Let's Read The Kingkiller Chronicle, Pt 4: Magic for Fun and Profit

I spent the last post ranting about--I mean, discussing--the Edema Ruh, Kvothe's merry tribe of oppressed singer-songwriter-actor-authors. Now, let's find out more about his childhood.

Kvothe's father was a Ruh man through and through, while his mother was

...a noble before she was a trouper. She told me my father had lured her away from “a miserable dreary hell” with sweet music and sweeter words.

File that away in the back of your mind for much, much later, as it will become tangentially relevant  later on.

Little Kvothe grew up happy and content as his troupe roamed across the land. His parents taught him singing, acting, writing, music and all of the other literary and performing arts, all of which he took to precociously and with great zeal (except for poetry, which he has a constant and never-explained hostility towards).

I learned the sordid inner workings of the royal court in Modeg from a…courtesan. As my father used to say: “Call a jack a jack. Call a spade a spade. But always call a whore a lady. Their lives are hard enough, and it never hurts to be polite.”

The Name of The Wind was published in 2007, after the Fantasy Grittiness Revolution, and was thus mandated by law to add some manly flavour to its setting by way of a sniggering, adolescent obsession with "whores."

Guys, they're women who'll do sex with you for money.

Tee Hee.

(To be fair, this wasn't exactly a recent thing by the time Rothfuss got around to it; even Terry Pratchett got in on it on occasion).

In this section, we're introduced to another important character: Abenthy (or just Ben), Kvothe's first real mentor and the man who taught him his first magic.

And then there was Abenthy, my first real teacher. He taught me more than all the others set end to end. If not for him, I would never have become the man I am today.

I ask that you not hold it against him. He meant well.

Kvothe's narration is peppered with these witty little bon mots. Most of them are technically meant to be self-depreciating, but as seen here, they're so smug and egotistical that they just make me want to strangle him. I like to imagine Bast and Chronicler exchanging long-suffering glances and rolling their eyes as Kvothe babbles on.

That was the hardest part of growing up Edema Ruh. We are strangers everywhere. Many folk view us as vagabonds and beggars, while others deem us little more than thieves, heretics, and whores. It’s hard to be wrongfully accused, but it’s worse when the people looking down on you are clods who have never read a book or traveled more than twenty miles from the place they were born.

I'm going to suggest an alternate reason for why Kvothe's troupe in particular isn't popular.

While performing in a small backwoods town of "god-fearing" clods (who have never read a book or traveled more than twenty miles from the place they were born, don't you know), Kvothe and his family bump into Abenthy being mildly hassled by the town mayor for practising his spooky arcanist ways without a license. Abenthy manages to spook at the guy by being all spooky and conjuring a spooky red light, which Kvothe realizes is being generated by two "sympathy lanterns" (sympathy as in sympathetic magic, not the emotion).

However, even this spookiness isn't quite enough to get him off the hook, and the constable comes to drag him off. That's when he mutters something under his breath, summoning a sudden gust of wind that spooks the constable even harder.

Which brings us to the topic of magic. Earlier, I said there are two magic systems in Kvothe's world, one scientific and the other more, well, magical. But it's actually a lot more complicated than that, and it will get more complicated still.

The business with the sympathy lanterns, while supernatural by the standards of our reality (and treated as out and out sorcery by the constable and the mayor due to Abenthy's chicanery) would be considered by educated people in Kvothe's world as more akin to a branch of science, following well understood rules and operating on skills that anyone with enough time and education could theoretically learn; the only reason it seemed so mysterious and spooky is due to a combination of ignorance and Abenthy deliberately playing it up for effect.

Abenthy uses an art called Naming to summon the wind (yes, this is where the book gets its title from). Naming is also a branch of science-magic, but it's a lot more obscure and poorly understood than sympathy and is treated by some arcanists the way many ordinary folks treat sympathy, partially because only certain people seem to be capable of harnessing it. Essentially, there are differing levels of esotericism within the realm of the quasi-scientific practice of not-quite-magic that exists in Kvotheland. And then you have the fae-tinged, witchcrafty magic we got a glimpse of back in the framing story, which exists outside of all of that and which Kvothe will presumably learn in the third book.

If that sounds overly complicated...well, it is, since it leads to Kvothe declaring that this or that skill or power isn't "real" magic and therefore not the true power he's seeking, even though to both the average fantasy reader and 99% of the people in Kvothe's world, all of it just seems like different forms of magic anyway. Things also get tricky when Rothfuss occasionally writes himself into a corner and needs Kvothe to do something with a particular branch of magic that it shouldn't really be capable of, but we'll come to that later.

Young Kvothe gets to talking to Abenthy, who likes the cut of his adorably precocious jib and asks if his troupe needs someone to create makeup and handle stage lighting. It turns out they do and Abenthy comes aboard.

I had seen Abenthy do something I could not explain, something strange and wonderful. Not his trick with the sympathy lamps-I recognized that for what it was: showmanship, a bluff to impress ignorant townsfolk.

What he had done afterward was different. He called the wind and the wind came. It was magic. Real magic. The sort of magic I’d heard about in stories of Taborlin the Great. The sort of magic I hadn’t believed in since I was six. Now I didn’t know what to believe.

So I invited him into our troupe, hoping to find answers to my questions. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was looking for the name of the wind.

We'll leave off with that dramatic title drop.