Spoilers in this post, as always, though I’ll remind you that I personally am okay with spoilers because only a culture starved for wonder would care about spoilers. In eras filled with wonder like the Middle Ages, they loved a good spoiler. Opera attendees still love good spoilers. The reason I don’t care about spoilers is precisely because grass still surprises me even after all these years. So does rain. So does the Name of the Wind. Before we get into the name Kvothe, I want to make a note about criticism — what makes a good one and what makes a bad one. As I said in my 13 assumptions, I’m no professional, right? But I’m still trying to make judgements about this book. And since we live in a critical age of bad critics making bad judgement calls to the same degree that we live in a judicial age of bad judges making bad calls, I want to tell a story about a friend of mine:
She had a ton to say about what Mr. Rothfuss did and did not do regarding her opinion of how feminism should or should not be depicted in literature. There’s another post for another time on trigger warnings, safe spaces, and the provocation of art and ideas to be written, but that’s not for now. And whether or not you’re a feminist is irrelevant for the point I’m about to make. She had a long list of critiques for his work and acted as if the books brought about more evil than good in the world, which seems to be neglecting the raw facts: Mr. Rothfuss published Name of the Wind when he was thirty-one. As I am turning thirty-one this year, that’s humbling. And all art should humble us, even the artist, because we fumble with worldviews and eternal forms and philosophical concepts that dwarf our very humanity. The thing I wanted to ask her was: what will you do by thirty-one? I’m reminded of Teddy Roosevelt’s man in the arena quote:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
She called The Name of the Wind a bad novel. She called it this because she disagreed with some minor premise within the book.
A bad novel is not a bad novel.
A bad novel is a good novel that’s not quite so good as the novel you prefer.
A bad novel in an illiterate world is still a thunderclap that gifts language and light and learning to the ignorant. As Puerto Rico still has no water and power and therefore has had to completely shut down its schools and the like, it makes you wonder what the consequences of language will be for an entire generation of children. What gifts and learning will humanity lose because we fail to educate a generation due to slow response time?
It takes my breath away and makes my empty chest hurt.
Meanwhile, Lin-Manuel Miranda has taken on the role of something our culture has not had in a long, long time: the bard. Bards were once equal with kings, you know. Bards had a role both in the making of culture and in the preservation of culture through being good judges. You see because practitioners make the best judges for the same reason, as George R.R. Martin would say:
The man who passes the sentence should be the one to swing the sword.
King, judge, executioner. And in the case of the bard: writer, singer, critic. To have a critic whose only job is to pass judgement is quite like having a king who will not even attend an execution. Rothfuss sets a good example of showing precisely how and why he thinks the way he does about various books, curating a recommendation list with everything he reads. Stephen King, I would argue, is our best living critic precisely because he’s our best practitioner. And Lin-Manuel Miranda has made a job of trying to lift, encourage, and empower artists who need more help, more light on their work, and a bigger voice to get them out there.
That’s the job of the bard. Not only to make and sing music, but to make and sing out the best parts of a culture so that more and better culture arises. It’s the patron / client thing at its best. It’s a sort of magic, a way of inspiring the populous out of consumption and stagnation and shadow careers and into the vocation — the calling — they have for their lives, not as consumers, but as citizens: as people who seek out the good and the peace and the prosperity and the hope of the city in which they find themselves.
Why the hell did I bring all of that up?
Because bards were makers. Bards were judges. And bards were equal with kings.
I had hoped to wait on Kvothe’s name until chapter seven, but /u/p0mme_verte (the green apple — perhaps of eden or the poisoned kind in fairy tales?) asked a question so good I couldn’t help it:
Quick question: In your analysis, where do you found (sic) the meaning for “Chaen”? Hepten -> seven (ok with prefix “heat”) Chan -> do not be?
Green Apple’s talking about the days of the week from the Felling post. I explained to Green Apple that “chan” is Ulster Irish for “no,” which as a nerd I kind of like. “Chan” is a synonym of “ní” making the seven literally the knights of who like to say “ní” and live in the woods as kings.
But the more I think about it, the more I’m pushing that one too far and overlooked the obvious. This will get us to Kvothe’s name.
“Chan” can also be the past analytic (analytic forms contain no info about person and number, so a pronoun’s necessary) of “chan” which means “can.” Can is also our word for “able,” which has a different etymology but it’s now very linked in the mind of English speakers. I’ll come back to that, but for now just remember “canticle.”
The lenition form (softens the sound) of “can” in Old Irish is “chan.”
The verbal noun — such as fletcher or tinker or tailor or singer — is “chanadh”
“—Andrian” comes from he Ancient Greek for “andros” as in “Andrew” which means “man.”
But with the third declension of the “—ias” ending, which is also a way to make nouns of agency / verbal nouns, an “andrian” is either a puppet, a statue, or a man maker. Chaen, therefore, likely means to sing. Chandrian likely means “singers” and could potentially mean “those who sing man into existence” or at least a likeness of men.
(Which has interesting implications for Puppet).
More to the point, it throws a huge light on my assumptions about Kvothe’s name, so let’s quote that short little passage from the start of the good and proper telling in chapter seven. Remember, this is a book about naming — the names of things seriously matter as much as in Rowling or Dickens or Tolkien.
My name is Kvothe, pronounced nearly the same as “Quothe.” Names are important as they tell you a great deal about a person. I’ve had more names than anyone has a right to.
Let’s start with the assumption not only that names mean a lot, but that with this many names we likely have both the meaning and outline of the series in embryo right here. This page is all we need to check the whole Felling and man waiting to die assumptions. That said, what about Kvothe?
The word “quoth” is the simple past tense of “quethe,” which means “said.” To say. To speak.
The word came from the Old English word “cweþan” which means “to say” or “tell.”
Cweþan came from the proto-germanic kweþaną from which is derived the the Old Norse word “kveða” and from it the Faroese word “kvøða” emerged, which is pronounced very similarly to “Kvothe,” only the closed-mid front rounded vowel is hard for most modern English speakers unless they see something really gross on the New York City subway. Then they become quite proficient.
(Ask me about the grossest thing I saw on the subway sometime.)
Anyways that Faroese word means “to chant” or “to sing” and as a verb, it’s how you say goodbye. Similar thing happens in Swedish. The Icelandic counterpart also means “to make,” because to sing a song you must first write it.
But cweþan also could be verbalized into becweþan which means “to bequeath” or blame. It’s a way you can give something, to leave it in your will or by a testament. “I bequeath on you my house when I die.” But it’s also an offering. Something given willfully. And quethe, which also comes from this word, is a declaration.
These words share the proto-indo-european root of “gʷet” which was the word for resin. The stuff you put in your mouth. It’s also where we get the word cud as in “a cow chews its cud,” the Old Norse root of the word “code,” the word “quince” — the pear-shaped fruit of the small tree, which comes from the latin word that means “bad apple,” you can see why I pointed out the apple guy above — and a whole slew of other stuff. It’s a messy, messy etymology.
Kind of like a tree.
You can see why linguists consider language to be a living thing.
Now the old Armenian cognate of this word literally means to call, to subpoena, to convoke (as in gather), to invite, to invoke. To summon. And also to name.
In Galacian, the derivatives mean to stay and in Spanish, it gives us the word “quadar” which means to be, to be located, to be left, to arrange, and so on.
I think that’s enough to get the picture. It’s a name that means knowing enough to name or invoke or convoke — that things come when you call. It’s a name that means speak and cast a spell — words that share the same root. It’s a name that shares roots with singers and chanters, but also this idea of a contract of blame, a human sacrifice. It’s a name that implies not only naming, but making and singing and the rest.
Combine that with “chandrian” and “chaen” — knowing those two imply singing, making, and potentially even man-making. The singers are the Chandrian in some ways. Best reason to kill off the bards is to keep them from taking your place. I told you earlier about the idea of “can” as singing, but it’s also the word we use now in English for ability. I can do it. Now they’re different etymologies, but there’s some truth to that assuming that to know how to do a thing you need to know how it well enough to sing the odes and dirges that belong to it. Something that I can do is something that I know well enough to be able to implement. Again, the verbal nouns take a massive throne of prominence in English, nouns of agency are nouns based on people who do things. Fletcher is one who puts fletchings on an arrow. They know arrows well enough to fletch them. Cooper is one who makes sure the wine is cooped up in its cask. And so the word “can” also used to mean “to know.” You know, like cunning. It comes from the word for “cane,” as in a person who used a reed to write, which also shares some stuff with the en-caned guy Encanis, though I tend to think of him as Pan because of the reed pipes:
It’s also where we get another magic word: uncanny. Something uncanny is beyond one’s ken: outside your familiar knowledge or perceptions. Strange and mysteriously unsetting. That is to say that Chandrian have an uncanny understanding of the world — simultaneously familiar and strange.
These are shaping up to be rather gnostic novels, in a way.
Or perhaps agnostic, depending on his point:
“I don’t believe you can ever learn all of anything, let alone a language.”
Now for the rest of the names.
“The Adem call me Maedre. Which, depending on how it’s spoken, can mean ‘The Flame,’ ‘The Thunder,’ or ‘The Broken Tree.’”
Alright, let’s start with the word itself:
Literally Maedre means “blue.” Madder is this plant that’s used to make a reddish, purplish dye and shares a root that means blue. Also means red because of the plant. Purple, really, which is potentially another alchemical thing: the wedding of blue and red in purple. The man-fae / man-god.
But the dye is blood red. It was used on cloth often.
Which would likely include the Indian city of Madras, the city after which the bright muslin pattern is named. Or perhaps the fabric came first because of the dye? Sometimes people think the term madras comes from “Madre (de deus)” as in “mother of god” form Portuguese. Sometimes people think it comes from the Arabic for “school” as in “this is the town that had a school.”
But some people think it comes from the Sanskrit god of the underworld, madras. Or mara.
Mara tries to seduce the Buddha with beautiful women. He’s associated with death, rebirth, and desire. He does this to try and prevent success. He’s a demon. Interestingly enough, Mara is a causative root that means “causing death” or “killing.”
In Spanish, a marabunta is a gang (the group that kills).
More importantly, a mare in Old English mythology is an evil spirit or goblin that that rides on people’s chests when they sleep, bringing them bad dreams. If you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night paralyzed, unable to breath, and feeling like someone huge is sitting on you — this is that.
It’s where we get our word “nightmare.”
And the word mare has the proto-indo-european root that means “to die.” As in a man waiting to die. I maintain that Kvothe is a man-turned-demon and took the place of the god of death. Kvothe isn’t just telling a night mare (spelling it out) he is a nightmare (casting a demonic spell as god of death and fire).
Flames and thunder accompany these gods / demons / demiurges / fae particularly as you associate them with the bonfires at the end of harvest leading into Halloween and the like — the midsummer festivals. Deferring back to Frazer again:
“ALL over Europe the peasants have been accustomed from time immemorial to kindle bonfires on certain days of the year, and to dance round or leap over them. Customs of this kind can be traced back on historical evidence to the Middle Ages, and their analogy to similar customs observed in antiquity goes with strong internal evidence to prove that their origin must be sought in a period long prior to the spread of Christianity. …Not uncommonly effigies are burned in these fires, or a pretence is made of burning a living person in them;—“
Again, sympathetic magic.
“—and there are grounds for believing that anciently human beings were actually burned on these occasions. A brief view of the customs in question will bring out the traces of human sacrifice, and will serve at the same time to throw light on their meaning.
“The seasons of the year when these bonfires are most commonly lit are spring and midsummer; but in some places they are kindled also at the end of autumn or during the course of the winter, particularly on Hallow E’en (the thirty-first of October), Christmas Day, and the Eve of Twelfth Day.”
Basically, they had big bonfires to celebrate death and rebirth. Frazer goes into corn gods and their relationship to fertility gods and the seasons and how humans would be sacrificed at the end of the year in order to make the world fertile for spring. Again, I would point to critics of Frazer and say that though this happened, this doesn’t necessarily mean the principles beneath it all were and are unfounded. Few people read Frazer and Campbell. Even fewer read the criticisms of their contemporaries at length, but they exist. And their arguments — I believe — are better.
Nevertheless, the point is that Rothfuss is in dialog with Frazer. So we have a guy so far whose name means:
- To know
- To say
- To make
- Puppet (or statue, or man-maker)
- Reddish bluish purple
- Death Demon
- Fire and thunder and the cycles those imply
- Broken tree
Again, that’s the golden bough thing — the mistletoe or golden bough that must be broken because it contains the life of the priest of Diana and it’s the only way to defeat him, make a human sacrifice (and therefore burn him) and take over his priesthood, often obtaining godhood in the process.
1. Dulator — is a penis joke. And also a headnod to the phallic chapters of Frazer.
2. Shadicar — is basically Saterland Frisian for shady. Enshaden.
3. Lightfinger — is both his lute picking and the firebolts at the end of them.
4. Six-string — is kind of obvious. Unless there’s a reference to six and seven here: the seventh who controls the six.
5. Kvothe the Bloodless — is a headnod to Koshchei the Deathless, as I said in the piece on Felling, and to how you can store your death (or life or soul) in various objects inside lockless boxes.
6. Kvothe the Arcane — Arcane is a secret understood by a few, requiring secret knowledge, gnostic. It comes from the word “enclosed” and the root for the word “chest” such as a sealed black chest that hides death in it.
7. Kvothe Kingkiller — again, he killed the priest of diana and took his place.
So to modify my thesis based on these findings:
Kvothe has bound himself by blood-oath to protect the Kingkiller equivalent of the temple of Diana of the Wood making him King of the Wood. In order to do this, he has killed the priest-king responsible for protecting her temple, making the former priest a human sacrifice, and has now taken that priest’s place. The priest-king was a chandrian — a singer-maker and the demon of death. Kvothe has now become the nightmare, the god of death who must be sacrificed. He has stored his death (or life or soul) in a lockless box or mistletoe or both or something similar. He is waiting to die because inevitably someone will come to claim him who is stronger or craftier than he is. They will kill him as a human sacrifice and take his place as priest-king. It’s quite possible that this will be his second — and final — death.
In short, people often compare Rothfuss to Harry Potter.
But they’ve got the wrong orphan who went to magic school to learn all the secret magic and become the fulfillment of a prophecy. Wrong orphan, guys:
It’s not an adult version of Harry’s story.
It’s a story from the perspective of Voldemort.
Or much, much worse.
Catch up on the other posts and hopefully I’ll actually get around to finishing the prologue and chapter one. Keep the questions coming via email or whatever.