The Wind Cries Kvothe

I have my work cut out for me commenting upon The Name of the Wind (by Patrick Rothfuss). As Keith said when he recommended it for selection:
I found the story to be really engaging initially, but it petered off towards the end (IMO). It still was a great read though, I highly recommend it, and perhaps you can put into words why I found the ending to be not nearly as engaging as the beginning!
So I have a specific task set out for me. My comments have to deal with passages that I think signify the shift from more to less engaging and, hopefully, illuminate why this shift takes place (if indeed I find it to take place).

The book itself is also more than 600 pages long, so I can't do a running commentary from start to finish in any case. The edition which I am using is the 2007 hardcover publication by Daw Books, Inc. I will cite chapter numbers to help if, for some reason, you feel possessed to get your own copy and read the passages for yourself.

Anyway, without further ado, let's look at The Name of the Wind. I should state now that, while I will try not to be free with the book's plot, I won't be working too hard to keep details out, especially if I need to refer to them to make my point clear. If you wish to read the novel without knowing what is going on, steer clear. This is also probably going to be more like a standard review, but I will work in as much marginal commentary as I can.

To begin with, I read the book quite recklessly fast. Despite that, I do not know that I would say I enjoyed it as much as I have enjoyed other books. Rothfuss's style is good, and indeed in places he writes exceeding well. I will consider some highlights later.

The Length of the Book
I suspect that one of the reasons for Keith's flagging interest was the length of the book. In the first place, what we hear of Kvothe's story is drawn out, longer, I think, than it really needed to be. Six hundred and sixty pages is a lot to read, and although there is always something happening, the pace at times becomes wearisome.

Another might be the mode by which the story is told. The Name of the Wind is a story within a story. The protagonist, Kvothe (apparently pronounced 'quothe'), is a remarkable man with a long list of feats and accomplishments behind him. He is also, at the opening of the story, wasting away. He is languishing as the innkeeper of a small town.

By chance (later we discover that it was not, in fact, by chance) an esteemed historian, who goes by the title Chronicler, comes to Kvothe's inn. Chronicler recognises Kvothe and convinces him to tell his story. 'The true story', untainted by the speculation, fanciful digressions and exaggerations which have sprung up around Kvothe in his lifetime. We learn, later, that Kvothe has long wanted the opportunity to tell his story, and even tried to write a memoir, but something in his past so haunts him that he seems to want nothing more than to waste away in obscurity.

So most of what we read are tales of his childhood and youth that Kvothe recounts to his audience, consisting of (not counting we readers) Chronicler and Kvothe's mysterious apprentice Bast. Thus, a certain drama is already robbed of us; we know that Kvothe has suffered scars, physical, emotional and mental, that have not healed, and we await learning what has happened to him with interest because we are discovering something new - but we already know he is going to live to tell the tale. This is not all bad. Kvothe's story is in many places compelling, after all. But when Rothfuss allows things to drag a bit, it becomes tiresome because where the story drags most is in Kvothe's recounting of his past.

Kvothe spends a couple of years as a beggar, urchin, and thief in a city called Tarbean (hopefully not pronounced the way it looks) after a calamity in his childhood. In the book, this occupies about sixty-five pages and ten chapters (some of the chapters in the book are short interludes where we return to the present; there is at least one in this section). To be accurate, Kvothe spends another twenty pages in Tarbean, but by then he is on the move, getting ready to try his luck at a place called the University (about which more later).

I was surprised upon discovering how short the section is of Kvothe's stay in Tarbean; it had seemed to me longer. This, I believe, is at once a blessing and a curse of Rothfuss' writing. He is able to make what is a relatively short part of the book (about one-tenth its length) into what feels like an elongated passage. Where it becomes a problem is in Kvothe's lengthy stay at the University (in fact the elder Kvothe's telling of his time there is unfinished by the time the book comes to an end). Between Kvothe's arrival at the University and his adventures in Trebon lie two hundred and sixty pages, thirty-four chapters in all. And Kvothe's adventures in the small town of Trebon occupy nearly one hundred-twenty pages and thirteen chapters. After that are what one might consider the 'falling action' of the book, taking place mostly in the present altough including some dramatic events.

 The sustained and lengthy episode of Trebon held my interest, despite the fact that it was so long a section devoted to so short a period of time, about two or three days. Where I found the book to drag especially was during Kvothe's time at the University and the nearby town of Imre.

 The University, where Kvothe begins to learn what can roughly be called 'magic', reminds me of a cross between Unseen University in Pratchett's Discworld novels (a place where wizards go, in effect, to stop doing magic) and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Indeed, Kvothe is about Harry Potter's age while at the University, but because The Name of the Wind is a book for grown-ups he has lived a harder life. In my view Rothfuss lingers too long on Kvothe's early days at the University. There are a number of problems:
  1. Kvothe's moping over a mysterious girl called Denna. She is apparently the tragic love of his life, or so the older Kvothe's reminiscences would have us believe. And while, in fact, many fifteen year-olds do behave as Kvothe does (though few, it must be said, are as resourceful or intelligent as Kvothe) when it comes to being lovesick, it kind of goes on.
  2. Kvothe's weirdly innocent relationships with beautiful women is also irritating. Rothfuss frequently refers to whores in his book, but not once does Kvothe have sex with anyone. Rothfuss's style is circumspect when it comes to sex (as when he implies that Kvothe's parents engage in marital relations every once in a while), which I appreciate. But seriously. Kvothe has oddly committed non-sexual relationships with at least three women other than Denna, all of whom I expect would not object if he were to want sex with them (except, perhaps the one who is crazy and lives in the University's 'Underthing', meaning the name she has given to the labyrinthine tunnels and chambers lying beneath the current complex of buildings).
  3. Also conspicuous in its oddness is the comparative lack of interest by Rothfuss in Kvothe's male friends. Perhaps they are there just so Kvothe has a chance to be normal, but they never share in any of his adventures, although I think, to be fair, that they share in most of his close confidences. Still, they are comparatively minor figures. Kvothe isn't all that close to anyone, even the women with whom he has the complicated relationships, but still.
  4. Kvothe's grudge match with one of the Masters of the school, an instructor, is dealt with merciful brevity; his struggle of a similar nature with a fellow student is not.
  5. A great deal of Kvothe's time is spent, as a poor man with not a penny to his name except what he is able to earn, making money, especially by means of singing and playing the lute. Unfortunately much of the book is occupied with this particular preoccupation of Kvothe's, also.
Interestingly, I did not find the section on Kvothe's childhood, from pp. 55-110 (chs. 8-15) to be too long; however, I think that all sections of the book could have stood to have had some material and characters excised, with such functions as they had for the plot given to other characters. The two shortest sections, being Kvothe's life with his family and then, following their horrible murder, and then his time as a beggar in the big city, seem short enough, but between them take up just under one-fifth of the book and seventeen of its ninety-four (counting the prologue and epilogue) chapters. A closer read would likely show that they display, in miniature, the same problems that the lengthy section of Kvothe's life at the University do. As I said with regard to the climactic sequence in Trebon, despite its length it held my interest the most.

Poetry and Song
Like many prose authors, Rothfuss' use of poetry and song is hit-and-miss. I am no expert on poetic structure, so I cannot assess the songs of the book that way, but perhaps a looser assessment may be possible.

Perhaps because they are less structurally demanding, I feel Rothfuss' children's rhymes are sounder than most of the rest of his poetry; that does not mean they are no less effective at communicating. The song the boy Kvothe sings doing chores, a chant he heard a girl sing playing 'hop-skip [p. 77; ch. 12]' (whatever that is), is scathingly funny:
Seven things has Lady Lackless
Keeps them underneath her black dress
One a ring that's not for wearing
One a sharp word, not for swearing
Right beside her husband's candle
There's a door without a handle
In a box, no lid or locks
Lackless keeps her husband's rocks
There's a secret she's been keeping
She's been dreaming and not sleeping
On a road that's not for traveling
Lackless likes her riddle raveling. [loc. cit.]
I am uncertain what all of the lines signify, but it is pretty obvious it is sexual in nature, as Kvothe himself remembers (p. 78).

Another good song is sung by Bast early in the book as he watches Kvothe sleep (p. 41; ch. 6):
How odd to watch a mortal kindle
Then to dwindle day by day.
Knowing their bright souls are tinder
And the wind will have its way.
Would I could my own fire lend.
What does your flickering portend?
It is a simple song, and tells us something of Bast's true nature and of his affection and worry for his master. It reminds me of something Bilbo would have written of the elves in Rivendell.

 More complex songs with weightier matters usually seem less impressive, at least to me; Kvothe's father is composing a song about a famous mythical figure named Lanre (about whom more later), and sings a snatch of it at a farewell party for a member of the troupe (p. 108; ch. 15):
Sit and listen all, for I will sing
A story, wrought and forgotten in a time
Old and gone. A story of a man.
Proud Lanre, strong as the spring
Steel of the sword he had at ready hand.
Hear how he fought, fell, and rose again,
To fall again. Under shadow falling then.
Love felled him, love for native land,
And love of his wife Lyra, at whose calling
Some say he rose, through doors of death
To speak her name as his first reborn breath.
The lines 'Proud Lanre, strong as the spring / Steel of the sword he had at ready hand' are awkward; the simile 'strong as the spring' seems a bit inapt, while 'steel of the sword, &c.' is clumsy. The following two lines, 'Hear how he fought, &c.' are likewise rather clumsy constructions, or so it seems to me.

Along the same lines, in terms of less pleasing poetry, are the lines of 'The Lay of Sir Savien Traliard' which Rothfuss includes; wisely, he does not write the whole thing out. Kvothe is performing this piece, which is apparently among the most complicated songs ever written, in order to win prestige and money at a bar called the Eolian (pp. 367-8; ch. 54). I won't go into much detail, but quoting the lines sung by a mysterious woman (later revealed to be Denna) should give you an idea of why it is not one of the most well-written pieces (p. 368):

Savien, how could you know
It was the time for you to come to me?
Savien, do you remember
The days we squandered pleasantly?
How well then have you carried what
Have tarried in my heart and memory?
'Squandered' seems a bit much; still, as plain as this stanza is, it may be that, supposing Rothfuss has written 'The Lay of Savien Traliard' in full, it looks better in context, and the 'have you carried / what have tarried' section is a nice touch. The last two lines of the stanza actually grasp something of the effect Rothfuss means the song to have.

Best of all of Rothfuss's songs in The Name of the Wind is a children's rhyme about the villains of the book, a group of ancient, seemingly immortal evil beings called the Chandrian; the song purports to tell their 'signs', that is, how to know who is whom and when they are present. The rhyme is sung a few times during the course of the book, never in full. Late in the book, Kvothe travels to Trebon on intelligence that the Chandrian have struck there, murdering an entire wedding party. He and Denna sing parts of the song to confirm their suspicion, based on odd physical phenomena they discover at the site of the massacre, that it was indeed the Chandrian who perpetrated it (pp. 520-1; ch. 72):
When the hearthfire turns to blue,
What to do? What to do?
Run outside. Run and hide.
When your bright sword turns to rust?
Who to trust? Who to trust?
Stand alone. Standing stone.

See a woman pale as snow?
Silent come and silent go.
What's their plan? What's their plan?
Chandrian. Chandrian.
'What's their plan', admittedly, seems a bit out of place in a children's song, but the rest works quite well. It is perhaps a bit hard to say that Rothfuss's best poems are children's songs, but that is what appears to me to be the case.

Altogether, then, Rothfuss seems less skilled at poetry than, say, Tolkien (no great poet himself). The Lord of the Rings, for example, not only had people singing a lot, but the songs are all written out; meanwhile, Rothfuss too often uses Kvothe to 'tell' about his musical ability and the songs he sings. In parts this is a dramatic failure, and in my view many of the least interesting episodes, most if not all of which occur during the prolonged University section, are of Kvothe playing music and singing. Arguably one of the best songs in The Name of the Wind is 'Tinker Tanner', perhaps because it is referred to so often but never sung! All this is to show how difficult writing good songs and poetry in a work of prose is.

One of the most interesting aspects of most fantasy books is how the author handles magic (by whatever name it is called; for whatever reason many authors of fantasy eschew the term magic, despite its directness. Rothfuss does use the word 'magic' to describe what his characters do).

The means by which 'arcanists' (Rothfuss' term for magic-users in his world) use magic is quite interesting. Indeed, the explanation and use of magic in The Name of the Wind often makes up some of the most imaginative and creative passages in the book. On the other hand, too often (as in the overlong University section), there is little else to sustain interest at times in the book.

There seem to be, in effect, two kinds of 'magic'. The first is called sympathy, which is manifested in a number of different ways; the other is the naming of things. Of the latter I have little to say, except that it is the more potent and dangerous form of magic in Rothfuss' world. Kvothe uses the 'name of the wind' without realising it to knock down his rival Ambrose at one point; thereafter he begins to take lessons with the half-mad Master Namer Elodin; Kvothe's encounters with Elodin demonstrate Rothfuss' gift for concision and summarisation which, alas, he too rarely displays. Anyway, it appears that by the time we meet Kvothe in the present, when he begins telling his story, he seems to have the ken of names (or so it would appear); how he comes to learn the magical power of names is left untold by the end of the book.

The magic of sympathy is in its own way more interesting than naming, if only because Rothfuss goes into more detail about it, because it is the form of magic which Kvothe has learned to use, as he says during his retelling of his life story. Being a prodigy, Kvothe learns to use it quite well.

I won't go into a whole lot of detail, but perhaps citing this passage early in the book will give some idea of what 'sympathy' in The Name of the Wind is like. An arcanist by the name of Abenthy (and who goes by Ben; hmm, where have we seen this diminutive before?) joins the travelling troupe to which Kvothe and his family belongs. (As an aside, Kvothe belongs to a nomadic people, the Edema Ruh, who are, as it were, the 'gypsies' of Rothfuss' world. One irritant to me was how idealised Rothfuss, or at least Kvothe, makes them out to be. But I digress.) He quickly realises that Kvothe is a bright lad, and begins to teach him many things, including the rudiments of sympathy (pp. 70-1, 75-7; chh. 10-11):
Ben held up a chunk of dirty fieldstone slightly bigger than his fist.
"What will happen if I let go of this rock?"
I thought for a bit. Simple questions during lesson time were very seldom simple. Finally I gave the obvious answer. "It will probably fall."
... [Ben] grinned. "Fine. Would it be fair to say you believe it will fall?"
"Fair enough."
"I want you to believe it will fall up when I let go of it." His grin widened. [Italics added for emphasis.]
I tried. It was like doing mental gymnastics. After a while I nodded. "Okay."
"How well do you believe it?"
"Not very well," I admitted.
"I want you to believe this rock will float away." ... [Ben] unhooked the slapstick he used to goad [his donkeys] when they were being lazy. "Do you believe in this, E'lir?" ... He held out the stick for my inspection.
There was a malicious glitter in his eye. I decided not to tempt fate. "Yes."
"Good." He slapped the side of the wagon with it, producing a sharp crack [italics original]. ... "That's the sort of belief I want. It's called Alar: riding-crop belief. When I drop this stone, it will float away, free as a bird."
... I nodded. I cleared my mind with one of the tricks I'd already learned, and bore down on believing. I started to sweat.
... He held out the rock again. "Do you believe it will float?"
"It didn't!" [Ben has already dropped the rock, and, no surprise, it fell; his point was that what one believes is not necessarily what one perceives.]
"It doesn't matter. Try again." He shook the stone. "Alar is the cornerstone of sympathy. If you are going to impose your will on the world, you must have control over what you believe."
... Finally Ben was able to drop the rock and I retained my firm belief that it wouldn't fall despite evidence to the contrary.
... "I want you believe the rock will fall and that the rock will not fall when I let go of it." He grinned.
... I held the two separate beliefs loosely in my mind and let their singing discord lull me into senselessness. [Sympathy, we learn, is much about training yourself to think distinct thoughts at the same time.]
"So these two drabs," [Ben] held a pair out for my inspection, "Could [sic] have come from the same bar, right?" [A drab is a piece of currency; usually made of iron.]
"Actually, they probably cast them individually...." I trailed off under a glare. "Sure."
"So there's something still connecting them, right?" He gave tme the look again.
I didn't really agree, but knew better than to interrupt. "Right."
He set them both on the table. "So when you move one, the other should move, right?"
I agreed for the sake of argument, then reached out to move one. But Ben stopped my hand, shaking his head. "You've got to remind them first. You've got to convince them, in fact."
He brought out a bowl and decanted a slow blob of pine pitch into it. He dipped one of the drabs into the pitch and stuck the other one to it, spoke several words I didn't recognize, and slowly pulled the bits apart, strands of pitch stretching between them. He set one on the table, keeping the other in his hand. Then he muttered something else and relaxed.
He raised his hand, and the drab on the table mimicked the motion. He danced his hand around and the brown piece of iron bobbed in the air.
He looked from me to the coin. "The law of sympathy is one of the most basic parts of magic. It states that the more similar two objects are, the greater the sympathetic link. The greater the link, the more easily they influence each other."
... He pulled out a piece of paper and jotted a couple of words on it. "The trick is in holding the Alar firm in your mind. You need to believe they are connected. You need to know they are." He handed me the paper. "Here is the phonetic pronunciation. It's called the Sympathetic Binding of Parallel Motion. Practice."
... I cleared my mind .... I stuck the two bits of metal together with pine pitch. I fixed in my mind the Alar, the riding-crop belief, that the two drabs were connected. I said the words, pulled the coins apart, spoke the last word, and waited.
No rush of power. No flash of hot or cold. No radiant beam of light struck me.
I was rather disappointed. ... I lifted the coin in my hand, and the coin on the table lifted itself in a similar fashion. It was magic, there was no doubt about that.
... The rest of that day was spent experimenting with the simple sympathetic binding Abenthy had taught me. I learned that almost anything could be bound together. An iron drab and a silver talent [more currency], a stone and a piece of fruit, two bricks... It took me about two hours to figure out that the pine pitch wasn't necessary. When I asked him, Ben admitted that it was merely an aid for concentration.
... Let me sum up sympathy very quickly since you will probably never need to have anything other than a rough comprehension of how these things work.
First, energy cannot be created or destroyed. When you are lifting one drab and the other rises off the table, the one in your hand feels as heavy as if you're lifting both, because, in fact, you are.
That's in theory. In practice, it feels like you're lifting three drabs. No sympathetic link is perfect. The more dissimilar the items, the more energy is lost. Think of it as a leaky aqueduct leading to a water wheel. A good sympathetic link has very few leaks, and most of the energy is used. A bad link is full of holes; very little of the effort you put into it goes toward what you want it to do.
For instance I tried linking a piece of chalk to a glass bottle of water. There was very little similarity between the two, so even though the bottle of water might have weighed two pounds, when I tried to lift the chalk it felt like sixty pounds.
 I won't go into detail about some of Kvothe's later uses of sympathetic magic, because they are, on the whole, more spectacular, but Rothfuss intelligently does not stray from the basic principles of sympathy which he introduces here - although as we all know, of course, there are still more spectacular forms of magic in The Name of the Wind. It may be said, however, that introducing magic so early lessens some of the interest we might have in what Kvothe learns of it at the University much later. At any rate, Rothfuss's working out of how magic works is one of the strengths of the book.

Bast is Kvothe's mysterious apprentice in the present (that is, when Kvothe is the keeper of the Waystone, an inn, and is telling his story to the man called Chronicler). It transpires that he is not human, but a powerful magical being (pp. 90-5; ch. 13).

I am not sure what Rothfuss expects us to make of Bast, but by the end of the book, thanks to Bast's behaviour, I found I quite disliked the fae creature. His attitude reminded me of the elves of Pratchett's Lords and Ladies: humans are playthings. He finds Kvothe fascinating for his own reasons, but despite knowing so much about Kvothe (he appears to know most of Kvothe's life story already), I found, based on something he says to Chronicler, that he doesn't understand humans at all.

What happens is that Bast reveals to Chronicler that it was he who spread rumours that the legendary Kvothe was hiding out in an out-of-the-way town as an innkeeper. He insists that Chronicler stay to get Kvothe's mood to improve by focussing on the stuff Kvothe found exciting about his life, but to avoid the darker passages, the things which have broken Kvothe's will to live and to act. Chronicler is not so keen on that, so to ensure that he stays and does what he is told, Bast curses him magically and does this 'Prince of Darkness' routine which, though it is meant to be intimidating, I found it a piece of bullying childishness - of course, it remains intimidating because the bullying child, in this case, happens to be a fae creature of immense power (the whole exchange is on pp. 654-61; ch. 92). The passage which, I think, reveals Bast's essential inability to truly understand humankind, or Kvothe, is this (pp. 659, 661):
Chronicler swallowed hard and seemed to regain some of his composure.
"What I mean is that what he's telling is a true story, and true stories have unpleasant parts. His more than most, I expect. They're messy, and tangled, and..."
"I know you can't get him to leave them out," Bast said. "But you can hurry him along. You can help him dwell on the good things: his adventures, the women, the fighting, his travels, his music...." Bast stopped abruptly. "Well ... not the music. Don't ask about that, or why he doesn't do magic anymore."
Chronicler reached out to take hold of the cord, his hand trembling slightly. [This is after Bast's 'Prince of Darkness routine.] "What do you get?" he asked, his voice a dry whisper. "What do you want out of this?"
This question seemed to catch Bast unprepared. He stood still and awkward for a moment, all his fluid grace gone. For a moment it looked as if he might burst into tears. "What do I want? I just want my Reshi back." His voice was quiet and lost. "I want him back the way he was."
Well, Bast does have genuine affection for Kvothe - but he should know that what he wants is impossible. His plaintive wish for things to be the way they always were is no less childish for coming from a being such as he. And Chronicler (not to mention my own experience) is right: you can't ignore the bad stuff; in fact it doesn't seem to occur to Bast that the reason Kvothe has gone into hiding as plain and simple Kote, innkeeper (even if he is coming dangerously close to believing that that's all he's good for) might be because he needs time to recuperate before he can reopen old wounds for healing.

If I seem intemperate in my dislike for Bast, it is because, despite his legitimate claim that Chronicler is in his debt, his reaction to Chronicler's skepticism is disproportionately domineering; his blustering, impressive as it is, is a display of literally inhuman bullying; his desire is impossible and, in the event, harmful to Kvothe; and there's something about even the fictional domination of a human with free will by means of magical coercion that I find repulsive. Bast comes across, despite his emotional display, not so much concerned for Kvothe as for himself. I have to admit, I felt that Bast deserves no better than to get a nice long piece of sharp iron stuck in his chest (or something along those lines) as a reward for his ill-treatment of Chronicler - out of respect for his friendship with Kvothe, however, I hope it is in the act of saving his old friend's life.

My loathing of Bast aside, I will pass over what I think of the literary style of his 'Prince of Darkness' routine, because I can hardly see through my dislike of the character at that moment to consider the passage critically. On the whole, because of the marginal nature of the present day in The Name of the Wind, Bast does not receive a lot of development, so while Rothfuss does not write poorly about him, he does not put a great deal of such literary power as he possesses into the passages about Bast, either. I think it is fair to say that Rothfuss does do a good job in presenting Bast as 'fae'.

The climax of the book is a lengthy adventure of Kvothe's in a small mining town called Trebon (pp. 492-599; chh. 71-83), some distance from the University. He leaves in a hurry to get there because he gets word that the Chandrian have attacked, killing all of the guests at a wedding party save one.

The Chandrian, at this point, appear to be the primary villains of the series, however long it will turn out to be. There are seven of them (somewhere in the book we learn that the word 'Chandrian' is a corruption of a word from an ancient language meaning 'the seven', or something along those lines). They are ancient and undying. Their exact purpose is unclear, but they have a purpose of some kind. How they travel is unknown, as is by what means they use magic, since they do not appear to need to use sympathy (although a tale about the man who became the chief of the Chandrian - the Lanre referred to above - describes him knowing powerful magic of naming). In the book we encounter them killing people who are trying to learn too much about them.

Kvothe does not encounter the Chandrian in Trebon (or else it would have a very short book), but he discovers that the one survivor is none other than Denna, the girl of his dreams. Her presence I found quite coincidental and a bit of trickery on Rothfuss's part, but I am suspending judgment until I learn (if ever I learn) the identity of her mysterious patron who brought her to Trebon in the first place.

Anyway, in sum, one of the main reasons I found Kvothe's adventures in Trebon so interesting was how well Rothfuss used probability and necessity in constructing the events. Denna's presence excepting, the unlikeliest encounter they have (believe it or not) is with a bumpkin swineherd, but at least it is a probable, if chancy, encounter. The Chandrian are a fascinating bunch, and Rothfuss was wise not to give the whole game away in the first book, so their role in the events at Trebon drew my interest. Finally, one other aspect which I liked about the section of Trebon was the 'Denner plantation' (pp. 549-65; ch. 77). In the world of The Name of the Wind, the resin of a variety of tree called the Denner-tree is a highly addictive and destructive stimulant. It is the fantastic equivalent of crack meets maple syrup (and indeed, the Denner-tree is apparently similar to the maple). In the events at Trebon the Denner plantation upon which Kvothe and Denna stumble is vital to the plot (and, although they appear to happen upon it quite by chance, in fact Rothfuss sets its discovery up quite well). Up until then 'sweet-eaters' (addicts of Denner-resin) have been a horrific bit of scenery, setting Rothfuss's imaginary world out from ours (and from other fantasy worlds).

Still, being as long as it is, the adventure in Trebon could, like the rest of the book, have been shortened, even though, as I said, it was one of the parts of the book I enjoyed most.

The Literary Style
This post is long enough as it is, and I have covered some of Rothfuss's style already. So I won't belabour it. I will briefly discuss two things: chapter headings and Rothfuss's reference to wind in the book.

Regarding chapter headings, it must be said that usually they are functional (as chapter headings should be). On occasion, however, Rothfuss comes up with a chapter heading that makes it a little too clear what the chapter is about, and, let me tell you, the heading ends up being lame. There are, fortunately, only a few, so they shouldn't be held against Rothfuss. Still, you would think it would be possible to avoid such things. I will provide a few examples to demonstrate what I mean: 'Walking and Talking [ch. 63]'; 'Negotiations [ch. 50]'; 'Bloody Hands Into Stinging Fists [ch. 20; this is perhaps the worst of the lot]'; 'Riding in the Wagon with Ben [ch. 9; or maybe it's this one]'.

Some of the chapter headings are clever, most are functional and, if they are not masterpieces of the literary genre of chapter headings, at least they do their job. Overall, I would say that Rothfuss would have done best to omit them altogether, if only because the occasional clunker tears attention away from the story.

As for the use of the wind, I was reminded, thinking about it, of my Grade 11 English class, in which we were introduced to literary symbolism by the teacher, discussing the presence and use of creepers in The Lord of the Flies.

The name of the wind is, as it were, the primeval magical name. Kvothe's interest in magic is stirred when he sees Abenthy call upon the wind to frighten harassers early in the book (p. 61; ch. 8). Indeed, straightaway we hear one of the oldest stories about magic, when Kvothe's only regulars at the Waystone share the tale of Taborlin the Great, who 'knew the name of the wind, and so the wind obeyed him [p. 4; ch. 1].' (Incidentally, one of the better touches about the book is how full of stories it is, especially in the early going - which may be another reason why Keith found the book better at first and less interesting as he went along, for there are fewer tales told.)

So while I am loath to suggest that there is a particular symbolic quality to the appearance of wind in the story, it is clear to me that there is one, and that its placement is quite deliberate. In some respects, learning the name of the wind is the object of Kvothe's Quest, one which, despite his unconscious use of it at one point, remains unfulfilled at the end of the book (another reason, perhaps, why the book was seen to be less engaging at the end than at the beginning).

A few passages should illustrate:

As he shouldered his travelsack and satchel, Chronicler found himself feeling remarkably lighthearted. The worst had happened [he has just been robbed], and it hadn't been that bad. A breeze tussled through the trees, sending poplar leaves spinning like golden coins down onto the rutted dirt road. It was a beautiful day. [p. 21; ch. 2]

Scattered patches of smoke hung in the still evening air. It was quiet, as if everyone in the troupe was listening for something. As if they were all holding their breath. An idle wind tussled the leaves in the tress and wafted a patch of smoke like a low cloud toward me. I stepped out of the forest and through the smoke, heading into the camp. [p. 114; ch. 16]

Those sitting around the fire grew perfectly still, their expressions intent. In unison they tilted their heads as if looking at the same point in the twility sky. As if trying to catch the scent of something on the wind. [p. 118; ch. 16]

"I too would ask some questions," the man to the Chancellor's right said. [This is during Kvothe's interview with the Masters to be admitted to the University.] He had an accent that I couldn't quite place. Or perhaps it was that his voice held a certain resonance. When he spoke, everyone at the desk stirred slightly, then grew still, like leaves touched by the wind. [p. 233; ch. 36]

At one point he [Master Namer Elodin] stopped and stood motionless and intent for nearly half an hour, staring a fern swaying slowly in the wind. [p. 307; ch. 46]

"You remind me of a willow." [Denna] said easily. "Strong, deep-rooted, and hidden. You move easily when the storm comes, but never farther than you wish."
I lifted my hands as if fending off a blow. "Cease these sweet words," I protested. "You seek to bend me to your will, but it will not work. Your flattery is naught to me but wind!"
She watched me for a moment, as if to make sure my tirade was complete. "Beyond all other trees," she said with a curl of a smile on her elegant mouth, "the willow moves to the wind's desire." [pp. 425-6; ch. 62]

Denna laughed sweetly. "I suppose I'd better take him then." She stood with a motion like a willow wand bending to the wind and offered me her hand. [p. 441; ch. 65]

The wind stirred the hanging branches of the willow as she cocked her head to look at me. Her hair mimicked the motion of the trees. [p. 443; loc. cit.]

I'd come to this particular courtyard because the wind moved oddly here. I'd only noticed it after the autumn leaves began to fall. They moved in a complex, chaotic dance across the cobblestones. First one way, then another, never falling into a predictable pattern. Once you noticed the wind's odd swirlings, it was hard to ignore. In fact, viewed from the roof like this, it was almost hypnotic. The same way flowing water or a campfire's flames can catch your eye and hold it. Watching it tonight... was rather relaxing. The more I watched it, the less chaotic it seemed. In fact, I began to sense a greater underlying pattern to the way the wind moved through the courtyard. It only looked chaotic becaue it was vastly, marvelously complex. What's more, it seemed to be always changing. It was a pattern made of changing patterns. [p. 479; ch. 69; we'll pass over the sentence fragment]

"Long ago," Elodin said conversationally, not taking his eyes from the courtyard below. [a comma would be more appropriate] "When folk spoke differently, this used to be called the Quoyan Hayel. Later they called it the Questioning Hall, and students made a game of writing questions on slips of paper and letting them blow about. Rumour had it you could divine your answer by which way the paper left the square." He pointed to the roads that left gaps between the grey buildings. "Yes. No. Maybe. Elsewhere. Soon."
He shrugged. "It was all a mistake though. Bad translation. They thought Quoyan was an early root of quetentan: question. But it isn't. Quoyan means 'wind.' This is rightly named 'the House of the Wind'."
... His eyes never left the courtyard below, following the ever-changing wind. [p. 480; loc. cit.]

She shook her head at me as we climbed the crest of the hill. As we finally reached the top, the wind gusted past us. Denna gripped my arm for balance and I held up a hand to shield my eyes from dust and leaves. I coughed in surprise as the wind forced a leaf straight into my mouth, causing me to choke and sputter.
Denna thought this was particularly funny. "Fine," I said, as I fished the leaf out of my mouth. It was yellow, shaped like a spearhead. "The wind has decided for us. Master Ash."
... As we made it out of the trees and over the top of the hill the wind gusted again, pelting us with more debris before it died down. Denna took a step away from me, muttering and rubbing her eyes.
... "Black hands," she said, scrubbing at her face. "I've got chaff in my eyes."
"Not chaff," I said, looking across the top of the hill. Not fifty feet away was a cluster of charred buildings that must have once been the Mauthen farm. "Ash." [pp. 511-2; ch. 72]

The wind sighed through the trees and lifted [Denna's] hair so that it tickled my face. [p. 522; ch. 72]

Wil handed me an apple as I took a seat next to them. The wind brushed through the square and I watched the spray from the fountain move like gauzy curtains in the wind. A few red maple leaves danced circles on the cobblestones. I watched them as they skipped and twirled, tracing strange, complicated patterns in the empty air. [p. 602; ch. 84]

I opened my mouth to howl, to cry, to curse [Ambrose]. But something other tore from my throat [italics original], a word I did not know and could not remember.
Then all I could hear was the sound of the wind. It roared into the courtyard like a sudden storm. A nearby carriage slid sideways across the cobblestones, its horses rearing in panic. Sheet music was torn from someone's hands to streak around us like strange lightning. I was pushed forward a step. Everyone was pushed by the wind. Everyone but Ambrose, who pinwheeled to the ground as if struck by the hand of God. [p. 605; loc. cit.]
When I first began to dig through the book for references to the wind (I expect that my citations are not exhaustive), I confidently thought that I would find most of them tacked on, as it were, to the ends of chapters; it had seemed to me reading the book that that was the case. In fact, it was not so. I have to say that I am impressed by how well Rothfuss wove the wind into the story. This does not change the fact that much of the book is a bit of a slog, but it makes the read more worthwhile.

My Last Word
As my investigation into the probably symbolic references to the wind shows, Rothfuss is a more capable writer than I have really been giving him credit for; say, rather, that because The Name of the Wind is his first book, he has not yet entered into his prime. I am not convinced that, for example, he has created many interesting secondary characters thus far, although some, such as the Chancellor of the University, have their moments. And a better editor would have got him to cut a lot of stuff out. At its worst, The Name of the Wind reminds me of something I might have written for my Grade 13 Creative Writing class, full of superfluous detail which I imagined to be a mark of good writing. From start to finish Rothfuss spends too much time on parts of Kvothe's story, or on characters haggling, and so on, that the promise and excitement which the story first creates in the reader (by means of, for instance, reference to the attempt by the Penitent King to put down a rebellion or the mysterious and rapacious creatures called scraelings) eventually dissipates, although I found Kvothe's adventures in Trebon renewed, however briefly, my interest, before it subsided again with his return to the University.

On the other hand, one feels as though Rothfuss is inviting us to share in an exciting story, one bigger than even Kvothe. The book takes the form of a 'story-within-a-story', but the best parts, in my view, are the stories-within-the-story-within-the-story; the tales, that is, that Kvothe tells us he heard. This may be the case because in those tales it seems to me that Rothfuss avoids extraneous detail or conversation, creates memorable characters, and generally displays an imaginative power often lacking or more poorly on show in the rest of the book. And they are concentrated in the first half or so of the book, which, as I said above, may be why Keith found the first part interesting and the latter half less so.

So that's my take on The Name of the Wind. Good enough, but it would have been better with a better editor. It shows promise, in that if Rothfuss can master his style, the rest of the books in the series will be so much better. As for The Name of the Wind itself, I enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as I have enjoyed other fantasy authors. Still, it has lots to recommend it: an interesting premise, an ancient mystery, a well-thought out system of magic, a plot which is mostly believable, and the promise of more intrigue and danger to come.


  1. Thanks Jonathan! You managed to turn some of my thoughts into words, but I do disagree with some aspects of your commentary (all aspects are opinion, of course). But I really did enjoy reading your commentary, as it brought back some great memories about the book that I initially loved, and ended up slightly disliking. I will definitely give it another shot when I get back home, and perhaps then Mr. Rothfuss will have written the second book in the series.

    Cheers, and Merry Christmas! I'll miss you lots this year.

  2. Thanks Keith! To be fair, I enjoyed the book more than I let on, I think; but it is always easier to spell out what one doesn't like about things than what one does like.

    No worries - I understand that what I write is my opinion, and it's not for me to decide what other people ought to like or not about a particular book. It's likely that some things I didn't like about the book you liked, and vice versa. I have to admit, probably the most opinionated bit was my criticism of the character Bast; I just don't care for him, but I acknowledge that he is one of the characters about whom Patrick Rothfuss does a good job of writing.


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