was talking about and basically just said the first thing that came into his head she’s even more impressed presumably indicating that Kvothe is Of The Lethani as fuck. Vashet spends a lot of time talking about how the Lethani is super-complex and nebulous and can’t really be explained concretely, which is the sort of thing said about a philosophy or school of thought by people who haven’t actually made any effort to understand it.

Vashet leaned forward seriously. “Part of the problem is with your language,” she said. “Aturan is very explicit. It is very precise and direct. Our language is rich with implication, so it is easier for us to accept the existence of things that cannot be explained. The Lethani is the greatest of these.”

How exactly have the Adem managed to maintain such strong cultural and linguistic independence for so long? Unique, independent cultures that are wildly different from their neighbors tend to only survive in large numbers when they’re geographically isolated (which the Adem aren’t) or practice a high degree of self-imposed isolation (which the Adem don’t, since their economy is based on sending mercenaries out to other parts of the world). They’re a relatively very small minority with a unique culture in the midst of the as far as I can tell culturally homogeneous majority of the rest of Kvotheland. That’s not a situation conducive to long term survival- look at native American cultures, many of which all but vanished in a relatively short time period once European invaders reached a certain population density and assimilation became necessary or was forced on them (although in this case some cultures vanished because all of their members were dead, a problem that presumably doesn’t apply to the Adem).

The only way I can see this working is if the Adem way of life originated somewhere east of the Stormwahl mountains and was being kept alive through allegiance or reverence to the location of origin a la religions like Islam that heavily incorporate cultural and linguistic elements from the geographic location the religion was born in even after the faith has spread all over the globe (compare against something like Christianity, many strains of which could easily appear to an outside observer to have originated ex nihilo in rural America some time in the last fifty years). But there’s no sign that anything like this is going on. As far as I can tell the Adem culture was born way the hell back in the distant past before the proto-Ademre had any real contact with other cultures and then persisted more or less unchanged into the present day without ever being exported to other locations or blending with the cultures of neighboring…. kingdoms? Is Ademre a kingdom? Are they even politically independent? I have no idea. Vashet talks about different Lethani schools and “paths” with their own schools and towns devoted to them so I have no idea if the Adem even have a central government. Shehyn appears to be basically running the show in Haerte, the place Kvothe is in now.

Anyway, there’s a lot of inane bullshit where Vashet asks Kvothe to define love and I think this is all supposed to be very clever but comes across like the sort of thing fourteen year olds with no real life experience talk about. Which is fine if you’re fourteen, but I’m not.

“This is the nature of love.” Vashet said. “To attempt to describe it will drive a woman mad.

So this is somewhat interesting. The Adem- as far as I can tell even the male Adem- tend to speak exclusively using feminine terms, ie using “she” to refer to all people in the same way English speakers (and I’m guessing many other languages as well) often use “he”. First of all I’m frankly surprised it occurred to Rothfuss that gendered language like this is a sign of a patriarchal society and that creating a convincing matriarchy (spoiler alert I guess) would involve turning the tables, but more than that it’s a fairly subtle indication of how Adem society works that so far hasn’t been explicitly pointed out in the text, which is a fair bit more nuanced than I would have expected from this trilogy, where absolutely god damn anything that could even remotely be considered clever is covered in glitter and thrust up in front of a spotlight for all the world to see.

As to the actual substance of what she’s saying, I don’t buy that the Lethani is actually this complex. Mostly because it’s objectively not as presented in the text, but also because philosophies that are too airy fairy and filled with nebulous bullshit don’t tend to survive very long. Obviously there are many topics within philosophy, science, the humanities, psychology and what have you that appear to be very hard to understand and which an expert in those fields might have a lot of difficulty explaining them to a non-expert, but that’s just because the non-expert isn’t going to have the basic knowledge needed to understand and not because the idea itself is literally impossible to understand. This comes across like Rothfuss decided that the Adem were going to have an all-encompassing philosophy called the Lethani but then couldn’t be arsed to actually come up with what the Lethani should actually be, because writing is hard you guys. Whatever the characters need to be doing at any particular moment is “of the Lethani”, whatever words happen to come out of Kvothe’s mouth are the very essence of the Lethani distilled. The Lethani “comes from the same place as laughing”? What does that mean? I dunno, but it’s totally profound and deep!

Anyway Kvothe protests that he couldn’t understand the Lethani on such a deep level if he doesn’t actually know what it is.

“You obviously understand the Lethani,” she said. “It is rooted deep inside you. Too deep for you to see.

Of course.

Vashet starts to teach Kvothe more Ademic and the Adem’s hand language.

“Right now you speak like this.” She got to her feet, waved both hands over her head, and pointed to herself with both thumbs. “I want to make good fight.” She gave a wide, insipid grin. “With sword!” She thumped her chest with both fists, then jumped into the air like an excited child.

This is pretty much how I’ve been picturing Kvothe for the entire series.

After this we get  along, tedious explanation about the language that comes across like Rothfuss dumping the contents of his world bible across the page. It does prompt me to wonder why and how the Adem actually came up with the sign language, though. Its function is basically to more or less replace facial expressions and emotional speech patterns, but for what purpose? Way back when Tempi said that Adem children don’t do this and have to be taught to consciously to reign in their emotions as they grow up. And this isn’t just a warrior class or anything, it’s every single Adem. It just seems like a society-wide suppression of hard wired human behavioral patterns would need more of an actual justification and would be harder to pull off.

Kvothe tells Vashet he’s a musician and she calls him a whore. Um. Okay? Apparently this is to demonstrate the huge cultural divide between the Adem and the rest of Kvotheland, or something.

“I noticed,” I said. “You don’t seem to have a nudity taboo for one thing. Either that or Tempi is a bit of an exhibitionist.”

We might as well address this now rather and later. The Adem have no cultural taboos against nudity and we’ll learn a bit later that they’re totally into having sex with no baggage attached. Now, I’m all for a healthy attitude to sex and the human body. People should be able to prance around naked if they want to, and consenting adults should be able to have as much sex in whatever permutations and combinations they desire as long as everyone involved is happy with it. However. We have to ask ourselves whether this is here to cast a critical eye at the taboos of our own (or at least Rothfuss’) society or just so Kvothe can have lots of sex with hot naked warrior women?

If we didn’t just get done with a sub-plot where Kvothe spends weeks boning a hot naked sex fairy I’d be more inclined to give the book the benefit of the doubt.

“Your folk view certain things as intimate. Naked skin. Physical contact. The nearness of a body. Loveplay. To the Adem, these are nothing remarkable.”

And yet apart from Tempi swanning around the camp nude we’ve seen none of this- no Adem walking around Ademtown without clothes, no higher degree of physical affection between friends or family members, in fact the Adem as actually describe come across as ultra chaste emotionless robots because they do most of their communication with hand signals.

After that there’s yet more long winded discussion of Adem society that I’m going to skip. I would like to point out that we’re now more than 75% of the way through this thing. Really hoping all this world building is going to go somewhere.

Anyway she called Kvothe a whore because the Adem suppress their emotions (but are also ultra open and free spirited and oh my head) and nothing carries more emotion than music, so, Kvothe plays music to an audience for money instead of in private, so he’s a whore.

Yeah I don’t know either.

“A family might sing together if they are close. A mother might sing to her child. A woman might sing to her man.” A slight flush rose on Vashet’s cheeks as she said this. “But only if they are very much in love, and very much alone.

“But you?” She gestured to me. “A musician? You do this to a whole room full of people. All at once. And for what? A few pennies? The price of a meal?” She gave me a grave look “And you do it again and again. Night after night. With anyone.”

But wait, she’s equating music to both romantic sexual love and also platonic love, so wouldn’t that just make Kvothe seem like someone who, I don’t know, gives out hugs for money or whatever?


Then Kvothe think about whores some more, because fantasy.

“And surely you know there is nothing inherently wrong with having sex with three people in a row on the broad hearth of a busy inn.” She looked me in the eye pointedly.

“I imagine the stone would be rather rough….” I said.

She chuckled. “Very well, assume they had use of a blanket too. What would you call that person?”


A whore, I thought silently to myself. And a cheap and shameless whore to boot.

If you say the word “whore” enough times in your fantasy novel Tolkien appears in your living room and tells you what a radical person you are.


Then the chapter ends, thank God. I’ve only done two but this is almost at 3000 words already so let’s just end it here for now.


57 thoughts on “Let’s Read The Wise Man’s Fear ch. 112-113

  1. PaleAntiquarian

    A latecommer slowly chugging through these entries (In the Ferulian section I swear I managed to groan on two different notes at once!), with a language complaint: The description of the Adem language as being precise, direct, AND rich with implication doesn’t really make any dang sense. If you speak with precision, it leaves little to nothing implied. If you speak with rich implication, that means context is heavily dependent on foreknowledge. Directness can mean either to be susccinct or, given who’s writing this, probably to be forthright, which can go either way on being precise or cultural implications. Any language out there has different modes of speech that allow for this (“I went to the store with my mates” versus “I went to Ben’s Crab Shack with Jane and Sal” versus “I went to eat at Ben’s Crab Shack at 8 Privet Lane in Bumblefuzz, Somewhere, Kvothistan, at approximately 15:30 on 5 July 2014 with Jane Bridgett Malone and Sally Prudence Hartman (Social security numbers redacted).” One of these is extremely casual, one is talking to your gran, and one is talking to your agency handler during debriefing.)

    As others commented, the Lethani stuff is utter bullshit that looks like an ignorant person’s view of something that requires cultural context. I call bullshit on the idea that it–or the meaning of a conversation in general–can’t be demystified in Kvothglish, because English gets along perfectly well all by itself as a medium to transmit information on highly precise concepts, such as mathematics and scientific discoveries.

    An Adem fluent in Kvothglish should be just as able to define terms, possibly even by engaging in that infuriating uncompacted speaking style that gets thrown in for no bloody reason in other contexts. Or, my personal favorite, make them sound like a pile of paperwork, thus rendering them outwardly as stultifying as they really are.

  2. Pingback: Let’s Read The Wise Man’s Fear ch. 114-115 | Doing In The Wizard

  3. Fibinachi

    Which would be a great, great thing.

    “So, how can I understand the Name of the Wind, the True Essence of All Things” said Kvothe, with much whimsy. His mentor raised and eyebrow and grinned.
    Then he raised the other eyebrow, grinning more.
    Grinning, he replied: “It is elementary, my dear Kvothe!” To underline his point, he grinned his grin while grinning “Come to my secret special place tomorrow, and bring a pen and a pillow!”
    Then he sauntered away, while flashing a grin.

    Curious as to what might require both a pen and a pillow, and how these two could interact across a matrix of energestical lines that could interface with the local thamauthurgical ethauamtopic ley lines as they were criss crossing the noosphere of the localized negentropy generating life forms, Kvothe whimsically prepared for his next day of great whimsy. Oh, if only he, like his friends, could afford actual pillows and actual pens! But unfortunately, he was very much poor, and had a great misadventure securing the needed supplies for his mentors grand time. We’ll gloss over all that, because no one really wants to know about the troll that only spoke in iambic pentameter or the spirit of light that couldn’t ever express its love for its cousin of water quite correctly, since all the soft companions to that very cousin broke up its signals as they passed through their watery forms.

    but be assured! It was all very whimsical and deconstructionist in its approach.

    The next day, after grandstanding and elaborating and lying a bit about his adventures the night before that we have just skipped over, Kvothe entered the secret place of his mentor, pillow in hand.

    Grinning, too, was said mentor who promptly proceeded to wave his arms about, grinning all the while.

    “Be welcome, master Kvothe! Have a seat on this special chair that I imported from the lands of the South – which all reminds me of an interesting little fable…”

    [Manuscript burnt at this point, so several hundred pages of whimsicail fables have been lost]

    “… Which actually has no bearing on your test at all! And indeed, I do say test. You have three hours, only that pen, and you must fill out these thousand pages on the old religious interactions of marsuipials and how that all relates to the cycle of the moon while making sure your theoretical application of matrix bending symmetry quantum interface snorklidorkphilorp celestial mechanics is accurate! Toodlepip!”

    And so, grinning, he left, his grin lingering in the room momentarily, like a predatory cat.

    Kvothe bent to his task…

    Interlude: A Interlude of One Part

    So this is how you became known as Test Taker?” Chronicler said, grinning.
    Yes, but if you tell anyone, I will gut you like a fish and wear your skin as a suit” Kvothe replied, with a magnificent grin, fondling a fishing knife Bast had supplied at that very moment.

    … Two hours later, Kvothe’s pen broke, and the nip rolled down into the sewer, where he had to wrestle an alligator for it, and use it to save a miniratiure kingdom of sewage scavenging fey fay folk, but that’s all irrelevant and boring anyway, so here’s some more information on the kinemagical energy equations for moving a speck of fire from point a to point b.

    [[ Writing like Rothfuss is easy! Just close your eyes and bang on the keyboard! ]]

  4. katz

    What bugs me about the shit tests that seem pointless but turn out to be Important Tests of Character and/or Learning Experiences is that he also includes shit tests that aren’t anything of the sort and you’re just supposed to use your common sense.

    So Elodin’s naming class is all “Elodin is so quirky and eccentric and he makes you do weird pointless stuff but actually there is method behind the madness and you’re learning, you’re just not smart enough to realize it, so you have to go along with whatever he says”, but when Elodin gets Kvothe to jump off the roof, he’s actually not supposed to jump, because that would just be stupid.

    He doesn’t understand that your subversions just become stupid and pointless if you then go on to play the exact same tropes straight.

    1. ronanwills Post author

      Actually yeah that’s a good point. The books do the whole “a ha ha ha look we’re subverting the Quirky Old Mentor Who Does Secret Tests Of Character” thing but then goes on to play the trope straight twice.

      1. Signatus

        You know what would be a real subversion of the trope? A friggin typical, 2 hours test, pencil in hand, to see how much you know and how well you speak a second language (that is, the sort of USEFUL thing many prestigious universities do to applicants).

        To be honest, I never saw all that subversion thing in his books. I simply saw a badly written copy of much better fantasy books, and a pretty annoying Gary Stu that kept me wondering why I should care at all for him.
        Ambrose may be a petulant, archetypical rich snob, but Qvothe is a full on yerk from book 1.
        And that rivalry is the most stupid and clichéd thing this book has.

    1. ronanwills Post author

      My sources tell me that Dirk Oxenhammer is currently busy with various adventures, some of which we may be reading about in a review post to be written at the conclusion of this Let’s Read.

  5. Fibinachi

    Oh man, I remember this bit as the part of the book where I just kind of gave up.

    The bit from Felurian and on is just so… so…

    Inane? Yeah, it’s completely inane. The point of it is, obviously, to turn Kvote into a super cool badass killer, and you can only become one of those in heroic fiction if you’re The Best Fighting Fighter Ever, and since Kvothe is also a male character, he also has to become The Best Lover Ever.


    And then it’s just this weird trifecta of him being a Super McCool Musician AND a Super McCoool Swordfighter and also, are you sitting down, the greatest lover of all time, instructed by a fey creature of love and sex herself. But, of course, since we can’t have a hero learning or training to do things (That makes him Normal Becoming Good), he has to already instrisincally be able to be cool (because that makes him Destined). So he already has “Deep” understanding of the Lethani, he just doesn’t know. Felurian is surprised by the fact that he’s a great lay (He could do it all along, he just didn’t know). He can instantly bust out a cool bit of music despite not practicing for months, because it’s not and will ever be about becoming a hero, Kvothe already is, it’s just all about proving that not only is he a hero, he is The Hero. Better than you, faster than you, suck it.

    And so much of it could be avoided, because he’s already in situations where he is recieving the training neccesary to become godlike. Felurian, for the sake of nagging, could just have been like “Oh, you’re sweet. such ardour for a young man. if you teach me your lute thing i shall teach you to play a body”. Bam, instant characterization, she’s fey and isn’t really a sex vampire, she is just sort of starved for attention and she’ll trade skill for skill and you’re stuck in a Timeless Realm Of The Fey, no one but Kvothe will know, so when you come *out* and you *are* a Godblessed LoveMachine, everyone will have their minds blown (And other parts), but you, Kvothe, will know it’s really the result of lots of training.

    And the Adem. Sure, they’re a little abrasive, but it’s not serious, they’re abrasive in that oh so typical “Weak Outlander, nier nier, Your Weak Ways Are Weak, We Will Make You Strong”. As far as I recall, in both books, Kvothe has never once used a sword for anything violent. And yet, you’ll notice that he picks it up pretty quickly (Because he already knew, he just didn’t know he knew, like the name of the wind). All it takes is a statement like “Upon seeing my skill with the blade, every mercenary laughed for a good hour. The next six months were the most gruelling of my life, as I begun to learn things the Adem knew since before they could walk”.

    It just… annoys me, because everything in the books are so pointless. Kvothe already know how to do everything, but like The Name of the Wind, it’s just withheld until it comes up, per plot convenience. When he needs to kill someone, he’ll just use a hithertho vaguely described mechanism to use a corpse to kill a bunch of men and fry them with lightning.

    Yet when Ambrose tried to hurt the guy who stole stuff from his room, he did something with heat that made Kvothe feel faint. Why didn’t Ambrose just buy a pig, slit its throat, be done with it?

    AND ANOTHER THING, plum and nut meg. This is what annoys me the most. That entire “Sociopathy In A Drink” is such an utterly odd thing to have in the story, because there’s the occassional relapses and he even goes “Sometimes, I still get the taste of plum in my mouth”.

    Congratulations, not only is he a super person who can do everything when he needs to, his ethics and morality also shortcircuit on demand so he can be reckless and evil without bothering to feel bad about it. In a better written story, that would be a thing of such horrible implications that the reader would be aghast at this entire Jekyll / Hyde thing, but here it’s just glossed over. As with everything else.

    …. Wow, I did not realize I had carried that ire around so long. Thank you for letting me just…. let it go.

  6. phylakes

    “If you set up a challenge designed solely to make people so miserable that they’ll give up, most of them will give up. [Rothfuss being silly].

    The only area I can see this sort of “teaching” being employed is in the military, where as I understand it some special forces soldiers have to pass tests of extreme endurance.”

    On the “beat into coolness” thing, a brutal training regimen will produce badasses even if the training is completely worthless. If you set the bar high enough, you’ll wash out almost everyone and end up with just the people who are already tough, enduring and strong enough. It’s a process of selection, not training. For example, tying this back to what Ronan said, military special forces like the SAS or Delta Force run punishing tests not to train new applicants but to discover which ones are worth training (they even call it Selection).

    Beatings with a stick are a pretty dumb way of doing this, unless you’re trying to select someone you think should be hospitalised with serious injuries.

    Hopefully, this is just something the Adem are doing to dick over Kvothe and not something they routinely subject their young men and women to.

    On a semi-related note, how do the Adem even manage to maintain a stable population and send lots of mercenaries off to foreign wars?

    1. M. A. Valentine

      If I’m remembering right (spoiler!), the Adem don’t even believe that babies come from sex. They have sex so often that they never made the connection that sex=pregnant. They think it just randomly happens.

  7. katz

    Aaaaand willow trees famously prefer wet lowlands, so they also wouldn’t grow well in northern mountains. Would it kill him to give different areas different kinds of plants?

      1. q____q


        True! But I think my point is still valid that it’s pretty shite to call yourself a feminist and then go on saying that „whores“ (=what they are doing) are/is something bad (and I think he did that more then once?). Yeah, I know some (female) feminists don’t like prostitution and pornography in general and view it as one of the worst things in patriarchy and I do see that prostitution and pornography can be degrading and obviously there’s lots of awful things happening in the porn industry. But generalizations of this kind are always dangerous and are hurting the people working in the sex industry because they want to and like it.

      2. q____q

        Talking about stupid generalizations! What the hell drove me to write this „(female)“ over there? I do apologize, that was awful.

  8. Zenobious

    “I’m ten years older than Kvothe and I don’t have “lines” around my eyes or mouth. Neither do any of my friends who are the same age. This is yet another indication that the book itself is not aware of what Kvothe’s stated age is.”

    I dunno, this doesn’t sound entirely off. I know infantrymen in their mid-20s who are pretty worn from a decade or more of living and working outside. The stress of fighting, both physical and psychological, adds up pretty quickly as well. People in a medieval-ish society who are mercenaries for hire in regular campaigns abroad starting to look a bit worn in their mid/late-20’s isn’t the *most* implausible thing in the book, at least.

  9. Signatus

    To be fair about this whole worldbuilding, as much as it interested me, it is only going to serve to make Qvothe into a super badass swordmaster of sorts (because being a multiclass is so cool!), and I’m pretty sure the Adem, the Lethani and everything concerning this part of the book won’t be brought up ever again in future books.

    I have a problem with this sort of things, where fantasy authors create this super complex and original new world with all this super cool areas, cultures, politics, society, myths and legends, history, language, etc, that they feel the absolute need to stuff it down our throats to show their brillance.
    To be honest, I’ve only seen this trick being pulled up with mastery (as in, making the world the main character and succeed), and that was in the Death Gate Cycle. I know I bring it very often, but, really, if you haven’t read it, do it, because it is a fantastic example of how Rothfuss fails miserably at subversion and deconstruction and whatever. Anyways, in the heptalogy, the world is the main character because it is the central focus of the story, and you don’t fully understand it until you reach the end. That was pure brilliance.

    As a political scientist, it hurts my little academic heart to see how authors inflate their chests and look at you with; “see, this is a super original culture.”, forgetting absolutely how countries, societies, histories, cultures are forged. For Heaven’s sake, my specialty is XX Century Geopolitics and International Relations, and just look how freakingly complex everything is, and you can’t possibly understand anything without going back, at times even as far as 10 or more centuries, to understand where everything comes from (The Utretch Treaty, the Al-Andalus proclaim, the Yugoslavian experience and their Nationalisms…).
    Authors often forget that countries were not forged by Mr Charlemagne, but by millions of people and their experiences, their geography, their day to day, their relations with neighbors, etc. Homogeneity in a country is as absurd as it is irreal. And that is without entering on the thousands and thousands of books written about a single country’s history, which tends to be very complex.
    However, a single author is no more than one man, or woman, with limited experience, and a subjective vision of the world. This person attempts to construct a full world and make it believable using only his own experience, and he wants to be claimed as a genius.
    I have to say this is technically impossible. I’ve tried it. I failed. Tried again. Failed again. The complex worlds and lore we often find in videogames and RPGs are the resulting product of many, many people working in unision to make it alive, and they fail in many aspects anyways.

    I often find those worlds who work better are either small sections of fantasy worlds (without going to great lenghts to show everything in it), or those completely inmersed in our own world such as what we see in Harry Potter.
    This “unique” lands with traits tossed here and there tend to raise more eyebrows than impress.

    1. braak

      This is a feature that I think I associate more closely with David Eddings than anyone else. Yeah, Tolkien sort of elides over the cultural differences that you’d expect in his world, but one of the weird things about Lord of the Rings is, despite it’s epic scope, how small it feels. The Rohirrim and the Men of Gondor feel less like medieval European nations than they do Bronze-Age city-states.

      I don’t think I ran into the conceit of “Here’s nation A, they’re all like this, here’s nation B, they’re all like THAT, here’s nation C, those guys are the EVIL nation” until Eddings couldn’t be bothered to think of TWO characteristics for his assorted countries.

      1. welltemperedwriter

        The thing about Lord of the Rings, and I suspect one of the reasons I still like it, is it’s indicated that what we see on the page is just a small part of the action. The most important part, to be sure, but still just a part.

        Wheel of Time tried to show absolutely everything, and holy cats, was it boring. I only got through it because I had the audiobook from the library and a very long commute.

  10. Aaron Adamec-Ostlund (@AaronAO)

    What confuses me about the Adem’s use of hand gestures to convey emotions instead of facial expressions is that the book seems to say that their use of gestures is just as clear about what they’re feeling as facial expressions would be. The only difference seems to be that an outsider wouldn’t understand what they mean. But given how isolated the Adem are why do they need to hide what they feel? It only makes sense if you figure that Rothfuss wanted to come up with a really strange culture for the sake of it.

    Also there is speculation on the fan wiki that the Wagon Bros. are an offshoot of the Adem who did not want to suppress their emotions (which the Adem don’t do very well anyway) and so are something of an anti Adem.

      1. Aaron Adamec-Ostlund (@AaronAO)

        Yes. The unimaginativeness behind these books is so palpable. What’s particularly funny is that I read some fans of the books trying to justify how different the two cultures, Aiel and Adem, are from each other because the Aiel are based on the Zulu and Native Americans, while the Adem are inspired by China and Japan. Both ignore the fact that both cultures are white people inspired by not white cultures, which the main character belongs to in some way and are inexplicably superior to all others when it comes to everything, not just fighting.

  11. halikon

    I think the irony of the Adem’s sexual freedom is that their concept of sex is probably wholly unlike our concept of sex, but most of Rothfuss’ readers will just go “fuck yeah sex with no-strings-attached all the time!” and not consider the implications that having sex in Adem society wouldn’t provide nearly as much emotional fulfillment as it does in our society if it’s treated so casually.

    In fact I don’t think even Rothfuss is aware of this, which is par for the course for him.

  12. Austin H. Williams

    I’ve seen drawings, gravings and pictures of swords slung over shoulders. Toshiro Mifune’s character in The Seven Samurai has a habit of doing this, too. But for all my experience with weapons and my understanding about their handling, having them slung over one’s shoulder, “as [Kvothe] carried his lute,” is a bad idea, right? I mean, think about it. Can you easily draw a sword from a strap on your back?

    Correct me if this is actually a recommended way of doing things in any sorts of martial disciplines.


    Kvothe’s (and Rothfuss’s) inability to gauge age again seems to me more evidence that no matter how old Rothfuss was when he was writing this, Kvothe is that age, now regardless of what the text actually tells us.

    1. braak

      I’m actually not completely sure what he means by this. Like, is he talking about how it’s got a strap like his lute-strap that goes across his shoulder? Most swords that you wear at your hip ARE slung that way; if the strap (called a “baldric”) doesn’t go over your shoulder and it’s just attached to your belt, the weight of your sword will pull your pants down.

      There are certain swords that you might wear strapped to your back, typically because of their size — there’s a very particular kind of bare sheath that you sometimes see, so that instead of pulling the sword all the way out of the sheath on your back, you sort of turn it a little and can pull it straight out through the gap.

      I feel like this is more of a convention of fantasy swords than historical swords, though; most of the sorts of very long weapons (like Toshiro Mifune’s horse-cutter sword) you don’t really bother strapping to yourself at all, because you’d just end up tripping over them.

      1. braak

        Though, I guess it wouldn’t really be very surprising if there were different conventions for carrying the weapon at different times — maybe you strap a broadsword to your back when you have to travel a distance and don’t expect to need it any time soon; maybe the strap can drop down to your hip if you think you’re about to get into a fight.

      2. Austin H. Williams

        “I’m actually not completely sure what he means by this. Like, is he talking about how it’s got a strap like his lute-strap that goes across his shoulder?”

        That’s sort of how I was envisioning this, y’know, similar to how you’ll see badass RPG barbarians carrying their swords.

        I’ve always thought if you were going to carry a sword like that and needed to actually draw it quickly, the bare sheath option would be the best one, but I’m again ignorant of any historical examples. Usually, in battle, giant swords were just kept out, with the sheath discarded somewhere or back at the main camp, or there would be some sort of attempt at drawing it from a baldric or sabretache.

        “…maybe you strap a broadsword to your back when you have to travel a distance and don’t expect to need it any time soon;”

        That’s the only situation I’ve heard about where strapping a sword to your back like this was a good idea, i.e. you weren’t going to need to withdraw it immediately, and indeed, this seems to have been a way of carrying large swords historically.

    2. lampwick

      And OTOH I’m pretty sure that carrying a _lute_ this way is a bad idea. Lutes are way more fragile than swords and they go out of tune easily, and I imagine someone could really do some damage to the neck or strings if they bump into it. It seems weird that Kvothe would carry his lute this way when he’s been so protective of it elsewhere.

      1. Austin H. Williams

        Yeah, that’s the other thing: aside from Rothfuss’s description, pretty much any artwork related to Kvothe shows him carrying his lute like a badass RPG barbarian carries is sword.

        For what it’s worth, I doubt Rothfuss knew (knows?) too many IRL lute players, and he was probably (like most nerds) figuring lute just means “Medieval guitar,” and many guitar players do strap their guitars to their backs when they’re heading to a gig or practise or whatever.

    3. Zenobious

      As a rule, for any given length of sword it’s much easier to draw it from a sheath at your side than from your back, due to simple biomechanics. This is why, historically speaking, the majority of swords were worn at the waist or hip in some fashion. Even in late medieval and Renaissance times, when substantially sized longswords and then rapiers were in fashion, a scabbard at the hip was the norm. This includes some rather large swords around 4 feet in length.

      Even longer swords were typically kept in a sheath on the saddle, if one were mounted; or the sword was carried in one hand, balanced on the shoulder in the same manner as a polearm if one was an infantryman. There are innumerable attestations to all of these types of sword carriage in period art and surviving artifacts; and relatively few to any sort of back-mounted scabbard.

      In fact the only consistent historical example I can think off the top of my head is images of Chinese infantrymen in the 1930’s and 1940’s, who often wore daos slung over their shoulder. I suspect, though, that such an arrangement had more to do with their *primary* weapons being rifles, typically fired from the prone — a sword slung on your back wouldn’t interfere with a prone firing position, while a sword at the hip most certainly would. Most daos do not have particularly long blades, either, so a draw over the shoulder wouldn’t be so bad.

        1. neremworld

          Super late, but I think the most iconic “strapped to back” character is Link from Legend of Zelda, who wore his sheath on his back. It was also angled to make it easier to unsheath. This was probably due to the fact that he spent a lot of time crawling on his stomach and it’d get in the way animation-wise if it was on his hip.

  13. Aaron Adamec-Ostlund (@AaronAO)

    It seems like a lack of curiosity runs through all of the characters in these stories. The Adem don’t seem to care enough about the Lethani to try and understand it better. In the real world a philosophy or religion this all encompassing would have all sorts of people studying and codifying it. There would probably be some people who wanted to maintain a more nebulous and spiritual understanding of it but they would still interact with their beliefs in some way, where the Adem seem to just label everything they want to be of the Lethani. If the culture wasn’t such an idealized one I would read this as a commentary on how many people today don’t seem to seek a deeper understanding of their beliefs but I think that’s giving Rothfuss to much credit.

    The lack of curiosity also explains why everyone else just accepts all of Kvothfuss’ seemingly impossible accomplishments on the face of it without even trying to come up with alternatives. Hell it explains why they accept the rumors he spreads unquestioningly.

    The Adem’s attitude to sex is so close to the typical nerd’s view of sex it’s uncanny. On the one hand nerds hold that sex is just a simple physical activity that feels good so there should be no hang ups. On the other hand they have lots of creepy hang ups and possessiveness that undermines their first belief. It’s like how Rothfuss compares the Star Wars prequels-or whatever-to seeing a girl he had sex with in high-school become a stripper.

    Sex is just a meaningless thing that feels good and you shouldn’t form any powerful attachments unless you want do it with someone other than me in which case it’s a betrayal of the exclusivity I inferred from our relationship because I’m a possessive, misogynistic asshole.

    1. braak

      Yeah, it’s like the Lethani is this close to being a metaphor for how things like Taoism seem really bizarre and sort of ethereal to Westerners who don’t understand it, but is actually to people who grew up in a culture where it was a common part of their lives, it’s actually 1) rigorous and precise to people who study it, or 2) some kind of weird hokum that the old guys are always going on about — just like spiritual philosophies in the West!

      Hm. Very good opportunity to explore the theme of stories and perception and their relationship to reality, squandered so Kvothe can get good at kung fu and have sexy times with hot ninja chicks?

      Say what you want about Rothfuss, but at least he’s consistent.

  14. Andrea Harris

    Actually if you put “whore” even once in your epic fantasy Tolkien appears before you with a disapproving look on his face, puffs once on his pipe, says “Hmmph!” and vanishes, never to appear again, and you’re left feeling rather foolish and ashamed because you forgot he was a Victorian Catholic prude who would never have approved of your childish “subversions” of his pet genre.

    Anyway, FINALLY someone comes out against that “I’ll beat you into coolness” trope that’s so worryingly popular in Western literature and film. I wonder how many people have put up with being physically mistreated because they grew up on stories where the hero “just takes it” to prove himself?


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