The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (2011; read in 2017)
Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.
This is the second book in the Kingkiller Chronicles, the story of Kvothe.
This, too, is a story of a modern world that has forgotten its origins, its old power. Where each step along the path of knowledge is on a newly visible but well-worn path. A rediscovery of ancient truth, of deeper currents beneath the eddies of the superficial, modern, meaningless and ephemeral world. The deep origins of the world of the Fae, the shapers and their God, the original and most powerful one. As if all that ensued was a fading of the original nova, much as our universe is the mere echo of the big bang. That is, perhaps, the difference between science fiction and fantasy: one tells of expansion from strength to strength, a climb out of benighted ignorance, whereas the other tells of a relearning of ancient pinnacles, lost in the mists of time. The shape of its vast greatness can be vaguely discerned, but not in any way recaptured.
Mortals live in their world of material goods, squabbling over table scraps, while deeper currents of power course through an unseen world, intrinsically entwined with theirs, but separate and accessible only through twisted passages like the Adem’s Lenthian or the Arcanist’s Heart of Stone, Alar or the Names of things. The lines of force of the world are accessible to precious few and then only through nigh-inscrutable byways with little relation to rhyme or reason. Only instinct and a meditative letting-go of all that one knows is sometimes the only way to perceive it, to say nothing of harnessing it.
The more one sees of this deeper world, the more easily one dips into its powerful eddies and currents, the more unmoored one becomes from the mortal realm. That is the nature of the Sleeping Mind. This concept was also mentioned in the Star Wars canon: access to the Force is only possible through slippery, peripheral means, exercising muscles over which there is, at least at first, only autonomic control.
The deep history is unknown to the surface dwellers, the Amyr are a warrior sect mere centuries old to them, the powerful evil of the Chandrian hidden and woven into inconsequence behind tapestries of children’s stories.
The Chandrian are mixed up in this somehow, nearly invisible in the mortal realm and deeply feared in the world of the Fae.
This tale is paralleled on our world as the superficial world in which most people live versus the deeper world of science and logic, the knowledge of which transforms so much magic to mundanity.
We see in Star Wars as well, when Luke discards the light saber: he has realized that this is the crude toy of a child, that the Sleeping Mind is much more powerful without such crude tools. It explains Luke’s look of disappointment when Rey still didn’t understand that the light saber isn’t anything compared to the true power of the force, of the Sleeping Mind.
In a sense, these are all religious stories. This is a particularly interesting and good one. Kvothe continues at University, but then takes time off to seek patronage from the richest man in the kingdom, the Mair. He serves him well and climbs the echelons of power there before being sent on an excursion to wipe out a nest of bandits in the Mair’s lands.
This he does with a band of mercenaries, one of whom (Tempi) is Adem, a sort of Shaolin cult. They find the bandits, Kvothe uses his power to call the wind and his arcanist tricks to overwhelm them—and catches a glimpse of their leader, who is Cinder, of the Chandrian. They collect a tremendous amount of gold from the defeated bandits’ camp and head back. On the way, Kvothe is seduced by Felurian, a queen among the Fae, a mystical sidereal realm. We learn all about that realm, hear the Cthaeh’s oracular predictions and then witness Kvothe’s miraculous return to the mortal world. From here, he learns more of Tempi’s martial art and then accompanies him back to his lands. Here he is trained in the art and passes an initiation rite, once again using the name of the wind. Instead of staying at the school, he leaves, defending the honor of the Edema Ruh as well as saving some damsels in distress along the way. He returns to the Mair, then to University. He doesn’t have a patronage, but he does have guaranteed tuition as well as a salary from the Mair. He leverages these things to enrich himself and establish a solid life at the University. He now knows how to learn what Elodin is teaching (which is good, because that’s the smartest man in the book). He finds Denna again and reconciles with her, after a fashion.
The book ends with Kvothe (Kote) once again the innkeeper, long after the time of the tales he tells. We all wait with bated breath for the final installment. Recommended.
“Kote wiped at the bar for a long moment, as if reluctant to speak. “I think things are usually bad one way or another,” he said. “It might be that only us older folk can see it.””
““It’s not just you,” Kote said. “Things are bad, and my gut tells me they’ll get worse yet. It wouldn’t hurt a man to get ready for a hard winter. And maybe see that he can defend himself if need be.” The innkeeper shrugged. “That’s what my gut tells me, anyway.” Graham’s mouth set into a grim line. He bobbed his head once in a serious nod. “I’m glad it’s not just my gut, I suppose.” Then he forced a grin and began to cuff up his shirt-sleeves as he turned to the door. “Still,” he said, “you’ve got to make hay while the sun shines.””
“Luckily, Manet played with the precision of a gear-clock: no mislaid tricks, no wild bids, no hunches.”
“Manet gave a low chuckle. “That is a woman and a half,” he said. “Which means she’s five times more woman than any of you know what to do with.” At a different time, such a statement might have goaded the three of us into swaggering protest. But Manet stated it without a hint of taunt in his voice, so we let it pass. Especially as it was probably true. “Not for me,” Simmon said. “She always looks like she’s getting ready to wrestle someone. Or go off and break a wild horse.” “She does.” Manet chuckled again. “If we were living in a better age they’d build a temple around a woman like that.””
““Do you know what would happen if you tried to knife Ambrose?” Simmon asked. I thought for a second. It was like trying to remember what you’d eaten for breakfast a month ago. “There’d be a trial, I suppose,” I said slowly, “and people would buy me drinks.” Fela muffled a laugh behind her hand.”
““But, if you’re teaching other students, why not me?” “Because you are too eager to be properly patient,” he said flippantly. “You’re too proud to listen properly. And you’re too clever by half. That’s the worst of it.” “Some masters prefer clever students,” I muttered as we emerged into a wide hallway. “Yes,” Elodin said. “Dal and Kilvin and Arwyl like clever students. Go study with one of them. Both our lives will be considerably easier because of it.””
“Elodin turned to look at me, his dark eyes serious. “You think you can trust me to teach you,” he said. “You think I will keep you safe. But that is the worst sort of foolishness.””
“But Elodin just looked at me. “What makes you think I’m not teaching you?” he asked, puzzled. “Aside from the fact that you refuse to learn.””
“But how quickly you can finger notes is the smallest part of music. The real key is timing. It’s like telling a joke. Anyone can remember the words. Anyone can repeat it. But making someone laugh requires more than that. Telling a joke faster doesn’t make it funnier. As with many things, hesitation is better than hurry.”
““In point of fact,” Wilem said, “I have no use for blood, and play for money instead.” He fingered through his purse until he found a jot, which he pressed firmly onto the table. “I am willing to play a practice game, but if she finds the thought insulting, I will thrash her and take whatever she is willing to lay on the table.” Denna grinned at that. “You’re my kind of guy, Wil.””
““Clever,” Wilem chuckled. “So clever. I went a year before I thought to ask that.” He eyed her in admiration. “Some energy is lost into the air.” He waved one hand. “Some goes into the objects themselves, and some goes into the body of the sympathist who is controlling the link.” He frowned. “That can get dangerful.””
“Sleat’s expression remained impassive, his body loose and relaxed. But I could see a slight tension in his shoulders. Very little escapes me when I’m watching closely. “They say that, do they?” I gave a shrug that put his to shame. My shrug was so nonchalant it would make a cat jealous. “I’m a musician. I play three nights a span in a busy tavern. I hear all manner of things.” I reached for my mug. “And what have you heard of me?””
“Elodin’s face lit up. “That’s it exactly!” he said. “Translation. All explicit knowledge is translated knowledge, and all translation is imperfect.””
““Re’lar Kvothe,” he said seriously. “I am trying to wake your sleeping mind to the subtle language the world is whispering. I am trying to seduce you into understanding. I am trying to teach you.” He leaned forward until his face was almost touching mine. “Quit grabbing at my tits.””
““It is a high place with a chance of falling. Things are more easily seen from edges. Danger rouses the sleeping mind. It makes some things clear. Seeing things is a part of being a namer.””
Elodin has the best lines.
““Things have changed. There are even fewer edges now than there were before. The world is less wild. There are fewer magics, more secrets, and only a handful of people who know the name of the wind.””
““Remember: there are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.””
“On the other hand, I had a vast wealth of secondary knowledge. Ten thousand romantic songs, plays, and stories taken all together had to be worth something. And on the negative side, I’d seen Simmon pursue nearly every woman within three miles of the University with the doomed enthusiasm of a child trying to fly. What’s more, I had watched a hundred men dash themselves to pieces against Denna like ships attempting to ignore the tide.”
“Bredon’s expression softened, and his voice became almost like an entreaty. “Tak reflects the subtle turning of the world. It is a mirror we hold to life. No one wins a dance, boy. The point of dancing is the motion that a body makes. A well-played game of tak reveals the moving of a mind. There is a beauty to these things for those with eyes to see it.” He gestured at the brief and brutal lay of stones between us. “Look at that. Why would I ever want to win a game such as this?” I looked down at the board. “The point isn’t to win?” I asked. “The point,” Bredon said grandly, “is to play a beautiful game.” He lifted his hands and shrugged, his face breaking into a beatific smile. “Why would I want to win anything other than a beautiful game?””
“Modern philosophers scorn Teccam, but they are vultures picking at the bones of a giant. Quibble all you like, Teccam understood the shape of the world.”
““Not pointless,” I protested. “It’s the questions we can’t answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he’ll look for his own answers.” I spread my blanket on the ground and folded over the threadbare tinker’s cloak to wrap myself in. “That way, when he finds the answers, they’ll be precious to him. The harder the question, the harder we hunt. The harder we hunt, the more we learn. An impossible question …” I trailed off as realization burst onto me. Elodin. That is what Elodin had been doing. Everything he’d done in his class. The games, the hints, the cryptic riddling. They were all questions of a sort. Marten shook his head and wandered off, but I was lost in my thoughts and hardly noticed. I had wanted answers, and in spite of all I had thought, Elodin had been trying to give them to me. What I had taken as a malicious crypticism on his part was actually a persistent urging toward the truth. I sat there, silent and stunned by the scope of his instruction. By my lack of understanding. My lack of sight.”
““Yes. Law is bridle and bit. It controls from outside. The Lethani …” He pointed between his eyes, then at his chest. “… lives inside. Lethani helps decide. Law is made because many have no understanding of Lethani.””
““No. If you fall and break a leg in mountain pass, it is still the pass. If I fail while following the Lethani, it is still the Lethani.” Serious. “This is why we are talking now. Today. With your knife. That was not the Lethani. It was not a right thing.” “I was afraid you would be hurt.” “The Lethani does not put down roots in fear,” he said, sounding as if he were reciting. “Would it be the Lethani to let you be hurt?” A shrug. “Perhaps.” “Would it be of the Lethani to let you be …” Extreme emphasis. “Hurt?” “Perhaps no. But they did not. To be first with the knife is not of the Lethani. If you win and are first with the knife, you do not win.” Vast disapproval.”
“Tempi made a triumphant gesture. “Yes! You can do many things when meeting tinker. But there is only one right thing.” He calmed himself a little. Caution. “But only doing is not the Lethani. First knowing, then doing. That is the Lethani.” I thought on this for a moment. “So being polite is the Lethani?” “Not polite. Not kind. Not good. Not duty. The Lethani is none of these. Each moment. Each choice. All different.” He gave me a penetrating look. “Do you understand?” “No.” Happiness. Approval. Tempi got to his feet, nodding. “It is good you know you do not. Good that you say. That is also of the Lethani.””
“It was during one of our many breaks that Tempi began my true instruction in the Ketan. Fool that I was, I’d assumed he had already been teaching me. The truth was, he had merely been correcting my more horrifying mistakes because they irritated him. Much the same way I’d be tempted to tune someone’s lute if they were playing off-key in the same room. This instruction was a different thing entirely. We started at the beginning of the Ketan and he corrected my mistakes. All my mistakes. He found eighteen in the first motion alone, and there are more than a hundred motions in the Ketan. I quickly began to have doubts about this apprenticeship.”
“There was only one person I’d ever heard whose voice was similar to this. Elodin. On rare occasions his voice would fill the air as if the world itself were listening. Felurian’s voice was not resonant. It did not fill the forest glade. Hers was the hush before a sudden summer storm. It was soft as a brushing feather. It made my heart step sideways in my chest.”
“felt as if this was the only time in my life I had been fully awake. Everything looked clear and sharp, as if I was seeing with a new set of eyes. As if I wasn’t bothering with my eyes at all, and was looking at the world directly with my mind. The sleeping mind, some piece of me realized faintly. No longer sleeping, I thought and smiled.”
“I could see a slight shimmer in the air around Felurian, some shred of her power returning. I ignored it as I struggled frantically to keep some part of what I had learned. But it was like trying to hold a handful of sand. If you have ever dreamed of flying, then come awake, dismayed to realize you had lost the trick of it, you have some inkling how I felt.”
“You might think these thousand facts gave me some insight into the Fae. That I somehow fit them together like puzzle pieces and discovered the true shape of things. A thousand facts is quite a lot, after all…. But no. A thousand seems like a lot, but there are more stars than that in the sky, and they make neither a map nor a mural.”
““When you know the name of a thing you have mastery over it,” I said. “no,” she said, startling me with the weight of rebuke in her voice. “mastery was not given. they had the deep knowing of things. not mastery. to swim is not mastery over the water. to eat an apple is not mastery of the apple.” She gave me a sharp look. “do you understand?””
“Felurian had worked her way up from starlight and was wefting moonlight into the shaed. She didn’t look up from her work when she replied, “so many thoughts, my kvothe. you know too much to be happy.” That sounded uncomfortably like something Elodin would say.”
““Oracle. How quaint. Do not try to pin me with small names. I am Cthaeh. I am. I see. I know.” Two iridescent blue-black wings fluttered separately where there had been a butterfly before. “At times I speak.””
““What can you tell me of the Amyr?” “Kyxxs,” the Cthaeh spat an irritated noise. “What is this? Why so guarded? Why the games? Ask me of the Chandrian and have done.” I stood, stunned and silent. “Surprised? Why should you be? Goodness boy, you’re like a clear pool. I can see ten feet through you, and you’re barely three feet deep.””
““Are you going to try to kill the Chandrian?” The voice sounded fascinated, almost taken aback. “Track and kill them all yourself? My word, how will you manage it? Haliax has been alive five thousand years. Five thousand years and not one second’s sleep. “Clever to go looking for the Amyr, I suppose. Even one proud as you can recognize the need for help. The Order might give it to you. Trouble is they’re as hard to find as the Seven themselves. Oh dear, oh dear. Whatever is a brave young boy to do?””
“The Cthaeh gave a thin, dry chuckle. “Blood, bracken, and bone, I wish you creatures had the wit to appreciate me. Whatever else you might forget, remember what I just said. Eventually you’ll get the joke. I guarantee. You’ll laugh when the time comes.””
““What?” the Cthaeh asked. “Are you looking for a different why? Are you wondering why I tell you these things? What good comes of it? Maybe this Cinder did me a bad turn once. Maybe it amuses me to set a young pup like you snapping at his heels. Maybe the soft creaking of your tendons as you clench your fists is like a sweet symphony to me. Oh, yes it is. And you can be sure.”
“Without taking his eyes from Chronicler, Bast laid his bloody palm flat on the table. The wood groaned and the broken timbers snapped back into place with a sudden crackling sound. Bast lifted his hand, then brought it down sharply on the table, and the dark runnels of ink and beer suddenly twisted and shaped themselves into a jet-black crow that burst into flight, circling the taproom once. Bast caught it with both hands and tore the bird carelessly in half, casting the pieces into the air where they exploded into great washes of flame the color of blood. It all happened in the space of a single breath. “Everything you know about the Fae could fit inside a thimble,” Bast said, looking at the scribe with no expression at all, his voice flat and even. “How dare you doubt me? You have no idea who I am.””
“Jax spoke to the Cthaeh before he stole the moon, and that sparked the entire creation war. Lanre spoke to the Cthaeh before he orchestrated the betrayal of Myr Tariniel. The creation of the Nameless. The Scaendyne. They can all be traced back to the Cthaeh.””
““It’s not over if you’re still here,” Chronicler said. “It’s not a tragedy if you’re still alive.” Bast nodded eagerly at this, looking back at Kvothe. Kvothe looked at both of them for a moment, then smiled and chuckled low in his chest. “Oh,” he said fondly. “You’re both so young.””
“She moved like nothing I had ever seen. It wasn’t that she was fast, though she was fast, but that was not the heart of it. Shehyn moved perfectly, never taking two steps when one would do. Never moving four inches when she only needed three. She moved like something out of a story, more fluid and graceful than Felurian dancing.”
“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.””
“As my student, it is only tolerable because you are a barbarian. It’s as if Tempi brought home a dog that can whistle. The fact that you are out of tune stands quite beside the point.””
“Aturan was like a wide, shallow pool; it had many words, all very specific and precise. Ademic was like a deep well. There were fewer words, but they each had many meanings. A well-spoken sentence in Aturan is a straight line pointing. A well-spoken sentence in Adem is like a spiderweb, each strand with a meaning of its own, a piece of something greater, more complex.”
“Vashet was kind enough not to laugh at me again. “Shehyn is not the head of the school because no one can beat her. What an odd notion. What chaos that would be, everything tipping this way and that, changing with the luck of one fight or another.” She shook her head. “Shehyn is the head because she is a marvelous teacher, and because her understanding of the Lethani is deep. She is the head because she is wise in the ways of the world, and because she is clever at dealing with troublesome problems.””
“She sighed. “Kvothe, you need to remember. You come from a barbarous place. Much of what you grew up thinking is quite wrongheaded and foolish. None of it as much as the strange customs you barbarians have built around your sexplay.””
“Gran put her cup down gently on the table, her expression composed again. “If a leg goes bad, you cut it off.” She made a firm gesture with the flat of her hand, then picked up her slice of pudding and began to eat it with her fingers. “And some folk need killing. That’s all there is to it.””