An Amazing Honor Preface “It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” –Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
I dash into the airport bookstore: I have a six hour flight ahead of me, and I need something to read. The first book that catches my eye is Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind; its black-and-white cover bespeaks legend, and it is clear that the hooded figure standing tall in the wind has a story to tell me. I snatch it off the shelf, buy it and sprint to the plane. Once firmly ensconced in my seat, I crack it open. This opening is indeed a dangerous business: I step onto the road with no idea where I am about to be swept off to. Starting in an unassuming inn, the story takes me through the world: over stormy mountains, across calm seas, down into ancient libraries and up into the clouds, all in a hero’s quest for the wind’s true name. The tale takes me deep into the hero’s soul, shows me the darker scars behind his hopes, the hidden rooms of his heart he never opens where dust unstirred lies thick on his memories of love and family, and the electrifying shadows of his drive that end up bringing him and the world itself to ruin; it holds me there and chains me to his spirit until I cannot breathe, drowned by the black waters of his dreams and fears; and then I am released. My airplane lands; life will never be the same. As powerful an experience as this was, the lessons I learned from Rothfuss might have been left by the wayside if it weren’t for another event closely coinciding with this airplane ride. During my vacation, I wandered into yet another bookstore, and I noticed a great behemoth of a book straining its shelf: Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. Just as The Name of the Wind showed me the potential behind a character, The Way of Kings showed me the potential behind a world. The conworld (“constructed world”) of Kings is of a depth never before seen in the fantasy genre since the time of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, and it is of a wholly different flavor. The secret behind Sanderson’s world is that he treats the world—the setting, the societies, and the magics that define the setting and the societies—as though it were a character. A character has passions; a character hopes and hates; a character can love, can die, and comprises the interplay between different facets of his personality, many of which contradict one another. Together with this, Sanderson never consciously thinks about themes in his works (“Write About Dragons”); rather, he places characters at the intersections of conflict in his world, and he lets their
individual passions drive the storyâ€™s themes. This method ties themes directly into the plot of a novel. Rothfuss and Sanderson are the harbingers of the coming Golden Age of the fantasy genre. As a result of my fervent passion for them and their works, I have managed to meet them both in the past year at signings. To have been in their presence is an amazing honor.
On the Origin of the Species of Fantasy An Overview
In the beginning, fantasy was reality. The world was magic, dark gods, fire and lightning, and the unknown. Nowadays a light has been cast on the world, and everything is scientific and
rational. Thus the function of fantasy, from the early days of the anonymous Epic of Gilgamesh and Homer’s Odyssey to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the modern-day epics of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, and Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, has been to balance the human desire for light and understanding with the desire for darkness and the unknown. Just as fantasy’s focus has shifted from the former to the latter over the course of the past four millennia, the fantasy genre has undergone another evolution in the past century, wherein it achieved a twilight balance between science and magic; this evolution can be shown through analysis of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Sanderson’s The Way of Kings; furthermore, a subtler, character-based revolution spearheaded by Patrick Rothfuss can be seen by analysis of his The Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy and the short story “Jax and the Moon”. The human awareness of the height of our scientific understanding peaked with the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The knowledge that mankind could transform plain matter into godly energies awakened people to the vast extent and depth of our understanding of nature; the reaction to this awareness came a decade later in the form of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which Tolkien wrote largely during World War II. Lord of the Rings is in every way a work of magic, not science: Gandalf, the tale’s most prominent Wizard, has no clearly defined powers, and only once uses his magic to resolve a conflict (see “Sanderson’s First Law”); in addition, the industrialization of the Shire is portrayed as a terrible event: this is a reflection of Tolkien’s negative reaction to the industrialization of the countryside and the subsequent disappearance of the simple life from Britain. In both magic systems and conworld (“constructed world”), Lord of the Rings is a reaction to the awareness of the heights of scientific understanding at the end of World War II, and thus has soft magic systems and a conworld in which the development of technology is portrayed as a tragedy. The next stepping-stone in the recent evolution of the fantasy genre is Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time epic. After the astonishing success of Lord of the Rings (now the third bestselling non-religious book of all time), a massive resurgence of the fantasy genre began. Readers thirsted for more of the same, and so writers such as David Eddings and Neil Stephenson virtually rewrote the Lord of the Rings story with different character names; for nearly fifty years after its publication, the long shadow of Tolkien dominated fantasy storytelling. Hundreds of authors have written thousands of retellings and created the subgenre of Tolkienian
fantasy, the stories of which all consist of a lowly farmer rising up as the only one who can defeat the Dark Lord threatening to destroy the world. This subgenre culminates in Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. Though the epic has many canonical Tolkienian elements, Jordan executes it masterfully and (as the New York Times blurb on the front cover of every volume says) “…has come to dominate the world Tolkien began to reveal.” The Wheel of Time is the bridge between the Tolkienian age and the new fantasy Renaissance, culminating the former and paving the way for the latter, and is therefore a pivotal step in the shift to scientific fantasy. Brandon Sanderson’s recent work, The Way of Kings, leads the fantasy genre into a new Golden age of innovation. Doing away with the clichés of the genre, Sanderson’s iconoclasm shatters the constraints of Tolkienian fantasy: his magic systems are all hard and fast, with scientific rules and explanations. Unlike most fantasy writers, Sanderson lets the reader know exactly what each magic can do, and his characters never deviate from those laws. Indeed, ketek poems within Roshar itself model his magic systems: their beauty lies not in mystery but in the way they work within the hard and fast rules guiding them. In addition, while most every fantasy work (including Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time) tells its story in a time when magic is leaving the world, Sanderson deliberately does the opposite: Roshar, the conworld of The Way of Kings, is undergoing a magical and technological Renaissance during the time of the series. Instead of dealing with characters having to make their way without the magic their world is built around, Sanderson tells the tale of characters discovering magic and its perils. While The Way of Kings still brings the reader from a world of reason and science into a world of mystery and magic, it finds the balance between the two realms and unites them, completing the fantasy genre’s metamorphosis and leading it forth into an exciting new world. Thus, spurred by awareness of scientific advancements in the last century, the fantasy genre has evolved from the picturesque darkness and magic of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings through to the unshackled alloy of science and magic in Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. Over the entire course of its journey, the fantasy genre has had such sway that it has given voice to ancient traditions in both the nature of the tragic hero’s dichotomy of soul and the conflict between appearance and reality: both of which hail from the olden days of Sophocles’s “Oedipus”, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.
Up to the Swallow Thronged Loft By the Shadow of My Hand Foreshadowing in Fantasy
The primary aim of anyone writing a work of fiction is to draw his reader into an imaginary world and keep him there. Writers accomplish this by various methods: showing the reader a world more pleasant than reality, so that the reader is sad when the story is over; giving
the reader sympathetic characters who have unresolved desires, so the reader is drawn to the resolution; letting seemingly unrelated plot devices come together in an explosion, so the reader is constantly on the lookout. Yet every strategy a writer has for drawing the reader through his story is merely an extension of this fundamental, basic principle: good writing is about making promises to the reader and then fulfilling them; great writing is about making promises to the reader and then turning them on their heads while fulfilling expectations the reader didn’t even know he had. The art of setting up reader expectations, making promises to the reader, is known as foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is particularly vital to fantasy writing: there is always resistance when a reader is pulled into a completely unfamiliar world, and a writer must be skilled at pulling the reader past the threshold of the unknown. In fantasy’s beginnings, stories dealt with this obstacle by gently moving the reader from Earth to some alternate universe, usually by some mysterious doorway (down the rabbit-hole in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; into the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe); but, beginning with The Lord of the Rings, fantasy writers started their books in the alternate universe. When a reader opens Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, the book launches him headfirst into a world that is deeply and fundamentally not our own. Magical “highstorms” wrack the planet, spirits called “spren” are ubiquitous and work under the laws of quantum mechanics, and eye color determines nobility— yet Sanderson explains nothing of this; the reader is left to fend for himself. To achieve equilibrium, Sanderson pulls the reader through his storm and beautiful madness with extensive foreshadowing. In large part, this foreshadowing takes the form of short stories called “Interludes” which split up the different parts of the book, exploring unseen parts of Roshar and deliberately starving the reader of the main storyline, making the reader thirst. These Interludes are reflective of the nature of foreshadowing in the fantasy genre, and set the reader up for the explosions Sanderson is best known for: “The conclusion of the Mistborn trilogy fulfills all the promise of the first two books. Revelations abound, connections rooted in early chapters of the series click into place, and surprises, as satisfying as they are stunning, blossom like fireworks to dazzle and delight. It all leads up to a finale unmatched for originality and audacity that will leave readers rubbing their eyes in wonder, as if awaking from an amazing dream.” -Taken from the back cover of The Hero of Ages, the ultimate novel of Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy
The Prelude to the Epilogue:
Or, Ab Ovo Usque Ad Mala Sanderson’s use of foreshadowing in the Prelude and the Epilogue of The Way of Kings does triple-duty: the Prelude sets the reader’s expectations for the extreme depth of the conworld, an integral connection between the Prelude and the Epilogue acts as a “firework” that blows away the reader, and the Epilogue sets up the sequel, Words of Radiance. In the Prelude, nine of the ten Heralds forsake mankind, leaving behind Talenel’Elin to face the Desolations (wars against the “Voidbringers”) alone. In the Epilogue, more than four-and-a-half millennia later, Talenel’Elin stumbles into a guard-tower as a highstorm hits, says “I am Talenel’Elin, Stonesinew, Herald of the Almighty. The Desolation has come. Oh, God…it has come. And I have failed,” (1251), and dies. His death, coupled with the death of the Almighty in the previous chapter, strips mankind bare of any protection, and sets up the promise for the rest of the series: mankind, naked and rusted away by peace, must battle the Voidbringers. The Prelude makes the reader understand the depth of the conworld by showing a pivotal event that defines society thousands of years later, during the main timeline. Talenel’Elin only shows up twice in the book: in the Prelude and in the Epilogue. The separation between these appearances ties up the novel in a circular fashion, lending an explosive sense of cohesion and grounding the book firmly in the reader’s mind. While the Epilogue wraps up the book and allows it to stand alone although being the debut of a ten-book series, it also sets up the sequel by introducing its central conflict. The Way of Kings’s Prelude and Epilogue demonstrate the powerful skill with foreshadowing that has allowed Sanderson to reach the lofty heights of the genre to which he has risen. The Cosmere The first Interlude in Kings follows a character named Ishikk, who is meeting with three foreigners who paid him to search for a man named Hoid. Ishikk calls the three men by names he made up for them: Grump, Blunt, and Thinker. There has been a character named Hoid in every book Sanderson has written. The common consensus was that he simply liked the name, and that was all there was to it. Then, Sanderson made an announcement: Hoid is the same character. All the books take place on different planets in the same universe, or Cosmere, and the magic systems are all tied to the
planets’ gravities. Hoid has the ability to travel between the worlds, and likes to play minor roles in the stories (for a mysterious reason). Furthermore, all the stories are the results of interactions between sixteen Gods that are called Shards of Adonalsium because they are fragments of the force of Creation, the Shattering of which Hoid was present for. The three foreigners, Grump, Blunt, and Thinker, are actually characters from other Sanderson books. Thinker is Galladon from Elantris, Grump is Demoux from Mistborn: The Final Empire, and Blunt is a character in a book that hasn’t been written yet. They are chasing Hoid. Apparently, when Sanderson was trying to get published, he decided that he would only write stand-alones (with sequel potential) so that, if an agent said that he liked Sanderson’s writing but wasn’t willing to get behind a particular book, Sanderson could just send him another one. This was a good decision for his career (his sixth book, Elantris, was published), but he wasn’t very satisfied by the practice of writing such brief stories. He got into fantasy, like most others, because of his love for the epics (he cites Jordan’s The Wheel of Time as his core influence). So, he decided to connect the stand-alones behind the scenes, with one character hopping planets and participating in every story. He projects the series as going to either 32 or 36 books, and the final novel will be called Hoid (Sanderson). The entire series is leading up to this novel with unbelievably subtle foreshadowing. There are brief references to obscure items of interest that will come to fruition in Hoid: for instance, in The Way of Kings, it is possible to piece together a letter that Hoid wrote to some unknown man. It has also been confirmed that the plot of Elantris, which resulted from an earthquake, was created by Odium, the greatest antagonist in The Way of Kings. All these little connections—Sanderson has noted that half yet haven’t been found—will come to fruition in his last book in the Cosmere. Szeth: Or, Recorded in Blood: The only side storyline that has more than one Interlude is Szeth’s. Szeth is a magical, ungodly being of violence who must obey anyone who holds his Oathstone. His story begins in the Prologue, where he is forced to assassinate King Gavilar: an act which foreshadows the main storyline, where Gavilar’s kingdom wages a war against those who sent Szeth to kill him. He
becomes known as the Assassin in White due to this act. In the next Interlude (“The Glory of Ignorance”), he is shown years later: his Oathstone has been traded around from peasant to peasant, and he is overjoyed not to have to kill. Yet, at the end of the Interlude, his master is killed by a gang of thieves, one of whom becomes Szeth’s master. This act, coupled with Szeth’s unwillingness to kill, foreshadows the idea that he will soon be used to his full potential. In the third Interlude, Szeth is sent to assassinate a minor nobleman and thinks: “…he was worried about how bold the thief lord was growing… How long before he stopped using Szeth to kill minor rivals, instead sending him to kill Shardbearers or powerful [noblemen]? How long before someone made the connection? A Shin Shardbearer, capable of mysterious feats and extreme stealth? Could this be the now-infamous Assassin in White? Makkek could draw the Alethi king and highprinces down from their war on the Shattered Plains and bring them crashing down upon Jah Keved. Thousands would die. Blood would fall like the rain of a highstorm—thick, pervasive, destructive,” (555). This fear foreshadows the twist but a page later —someone beats him to assassinating the nobleman, and also kills Makkek, his master. “…Szeth horrified. This was his nightmare. To be in the hands of those who understood his capabilities and had the ambition to use them properly. He stood for a time, silent, long past when his [light] ran out. Then, reverently, he folded the list. He was surprised that his hands were so steady. He should be trembling. For soon the world itself would shake,” (559). This foreshadowing—heavyhanded as it is, for it simply tells the reader what will happen—is brought to fruition in the next Interlude (“Death Wears White”), where Szeth slaughters the king of a major kingdom—and all his family. Good writing is about making promises to the reader and then fulfilling them. Great writing is about making promises to the reader and then twisting the promises on their heads while fulfilling expectations the reader didn’t even know he had. The second is usually accomplished by a secondary use of foreshadowing: the Red Herring. A staple of the mystery genre, a Red Herring is a piece of foreshadowing that serves to distract the reader from a revelation, but it can also be used in junction with separate, normal foreshadowing to bring about a revelation that the reader thought impossible, but actually makes more sense than what the Red Herring led the reader to. There is an epigraph at the beginning of nearly every chapter in The Way of Kings. Many of these have notes below them saying where and when they were collected.
“I’m dying, aren’t I? Healer, why do you take my blood? Who is that beside you, with his head of lines? I can see a distant sun, dark and cold, shining in a black sky. - Collected on the 3rd of Jesnan, 1172, 11 seconds pre-death. Subject was a Reshi chull trainer. Sample is of particular note,” (77).
These epigraphs all note the seconds pre-death, implying that the words were said just before dying. In Szeth’s last chapter (“Recorded in Blood”), the reader discovers where these epigraphs come from. King Taravangian of Kharbranth is shown throughout much of the book to be a dull, kindly simpleton-king who has no head for politics. He is widely known for his hospitals, which will take in anyone, free of charge. Taravangian is also the last name on the list of influential persons Szeth is ordered to kill. “The instructions stated that he was to deliver a message. ‘The others are dead. I’ve come to finish the job.’ Make certain Taravangian heard and acknowledged the words before harming him,” (1216). When Szeth finds Taravangian and says the words, Taravangian informs him that he is Szeth’s unseen master. He ordered all the assassinations, and put himself on the list in order to avoid suspicion if Szeth were captured. Taravangian shows Szeth his secret hospital rooms, where he takes those close to death (and, if he needs more people, beggars from the streets) and bleeds them. He records the words they say right before death, which speak of the future. Taravangian is preparing the world for that future, where Voidbringers will wage the final war against mankind in the “Last Desolation”. It is for this purpose that he annihilates the world’s leaders: “‘Sometimes,’ Taravangian said, ‘you must tear down a structure to build a new one with stronger walls…And we are going to need strong walls in the coming years. Very, very strong walls,’” (1220). Szeth has torn down the walls of the world; furthermore, in the end Taravangian gives him one more order: kill Dalinar, one of the main characters of the story. This foreshadows the beginning of the next book, pulling the reader through the threshold into the sequel. Sanderson uses a Red Herring—the portrayal of Taravangian throughout The Way of Kings—and subtler foreshadowing in the epigraphs to bring about the greatest of revelations at the end of the novel. From an extended bout of foreshadowing between the Prelude and the Epilogue that ties the book together and a long, drawn out behind-the scenes foreshadowing of the book Hoid in the Cosmere to several short stories tying together a major plot point by means of a Red Herring and foreshadowing, Sanderson uses the art of foreshadowing to pull his reader through a dense and complicated tale of storms and blood. This unusual skill with foreshadowing—mainly pulled
off by means of short stories interspersed with the core storylineâ€”is indicative of the immersive nature of the fantasy genre, and, ultimately, manâ€™s fear of the unfamiliar and the unknown.
Hyt Is Not Al Golde That Glareth Appearance vs. Reality Through the Ages
There are a few transcendent themes pivotal to the human soul that have lasted the test of time: fear of the unknown, nature vs. nurture, religious and science…but there is one that has had particular prominence in the fantasy genre. In a genre where unassuming old men can wield the powers of gods and volcanoes can house sleeping dragons ready to awaken and terrorize the village, the distinction between appearance and reality is crucial. In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the poem “All That is Gold Does Not Glitter” features particular prominence in the story’s plot, and is a continuation of the theme rising from the depths of time: Alain Lille’s Parabolae, Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale”, and William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. “All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring; Renewed shall be blade that was broken, The crownless again shall be king,” (240; The Fellowship of the Ring)
The first line is a rearrangement of Shakespeare’s proverb “All that glitters is not gold”; by switching “glitters” and “gold”, Tolkien implies that the situation as in Middle Earth is inverted from what it is in reality or The Merchant of Venice. In the real world, appearance tends to both imply and beget reality: if one wears a mask, one’s identity tends to gradually become identical to one’s disguise. Yet in the war-wracked world of Middle Earth, men tend to be both stronger of will and more likely to have to disguise themselves for their own safety: it follows that appearance tends not to reflect the reality of a person. The second line is a reference to the Rangers, who are suspiciously viewed as vagabonds and thieves by those they, in reality, protect from evil. The middle of the poem, lines three and four and lines five and six, foreshadow the rise of a rightful king: Aragorn, son of Arathorn, who disguises himself as a Ranger called Strider in order to protect himself from the Ring Wraiths, the Nazgul, and other minions of Sauron; for
he is of royal lineage, and is “…The crownless [who] shall again be king.” Lines three and four emphasize the power and age of Aragorn’s royal lineage, which stretches back to the Kings of Númenor (Tolkien, Christopher). Lines five and six emphasize the lineage’s return to power and Aragorn’s rise to the thrones of Gondor and Arnor. Line seven references the sword Narsil, The Sword Which Was Broken, which is re-forged before Aragorn becomes King. As a poem, “All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter” speaks not only to events in the plot, but racial characteristics of different characters. Hobbits are the weakest of the races: they are small, magically weak, lazy, and tend to resist change; yet, despite this appearance, hobbits are the most emotionally stable of the races, and a hobbit is the only one who could possibly carry the One Ring, which bends the bearer’s mind to its will, into the heart of Sauron’s domain, and cast it into Mount Doom. Several much more obviously powerful characters refuse to bear the Ring for this reason: “You offer it to me [Galadriel] freely. I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired this. In place of the Dark Lord, you would have a Queen! Not dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Dawn! Treacherous as the Sea! Stronger than the foundations of the Earth! All shall love me and despair! I pass the test. I will diminish and go into the west and remain Galadriel,” (328).
Elrond of Rivendell and Gandalf also refuse the ring. Though they are ancient and powerful, their minds don’t have the will to withstand the onslaught of the One Ring. That task lies to Frodo, a four-foot tall hobbit who has never traveled outside the Shire before. Although this poem was written by Bilbo Baggins in Middle Earth, it contains a reference to an ages-old saying in its first line. First appearing in Lille’s Parabolae as “Non teneas aurum totum quod splendet ut aurum” (Lille) (may you not hold the entire thing as gold which shines as gold), the saying progressed into the English language with Chaucer’s “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale” (“Chanouns Yemannes Tale”), which featured the lines: "But all thing which that schyneth as the gold / Ne is no gold, as I have herd it told,” (962-3). Finally, Shakespeare uses the phrase in The Merchant of Venice, where the distinction between appearance and reality is a recurring theme: “All that glisters is not gold; Often have you heard that told: Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold: Gilded tombs do worms enfold. Had you been as wise as bold, Young in limbs, in judgement old Your answer had not been inscroll'd Fare you well, your suit is cold,” (Act II, Scene VII)
In The Merchant of Venice, Portia is a beautiful heiress whose beauty belies the danger of her allure: in order to marry her, a suitor must pick one of three caskets correctly, or else he may never marry again. Throughout the play, Portia’s appearance defies her reality: in order to save her love Bassanio’s friend Antonio, Portia disguises herself as a man, a lawyer’s apprentice named Balthazar, and then proceeds to use a technicality to save him from jurisdiction despite lacking any training as a lawyer. In a more external sense, Portia appears to be one of the more mature of Shakespeare’s characters: she is intelligent, witty, and has high standards for her potential grooms. Yet she also is unreasonably cruel towards Shylock, embodying traits of Christian primitivism. Shylock is a Jew, and Portia defeats him in court with Christian principles: “The quality of mercy is not strain'd. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” (Act IV, Scene I) In the end, Shylock is only granted any mercy on the grounds that he converts to Christianity. Thus, Portia’s seeming maturity is just an appearance disguising her true nature as an embodiment of an antiSemitic Christian. Lille’s Parabolae, Chaucer’s “The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale”, and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice are historical preambles to the representation of the theme of appearance belying reality in the Lord of the Rings poem “All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter”, which exemplifies the inverted nature of racial characteristics in Middle-Earth.
The Sea in Storm, A Night With No Moon, And The Anger of A Gentle Man Jax and the Moon
“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.” –A friend’s parting advice when Kvothe goes chasing the wind; The Wise Man’s Fear (364).
Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear is the second installment in his The Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy. His books have been widely acclaimed by the giants of the genre: Ursula K. Le Guin says that “It is a rare and great pleasure to find a fantasist writing not only with the accuracy of language that is essential to fantasy-making, but with true music in the words as well. Wherever Pat Rothfuss goes with the big story that begins with The Name of the Wind he’ll carry us with him as a good singer carries us through a song,” (Rothfuss). The Kingkiller Chronicle is the tale of Kvothe, a masterful musician who brings the world to ruin; it mainly comprises a first-person narrative bound by a frame story like that of Arabian Nights, wherein Kvothe tells his life-story as the world goes down in flames. Halfway through The Wise Man’s Fear, Kvothe is hunting bandits with a group of mercenaries: Dedan, Hespe, and Tempi. Kvothe’s past self hears the campfire story “Jax and the Moon”. “Jax and the Moon”, along with the events surrounding its telling, serves both to advance the character arcs of Dedan and Hespe and of Kvothe and Tempi and to give insight into Kvothe’s inner dichotomy that leads both him and civilization itself to despair; furthermore, the nature of the tale and its place within The Wise Man’s Fear show how Rothfuss uses fantasy tropes and clichés to bring about a character-based revolution in the fantasy genre. “Jax and the Moon” advances the relationship between Dedan and Hespe and the relationship between Kvothe and Tempi not through the story itself but rather through its telling. Dedan and Hespe are in love with one another, though neither knows the other requites the love; Tempi is from Ademre, a foreign land where the “Lethani”, which is “…doing right things,” (585), is studied intensively. One who studies the Lethani seeks to develop a moral compass that guides decision-making: “It is the right way through the mountains. But the Lethani is also knowing the right way. Both. And mountains are not just mountains. Mountains are everything,” (586). The Lethani becomes very important later in Kvothe’s story; Kvothe travels to Ademre and undergoes a spiritual transformation there which is clearly manifest in his actions throughout the rest of The Wise Man’s Fear. Tempi is the character who introduces him to the Lethani; he does this in the day between the two halves of the telling of “Jax and the Moon”. Before this, Tempi and Kvothe had no relationship to speak of; neither spoke the other’s language well, and Tempi was naturally quiet anyway. Kvothe, as leader of the band of mercenaries, had been struggling for days to control Dedan; Dedan was highly mutinous, frustrated by both his relationship with Hespe and the seeming fruitlessness of his efforts towards finding bandits. It
didn’t help matters that Kvothe, the group’s leader, was so much younger and less experienced than Dedan. When Dedan interrupts Hespe partway through “Jax and the Moon”, he turns on Kvothe, and Tempi saves the day: “‘I’m sick and tired of being talked down to by some boy who probably doesn’t even have hair on his balls yet.’ ‘I’m sure if the Maer had known how hairy your balls were, he would have put you in charge,’ I said with what I hoped was infuriating calmness. ‘Unfortunately, he seems to have missed out on that fact and decided on me instead.’…Tempi broke in…‘Balls,’ the Adem said curiously. ‘What is balls?’ All the air went out of Dedan in a rush, and he turned to look at Tempi, half irritated, half amused. The big mercenary chuckled and made a very clear motion between his legs with a cupped hand. ‘You know. Balls,’ he said without a trace of self-consciousness…. ‘Ah,’ Tempi said, nodding to show his understanding. ‘Why is the Maer looking at hairy balls?’ A pause, then a storm of laughter rolled through our camp, exploding with all the force of the pent-up tension that had been ready to boil into a fight. Hespe laughed herself breathless, clutching at her stomach. Marten wiped tears from his eyes. Dedan laughed so hard he couldn’t stand upright and ended up crouching with one hand on the ground to steady himself… The tension that had been thick as winter fog was gone for the first time in days. It was only then that Tempi briefly caught my eye…. Realization dawned on me as I met his eye again, his expression was blank as always. Studiously blank. So blank it was almost smug… ‘Can we get back to your story, love?’ Dedan asked Hespe…. Hespe smiled at him, the first honest smile I’d seen her give Dedan in a handful of days. ‘I’ve lost my place,’ she said. ‘There’s a rhythm to it, like a song. I can tell it from the beginning, but if I start halfway through I’ll get it all tangled up in my head.’ ‘Will you start over tomorrow if I promise to keep my mouth shut?’ ‘I will,’ she agreed, ‘if you promise,’” (572-3).
Tempi discharging the violence into laughter (“Why is the Maer looking at hairy balls?”) marks the true start of Kvothe and Tempi’s friendship: they begin discussing the Lethani the following day. Furthermore, the laughter’s pacifying effect brings Dedan and Hespe out of their downward spiral. Their relationship is further strengthened when Hespe uses a line from the second half of “Jax and the Moon” to send a message to Dedan: “…the old man said…‘…you should think this over, boy. When you love something, you have to make sure it loves you back, or you’ll bring about no end of trouble chasing it.’
Hespe didn’t look at Dedan as she said this. She looked everywhere in the world but at him. Because of this, she didn’t see the stricken, helpless look on his face,” (590).
Dedan responds to this subtle aside after the story ends: “‘That,’ Dedan said, ‘is one hell of a story.’ Hespe looked down, and though the firelight made it difficult to tell, I would have bet a penny she was blushing. Hard Hespe, who I wouldn’t have guessed had a drop of blushing in her. ‘It took me a long time to remember all of it,’ she said. ‘My mother used to tell it to me when I was a little girl. Every night, always the same. Said she learned it from her mother.’ ‘Well you’ll need to make sure you tell your daughters, too,’ Dedan said. ‘A story like that is too good to let fall by the roadside.’ Hespe smiled,” (595).
Within two weeks, Dedan and Hespe reconcile their differences and requite their love. This advances the plot in subtle ways: Kvothe seeing this transformation come about leads him to take action with Denna, who has been his love interest since The Name of the Wind. Kvothe and Denna are both too afraid of rejection to voice their feelings, but they start approaching the matter in the second half of The Wise Man’s Fear. Present-day Kvothe announced before he started his narrative that his relationship with Denna would be a factor that has brought the world to ruin; thus, Dedan and Hespe’s relationship led toward this end. In a similar way, Kvothe and Tempi’s relationship leads to character changes in Kvothe that begin to get him into trouble throughout the rest of the book. After Kvothe travels to Ademre with Tempi and becomes accustomed to the Lethani, he starts making moral decisions he wouldn’t have made beforehand: for instance, he kills a band of fake traveling troupers; when he tells his patron, the Maershon of Vintas, this, he also, for a separate reason based in pride, insults the Maer’s wife gravely. By doing this, he burns his bridges with the elite: an act which may easily in the upcoming The Doors of Stone result in Kvothe killing a king and destroying the known world (hence The Kingkiller Chronicle). All this results from the telling of a simple campfire tale: both Dedan and Hespe’s relationship and Kvothe and Tempi’s relationship are advanced by the bipartite telling of “Jax and the Moon”. In the beginning, there were no villains; external antagonists in a story were rare, for all the true conflict was between the different parts of the Hero’s soul. Tragic heroes, such as Kvothe
or Oedipus, bring about their own downfall as a result of the dichotomy of their nature: they are one part utter manifestation of perfection, the highest ideal that all aspire to be but never are; and they are one part human flaw, often hubris, the basest flaw that all aspire not to have but nearly always do. There are two main ways to make a character likeable to the reader: make him flawless, so the reader sees what he wants to be in the character; or make him vulgar and common, so the reader identifies with what he is in the character. Tragic heroes combine these two approaches, and it is this dichotomy that makes them so compelling. A millennium into civilization, stories started featuring heroes without the internal flaw, heroes that were simply perfect. In order to maintain the story and keep conflict, writers started giving heroes external flaws: villains and antagonists. While these heroes pervade the modern fantasy genre, Rothfuss hearkens back to the old stories. His inspiration for Kvothe came from Edmond Rostand’s tragedy Cyrano de Bergerac, which showed Rothfuss how moving a tragedy can be: “For the last quarter of the book, it’s just heart wrenching. I’m reading it and I’m wiping the tears out of my eyes. I finished the play and I’m like ‘Geaaahh. I’ve got to move on with my life.’ I go upstairs and I walk around and I’m just crying. I go back downstairs and I’m still crying. After I got control of myself, I wondered how come I’ve never read a fantasy book that is this good,” (Sudemann). As a tragic hero, Kvothe comprises a perfect being and a human flaw: these two halves of his nature are given shape and form in “Jax and the Moon”, and their interaction mirrors Kvothe’s life. Jax is a boy with a broken heart who lives in a broken house at the end of a broken road. One day, a tinker comes to his house and proffers his wares; but Jax has no money. The tinker says, “You don’t look happy, son. What’s the matter,” (569), to which Jax replies that nothing is the matter; rather, he simply has nothing to be happy about. A bargain is struck: if the tinker has anything in his three packs of goods that can make Jax happy, Jax will give the tinker his house; if not, Jax gets “…the packs off [the tinker’s] back, the stick in [his] hand, and the hat off [his] head,” (570). Jax wins the bet; with a new pair of spectacles from the first pack, Jax sees the moon for the first time, and decides that the moon is the only thing in the world that could make him happy. So he sets off; the moon is always full at this time, so she is easy to follow. For years he follows her path through the sky, and slowly he comes to think he is in love. He runs out of food and water, and he walks for days without either: he is ascending a mountain, and the moon is getting closer. “Just as his strength was failing, Jax climbed over a rise and found an old man sitting in the mouth of a cave,” (589). This old man went chasing the wind in his youth, and
has since become a listener: “I listen to things to see what they have to say,” (589). After Jax tells him of his love for the moon, the old man offers to teach him to listen, so he can “…know the moon down to the bottoms of her feet,” (590) and determine whether she returns his love. But Jax doesn’t want to wait that long; he decides to make the moon come to him. When the old man asks what he has to offer the moon, Jax opens the third of the tinker’s packs, which only contains three items: “…a bent piece of wood, a stone flute, and a small iron box,” (591). The bent piece of wood can be unfolded into a house. Jax leaves the old man and climbs to the top of the highest mountain. He unfolds the house: “By the time the moon reached the top of the sky, he was still far from being finished. Perhaps Jax hurried because of this. Perhaps he was reckless. Or perhaps it was just that Jax was unlucky as ever,” (593), and the result is a house where “…everything was slightly skewed. In one room you could look out the window at the springtime flowers, while across the hall the windows were filmed with winter’s frost. It could be time for breakfast in the ballroom, while twilight filled a nearby bedroom. Because nothing in the house was true, none of the doors or windows fit tight. They could be closed, even locked, but never made fast. And as big as it was, the mansion had a great many doors and windows, so there were a great many ways both in and out,” (593). Jax races to the top of the highest tower in his disarranged house and takes out the second of his three items: the stone flute. “He poured out a sweet song into the clear night sky. No simple bird trill, this was a song that came from his broken heart. It was strong and sad. It fluttered like a bird with a broken wing. Hearing it, the moon came down to the tower. Pale and round and beautiful, she stood before Jax in all her glory, and for the first time in his life he felt a single breath of joy,” (593). Jax tells her of “…his life, his wager, and his long, lonely journey. The moon listened, and laughed, and smiled. But eventually she looked longingly toward the sky,” (593). Jax beseeches her to stay: he offers her his broken house and his broken heart. “‘Stay with me,’ he pleaded. ‘I can only be happy if you’re mine.’ ‘I must go,’ she said. ‘The sky is my home.’ ‘I have made a home for you,’ Jax said, gesturing to the vast mansion below them. ‘There is sky enough for you here. An empty sky that is all for you.’ ‘I must go,’ she said. ‘I have been away too long.’ He raised his hand as if to grab her, then stopped himself. ‘Time is what we make it here,’ he said. ‘Your bedroom can be winter or spring, all according to your desire.’…
‘I have given you three things,’ he said. ‘A song, a home, and my heart. If you must go, will you not give me three things in return?... First I would ask for a touch of your hand… Second, I would beg a kiss….’ ‘And what is the third thing?’ the moon asked. ‘Your name…. That I might call you by it,’” (5934).
The moon “…leaned close and spoke warmly against his ear, ‘Ludis,’… and Jax brought out the black iron box, closing the lid and catching her name inside,” (594): “Perhaps Jax had been too slow in closing the box. Perhaps he fumbled with the clasp. Or perhaps he was simply unlucky in all things. But in the end he only managed to catch a piece of the moon’s name, not the thing entire. So Jax could keep her for a while, but she always slips away from him. Out from his broken mansion, back to our world. But still, he has a piece of her name, and so she always must return…. Hespe looked around at us, smiling. ‘And that is why the moon is always changing. And that is where Jax keeps her when she is not in our sky. He caught her and he keeps her still. But whether or not he is happy is only for him to know,’” (594-5). Like most myths, “Jax and the Moon” explains a scientific phenomenon. However, it is but one half of a whole story: it is the human version. The conworld of The Kingkiller Chronicle is split into two realms: the human realm and the Fae realm. Fae are often human-shaped, but they are not human. “…the Fae are not like us. This is endlessly easy to forget, because many of them look as we do. They speak our language. They have two eyes. They have hands, and their mouths make familiar shapes when they smile. But these things are only seemings. We are not the same. I have heard people say that men and the Fae are as different as dogs and wolves. While this is an easy analogy, it is far from true. Wolves and dogs are only separated by a minor shade of blood. Both howl at night. If beaten, both will bite. No. Our people and theirs are as different as water and alcohol. In equal glasses they look the same. Both liquid. Both clear. Both wet, after a fashion. But one will burn, the other will not. This has nothing to do with temperament or timing. These two things behave differently because they are profoundly, fundamentally not the same. The same is true with humans and the Fae. We forget it at our peril,” (654).
There are three Faen in The Kingkiller Chronicle so far: Bast, Prince of the Twilight, who has hooves and can turn ink into crows; Felurian, Kvothe’s lover for some time, who kills men or
drives them insane by the force of her love; and the Cthaeh, a perfectly malevolent tree who can see all possible futures clearly and, whenever it gets a chance to interact with a person who can travel out beyond the bounds of the Cthaeh’s branches and so bring the Cthaeh’s doom to the world, pushes the world into a terrible future. Long ago, the Cthaeh spoke to Jax: the Cthaeh’s influence on Jax is told in the Fae version of “Jax and the Moon”: “A Moonless Night”. Long ago, there was only one realm. Being Felurian’s Faen version as told to Kvothe, “A Moonless Night” does not capitalize any letter excepting “I”: “‘long before the cities of man. before men. before fae. there were those who walked with their eyes open. they knew all the deep names of things…’ ‘these old name-knowers moved smoothly through the world. they knew the fox and they knew the hare, and they knew the space between the two…then came those who saw a thing and thought of changing it. they thought in terms of mastery.’ ‘they were shapers. proud dreamers…it was not all bad at first. there were wonders…the early toddlings of a child. they grew bolder, braver, wild. the old knowers said ‘stop’ but the shapers refused. they quarreled and fought and forbade the shapers. they argued against mastery of this sort.’ Her eyes brightened. ‘but oh,’ she sighed, ‘the things they made!’ ‘…the faen realm…wrought according to their will. the greatest of them sewed it from whole cloth. a place where they could do as they desired. and at the end of all their work, each shaper wrought a star to fill their new and empty sky.’ ‘…then there were two worlds. two skies. two sets of stars…but still one moon. and it all round and cozy in the mortal sky.’ ‘…but one shaper was greater than the rest. for him the making of a star was not enough. he stretched his will across the world and pulled her from her home…that was the breaking point. the old knowers realized no talk would ever stop the shapers…he stole the moon and with it came the war…this shaper of the dark and changing eye stretched out his hand against the pure black sky. he pulled the moon, but could not make her stay. so now she moves ‘twixt mortal and the fae…the moon has our two worlds beguiled, like parents clutching at a child, pulling at her, to and fro, neither willing to let go.’ She stepped away, and we stood as far apart as we could…. ‘when she is torn, half in your sky, you see how far apart we lie.’ Felurian reached toward me with her free hand making futile grasping gestures in the empty water. ‘no matter how we long to kiss, the space between us is not ripe for this.’ Felurian stepped forward and pressed…close to my chest. ‘and when your moon is waxing full, all of faerie feels the pull. she draws us close to you, so bright. and now a visit for a night is easier than
walking through a door or stepping off a ship that’s near the shore…many of the darker sort would love to use you for their sport. what keeps these from moonlit trespass? iron, fire, mirror-glass. elm and ash and copper knives, solid-hearted farmer’s wives who know the rules of games we play and give us bread to keep away. but worst of all, my people dread the portion of our power we shed when we set foot on mortal earth.’ ‘We are more trouble than we’re worth,’ I admitted, smiling. Felurian reached out and touched a finger to my mouth. ‘while she is full you may still laugh, but know there is a darker half…a clever mortal fears the night without a hint of sweet moonlight.’ She began to draw my hand to her chest, dragging me through the water toward her as she spun. ‘on such a night, each step you take might catch you in the dark moon’s wake, and pull you all unwitting into fae.’ She stopped and gave me a grim look. ‘where you will have no choice but to stay.’ Felurian took a step backward in the water, tugging at me. ‘and on such unfamiliar ground, how can a mortal help but drown?’ I took another step toward her and found nothing beneath my feet. Felurian’s hand was suddenly no longer clasping mine, and black water closed over my head. Blind and choking, I began to thrash desperately, trying to find my way back to the surface. After a long, terrifying moment, Felurian’s hands caught me and dragged me into the air as if I weighed no more than a kitten. She brought me close to her face, her dark eyes hard and glittering. When she spoke her voice was clear. ‘I do this so you cannot help but hear. a wise man views a moonless night with fear,” (669-72).
The connection between the title The Wise Man’s Fear and “A Moonless Night” serves to emphasize the point that Felurian makes to Kvothe: it is dangerous when the Fae realm and the human realm draw close. In the same way, the fall of a tragic hero comes when their flawless half meets their flaw and sees it in all its truth and ugliness. Oedipus scratched out his eyes in order that he would never have to see again. Although The Doors of Stone has not yet been published, it can be inferred based on information already given that Kvothe does something similar to obliterate his magical abilities. The present-day Kvothe has renamed himself “Kote”, and, throughout The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, has his abilities tested thrice: when a demon comes into his inn and attacks; when he tries to open a thrice-locked chest; and when he fights two soldiers who rob him. Though past-Kvothe could easily have vanquished the demon, opened the chest with a word and a wave of his hand, and beaten the soldiers to bloody pulps, present-day Kote fails in every test. The two halves of Kvothe’s identity, the flawless and
the flawed, are mirrored in both stories. In “Jax and the Moon”, the listening old man is the perfect part of his spirit, while Jax is the flawed part. Jax’s flaws are linked to the defining event from Kvothe’s past: a band of Faen creatures called the Chandrian kills his entire family in front of him early in The Name of the Wind. They then leave him alive; he spends four years in a Dickensian city fending for his life. These events leave him, for lack of a better word, broken: a motif which recurs several times throughout “Jax and the Moon”: Jax lives in a broken house “… at the end of a broken road,” (568); “The old man…leaned close and pressed his ear to Jax’s chest. He closed his eyes for another long moment and was very still. ‘Oh,’ he said softly. ‘How sad. Your heart is broken and you’ve never even had a chance to use it,’” (589). Jax’s flaw is his single-minded determination to catch the moon and steal her; Kvothe’s is his determination to find those who killed his family and achieve vengeance. Both Jax and Kvothe seek unwieldy powers in their quest: Jax his unfolding mansion, his stone flute, and his iron box; Kvothe seeks the name of the wind, mastery and control over things: Kvothe seeks to be a shaper like “…the first and greatest of the shapers…shut beyond the doors of stone,” (670). Kvothe seeks the power to tear the world in half and steal the moon: and he has been making progress. When Felurian tells him “A Moonless Night”, Kvothe has called the name of the wind thrice; furthermore, he has called the name of Felurian herself, a much more complex and powerful name: “I felt something deep inside myself. I reached for it. A tense stillness settled inside of me, the sort of silence that comes before a thunderclap. I felt the air begin to crystallize around me. I felt cold. Detachedly, I gathered up the pieces of my mind and fit them together. I was Kvothe the trouper, Edema Ruh born. I was Kvothe the student…I was Kvothe the musician. I was Kvothe. I stood above Felurian. …I looked at Felurian, and in that moment I understood her down to the bottoms of her feet. She was of the Fae. She did not worry over right or wrong. She was a creature of pure desire, much like a child. A child does not concern itself with consequence, neither does a sudden storm. Felurian resembled both, and neither. She was ancient and innocent and powerful and proud. …It was beautiful…now, looking into Felurian’s twilight eyes, I understood her far beyond the bottoms of her feet. Now I knew her to the marrow of her bones. Her eyes were like four lines of music, clearly penned. My mind was filled with the sudden song of her. I drew a breath and sang it out in four hard notes…I felt her power thrumming in the air. Desire rose around me like the sea in storm. She raised her hand. She touched my chest. I shook.
She met my eyes, and in the twilight written there I saw again the four clear lines of song. I sang them out. They burst from me like birds into the open air,” (641).
When Jax meets the old man, the old man refuses to tell Jax his name: “‘If you don’t mind my asking,’ Jax said, ‘What’s your name?’ ‘I don’t mind you asking,’ the old man said. ‘So long as you don’t mind me not telling. If you had my name, I’d be under your power, wouldn’t I?’ ‘Would you?’ Jax asked. ‘Of course.’ The old man frowned. ‘That is the way of things. Though you don’t seem to be much for listening, it’s best to be careful. If you managed to catch hold of even just a piece of my name, you’d have all manner of power over me,’” (589-90).
The old man reflects Kvothe’s nature without the flaw: wary of dangerous power; Jax reflects Kvothe’s true nature: hungry for it. Soon after the old man and Jax meet, soon after the two halves of Kvothe’s dichotic soul meet, he quickly brings about the splitting of the world into the human and Fae realms: the Fae realm being the unfolded mansion, where one room is spring and one room winter, and everything is put together without order. This splitting brings about what is called the Creation War: “…he stole the moon and with it came the war,” (370). The Creation War wrenched the world apart: in one of the seminal battles, “…more men died…than are living in the world today,” (377; The Name of the Wind). As shown in the beginning of The Name of the Wind, the world is in a similar state at the end of The Doors of Stone: armies are waging war, tax collectors called “bleeders” are draining the indigent of everything they own, and the darker Fae are coming down from the Stormwal, a mountain chain ringing the subcontinent. The narrative parallelisms between The Kingkiller Chronicle, “Jax and the Moon”, and “A Moonless Night” show the true tragic nature of Kvothe. There is a latent irony in Kvothe’s flaw: it is the same flaw which brought about his family’s death. Kvothe’s father, Arliden, had been writing a song about the Chandrian; he had been researching them for a few months. The day after he first performs the song, the Chandrian come. The Chandrian can hear their names spoken from anywhere in the world, and the song pinpointed Arliden’s position for them. The irony is truly captured in the now-famous line from Cinder, he who personally destroyed Kvothe’s parents: “Someone’s parents have been singing entirely the wrong sorts of songs,” (127; The Name of the Wind).
Arliden brought the Chandrian down on himself by seeking dangerous knowledge; now Kvothe tries to find the Chandrian with dangerous knowledge. Rothfuss uses “Jax and the Moon” to mirror Kvothe’s life and break it into its two fundamental pieces: the old man and Jax; the two halves of the whole story of Jax and the Creation War in turn mirrors The Kingkiller Chronicle and shows that Kvothe will bring about the fall of the world itself just as did the tragic heroes of old. The Kingkiller Chronicle’s conworld and magic systems do not diverge from the old traditions in the same way that Sanderson’s The Way of Kings does; rather, Rothfuss utilizes these tropes to pave the path for a new, subtler revolution: a revolution in character. Rothfuss uses character patterns from the beginning of time, and he doesn’t fall into the two common categories of modern fantasy: having only two-dimensional characters and having only-three dimensional characters. As a response to many of the older fantasy works (Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Laura and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance Chronicles) that have only simplistic, onesided characters with no contradictions in their nature, many current fantasists are filling their stories with extremely real-seeming characters. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, off of which the HBO show A Game of Thrones is based, is famous for the complexity of its characters and the complete lack of black-vs.-white morality in their actions. There is no one for a reader to root for and there is no one for a reader to truly hate; while this polarized reaction has reached extreme levels of success, it is simply a reactionary response to a long-standing dearth of characterization in fantasy. Rothfuss seeks Siddhartha Gautama’s Middle Way: Kvothe is widely renowned as the most complex, interesting, and likeable hero to ever grace the fantasy genre with his presence; however, supporting characters, in many cases, are what they are supposed to be: two-dimensional. A story is not about supporting characters; The Kingkiller Chronicle is about Kvothe, and any extremely complex side-character would distract from him. It all ultimately comes back to Cyrano de Bergerac, Rothfuss’s inspiration for Kvothe: “For the last quarter of the book, it’s just heart wrenching. I’m reading it and I’m wiping the tears out of my eyes. I finished the play and I’m like ‘Geaaahh. I’ve got to move on with my life.’ I go upstairs and I walk around and I’m just crying. I go back downstairs and I’m still crying. After I got control of myself, I wondered how come I’ve never read a fantasy book that is this good,” (Ibid). In pursuing this characterization revolution, Rothfuss makes sure not to push the envelope too much in the other areas of fantasy: indeed, a large part of Kvothe’s story is based off of Ged
Sparrowhawk from Ursula K. Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea novels. Le Guin’s books are so popular that she holds the record for having won the most Locus awards for fiction: nineteen (“The Locus Index to SF Awards”). The University in The Name of the Wind is similar to that of the island of Roke in A Wizard of Earthsea: there are nine masters, each of whom specializes in one area of magic. There is a particularly unusual Master of Naming in both series. Naming as a magic system is extremely prevalent in both, as is seen in Ged’s defeat of a dragon: “A grating sound came from the dragon’s throat like the noise of an avalanche far off, stones falling among mountains. Fire danced along his three-forked tongue. He raised himself up higher, looming over the ruins. ‘You offer me safety! You threaten me! With what?’ ‘With your name, Yevaud.’ Ged’s voice shook as he spoke the name, yet he spoke it clear and loud. At the sound of it, the dragon held still, utterly still,” (91).
Rothfuss offers a familiar recipe alongside a daring new (yet also very old) approach to character. He also bears the proverbial fantasy torch in other, smaller traditions: one of which is the subtle inclusion of Latin into the text. The character Manet is known as the “Eternal E’lir” (“Eternal Student”): Manet has stayed at the University for thirty years, and he plans to remain there for the rest of his life. The word “Manet” is Latin for “He remains”, which is basically the only thing Manet, as a supporting character, does. A slightly less grammatically correct use of Latin is in the motto “Ivare Enim Euge”, which is supposed to mean “For the greater good” but actually translates “For, to help, Good!” “Enim” doesn’t mean “for” as in “on behalf of” but rather as in “I ate, for I was hungry”. “Euge” is an exclamation: it does not mean “good” as in “good things” but “good” as in “Did you find the food? Good!” Also, “Ivare” is an infinitive meaning “to help”. The incorrect grammar of the phrase is actually also a time-honored tradition: just see Harry Potter’s “Exspecto Patronum”, a spell for warding off “dementors”, which actually translates: “I await the stone”. “Jax and the Moon” is a force for character in The Wise Man’s Fear: not only do the events surrounding its telling advance the relationships of Dedan and Hespe and Kvothe and Tempi, the tale itself mirrors Kvothe’s inner tragic hero and foreshadows the means by which he brings himself and the world around him to ruin; this function within The Kingkiller Chronicle is indicative of Rothfuss’s desire for a character-based revolution in the fantasy genre.
Magicâ€™s Freeing Shackles: Flying Under the Iron of Chains Sandersonâ€™s Laws of Magic
Magic is the defining element of the fantasy genre: if a story has no magic, it is not fantasy; if you add magic to any story, it becomes fantasy. Because of this, many ideas about the use of magic have evolved over the past fifty years, describing how it ought to be used in stories. The use of magic, corresponding perfectly with the evolution of the fantasy genre as a whole, has slowly undergone a metamorphosis in which it has gone from being primarily wild, mysterious magic to becoming scientific in nature, with hard and fast rules and, often, logical explanations
as to the natural source from which it arose. The differences in these two types of magic lead to completely different storytelling techniques. To analyze the newer magic systems of The Way of Kings and The Wheel of Time, it is important to gain an understanding of Sanderson’s First and Second Laws of Magic. Brandon Sanderson’s First Law of Magic (which, as he notes, is rather egotistically named) is stated on his website as: “An author's ability to satisfactorily resolve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.” In order to understand what this means, it is important to first take a look at the gravest sin any fantasy writer can commit: Deus ex Machina. Translated “A God out of the Machine”, the phrase first hails from the ancient Greeks (specifically the playwright Aeschylus), whose plays’ conflicts were resolved by the divine intervention of a deity. While the Greeks may have appreciated this, being people who actually believe in many capricious Gods who can save heroes on a whim, the practice of Deus ex Machina is deeply loathed today. The most common accusation a critic levels at the fantasy genre is that all the conflict can be resolved with a wave of a wand, which, in many stories, it is. Though this accusation is fairly ridiculous (in any non-fantasy story, the hero can still spontaneously win the lottery and a meteor can randomly strike down his antagonist), it does have a good point: because of the ease with which an author can resolve a conflict with magic and because of how much more plausible it seems (as opposed to winning the lottery), fantasy writers Deus ex Machina their heroes out of conflict more than any those of any other genre. This practice wanes today, however, as shown by Sanderson’s First Law. This Law states that the degree to which an author can resolve conflict is directly proportional to how well the magic is defined in the reader’s mind. For instance, Superman has very concrete, widely accepted abilities: he has extreme strength, he can shoot lasers from his eyes, and he can fly. He is also invincible. Because a reader understands this about Superman, the reader is perfectly accepting if Superman ends the comic book by punching the villain’s face really hard. On the other hand, nobody has the slightest clue what Gandalf’s powers are. The only clue we are ever given is when he says, “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor,” (Fellowship, 392), and the common consensus that hordes of Lord of the Rings fans have reached with regard
to this, after almost half a century of intensive analysis: Gandalf has magic powers. There is a reason Superman can resolve conflict with his magic powers, while Gandalf can’t just fly Frodo to Mount Doom on a giant eagle and drop the One Ring in: a satisfying resolution to a story requires the emergence of some virtue or skill of the protagonist. The distinction between a magic system that can resolve conflict and one that can’t is given, respectively, by the two terms Sanderson unveils in his essay on the First Law: hard and soft magic. Hard magic has rules, and is well defined in the reader’s mind; soft magic is ineffable, and the reader doesn’t have the foggiest notion as to what can be done with it. While these two species of magic are both useful in their own way, a major thesis of the ongoing revolution in the fantasy genre is that only hard magic can satisfactorily resolve conflict. Sanderson’s Second Law of Magic is much more simply stated, though its implications are equally complex: “Limitations > Powers” What this means is that the limitations of a magic system are more interesting to the reader and more pivotal in the development of a story than the powers or abilities of a magic system. Specifically, Sanderson divides limitations into three main categories: weaknesses, limits, and costs. Weaknesses, the least important of the three types, are points of vulnerability caused by use of the magic system. For instance, if, whenever a certain character uses her magic power of flying, she has nearly no metabolism and therefore gains weight from every calorie she eats for a day afterwards, her ego and health are directly tied into the plot. This makes the story more interesting to the reader. Limits are bounds on what the magic system can do. These can be simple bounds (this character cannot fly higher than one thousand feet), or more complex bounds (this character can only fly as high as her wallet, for air taxes are getting tight and the higher tiers of atmosphere are more costly than the lower). If we take the second limit, for example, the story is greatly enhanced: suddenly, there are many fliers, and the government taxes on flying mean that they all stay really close to the ground despite all the open air above them. Yet the most powerful of these three types of magic is costs. Costs are what one needs to perform magic, or the price of doing so. The cost in The Wheel of Time is virtually the entire reason it has had commercial success in the fantasy genre: when men use the magic system, they slowly, over
many years, start to go insane. There is, therefore, a band of women magicians who hunt down and kill the few men who can use magic, for an insane male magician is powerful enough that he usually explodes upon death, destroying the land for miles around him, devastating towns and cities alike. However, the main character, Rand, is the most powerful of these magicians, and he is prophesied to be the one who will throw down the Dark One and save the world. This cost is the force behind the entire plot: over the course of the books, Rand goes insane. By book eleven, reading from his viewpoint is downright terrifying. While it also drives the core plot, this cost also makes the series great because the readers have to watch the man they love go slowly but surely insane. It is necessary to note that Sanderson’s Second Law mostly applies to hard magic systems. With soft magic systems, there are usually few or no weaknesses or limits, a fact which is fine because soft magic systems can only function against a protagonist (it doesn’t degrade the story if Deus ex Machinas which negatively affect the protagonist: indeed, it makes the hero’s success all the more powerful in the end). On the other hand, soft magic systems can be construed to have costs, and it is when they have costs that they can be used by the protagonist. In Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth series, for instance, every book with the exception of the last is resolved with a Deus ex Machina that catalyzes an even greater antagonist: to take just one example, in the fourth book (Temple of the Winds), the protagonist manages to inexplicably eradicate a magical plague with a box he finds in a temple. This was a Deus ex Machina: the gravest sin a fantasist can commit. Yet Terry Goodkind has not been hunted down and destroyed by his fans because he fixed it via Sanderson’s Second Law: the Deus ex Machina’s cost was so much greater than the plague it destroyed: in the next book (Soul of the Fire), the opening of the box which destroyed the plague results in the release of three magic-draining evil spirits, which almost obliterate all reality. It is only when a soft magic system has costs greater than its powers that a protagonist can violate Sanderson’s First Law and resolve conflict with it. Sanderson’s First and Second Laws of Magic represent the change in the use of magic systems that has come across the fantasy genre in the past fifty years. While soft magic systems were originally used for the purpose of creating wonder in a reader (such as in The Lord of the Rings), a new wave of writers are using hard magic systems to great effect (The Way of Kings): with a new set of magic tools that characters are forced (by weaknesses, limits, and costs) to use
in truly ingenious ways, the plots, the Conworlds, and even the characters of the fantasy genre are being reshaped.
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