The OF Blog: Two literary squirrels talk about Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Two literary squirrels talk about Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear

Recently, two literary squirrels (let's call the first one Dunja and the second one Larry) decided to chitter about Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear.  There was much to talk about, as you will soon read.  Conversations, whether they be by humans or by literary rabid vampiric squirrels, do not always start at the beginning.  This was certainly the case here, as the two started by talking about the issue of sex in the book and then proceeded to outline the problems that they found with the novel:

I have to say that I'm really disappointed by the lack of sex in the book. Many of the reviews I read before the book were dissatisfied with the abundance of sex scenes. However, after reading, I have to conclude we were reading completely different books. So frustratingly vague on the Kama Sutra of the Fae. Had I paid for the book, I would have been devastated.

Yes, the nature of the sex scenes was really eye roll-inducing.  It felt as though Kvothe was just an oversized boy entering puberty that had no clue what sex was, other than it was something that seemed to sap his intelligence during the narration of those vague, poorly-written scenes.  Not that this is an isolated affair, mind you.

At least his sex scenes were brief in comparison to the pages upon pages of recounting minutiae.  Do people really want hundreds of pages detailing Kvothe's means of making money?

We should be grateful for the opportunity to read such realistic fantasy. Often complaints can be heard about fantasy novels written with less ambition, that the settings are not believable enough. Finally, we have a book where we can know all. Every penny, the state of every shirt, the price of every meat pie. I was thrilled to read about the creative ways of collecting tuition money, page after page after page.

What worries me is the character of Kvothe, the way I see his legend is being constructed. In the first book I saw hints of greatness, of adventure and high magic, stuff legends are made of. Not much of that unfolded in the second book. What concerns me is that those events might have never happened, and they never will, that they might be just rumors gone wild, maybe lies purposefully cultivated by the main character. Because from the earliest events, he worked on consciously creating his own legend.

And yet this apparent deceit is what so many of Rothfuss' admirers seem to have enjoyed most about this book.  That sense that they have caught on to Kvothe's unreliability, never mind that for many readers, the piling of BS leaves a rather unpleasant smell in the noses of those readers who want more than a nearly thousand page exercise in chicanery.  That is part of the reason why I found this book to be so tedious to read.  It was a perverse echo of Eco's essay on pornography:  we have to recount each and every step of the process in order to create the patina of reality over something that is a sordid fantasy.

Pardon me if I felt that the story lacked because it broke down into a series of explanations and contained little narrative "magic."

Like I said, I wouldn't mind a bit MORE pornography. I don't have high hopes for the third book, but I do feel hope.

Unless the writer changes completely the plot pace, I don't see how the trilogy could be finished, or at least concluded in some satisfactory way. There are plenty of books that show the way. It took Belgarath one book to retell the tale of his life. Pug needed maybe a bit more, but to be fair, he was a magician of two worlds. Harry needed seven solid books, but again, to be fair, his school sounded much less boring than Kvothe's. It is high time to kick Kvothe onto the road of some adventure. Or, at least, some PLOT.

I'm not as much concerned with plot pacing (although I do agree that events were narrated too heavily here) as I am with prose and characterization. I would have said theme, but there is very little thematic presentation in The Wise Man's Fear.  But the prose was much worse here.  It felt as though Rothfuss confused the need to expand the story with the need to expound upon details.  There isn't much in the way of a storytelling vibe to this novel, outside of the framing sections, because the characters felt a bit too flat.  Perhaps this was because Rothfuss wants to create a "surprise" in the third book, but here it just felt dull and rather boring.

And what about the circularity of the book's events?  Could the reader have skipped this book and feel as though s/he had missed little?

To skip a book? In a trilogy? The thought is almost sacrilegious.

But the perfect The Wise Man's Fear should have been condensed into two and a half chapters. Maybe three short ones and then the plot should have moved, into some direction. There is no much important information in this book. It could have been never written and we would be in the same spot as we are now.

I don't mind book with no plot. In fact, some of my favourite books are such. A book can be without a plot. Or without interesting character development. Or without intriguing ideas and events. But not without all of that at the same time.

I find Kvothe to be an interesting character. First he is so terribly awkward with his love, then he is awkward with the fae, we are reminded he is actually quite young. Then he goes and poisons, then butchers a whole caravan in a quite cold blooded and efficient way. I wonder is it the way he is, as a character, or the idea that sex is a bigger taboo than violence is being transferred from our world.

 Well, there are those who argue that some could just read summaries of 4-5 epic fantasy books and not miss a beat when picking up volume 12 or so…

Yes, books do not require a strong plot in order to be good.  But The Wise Man's Fear is no Pynchon, that's for certain.  It feels like it's a reprocessed meat. You know there's element of beef or pork in there, but it's so ground up and mixed with unappetizing things that the entire thing just feels devoid of any real flavor.

Kvothe was interesting at first, as I thought the first volume held some promise.  But here?  Beyond realizing rather quickly that he's just distorting "real" events, I found myself thinking that his character was meant to be inhabited by those who do find sex to be a more forbidding topic than the frags in a shooter video game.  I wonder if the casualness of violence compared to sex is something American-centric, or if it can be found in much of Europe as well?

I wouldn't know. In fiction, I'm casual towards both. Irl, I pick only the tastiest victims for my squirrels to feed on. Not casual about that at all. :)

This books makes me sad because of all the 'could have been'. So much potential, staying just that.

Well, squirrels are picky eaters, remember.  Although I know you don't mind me employing some of them as readers for books such as Wise Man's Fear, I somehow doubt that they'd relish dining on more of this sort of work.  It just isn't squirrel worthy, is it?


And with that, they scampered off, a bit despondent that The Wise Man's Fear just was not squirrel worthy at all.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the Squirrels here. I was disappointed in TWMF, and it did seem to fail as a bridge book in a trilogy. Unless the third book is some sort of tesseract, able to hold the content of a dozen more books within two hardcovers, there is no way it will wrap up the series in a satisfactory manner.

Larry Nolen said...

It is always good to agree with the squirrels ;)

But yes, I have little confidence that the third book will piece things together in a satisfactory way. This book was just a turgid mess.

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