The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

“There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.”

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When is it OK to be afraid? And what is OK to be afraid of? We’re taught from the time we’re children to fear things like strangers and hot stove tops, and for good reason. But as we grow up, learning to weigh our risks, fear becomes a different animal entirely. And I think you’ll agree that “animal” is an appropriate term for it. As an adult, should you fear strangers and hot stove tops, even if you know how to protect yourself from them? Should you fear sharks at the beach? Should you fear guns or airplanes or even someone folding towels the “wrong way”? Should you fear death? Where can you draw the line between a fear that is healthy and one that is unreasonable? The older we get, the more those lines seem to blur; at least, that’s how it seems from my point of view.

After having become incredibly involved – intellectually and emotionally – in a world of the arcane with a resolute and believable protagonist named Kvothe in The Name of the Wind, the first title in The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss, I could hardly wait to get my hands on the next title in the series. (I highly recommend reading yesterday’s post on The Name of the Wind, written by a friend of mine who recommended the series to me.) In a beautifully crafted frame structure, Patrick Rothfuss continues young Kvothe’s story in a chain of first person, past tense accounts of his adventures intermittently broken up with third person, present tense interludes in The Wise Man’s Fear, the second title in The Kingkiller Chronicle. Readers pick up where Kvothe’s story left off in the first book: with a silence of three parts, and then with Chronicler writing down Kvothe’s story as he tells it aloud. Kvothe – who has literally looked into the face of Evil, has experienced the loss of his family, has survived homelessness, has rescued an entire town, has made his way to the University to fulfill his goals held from childhood – continues with the story of his remarkable life.

A most significant point in this book is that after striving so intensely to not only make his way to the University but also to afford his tuition, Kvothe is forced to temporarily suspend his studies. The University has become his entire life at this point, and leaving for any period of time is the last thing Kvothe wants to do; however, once he reconciles himself to the fact, he finds a new opportunity that will ultimately lead him in the same direction and, actually, bring him closer to reaching his goals. Kvothe travels to the other side of the world, performs services for a political dignitary whose clout will aid him later, eradicates a horde of thieves with the use of his arcane abilities, survives encounters with Faerie beings, lives abroad and trains with highly skilled mercenaries, learns a new language, rescues innocents, kills… The list goes on. Everything that Kvothe does is a step on a map leading to his ultimate goal – finding and killing a set of beings who have wrought much misery in the world, especially for Kvothe himself. Every convoluted detour, every new face, every particular skill, every mystery – it all leads to this goal.

Considering all these specific events that create perfect storm situations for Kvothe, both in his favor and otherwise, I’m reminded of a conversation that my best friend and I once had about how our lives overlapped. The fact that his family moved to different states at different points in his life for various reasons, that his mother divorced when she did and remarried when and whom she did, and so on – those are just a few things that ultimately brought him to this little town in Mississippi. Unexpected family happenings, my parents’ divorce, starting church in a new place, my mother’s remarriage – those are a few things that brought me to the same little town. Add to that the fact that I was very quiet at school and he made it his personal goal to annoy me into talking – what better recipe for best friends could there be? – and that our personalities just happened to be different enough to complement each other without becoming unbearable, plus some similar interests, and voila, friends for life. All because lots of little things and big things, both within and outside our control, happened the way they did.

Now, not to get too “Ray Bradbury” here, but truly – what are the odds? What if his family hadn’t moved North after a boll weevil infestation fifty years ago? What if my mother hadn’t gone out with my father when they were younger? Things would be drastically different now. I’m reminded of It’s a Wonderful Life… It even calls to mind things like butterfly effects, parallel universes, time travel, and alternative histories. What could the world have been like? Just like Kvothe’s life, each of our lives is an intricate patchwork – the product of the whims of our Maker, our contact with other people, our decisions, our ancestors, our genes… What a beautiful – and frightening – perspective.

Frightening indeed. This very perspective is my second-greatest fear. When he decided to go on his journey, Kvothe didn’t know how successful he would be. Any time we make a decision, even a small one, we can’t necessarily be sure of the outcome. I can attest to the fact that good, responsible decisions can still lead to disaster. And after having experienced that kind of disaster, even as frustrating as stagnation can be, I sometimes fear to move at all. What if I’m ambushed by my own version of Kvothe’s attackers on his way to Severen? All the miserable What if’s about my career, my relationships (and lack thereof), my education, my goals… Like so many of you readers, I sometimes involuntarily examine everything that can possibly go wrong in life.

But my greatest fear – and I hope yours too, readers – is regret. I’ve come to fear regret more than I fear the worst What if possibilities. As is evident from the title and multiple themes of The Wise Man’s Fear, some fears are rational and reasonable. It’s our job to sort them out and deal with them accordingly rather than allow them to run our lives. Part of me fears jumping out of the plane as I stand on the edge looking down; but a more deeply buried part of me fears not jumping. Part of me fears setting out on the journey because of thieves and murderers that could be lying in wait; but I’m developing an inveterate tendency to set off anyway because while I can’t literally call down Lightening and Wind like Kvothe when I’m in trouble, I’ve discovered I can in fact stir up a storm of my own when I need to…

Total pages: 1,107; total FoA pages: 24,237

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