The Name of the Wind has been a favorite for some time
Revisado en los Estados Unidos 🇺🇸 el 4 de enero de 2018
The Name of the Wind has been a favorite for some time. I’ve always been a huge fan of epic fantasy—something about a hero armed only with his wits and sword, one man against the rest of the world, is immensely satisfying to witness. In these cases, “suspension of disbelief” often manifests more specifically into a “belief that the hero will be good at everything and will come out unbattered in the end”. However, while unrealistic, I feel that stories where the hero is able to be superhuman in some aspects provides some inspiration for me in real life, which make those novels so much more fulfilling to read. In all these things, Patrick Rothfuss delivers excellently in this first installment of the Kingkiller Chronicles.
The first thing that is extremely notable throughout this and the sequel to this book is Rothfuss’ writing style. For some authors, writing style is an incumbrance to the plot or character development, while for others it takes pleasure in stretching to its full flowered, majestic extent. Rothfuss falls definitively in the latter category, yet its artistry and thoughtfulness rivals most of the writing that I’ve seen (Granted, that isn’t very much. But still.). For Rothfuss, words are not only poetry, but they themselves are motifs that act as harbingers, signals for important themes, and invokers of specific feelings. The first chapter in The Name of the Wind is a prime example. The exact same chapter bookends every book in this series, with only a few replacements that resonate all the more strongly with the reader because of their glaring difference. However, most of the content remains the same so that it can call the audience back to the “state of the present”. That is, that at the end of the story Kvothe is telling, no matter how glorious his victories or brilliant his mind, he will ultimately become a weak, old innkeeper waiting to die. It is a chilling reminder that Rothfuss uses masterfully to bring more nuance to his writing. Actually, there is a section in The Wise Man’s Fear where Bast mentions that it is a tradition for the Cthaeh tree to be placed in the background whenever the play is a terrible tragedy. To me, this first chapter that repeats so often is a version of that, informing the reader of the comparatively horrible fate that Kvothe will suffer. It provides wonderful contrast: the reader knows he or she is reading an story fantastic and traditional in equal measures, so the ending is certainly a happy one. However, the constant reminder that the “ending” (as of now) is sad, leaves the reader ever more perplexed and fascinated as to how Kvothe’s story will end.
This, while only being the first taste of Rothfuss’ command over metaphor and motif, provides a great example for what his writing is able to evoke. Throughout the remainder of the text, Rothfuss uses all manner of rhetorical devices in unimaginably clever ways, some of which only appear if the reader looks closely. I recall that one of Ambrose’s one liners is a casual declaration to an audience that Kvothe should know better, being “a member of the Arcanum”. Later on, Kvothe quotes the line back at Ambrose verbatim. Whether or not the reader picks up on this repetition, the complexity of Rothfuss’ language is clear.
Moving past the writing, Kvothe is a fairly decent main character. As befits his trope, he begins his childhood learning skills (in this case, acting) that will inevitably be the key to his later success, loses his parents horribly, and proceeds to spend the rest of the books losing his naivety and trying to gain revenge. He suffers from chronic “Marty Sue”-ness (the ability to be unnaturally good at everything). Rothfuss tries to explain it away with his eclectic childhood education, but the fact remains that there’s no reason for Kvothe to be the most brilliant, most adept, and most talented young man in the Commonwealth. Heck, the only area that he acknowledges ignorance in is regarding courting women, and even that is resolved relatively quickly when Kvothe pays Felurian a visit in The Wise Man’s Fear. Further, despite his complete lack of military training, he trains with the Adem in the same book and manages to graduate from their school, a magnificent feat attributed to… his musician’s hands (and a lot of luck). What’s more funny is that Kvothe is known to often complain about his terrible luck, despite the fact that he has almost a video-game affinity to never die. However, one of the joys of reading about a character that only succeeds is that the reader is always confident that he will emerge victorious, whether that’s a good thing or not.
However, the one redeeming factor Kvothe has is that the reader often gets to experience the less cocky, innkeeper version of his personality. This adds a second layer to his personality. Kote’s narration acknowledges that yes, Kvothe is naive and arrogant and ignorant, but it’s merely the first stage in the longer journey his personality takes. This helps undercut the characteristics of Kvothe that are more irking. Beyond that, however, Kvothe has a hilarious sense of humor, and coupled with his predilection towards practical jokes, makes him a hero that I love to cheer on. His grudge against Ambrose provides endless comic relief throughout the novel, and is a reliable form of amusement for both the reader and Kvothe. I recall a particular quote which summarized their relationship with such accuracy and Kvothe’s snarky attitude that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud: “To deem us simply enemies is to lose the true flavor of our relationship. It was more like the two of us entered into a business partnership in order to more efficiently pursue our mutual interest of hating each other” (loc 5541). Kvothe’s genius, while just as unrealistic as protagonists tend to be, is less disagreeable than usual because of the sheer grit he brings to the page. In addition, he does have a tendency to lose as much as he gains (though a line where Kvothe claimed to have poor luck made me laugh), which generally balances out his annoying tendency of brilliance.
One of the most intriguing aspects of The Name of the Wind is how fascinating the side characters are. Auri captured my heart early on with her nonsensical musings and innocence. She, like Elodin, exemplifies the dangers and dark underside of the Arcanum. Even though her character doesn’t play a distinct role in Kvothe’s story arc, I appreciate her weirdness even more for that—she’s a character that Rothfuss came up with and then liked so much he couldn’t cut her out. The other masters at the Arcanum are equally distinct and interesting for their personalities. I really enjoy Master Kilvin’s sense of moral rigidness and Master Elxa Dal’s unwavering support and vague amusement at Kvothe’s intellect. Hemme’s irrational anger and Lorren’s grudge balance them out, and make Kvothe’s time at the University far from an easy ride. Further from the Arcanum, Devi is a personality that constantly surprises me (and Kvothe!) with her sharp tongue and wit combined. She’s an unexpected threat to Kvothe that keeps his ego in check and reminds him that rules are always subject to change. Despite her hard exterior, I appreciate the brief scenes that reveal her more heartfelt motives. The scene when she tries to gain entrance to the Archives (maybe this happens in The Wise Man’s Fear) tore my heart apart; her shady business and underhanded methods make so much more sense in the context of a woman who is brilliant and yearns to keep studying despite the mistakes that earned her expulsion.
The Name of the Wind‘s meandering, lengthy, and epic storyline is an unmistakable triumph. This book is long, no doubt, yet Patrick Rothfuss uses it to his advantage. The scenes that appear in the beginning of the book are just as detailed as the ones that take place in the climax of the plot. As a result, whenever Kvothe reminisces about his days as a trooper or the short period in the forest after his parents’ death, the reader is impacted in a much more significant way than if Rothfuss had not invested so much of the book related details from Kvothe’s early life. I remember tearing up as Kvothe, a miserable beggar in Tarbean, finally cast back his mind to Cinder after hearing Scarpi’s tale. Like him, I remembered the details tinged with horror, though the padding of many pages had dulled even the sharpest edges. When Kvothe is playing The Lay of Sir Savian Trailiard in the Eolian, his ability to pull the edges of the song closed at the end was wondrous, yes, but entirely plausible. I too was able to recall the months spent alone in the forest all those years ago—distant, yet not alien— and dredge up the feeling of playing with a six-string lute. Short books are admirable for their ability to conjure up intense emotion with only a few hundred pages, but I have to admit that the immense context extensive novels provide is unrivaled.
Kvothe’s adventures are fascinating, whether he is trying his hand in the Eolian, attempting to gain Master Elodin’s tutelege, or killing a draccus. However, one of the biggest overarching threads that I didn’t like so much in the novel was Kvothe’s pursuit of Denna. Denna is a complicated character. As the main love interest of Kvothe’s story, she has a lot to live up to, having to be Kvothe’s equal in a story that insists every other page that he is The Best At Everything. And to a point, she does live up as his parallel. She’s a marvelous singer with unmatched raw talent, full of grit in a cutthroat world, has an adventurer’s sense, and is unimaginably gorgeous. I don’t say the last lightly; I think Kvothe literally spent five or six pages trying to describe her before writing her off as incapable of being imagined. However, I have some qualms about how Rothfuss treats her, and all the women, in his story. Denna, Fela, Mola, Devi, and even to some extent, Auri tend to exhibit the same brand of sexual allure. Even women that Kvothe has no interest in have to be beautiful and attracted to Kvothe to some extent. Herein lies the issue: all the women are sexualized to some extent. It’s a detail that sits uncomfortably with me throughout the story, and makes me feel uneasy towards Denna’s character.
Despite all the flaws I’ve just meticulously picked out, Kvothe’s story is still strongly compelling. I simply adore the magic system, both for its structure and the depth of detail Rothfuss goes into when describing it. He manages to straddle the line between pseudoscientific magic (sygaldry and artificery) and “magic magic” (naming), somehow managing to come up with a system that’s the best of both worlds. I appreciate Kvothe’s character enough to revel in his triumphs as the lowest of underdogs, and love his ability to think his way out of any situation he encounters, of which most are deeply intriguing. The Name of the Wind will remain a longtime favorite, and I eagerly await Doors of Stone… with the hope that it will, in fact, be released at some point in my life.
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