There are times in the life of a reader when you come across a book that re-awakens something deep within – times when the child inside comes to the surface, full of wonder and excitement. We’ve all (hopefully) experienced this. Several years ago, I picked up a paperback copy of “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss. I got home, sat down, and began reading. After a half-hour or so, I stopped and looked around the room, wide-eyed. I then proceeded to fix myself a drink, find pillows and a blanket, and settle in to the most comfortable spot that I could. It was going to be one of those times. “This,” I thought, “THIS is what I’ve been waiting for.”
It was a long night. I lost myself in the beautiful story-within-a-story that Mr. Rothfuss has weaved together. There is, in my opinion, a shortage of truly great storytelling in the world, but not between the covers of this book. When we first meet our hero, Kvothe, we find him to be much older than expected. He is a seemingly unremarkable innkeeper who has set up shop in a small town, hiding his true identity. That identity is one of an infamous, larger than life figure that seemingly everyone has heard of. The locals tell grandiose stories about him, while sitting just across the bar from the man himself. This is where your brain goes into overdrive. Who is this man? How did he get to this point? Why is he hiding from the world? What happened to him? Where did he come from in the first place? And now you’re hooked.
Having read lots of fantasy novels, I’ve grown accustomed to the typical storytelling format of the genre. It usually goes something like this: A young boy, let’s call him Bob, is going about his very normal life in a small, remote village. Bob might have a love interest, or a fascination with rocks, or a wooden sword with which he practices endlessly. One day a dragon/army/wizard/flock of pigeons/aliens/etc. comes along and destroys the village. Bob swears revenge. He mourns his lost love, picks up his rock collection and wooden sword, and sets off into the unknown. Grand adventures ensue and Bob the Pigeon-Slayer is born. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with that. I’ve read lots of great books that started this way, but it is very refreshing to see it done differently. With that thought in mind: enter Chronicler, stage left.
To avoid spoilers, I’ll say this: Kvothe (going by the name Kote) is found by Chronicler, a renowned scribe on his way to an important meeting. He has heard a rumor that the legendary Kvothe might be somewhere in the vicinity and decides to investigate, not wanting to pass up the story of a lifetime. After witnessing Kote deal with arcane matters that no self-respecting innkeeper would meddle with, he puts two and two together. Chronicler offers to write down the story of Kvothe, the true story, in Kvothe’s own words. After some argument, Kvothe agrees. The story is told in first person, but there are breaks in the story when we come back to Kote in the “present” tense and third person perspective. And so we begin to hear the story of Kvothe, from the very beginning. Kvothe’s happy life is torn asunder; he spends a lot of time homeless and afraid, and eventually makes his way to the University, where a whole new load of troubles and adventures await.
I don’t want to give away too many details about this book. In fact, I hope all of you will read and enjoy it as much as I do; I can relate my life to this book in many ways. Kvothe’s seemingly endless bad luck and stubbornness are very familiar to me. I look back on his time in a strange city, and I think back to my time spent in France. For 5 months I lived in a place where the culture was strange and I didn’t speak the language. This causes problems. For example, almost every day I went to the small grocery store near our apartment. Eventually all of the employees figured out that I didn’t speak French. They just stopped trying to converse with me. While this made it somewhat easier for me to get in and get out without having a very broken conversation, it made me feel so lonely. I’m not a big talker, but not being able to chit-chat with people I saw every day was a strange feeling. I felt like I wasn’t really part of society, I was just part of the landscape. I can only imagine that Kvothe felt like that too, with so few people around to talk to, and fewer still that cared about him. It was terrible for me at times, and wonderful at others. I met people and saw things that I never would have otherwise, and overall it was a great adventure. When I stop to think about it though, there is a problem. This is fantasy. Yes, I can pick out parts of the book that are indeed very relatable, but looking at the bigger picture I have to ask: are they really? Bad luck befalls us all from time to time, but I’ve never burned down a town while fighting a monster. I’ve been pulled away from my family and taken to a place far from home, but my family wasn’t harmed. They were all waiting for me when I returned; it was a happy reunion.
So what makes this book so special to me? The answer, quite simply, is imagination. Through our imaginations, we can lose ourselves in a great story. We can become Kvothe; feel his tragedies, pains, and triumphs. We can witness a fictional world spring up around us, and live there for a while. And after we finish the last page and snap back to reality, still tingling with excitement or holding back tears – that, to me, is the greatest relationship that can be had with a book.
Pages: 672 FOA Pages: 23,130