Among fantasy titans, Patrick Rothfuss shocked just about everyone by carving a place for himself with his book, The Name of the Wind. It centered on Kvothe, a character of a hundred different stories and the truth behind those stories. Then Rothfuss did it again with The Wise Man’s Fear, the second book to feature Kvothe, and those who weren’t hooked before became so.
So yes, I’m a fan of Kvothe. A lot of people are.
I’ve heard the naysayers complaints. “Kvothe is a Gary Stu,” “He’s has no faults,” “He joins a University and suddenly becomes the greatest wizard ever,” and (I’m not sure what this one means), “He’s a Harry Potter for George RR Martin fans.”
The problem with these arguments is they’re wrong. Kvothe is not a Gary Stu, and he has plenty of faults – like my typo in the last paragraph – he didn’t become the greatest wizard ever after joining the University, and he’s no Harry Potter.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Harry Potter. Or George RR Martin for that matter.
Kvothe is a gypsy. Not a gypsy gypsy, but an Edema Ruh. They’re gypsies. Kvothe is very much defined by this origin, as the Edema Ruh are troupers who travel around the countryside and put on shows, play music, share stories, etc. They raise their children into their community, teaching them from a young age how to act, sing, and play music.
It may not be the most original origin story, but unlike many characters who rise above their allotted station in life, Kvothe excels at sticking to his roots. His Edema Ruh playacting training comes in handy countless times, and music all but defines him.
Though his family is murdered early on and Kvothe is forced to give up these things to survive, he strives for it at any opportunity.
There are too many aspects to Kvothe’s character to go into. There’s too many mini-stories and adventures which made up his development. I’d rather focus on why Kvothe garners so much empathy from readers.
If there’s one thing besides music which defines Kvothe, it’s his brain. Kvothe is very smart. This isn’t to say he’s a genius. Throughout the books he’s consistently flummoxed by information given to him. Perhaps smart isn’t the right word.
Clever fits him more. I’d also consider him a lifehacker. For those unfamiliar, a lifehacker is someone who finds shortcuts in life. Not in a negative sense, like getting paid for not doing anything. Rather, a lifehacker is someone who “hacks” their mind and life to learn things faster, get tasks done quicker, save time, budget time, etc.
Kvothe is a lifehacker. He has all these little tricks that help him study books faster than average students. He learns languages quickly, picks up on lessons even faster.
So Kvothe is a clever, lifehacker, musician. It’s interesting to see, but I don’t think these are the things people feel the most empathy for.
No, Kvothe has struggled. This, more than anything, is what makes Kvothe compelling. Kvothe wasn’t handed some mystical artifact. He didn’t breeze his way into the University. He didn’t easily learn the ways of the Adem.
Kvothe struggled to gain his successes, and his reputation.
It’s easy to forget, when we think back on all Kvothe’s accomplished, that he’s jumped out windows, taken drugs, been beaten, whipped, trapped in Fairyland, smacked around by ten year olds, lived in the woods, been bullied, been homeless, and has been victimized by racism.
Struggle builds character, and Kvothe has clearly struggled. Yet, Kvothe manages to come out on top. Maybe not immediately, or cleanly, or lawfully, but Kvothe seems to pull something out of his sleeve whenever the time is right.
Some may call this “Gary Stu” or “Deus Ex Machina.” I think it’s willpower. We want to read about people who struggle, and we want to see them succeed. We don’t want to see them succeed easily either. If there’s no effort involved, the victory is pointless.
Every victory of Kvothe’s, from his survival with Felurian to his quips with Ambrose, feel earned.
This, more than anything else, is the reason why Kvothe is such a compelling character.