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Boxes within boxes and a useless map

Spatial (and temporal) phenomena in the Kingkiller Chronicles

Introduction
At first glance, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, volumes I and II of Patrick Rothfuss’ as yet incomplete trilogy Kingkiller Chronicles, appear to fulfill many conventions of heroic fantasy. The books are set in a world called the Four Corners (of civilization), consisting mostly of feudal states, a mostly rural and agrarian landscape. This world has a distinct but slightly vague ‘old-timey’ atmosphere – there is little technology, transport is  mainly  by  horse-power,  there  seem  to  be  no  fire-arms  and  no  media. However, a form of postal service exists, science and medicine are taught at university and women have access to university education, so it is hard to place this fictional universe within a ‘real-life’historical epoch. The narrative centres around Kvothe, the many-talented hero. It features a quest (Kvothe  is  looking  for  the  mysterious  Chandrian  who  killed  his  parents when  he  was  a  child),  a  love-story,  encounters  with  demons  and  fairies, sword-fights  and  the  traditional  map  which  invites  readers  to  trace  the hero’s travels through nearly the whole fictional universe of the Four Corners. However, as becomes clear again and again, thebooks play with fantasy  conventions  and  tend  to  disappoint  expectations.  As  a  number  of readers have complained in reviews, Kvothe’s quest doesn’t really seem to go anywhere, as he gets ‘stuck’ at a university (or  theUniversity, as there seems  to  be  only  one)  for  years  and  seems  to  forget about  his  quest  for periods of time altogether: “This [vol. II] is a great big book indeed, but not much happens”, one reviewer claims. A second reviewer goes as far as to claim that the novel (vol. I) “doesn’t have a plot”, while another appreciates just that: “There is no action; there is, rather,  description of inaction, of, in fact, silence. And the silence takes place ina quiet, under-populated inn.  It’s  all  nuance”. However,  for  readers  hoping  for  action-packed  adventures the long descriptions of the inn, the school narrative that takes up so  much  space  and  other  relatively  low-action  episodes  that  describe  the hero’s travels (the Maer’s courtship, Felurian, studying in Ademre, etc.) in detail, must appear disappointing or irrelevant, just as the books’ concern with ‘meta’-elements such as its nestled layers and its preoccupation with stories and names, storytelling and ‘reality’ has been perceived as pretentious and stilted by a number of readers. An in-depth discussion of all the attempts  of  the  author  to  subvert  fantasy  conventions would  exceed  the scope of this article, so the focus will be on spatial (and to a lesser extent temporal)  aspects  and  motifs  and  how  the  author  uses  those  to  subvert fantasy conventions, sometimes leaving his readers confused – and either frustrated or intrigued by the puzzles.

 


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