Kvothe: A Mary-Sue Case Study

I’ve finished The Name of the Wind, and my opinion of it in general and the protagonist in particular has shifted from mild disinterest to hearty dislike.  Kvothe is not a good character.  In my previous post, I labeled him a Mary Sue; I can now confidently state that he nails virtually every defining Mary Sue characteristic as if it was a contest.  Even with conservative scoring, he gets a 70 on the Mary Sue Litmus Test, where anything over 50 is “scrap it and start over.”

But before I get into that, yes, The Name of the Wind does pass the Bechdel Test!  On page 467, Auri offers Mora an apple.  That’s it.  Granted, the fact that the rest of the Auri/Mora conversation is disqualified because it’s about Kvothe doesn’t mean anything about gender–there’s scarcely a conversation in the entire book that is neither with nor about Kvothe.  That’s one of his Sue traits.  So, without further ado*: The Mary-Sue traits of Kvothe.  If this post is long, only Patrick Rothfuss is to blame.

The Black Hole

As mentioned above, Kvothe absorbs everything in this story.  It’s as if he has a gravitational field around him that bends every event back around to being about him.  The other characters, especially Chronicler, who is wasted, and Bast, who is egregiously wasted, sit quietly in his shadow, hanging on his every word and begging for more.

An inherent problem with bookends?  To some degree; they are frowned upon in screenwriting circles (if I recall correctly), perhaps for this reason.  But bookends can be used effectively.  They cannot, however, be used effectively if the events in the framing device are more interesting than the events in the main plot.  It stretches credulity to follow up an attack by an unidentified demonic creature with “Do you feel up for a little more writing tonight?” (639).

It isn’t limited to the framing device, either.  There’s astoundingly little development of any of the supporting cast.  Quick: What are Wilem and Simmons studying?  What are their histories and goals?  It isn’t like there wasn’t time to deal with them; think about how much we learn about the other students in any of the Harry Potter books.  They just aren’t important.  Rothfuss doesn’t consider them important; Kvothe doesn’t consider them important; they don’t consider themselves important.  They are content to hover around Kvothe like a Greek chorus:

Occasionally, I would talk about Denna with Wilem and Simmon.  Being true friends they gave me sensible advice and compassionate sympathy in roughly equal amounts.  (651)

Kvothe, in contrast, is a terrible friend.  He never listens to a word about his friends’ lives and problems, nor does he ever help any of them.  He does help Auri, but she is a perfect demonstration of the black-hole effect: She refuses to tell him anything about herself, not even her own name, and just wants to sit around and listen to him play his lute.

The Narcissist

Kvothe loves to talk about himself.  I won’t repeat the quote from last time, but here’s some more:

“Very well, for simplicity’s sake, let us assume I am the center of creation.  In doing this, let us pass over innumerable boring stories: the rise and fall of empires, sagas of heroism, ballads of tragic love.  Let us hurry forward to the only tale of any real importance.”  His smile broadened.  “Mine.”  (53)

Simplicity’s sake, my [body part of your choice].  He really does think he’s the center of creation.  Look at his attitude towards Chronicler when the latter suggests coming back in a few days to hear the story:

Kote gave Chronicler a look of profound disdain.  “What gives you the slightest impression that I would be here when you came back?” he asked incredulously.  “For that matter, what makes you think you’re free to simply walk out of here, knowing what you know?”

Chronicler went very still.  “Are–” He swallowed and started again.  “Are you saying that–”

“The story will take three days,” Kote interrupted.  “Starting tomorrow.  That is what I am saying.” (48)

Note the death threat; we’ll see it again.  And then:

Chronicler shrugged.  “Most simply tell me what they remember.  Later, I record events in the proper order, remove the unnecessary pieces, clarify, simplify, that sort of thing.”

Kvothe frowned.  “I don’t think that will do.”

Chronicler gave him a shy smile.  “Storytellers are always different.  They prefer their stories to be left alone.  But they also prefer an attentive audience.  I usually listen and record later.  I have a nearly perfect memory.”

Nearly Perfect doesn’t quite suit me.”  Kvothe pressed a finger against his lips.  “How fast can you write?”…

The innkeeper nodded to the scribe.  “I know your reputation as a great collector of stories and recorder of events.”  Kvothe’s eyes became as hard as flint, sharp as broken glass.  “That said, do not presume to change a word of what I say.  If I seem to wander, if I seem to stray, remember that true stories seldom take the straightest way.”  (50-52)

You will record my story exactly as I tell you, when and where I allow it, or I’ll probably kill you.  (This book would have benefited if Chronicler had removed the unnecessary pieces.)  Kvothe believes he’s so important that anyone in the universe would do anything he says in order to hear him talk about how great he is–and, unfortunately, the narrative agrees, since Chronicler meekly transcribes statements like this:

I was brilliant.  Not just your run-of-the-mill brilliance either.  I was extraordinarily brilliant.  (335)

Nor is his hyperbolic self-praise limited to him telling his story.  He talks to everyone this way:

“In that case, Master Kilvin, I am better.  I learn faster.  I work harder.  My hands are more nimble.  My mind is more curious.  However, I also expect you know this for yourself without my telling you.”  (434)

Fred Clark of Slacktivist wrote a perfect response in a different context:

From a purely technical point of view, this appears to be a simple mechanical problem and something that might be easily fixed. We could posit a simple rule — something like, “Don’t have characters praise themselves exuberantly” — and that rule would seem to be something that Jenkins, with a bit of practice, could learn and apply, thereby correcting a flaw in his writing.

Unfortunately, this simple rule seems to belong to that category of rules that shouldn’t require explicit articulation. Another example would be “Eating people is wrong.” The sort of people who would need to be informed of such a rule are not the sort of people who would be inclined to accept or to abide by it, or even to care much about its existence. Trying to explain the rule to them and the reasons for it becomes surprisingly difficult, requiring one to step back – way back — to explain all sorts of fundamental things one had previously assumed were previously assumed. Dealing with the sort of person who needs to be told that “Eating people is wrong” or that “Self-praise seems unreliable” puts you in the position of having to explain things you wouldn’t think needed explaining and leaves you wondering whether it’s even possible to find a shared language in which you could communicate such ideas to a person who didn’t already intuitively recognize their existence.

All I can add is that, when the same criticisms can be leveled against your book and Left Behind, you’ve got a problem.

The Supergenius

Sadly, Kvothe really is as good as he says.  I’ve already explained why this makes for a dull character–how is the reader supposed to connect with someone whose biggest challenge is others’ failure to appreciate how awesome he is?–but, as we’ll see, it also makes for a dull story because all conflicts must be external: Kvothe is never in conflict with himself because he’s always right and virtually never makes mistakes.  Also, he gets tons of praise heaped on him by others, as elucidated in the previous post, because no sensible person can deny that he’s good at everything.  Kilvin’s reply to the previous quote from 434 is not the logical response, which would be “You have just failed my class and will continue to repeat it until you accept that the world doesn’t revolve around you,” but rather:

Kilvin nodded.  “That is better.  And you are right, I do know these things.”  (434)

Another writer would at least have included some sort of justification for why Kvothe is such a special snowflake.  He was touched by Tehlu.  He was born under a favorable star configuration.  His mother took the right neonatal vitamins.  Or something.  But no, he’s just especially special for no reason.

The Tragic Orphan

Spoilers–Kvothe’s parents get killed.  Of course this happens to all sorts of heroic characters, but it’s common among Mary Sues.  Since Sues are perfect and consequently don’t undergo any of the ordinary problems and disappointments that the rest of us are subject to, how do you give them emotional depth?  A tragic backstory, obviously**!

The Woobie

After his parents die, Kvothe spends some time as a street child and many terrible things happen to him.  This is another attempt to give him emotional depth, and again, it’s poorly executed.  I’ve already mentioned that Kvothe apparently caught the idiot ball by not using any of the countless skills at his disposal (at the end of the sequence, he abruptly regains competence).  Rothfuss also seems to think that making more terrible things happen to him will make us feel more sorry for him, when in fact it just feels overwrought and hyperbolic:

When Pike threw me to the ground, my body was almost too numb to feel my father’s lute being crushed underneath me.  The sound it made was like a dying dream, and it brought that same sick, breathless ache back to my chest.  (136)

He spun me around and threw me down.  I slid in the greasy alley snow.  My elbow struck the ground and my arm went numb.  The hand clutching a month of food, warm blankets, and dry shoes came open.  Something precious flew away and landed without even a clink as it hit the ground.  (147)

The sound reminded me of the terrible noise my father’s lute had made, crushed beneath my body in a soot-streaked alley in Tarbean.  I bent to pick it up and it made a noise like a wounded animal.  (605)

There was no Kvothe, only the confusion, the anger, and the numbness wrapping them.  I was like a sparrow in a storm, unable to find a safe branch to cling to.  (606)

Kvothe has an inexplicably high lute attrition rate, doesn’t he?  When he asks to hold the other musician’s lute, I’m thinking “I don’t know.  You don’t have a great track record with lutes.”

The Wolverine

In about three years, Kvothe’s injury count comes to approximately:

  • Three concussions
  • Ten broken ribs
  • A broken nose
  • Eleven cuts requiring stitches
  • A dislocated shoulder
  • Two serious burns

None of these keep him out of action for more than a day and subsequently elicit no more reaction than a manly wince, even though a broken rib takes about six weeks to heal even with modern medicine and ten could therefore keep him out of action for essentially all of three years.  This is another common storytelling shortcut, because who wants to watch the hero lying around recovering, but why does a 700-page doorstopper need storytelling shortcuts?  Rothfuss never exercises discretion elsewhere about what to include or leave out, so an extended sequence of Kvothe recovering would fit in perfectly.

The Center of Attention

The instant Kvothe shows up at the University, he becomes the center of attention:

“All those students, and Hemme, and his friends, they’re all watching me, waiting for some sign of weakness.” (280)

All together, it was enough to start a steady stream of rumor around me, and I decided to take advantage of it.  Reputation is like a sort of armor, or a weapon you can brandish if need be.  I decided that if I was going to be an arcanist, I might as well be a well-known arcanist.  (317)

The audience held themselves quiet, tense, and tight, as if the song had burned them worse than flame.  Each person held their wounded selves closely, clutching their pain as if it were a precious thing.

Then there was a murmur of sobs released and sobs escaping.  A sigh of tears.  A whisper of bodies slowly becoming no longer still.

Then the applause.  A roar like a leaping flame, like thunder after lightning.  (371)

Several hundred people show up on his third day to see him whipped (how many people are there at the University, anyway?); several dozen gather for an apparently-routine sniping match with Ambrose.  Apparently nobody at the University has anything better to do than to follow a petty squabble involving a first-term student.

At Harvey Mudd, we were nice to frosh, but at the same time, nobody was terribly interested in them.  Frosh did frosh stuff; you helped them with homework and listened to their problems if they asked, but they weren’t terribly of interest until they’d plugged themselves into the dorm’s existing social life.  At Scripps, we had tight in-class friendships and hardly any cross-class ones.  In neither case was frosh drama something that upper classmen really cared about.  Hence I have an alternate character interpretation where nobody else at the university actually cares what Kvothe is doing, but he’s too egotistical to notice.  It doesn’t hold up, of course.

This is a consequence of the black hole problem.  We never hear about any non-Kvothe floggings, even though if it’s a common punishment it ought to happen regularly, because nothing actually happens out of sight of Kvothe.  The only two exceptions I can think of are Mola gaining El’the and Sovoy’s riding crop incident.  No wonder Kvothe is all anyone ever talks about.

The Prodigy

Not only does Kvothe have to excel at whatever he does, he has to master them all instantly, at a younger age than anyone before him.  No earning skills with years of study here; the storytelling cliche “hard work hardly works***” is in full play.  He’s admitted to the university at age 15 (average: 18 or older) with just a year of previous study, is admitted to the Arcanum after three days (average: three terms), makes Re’Lar after two terms (average: six terms), spends seven days to qualify for his apprenticeship to Kilvin (average: a month), and finishes said apprenticeship in half the usual time.  He thought up a lamp idea off the top of his head that took Kilvin ten years, learned a language in a day and a half and Chronicler’s shorthand in fifteen minutes–with no mistakes, naturally.

I’d mainly like to point out the sheer overkill.  I know exactly how much faster than usual Kvothe manages everything, because Rothfuss is always saying so in the most explicit terms, like:

I’d made my way into the Arcanum in three days instead of the usual three months.  I was the youngest member by almost  two years.  (317)

Some students took an entire term.  Start to finish, it took me seven days.  (335)

Once again, Rothfuss doesn’t seem to understand that doing half a dozen things extraordinarily fast is no more effective, narrative-wise, than doing one thing extraordinarily fast.  You quickly ceased to be impressed when he accomplishes something, and cease to invest in his goals because you know he’s going to get everything done.  In fact, since he does everything early, you never even have a chance to want him to accomplish things–he always meets his goals before you were even thinking about them.

The Perfect Success

Kvothe always wins.  Period.

Elxa Dal kept careful track of the results.  In the class of thirty-eight, I was the only one to remain undefeated.  (343)

Not just first place, but undefeated.  Anything less than a perfect track record would be unworthy of Kvothe.  This puts him in the company of Ash from Pokemon.  I remember a friend’s dad asking us while we were watching the show as children, “Doesn’t he ever lose?  Or win two out of three?”

In the fight that follows, he puts himself intentionally at an extreme disadvantage and, surprise, not only wins, but also earns a bunch of money from betting on himself.  And we don’t care.  Why should we?  We’re watching his struggle to maintain his position as better than everyone else; by all rights we should be rooting for his opponent.  There’s a reason there aren’t any sports movies about the undefeated team who beats the ragtag underdogs.

The success applies to the important stuff, too.  He never fails at anything he attempts.  A couple of things happen to hinder him, like being banned from the Archives, but those were due to outside circumstances; he himself wasn’t attempting anything.  Rothfuss sometimes tries to couch the success with a disappointment:

“You have completed your apprenticeship and distinguished yourself in terms of skill.”  I relaxed a bit.  “But your greater judgment is still somewhat in question.  The lamp itself we will melt down for metals, I suppose.”  (435)

Don’t let it distract you–he still got what he wanted (the completed apprenticeship).  The lamp itself is immaterial, and no, it doesn’t get melted down.  He keeps it and uses it several times.

The Entitled

Unsurprisingly for someone who almost always gets what he wants, Kvothe thinks he deserves to always get what he wants:

“I may seem young, but I belong here as much, if not more, than some rich lordling who can’t tell salt from cyanide by tasting it.” (235)

Rules are for other people.  Ambrose gets cast as a villain for not letting him into the archives early:

“Goddamn first-termers,” Ambrose groused as he headed back around to sit behind the desk.  “Come in here dressed like rag piles and act like they own the place.” (247)

Of course that’s exactly what Kvothe is doing; he refuses to just wait until his name is in the ledger and demands immediate admittance, but it’s villainous to point it out.  He later actually breaks into the archives; he has absolutely no ability to conceive that maybe he actually shouldn’t go into the archives after being told not to.  He’s also told:

“Principles of Sympathy is one of the classes you’ll have to slog through before they elevate you to E’lir.” (244)

Clear enough; Manet is telling him that everyone here already knows sympathy and no one learns anything in Hemme’s class, but you have to take it anyway.  But Kvothe thinks that he shouldn’t have to even if everyone else does, so he talks to Hemme–who also gets cast as a villain when he doesn’t give Kvothe a pass.

But the best example is the dorms.  Sovoy isn’t a villain, but he is cast as a bit of a pompous jackass because he’s a noble who thinks he’s too good to stay in the dorms and eat in the dining hall like the rest of the students:

“I’ve had to give up my rooms at the Golden Pony.  I’m on the third floor of Mews.  I almost had to share a room.  What would my father say if he knew?…My blood goes back fifty generations, older than tree or stone.  And I am come  to this,” he put his head against the palms of his hands and looked down at his tin tray.  “Barley bread.  Gods all around us, a man is meant to eat wheat.”  (243)

So Rothfuss understands the concept that entitlement is bad and you shouldn’t act like you’re so special that you deserve better than your peers.  Unless you’re Kvothe:

I was determined to try every single inn on this side of the river before I resorted to paying for a bunk and a meal chit again…Anything was better than going back to Mews and the silent scorn of my bunkmates. (415-416)

Kvothe is poor.  He is always bemoaning how he’s living on the edge, unable to afford the luxuries his friends have, constantly in jeopardy of running out of money because he doesn’t have savings or parents who will bail him out.  He was living on the streets a few months ago.  And yet he still thinks he deserves better than Mews.  Sure, he has reasons, but so does everyone.  And yet only Kvothe’s reasons are treated like they count.

The Polymath

Kvothe is good at everything.  He knows at least three languages, can act, sing like an angel, play the lute beautifully (even with a broken string), survive in the wilderness with no supplies, beg, steal, do sympathy, blow glass, mix alloys, sculpt stone, synthesize chemicals, make runic bindings, size up and properly care for horses, track someone through the forest, call the name of the wind, name all the bones and muscles in the body alphabetically (before being admitted to the Medica), and sew up his own wounds with, no doubt, thread that he spun himself out of his own back hair.  To Rothfuss’ credit, all these skills except woodcraft are things that Kvothe had a logical opportunity and reason to learn, and he usually explains why:

You see, troupers live and die by the horses that pull their wagons, and my parents had not neglected my education in this area. (493)

But everyone has an endless number of skills that would be useful to have, and you still can’t possibly learn all of them.  Besides, it’s terrible for the narrative.  In essence, the question underlying any narrative is “How can the hero use his skills to solve this problem?”, and the interest comes when the hero seems to lack the skills he needs.  But Kvothe’s skills range from “good” to “extraordinary”.  There isn’t a single thing he’s bad at, so he’s never faced with a situation where he lacks the skills he needs.  He literally has no weaknesses.  That makes Superman a more balanced character than him, and that’s the guy with the super-landscaping powers.

The Wrongfully Accused

So how do you create conflicts for someone who always succeeds at everything?  Simple: Have him be falsely accused.  Have obvious villains tell obvious lies about him.

Ambrose raised his hands helplessly.  “He came in earlier and I wouldn’t admit him because he wasn’t in the book.  We bickered for a while, Fela was here for most of it.”  He looked at me.  “Eventually I told him he’d have to leave.  He must have snuck in when I went into the back room for more ink.”  Ambrose shrugged.  “Or maybe he slipped in past the desk in Tomes.”  (291)

Of course, when the real story comes to light, everyone sides with Kvothe, who is obviously innocent:

“Damn it, Hemme,” Elxa Dal burst out.  “You let the boy make a simulacra of you, then bring him here on malfeasance?” He spluttered.  “You deserve worse than you got.” (266)

The Beloved and Hated

Everyone loves a Mary Sue.  In story, that is.  Everyone immediately gravitates to them and wants to be their friend.  For instance, multiple masters specifically request Kvothe to join their classes.  Look at how the notoriously prickly club owner Deoch instantly warms to him:

A sudden impulse seized me, and I held out my hand.  “Deoch means ‘to drink.’  Will you let me buy you one later?”

He looked at me for a long second before he laughed.  It was an unrestrained, happy sound that came leaping straight from his chest.  He shook my hand warmly.  “I just might at that.”…

“Deoch owns this place,” Simmon said sharply.  “And he absolutely hates it when musicians suck up to him.  Two span ago he threw someone out of here for trying to tip him.”  He gave me a long look.  “Actually threw him.  Almost far enough to make it into the fountain.”

“Oh,” I said, properly taken aback.  I snuck a look at Deoch as he bantered with someone at the door.  I saw the thick muscles in his arm tense and relax as he made a gesture outside.  “Did he seem upset to you?” I asked.

“No, he didn’t.  That’s the damnedest thing.” (358)

Except for villains, who will immediately be repelled by him and antagonize him with no provocation (and, of course, falsely accuse him of things).  Pike jumps him in an alley.  Ambrose greets him with “Feel free to piss off” (246).  Hemme alone is unwilling to give Kvothe a chance during admissions:

“Come, Herma,” Hemme said, slapping his hand on the table.  “The boy is obviously lying.  I have important matters to attend to this afternoon.” (228)

Of course nobody else likes the villains either:

I guessed from the student’s reactions that Master Hemme was not particularly well loved.  As I sat on a stone bench outside the Mews, passing students smiled in my direction.  Others waved or gave laughing thumbs-up.  (261)

But they can’t outright cross the villains, because they’re powerful and it would just make trouble.  How many characters can possibly be universally hated but too powerful to cross, you ask?  At least three.

The Hero

Of course a hero is heroic; that’s a truism.  However, when played wrong, it can become a Sue trait.  Fela’s overwrought description of Kvothe’s rescue is a little suspect:

“Then you were there, running through the fire.  It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.  It was like…have you ever seen Daeonica?”

I nodded and smiled.

“It was like watching Tarsus bursting out of hell.  You came through the fire and I knew everything was going to be alright.” (461)

Mainly, though, the problem is that Kvothe is the only character who ever does anything remotely heroic.  Denna actually passes out so as to eliminate any competition when he fights the draccus.  It’s as if Legolas and Gimli went unconscious after the breaking of the Fellowship and Aragorn had to bodily haul them around until they reach Minas Tirith.  It’s also the only explanation why Chronicler, who we’re told would be a match for Bast, becomes useless in the spider attack:

Chronicler threw up his hands just as the black thing struck his face and chest…Staggering away, the scribe felt his heel snag on the rough ground, and he began to topple over backward, arms flailing wildly. (36)

He doesn’t even get an ineffectual strike at one of the spiders.  He doesn’t even fall forward, the way Kvothe told him.  He is dead weight, less effective than Carter’s horse.  The net result is mostly just odd.  Kvothe killing four spiders and Chronicler killing one would still cast Kvothe as the vastly more competent character while allowing Chronicler to not seem like a complete liability, but that would infringe on Kvothe’s heroism.  He needs to do everything completely unaided.

The Sociopath

One consequence of Mary Sues being universally beloved is that they aren’t held responsible for their behavior, and can therefore act egregiously without anyone calling them out.  Kvothe behaves himself through most of the story, but near the end, he starts spewing death threats:

“Let them know I’m mad as hell, and I’ll kill the next ones that come after me.  I’ll kill them and whoever hired them, the middlemen, their families, their dogs, the whole lot.” (488)

“I will walk back to Imre this very night and set fire to your house.  Then, when you run out the front door in your nightshirt and stockle-cap, I will kill you, cook you, and eat you.  Right there on your lawn while all your neighbors watch.” (493)

Devi, the target of the first quote, does balk a little, but neither of the people he’s talking to gives the logical response of “You’re a complete sociopath.  Go away and never come back.”  His sociopathic attitude apparently continues into the bookends, given his veiled threat to Chronicler and Bast’s terror of anyone asking the wrong thing and upsetting him.  It reminds me of my hamster Inky, who has figured out that he can always get what he wants by biting my finger, but it isn’t very becoming in a human being, least of all one who’s supposed to be sympathetic.

The Opal

At this point, it’s easier to list the Mary Sue traits that Kvothe doesn’t have.  He isn’t, as far as we know, a half-elf or other half-supernatural-creature, and he isn’t possessed of extraordinary beauty or any other exceptional physical traits, like unusual eyes or…oh, wait…

“I thought I was imagining it before,” Denna said, looking up at me.  “But your eyes really do change color.  Normally they’re bright green with a ring of gold around the inside…But I’ve been watching.  When you broke the pump handle yesterday they went dull green, muddy.  And when the swineherd made that comment about the Ruh they went dark for just a moment…They’re pale now.  Like green frost.”  (562)

Yes, you could discard the statement because Denna is stoned, but:

“I’m surprised you noticed,” I said.  “The only other person to ever point it out was an old teacher of mine.” (562)

Kvothe is a Mary Sue.  Case closed.

—-

*Okay, one bit of further ado:  Bear in mind that Mary Sue is an aggregate term.  There is no one criterion that is necessary and sufficient to define a Mary Sue.  Therefore, disagreeing with one or a few items on the list–either with whether they are Sue traits, or whether they apply to Kvothe–doesn’t change the applicability of the term, unless you actually contest the majority of the list.

**Dead parents are also an extremely blunt storytelling instrument, so they often appear in poorly crafted stories, the very place you expect to find Sues.

***This trope refers to the classic scene from any number of movies where the hero, in one training montage, masters something that other people have been studying their whole lives–think Kung Fu Panda.

For a more detailed look into Kvothe and The Name of the Wind, check out this readthrough on Doing In the Wizard.

EDIT: A friendly reminder to be civil, don’t whine, and don’t sockpuppet.  Not only will enough of this get you moderated, but it won’t exactly make your opinion look cool and objective, either.  It’s just a book, guys.

ANOTHER EDIT: Since there’s been sockpuppeting, I’m going to stop letting through anonymous comments (on this post only).  If I have to close comments because people are unable to talk about a book in a reasonable manner, then I’m going to officially subscribe to the “there are drugs in the pages” theory.

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90 responses to “Kvothe: A Mary-Sue Case Study

  1. There are a few interesting scenes in the second book (minor spoilers) where Kvothe clearly and abjectly fails at something he’s supposedly very good at. Both of these scenes happen in the frame story, so it leaves the reader with the thought that maybe he’s just a gigantic liar, and the story he’s telling Chronicler is at best highly embellished and perhaps even outright untruthful.

    Of course, if the third book comes out and that turns out to be the case, I think as a reader I’d feel tremendously cheated–I spent two books listening to this guy talk only to find out in the end it was all a lie? Unless that’s handled extremely well, I can’t see it working.

    Anyhow, I see your point, but I think I liked the books almost because he’s a Mary Sue character. First, it makes sense that everything is about him–he’s telling the story of his life in the first person. Literally nothing in the main narrative can happen outside of his presence, unless he adds in something like “I heard later from so-and-so that this is what happened after I left.” His main character flaw, as Bard said, is that he has no self control, and he can’t help but screw things up for himself–almost all the setbacks he suffers are directly caused by his own inability to not be a jackass. The entire subplot with Ambrose only happens because Kvothe can’t stop himself from being a jerk towards him. He’s a character who has some likeable traits but isn’t really on the whole likeable. And yet for some reason once it got past the endless “introduction” (beginning of the first book up until he gets to the University) in which it takes hundreds of pages for almost nothing to happen (the main takeaway from that entire bit is: Kvothe loses everything) I really liked the story. *shrug*

    • I don’t think many of his setbacks are due to his own actions; the first and second lute-breaking incidents, for example, are both caused by other people being malicious with no provocation (Ambrose had prior provocation, but Pike didn’t). Anyway, he just has extremely few setbacks of any kind, particularly compared to the number of set-forwards (antonym?) he gets due to his skills and personality.

      And that’s, in essence, why impulsiveness or jerkish behavior don’t properly work as flaws for him: neither the narration, the other characters, or the events of the story make them out as being bad.

  2. Doug S.

    You might be amused to learn that, in The Wise Man’s Fear, he gets beaten up by a little girl. Repeatedly.

    • Jim

      A little girl that has been has been brought up studying martial arts for her entire life whereas Kvothe has studied it for about a month when they first spar. Kvothe gets beat up several times throughout the 2 novels anyways, so apparently the Mary Sue doesn’t go as far as his fighting skills.

    • asdf

      Those girls eventually send him away because they’re worried he’ll become too good though.

  3. Review: Kvothe: A Mary-Sue Case Study

    aghh… read the firs two paragraphs and deduced that this was a mayor waste of time, the author hates the book ever since he or she first laid hands on it… 5000 words… to say: “i hate Patrick Rothfuss for coming up with the idea of a character stolen from everything i have seen and read and making his book a best seller”.

    • Do they put incoherence-inducing drugs in the pages of this book, or what?

    • Ben

      I didn’t get that from this page.. however there was a comment I remember seeing (though I don’t think it was here) that insultingly compared anyone who likes this series to a 14 year old boy.. I will say that I’ve noticed a lot comments from people who don’t like the series seem to be written by thin-skinned, hypersensitive psychologist wannabes.. check out the comment section here, there are quite a few people pretty much going “he lied to this person. He must a sociopath”. “He threatened this person. He must be a psychopath.”

      • Despite the general tenor of this post, I should clarify (as I have elsewhere on these blogs) that I absolutely don’t want to make anyone stop liking something. You have every right to read and enjoy whatever books you want.

        But the comments here pretty clearly show that the detractors don’t have a corner on thin-skinned and hypersensitive.

  4. Danila

    This review is well-written and thorough. It’s very unfair to dismiss this as “hate”. Ultimately I enjoyed the story in spite of Kvothe. Each episode was like “Today in the Adventures of Kvothe” where I don’t care so much about Kvothe but I find the adventures thrilling. Even though I ended up enjoying the book overall (my reaction to the first third was very much like your own and I wanted to give up), I still completely agree that Kvothe is the epitome of a Mary-Sue and this is a major drawback.

    You don’t really touch on the ridiculousness of the Denna character but I get the feeling she too would be a Mary-Sue if the story were told from her perspective. Every man loves her, every woman is jealous, voice of an angel, stunning beauty, the only one who is ever allowed to come up with ideas before Kvothe, tragic background that supposedly explains her extremely manipulative and unlikeable nature.

    And that’s, in essence, why impulsiveness or jerkish behavior don’t properly work as flaws for him: neither the narration, the other characters, or the events of the story make them out as being bad.

    Yes, this, a million times this. Sure, he rushes headlong into a few things. For example, the aforementioned incident where he placed himself at an extreme handicap in the sympathy competition with his classmate. He even says, multiple times, that it is “impossible” for him to win. Silly me, it was early enough in the story that I really thought it would be impossible and he’d have to learn a lesson. I mean, someone as brilliant as he at the use of sympathy should know if something is impossible or not. But of course, it was very possible…for Kvothe. No consequences except adding to his legend.

    At the same time, this is not a likeable guy. No one who talks about himself the way he does in the quotes you used (plus many more), no one that unaware, entitled, and cocky, should attract so many loyal people. I don’t know why Sim and Willem are his friends. I was mystified by the fact that suddenly this genius loner who is never spoken of as having friends suddenly has diehard loyal friends. I could understand why no one much would much like him, even if they respected or feared him. If his personality flaws were really flaws then one of the obvious consequences would be an inability to experience that level of loyalty and intimacy. But Kvothe must have everything, so he gets even that.

    Most of the bad things that happen to Kvothe in “The Name of the Wind” are due to the villainy of others or poor luck. He makes mistakes but the consequences are short-term. He achieves every goal he sets out to do, and each time almost exactly how he set out to achieve it except for when someone else gets in the way. And then he still gets it anyway, he just has to be even more brilliant (like playing the most difficult song ever in the history of ever on a lute that has been sabotaged).

    Oh, he’s also a better storyteller than someone like Chronicler who has devoted his life to it. After all, if “The Name of the Wind” is great story-telling, and for all my critiques I did find it very interesting and readable, it’s Kvothe who is telling the story. But that’s just another thing he “naturally” picked up I guess.

    • Good observations all. I didn’t really mention Denna because this post was about Kvothe (and she hadn’t been introduced yet in my previous post), but main character or not, she is indeed a Mary Sue as well, perfect and pure.

      In fact she’s less of a character and more of a macguffin–a simple plot device. Her main trait is that everyone wants her, and she actually does precious little–her effect on the plot is everyone else finding her, losing her, currying favor with her, fighting over her, etc.

    • lana

      i agree! I found the book to be very entertaining but in spite of Kvothe … I am reading the second one now but sometimes have to put it down cause its ridicules how perfect he is….

    • Laura

      You ever have that friend? You know the guy (or girl) who clearly has a very high opinion of his/herself. They whine about their daily tribulations like you care while massively self-aggrandizing. Often times this person is younger and more than a little foolish. They’re usually unpopular because they don’t seem to have a good grasp of the conventions of social interaction, such as “How are you?”. The idea of interest in someone being reciprocal doesn’t really occur to them.

      But this guy/gal has no friends and you know what its like to be lonely or you just want to be a decent person, so you’re friendly with the kid. What are you going to do? Tell this person to grow some social cues?

      I very much imagine Wilem & Simmon this way. My understanding is that they’re both older than Kvothe. Ever notice how they’re always drinking whenever Kvothe’s around? Man, if I had to hang with that guy out of politeness, I’d knock a few back. But still, he’s just a stupid kid, so they look out for him, try to give him advice, try to stop him from falling into a chemical vats from exhaustion. And they do this without expecting anything in return because they’re adults. And he’s still a child. (Named Mary Sue.)

      I like this idea because it means that Kvothe is telling this story years later of how beloved he is by these guys, but really never actually was their ‘friend’. That’s how self-centered and thick this guy is.

      • Good observations. The implicit dynamics that would cause the supporting characters to treat Kvothe the way they do are interesting. He would drive anyone to drink!

    • Ben

      You’ve addressed the impulsiveness and jackassery and that they don’t work as flaws, but what about his criminal proclivities? Though Kvothe insists that no Edema Ruh would do anything at all dishonest any time the subject comes up, he’s a thief and a scam artist. He’s also a boastful exaggerator if not a flat out liar, and he openly admits that he lies and brags about how good a liar he is several times in both books. I’m thinking that’s somehow how going to come into the plot of the third one. As for Denna being a Mary Sue, she might surprise you there.. For a long time, I thought Denna was going to die in the third book, now I’m less sure of that, and think most fans will be glad to see her go if she does. The reason I expected her to die is the “present” Kvothe always seemed to me like he was in mourning when he talked about her.. now though I think Denna is going to turn out to be a villain and he’s mourning the person he thought she was. We know there’s a lot about her Kvothe doesn’t know and I just can’t see her being one of the “good guys” in the end

  5. atrasicarius

    OK, first of all, you repeat some of these categories like 5 different times in various ways. Most of these can be broken down into “He’s too smart” and “Everyone pays attention to him.” We get it. You didn’t like the book. You don’t need to repeat yourself.

    Secondly, both those claims are essentially the whole point of the story. The reason he’s telling the story at all is because he IS a supergenius or whatever. Normal people don’t have stories told about them. People are just naturally talented sometimes. You don’t need to make him “The Chosen One,” and in fact, that’s about the most cliched thing you could possibly do. And of course, the fact that he’s the center of attention is because HE’S the one telling the story. Have you never heard of the idea of an unreliable narrator? Mary Sues are supposed to be flawless, but I’d say narcissism and arrogance are kind of large flaws, especially when they actually affect the story.

  6. Ebod

    Well, normal people DO have stories told about them, you know. Every well written character has flaws that makes them “normal”. Being super smart doesn’t make you a Mary Sue, being Kvoth does. (I’m not specifiyng traits because I totally agree with the post)

    I don’t think anyone hate Kvothe, I think some people (and I include myself) dislike him, but not because he’s smart (I mean, who would ever dislike a character just for being smart?) no, it’s because he’s PERFECT. He’s SO PERFECT he falls under “irrealistic” and “annoying” and even boring: he’s SO PERFECT his deeds have no interest because they make you think “oh…ANOTHER thing made PERFECTLY in LESS TIME THAN EVERYBODY ELSE and BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE in this universe by Kvothe…what a non-surprise”

    Besides that, there’s this thing that upsets me most which is: every two lines someone (or Kvothe himself) is telling how amazing and smart Kvoth is. I mean, using your own words: “Ok, he’s a genius. I get it. I got it the first time you said it. Please (PLEASE) stop repeating it”
    I mean, how I’m supposed to like a guy who PRAISES himself ALL THE TIME about how smart and amazing he is? I can’t stand people like that, even in real life.

    And besides that, there’s the “talented-for-everything thing” which falls apart from being smart: I mean, being smart doesnt make you the singer with the most beautiful voice ever…or the best at playing lute…or the best at telling stories…or the best at killing spider-things…or having inusual eyes and red hair (this usually are traits used to say how “special” and “amazing” the character is globally)

    That just that I remember. And I didnt even finished the book so you can imagine… And no, I didnt hate the book since first page or something like that, actually, I’m liking it. I just can’t stand Kvoth, and I liked him untill 2 or 3 chapters after he started telling his story….

    Anyway, I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who thinks Kvoth is a Mary Sue/Gary Stu…I feel less alone now :)

  7. Mism

    Ok, here is muy counter argument, “actually contest[ing] the majority of the list”.

    1. Black Hole:

    The story is being told by Kvothe, about his own life. Why should it not be centered on him?

    You criticise the structure of the book saying the frame is more interesting than the body of the story. Personally I don’t see how, but if anything, having interesting, grabbing events in the frame is a good thing. It builds tension, and makes you more eager to learn how things came to be as they are. i.e. to hear the rest of the story.
    As for “do you feel like a little more writing tonight?”
    It sounds worse when you take it out of context. You leave out the hours in between the attack and that particular question.
    “for the next several hours the Waystone was the center of the town’s attention” p634
    and “one by one, exhaustion drove them out of the Waystone” p635
    and right after, “Nearly half an hour passed without anyone speaking”

    So not only did the entire town come to the inn and fuss about the attack for hours, until one by one the left out of exhaustion, but after that the characters take half an hour to mull over things. They then have a pretty in depth discussion about what the demon was. Only then does Kvothe ask if he should continue his story – which Chronicler travelled miles to hear, risking his life. And the telling of which is limited to 3 days. What more did you want the characters to do? Gnash their teeth and wail? The demon is dead, nobody knows what it was, and they dwell on it for hours afterwards. When it appears they are safe, why should they not continue what they were doing? Why should Rothfuss pad the story any more than he needs to?

    “Quick: What are Wilem and Simmons studying? What are their histories and goals?”

    First, may I point out that you omitted Manet, for whom all those questions easily answered. Perhaps not in great detail, but then again, perhaps it is not relevant to the plot?

    As for Wil and Simmon, the first time they are all together they say to Manet that they want their guilders. = motivation. In addition, we know quite a bit more about them, like simmon being a noble. We are also told he is studying rhetoric, chemistry and Siaru. I can’t remember what Wil is studying, but we know he works at the archives and is the son of Cealdish Wool merchants. And we know much more about their personalities. Again, as they are not main players in the story, why detail them more?

    As for Kvothe being a crappy friend. A) doesn’t that make him NOT a mary sue? Wouldn’t a mary sue be a perfect friend?
    B) “He had done a friend’s duty…and I had repaid him with lies”
    In retrospect, Kvothe feels guilty for his treatment of them. Even more, this makes him a fleshed out character, and not a flat mary sue.

    I will continue to address each of your arguments, but this post is getting long, and I have no time now.

  8. Danila

    The story is being told by Kvothe, about his own life. Why should it not be centered on him?

    Nah man, I’ve read tons books where a character is telling his or her life story or the book is a story from their past and they manage to include other characters with some depth and significant interests of their own. If I were to tell you my life story right now and I wanted to tell you about my mother or my best friend there is a ton of stuff I could tell you to give you insight into them as people, who they were and where they were coming from perspective-wise without making it all about me.

    I don’t think the Black Hole is just because the story is about Kvothe. It’s that in this book it felt like everyone existed just to reflect something back to Kvothe or to be used in some part of his journey. Other than that they are ciphers.

    As for Kvothe being a crappy friend. A) doesn’t that make him NOT a mary sue? Wouldn’t a mary sue be a perfect friend?

    No, he’s a crappy friend from my perspective, as a reader. It stands out because his FRIENDS don’t seem to be aware that they have a lousy friend. I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY THEY ARE HIS FRIENDS. I don’t understand why people instantly like him (like the bar owner). We are given no real reason why (he doesn’t do anything in particular for these people, nor is he especially charming or funny or nice), it’s just a mystery. If it’s a good person, then they will like or at least greatly respect Kvothe automatically. And girls will keep falling for him.

    It’s especially jarring to me (and I know you weren’t talking to me but I have the same complaint about him), because he goes from spending years living a loner’s life on the streets unable to trust anyone and at odds with his peers, to making quick, long-term friends immediately upon entering the university. Even though he’s arrogant, entitled and self-centered. And NOBODY dislikes him for good reason. Only the villanous. Except for me, this reader. I dislike him a lot. Guess I’m a villain.

    Anyway, a Mary-Sue is always implausible yet people keep writing them.

    Oh, and as for this:

    “He had done a friend’s duty…and I had repaid him with lies”

    I mean, the lie he told is a bogus example of a “wrong”. He asked Wil to get him some medicine for his stomach when it was really to lessen the pain of the horribly unjust whipping he was about to take. It was a lie of no consequence to Wil, who “did his duty” by keeping Kvothe company before the massively unjust whipping that was totally unfair and only came about because of yet another villain. So Kvothe kept a little dignity by saying the medicine was for his stomach instead of the truth (so he wouldn’t yelp like a baby), and for THIS he gets all melodramatic “He was such a good friend and I lied to him oh don’t I suck”. I reject this.

  9. Mism

    First, let me say that everyone is entitled to their opinions. I am merely presenting a counter-argument, and do not mean any offense to anyone.
    @Danila:
    1. Your rebuttal about the story being centered on Kvothe makes sense. However, while I agree that more depth to some of the side characters would be nice (Note: some. There are others who are great, and well fleshed out. e.g. Elodin, his parents.) The book is long as it is. I can understand leaving some of the side characters a little flat in order to avoid padding things out too much.
    2. “I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHY THEY ARE HIS FRIENDS”. This argument is one that I have trouble trying to counter, and if kvothe is mary-sueish anywhere, it is here. However, the logic “Only nice people have nice friends” is a little flawed. It is perfectly possible, however unlikely, that nice people can be friends with assholes. Add to this the fact that Kvothe is not completely an ass towards them – he entertains them, jokes with them, drinks with them, etc (and this is only what we actually see of their friendship, he may do more behind the scenes.) I am merely arguing that it is not impossible for relationships to be somewhat one sided.
    3. As for nobody ever disliking him without being a villain. Master Lorren dislikes him – not hates, but he certainly doesn’t like him. With very good reason. And Master Lorren is not a villain. Master Elodin also does not exactly like him. We are told that many people in the arcanum resent his quick admission and progress. I will concede that there are relatively few people, compared to those who do like him, but you can’t say there is nobody.
    4. “He had done a friend’s duty…and I had repaid him with lies”
    It seems a melodramatic thing to think in the moment, but in this case, you need to remember that this is future Kvothe talking. Future Kvothe who knows aout all his later asshole betrayals, and feels guilty about them all. He is pointing out that even in the beginning, he lied to them (a lie is a lie), and this foreshadows his future treatment of them.

    The Narcissist:
    Definition of a Mary Sue: “A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader”

    Kvothe is undeniably a narcissist. In my opinion, this is rather a noteworthy character flaw, and many of his problems stem from this.

    “Very well, for simplicity’s sake, let us assume I am the center of creation. In doing this, let us pass over innumerable boring stories: the rise and fall of empires, sagas of heroism, ballads of tragic love. Let us hurry forward to the only tale of any real importance.” His smile broadened. ”Mine.” (53)

    This passage is tongue-in-cheek. It is not meant to be taken literally. Simple as that.

    Kote gave Chronicler a look of profound disdain. ”What gives you the slightest impression that I would be here when you came back?” he asked incredulously. ”For that matter, what makes you think you’re free to simply walk out of here, knowing what you know?”

    Chronicler went very still. ”Are–” He swallowed and started again. ”Are you saying that–”

    “The story will take three days,” Kote interrupted. “Starting tomorrow. That is what I am saying.” (48)

    Again, this passage looks much worse out of context. Kvothe is in hiding, because he is a wanted man. There are people who (very understandably) want to kill him. How is it implausible that he would flee as soon as Chronicler leaves, or that he would prevent Chronicler from leaving in order to preserve himself. (May I also point out, though it is pedantic, that he doesn’t actually threaten him with death here. Imprisonment, perhaps. And that making such a threat is not something that an “idealized” character with no “noteworthy flaws” would do.)

    As for Kvothe wanting his story transcribed exactly, again, this is explained. Chronicler has sought him out to find the true story. Kvothe is trying to tell the true story. Or at any rate, taking advantage of the opportunity to present the story he wants the world to hear. Either way, he would not want it to be edited. And as it is his story, he is perfectly entitled to dictate the terms of how he is going to tell it. Doing so does not make him especially egotistical.

    I will adress kvothe’s “hyperbolic self-praise” and his being a super-genius together, in my next post.

  10. Mism

    Before I continue, I want to point out that The Name of the Wind, is part 1 of 3. It may be marketed as Book 1 in the trilogy, but the book was originally written as a single, uber-long book. It was later split into 3 parts. Thus it really shouldn’t be judged in isolation. If everything seems to go well for him in this book, it is because this is Act 1. Having read Wise Man’s Fear, (note: minor spoilers ahead) things do begin to go south for him. It is quite clear after WMF that Kvothe’s story, up til the frame, is not going to be a happy one. Also, on several occasions, you criticise rothfuss for including things unnecessarily.
    “Rothfuss never exercises discretion elsewhere about what to include or leave out”
    Again, this shouldn’t be judged in isolation. We don’t know at this point what is relevant to the telling of the story as a whole. Already in WMF several things come into play that seemed unnecessary in the first novel.

    Self-praise and Being a Super Genius:
    This is where you negate part of your own argument. First you call Kvothe’s self-praise “hyperbolic”, then you say “Sadly, Kvothe really is as good as he says”. Unfortunately, it is one or the other. Can’t be both.

    Also, you misquote Kvothe’s response to Kilvin.
    “In that case, Master Kilvin, I am better. I learn faster. I work harder. My hands are more nimble. My mind is more curious. However, I also expect you know this for yourself without my telling you.” (434)
    Kvothe says this because Kilvin tells him not to be falsely modest. He is not being arrogant and self-centered, he is being honest.

    Now, I understand that you are saying his being a talented super-genius makes him dull and uninteresting. In my opinion, if he was dull and uninteresting, he would be dull and uninteresting. Instead, he is a talented super-genius. Which is interesting.
    You say “he’s always right and virtually never makes mistakes”
    I completely disagree. He always THINKS he knows the answer. And he is often right. But many of the things that go wrong for him, go wrong simply because he is so convinced of his own superiority and intelligence. He desperately wants to learn under Elodin, who refuses to teach him for this reason. Kvothe is so clever, he thinks jumping off the roof is what he needs to do to show he is worthy of teaching. Meanwhile it is the exact opposite. He is completely wrong.
    He also ends up getting banned from the archives (the whole reason he wants to go to the University) because of his arrogance and unwavering belief in his own superior intelligence.

    Also, you say Kilvin’s logical response would be: “You have just failed my class and will continue to repeat it until you accept that the world doesn’t revolve around you”. This is a matter of opinion. Failing a student who just proved his excellence, and achieved far beyond what was expected of him, is petty. When the test is: do A B C, and a student does A B C exceedingly well, you pass the student. You don’t fail him just because you think he is arrogant. (And as I have pointed out, its not really arrogance if you’re telling the truth.)

    Kvothe’s ability to learn quickly is his major strength. He is not special because he was blessed by a star, or because he is the Chosen One. Such heroes are flat mary-sues. He is special because he is a super-genius. However, his super-genius also leads to many of his problems. This is what makes him, in my opinion, an interesting, balanced character. The whole reason he is telling his story, is because he is a legend. The whole reason he is a legend, and not just a regular guy, is because he has remarkable, unusual qualities, like being super smart. Saying the story is bad because Kvothe is so intelligent is like criticising Einstein’s biography because in it he shows genius level-intelligence.

  11. Mism

    The Tragic Orphan:
    I consider this argument invalid. Frodo, for example, from LOTR, is a flat character with a typical tragic orphan background (his parents died in a boating accident.). His being an orphan has no bearings on the story. But lets take out the bit where Kvothe’s parents are killed. So they’re alive, and he’s with them… and the rest of the story cannot happen. The death of his parents drives the story. The Kingkiller Chronicle without the death of Kvothe’s parents is like the Lord of the Rings without the Ring. While the Tragic Orphan trope is common, and over-used, there is no way Rothfuss would have been able to avoid it here, and still tell the same story.

    The Woobie:
    “I’ve already mentioned that Kvothe apparently caught the idiot ball”
    While its fair to point out that he doesn’t use many of the skills he has in this section of the story, this is explained. The author goes to great lengths to describe that Kvothe’s mind is asleep. He is so deep in shock that part of him is hibernating. It is only when somebody says his name (Skarpi, and though this isn’t explained yet, I’m sure it will be) that he wakes up. And then he uses all of his skills and escapes quite easliy. Also note that naming and names are given great importance later in the series, and have a magical element that is not present in our world.
    Also, you say the author is trying to make us feel pity for Kvothe. While it is natural to feel pity for people to whom terrible things happen, this is not the point of this section. The point is to explain why Kvothe later on is quite hard and unsympathetic, and how he learns some of the unsavoury skills that he learns.
    And as for his “inexplicably high lute attrition rate”, lets examine this.
    The first time, his strings break. I don’t know if you’ve ever played an instrument. This is a natural thing, when you are a musician. Strings break. Its happens. The longer they go without breaking, the more likely they are to break. Its a matter of time, thus not Kvothe’s fault.
    The second time, he gets jumped/mugged, and in the chaos, his lute is broken. Lutes are fragile. Musical instruments generally are. It wasn’t his fault he was mugged, and it wasn’t his fault the lute broke. He was actually trying to stop that from happening.
    The third time, someone maliciously broke his lute.
    I’m not seeing how any of these is a result of Kvothe’s actions, or inability to care for his lute.

    • hgldks

      Ugh, when you realize that you’ve done something poorly and try to justify it over and over to make up for it, it’s not the same as fixing the mistake. It’s the same as being lazy. It’s even worse that Rothfuss goes to such lengths to try and impress that Kvothe is not in his right mind, it means that he realized that it was in complete disharmony with his character and not only was he too lazy to go back and fix it properly, he also figured that his readers were too stupid to recognize his sloppiness if he dressed it up like it was intentional. Kvothe does stupid crap like that all the time, I can’t wait for book three which I assume will be full of lines like, “You mean you’re my aunt? Wow, I should have guessed it earlier.”

      Look, it’s a good book. It’s a light and breezy fairy tale and it’s not a lord of the rings clone. The fact remains, however, that it’s good despite the author’s lazy sloppy writing, and the fact that you need an alar like a blade of ramston steel to suspend disbelief through the many glaring plotholes, flat inconsistent characterization, and heavyhanded foreshadowing.

      Also I hate his calendar and money system.

      • Ben

        Did yo notice that the bar scam is described completely differently in the second book? In the first book, if one of the audience at the bar he plays at tries to buy Kvothe a drink he doesn’t want (already drunk, trying to stay sober, would rather have the money) he orders a drink that doesn’t exist. The bartender gives him water and they split the money later. In the second book when he describes doing this, he says the drink he orders has to exist, the scam is too obvious if it doesn’t. But he has previously explained to the bartender that when he orders a certain drink he really wants water, and again they split the money up later

  12. Mism

    The Wolverine:

    This is the one that I am willing to concede. He is injured an unusual number of times, and does recover very quickly. Fine. I could make some half-arguments, but it wouldn’t be worth the time. Unless something is revealed in book 3 as explanation, this is a fair criticism.

    The Center of Attention:

    Here, you seem to miss out on 2 important things. Whippings are not common, and kvothe is not an ordinary “frosh”.
    If somebody was admitted to a college, at an impossibly young age, and 3 days later, whipped for doing something that has been illegal for hundreds of years, it would draw a crowd.
    First, people like to watch other people fall. This is called schadenfreude. It is the reason hangings were so popular historically.
    Second, not everyone there was necessarily a student. There are regular people living in the university too to service the students, such as all the shopkeepers and innkeepers.
    Third, his whipping would have been sensational, as Kvothe’s crime was quite unusual, and as I pointed out, illegal for hundreds of years already. Imagine the media frenzy that would have resulted today from a “frosh” effectively assaulting a lecturer, or torturing them (since torture is a closer equivalent in our world to malfeasance in theirs.)

    I have already addressed the Black Hole problem.

    The Prodigy and the Perfect Success:

    These are effectively the same criticism. Kvothe is too clever and too perfect.
    I have already addressed him being too clever. And despite the things you mention as his achievements, he is unable to pursue his main goals (learning the name of the wind, and researching the Chandrian) as a result of his arrogance and confidence in his own intelligence.

    As for being too perfect: this is somewhat alleviated in the next book. He doesn’t fail much in this book, but fails several times in the next. He also fails spectacularly at trying to get Elodin to teach him, for a long time, and his initial plan to kill the draccus is also a spectacular failure, resulting in the destruction of half a small town. His unbroken success in duelling is tempered in the next book. And with the lamp, although I agree it would have been better if it had been melted down, the way he persuades Kilvin to give it to him is not implausible to me. And the whole thing does result in Kilvin being more suspicious of him, which comes into play later in the series.

    • hgldks

      he never fails in the second book. Elodin ends up personally tutoring him, He kills the draccus and convinces the town he’s an angel. The maer agrees to pay his tuition and allow him a writ to play anywhere in vintas, and Kilvin gives him loads of money and praise for his bloodless.

  13. Mism

    While I realise that this comment might somewhat invalidate my arguments thus far, I just realised that I have better things to do than keep this up. However, I have at this point addressed the majority of items on the list. In closing I want to say that as far as I can tell, kvothe is arrogant, quite cruel, a liar, and thief, and all of these things consciously. He suffers setbacks as a result of flaws in his character, and learns and grows throughout the books. As such he cannot be described as a mary sue.

    • For the record, I think you’re making valid points. A lot of the stuff I mention is terribly subjective, which is part of the reason the post is so long: Even if one disagrees with many of the individual points, there are just a huge number of them. I’ll just make three points here.

      First, you’re absolutely right that a single volume of a trilogy can’t be properly judged in isolation. Some writers can send you off on what seems to be a complete shaggy dog story and then wrap it up neat as a pin. Is Rothfuss one of them? It’s his debut, so we have no way to know. It’s never fair to judge just part of a work, which is why I finished The Name of the Wind at all. OTOH, it’s not complete yet (The Wise Man’s Fear was either not yet released or just released when I wrote my post; I don’t recall which), so we can only judge it based on what we have. I also don’t think it will make me or anyone else very happy to read a sequel that I know I won’t like just to confirm that I don’t like it.

      Second, the crux of your argument is that Kvothe does indeed have flaws and that makes him not a Sue. However, it isn’t really a flaw unless the story portrays it as a flaw–either it has negative consequences on his life, or people react negatively to it, or Kvothe feels bad about it, or something. Otherwise we have no way to tell if Rothfuss intends Kvothe’s behavior to be problematic or heroic.

      Third, you’re right that many of my points fall under the umbrella of “he’s smart” and I agree that, if superintelligence were his only strength, he’d be far less Sueish. However, brilliance doesn’t really explain his musical skills (no strong correlation there), it doesn’t explain why everyone likes him (most geniuses have weak social skills), and it certainly doesn’t explain why his eyes change color.

      I can respond in more detail if you’re interested, but a proper response might be epic length enough to merit another post.

    • hgldks

      he never grows at all. He continues to make his own problems out of aarogance and get out of them with his perfect brilliance. It’s an incredible theme for a book. PR should have subtitled it “How to be a total jackass and get congratulated for it.”

  14. Screen Candy

    I have to admit I didn’t read this entire article, because I have only just started the book and didn’t want to get any spoilers. I did search for “Mary-Sue Kvothe” though because I was afraid I was the only one seeing this.

    But I am glad to see that others recognize that this is a major, perhaps fatal problem with this book. I am less than 100 pages in and I already hate Kvothe more than any fictional protagonist I can recall. I loathe him to my very bones. I hate his arrogance, I hate his presumed superiority over everyone he interacts with, I hate his ridiculous superhumanly Mary-Sueish capabilities… in short, he is the most disagreeable, hateful, narcissistic piece of trash I’ve ever come across in decades of reading.

    Not sure if I will finish the book since the character is such a cosmic joke, but on the other hand the writing is pretty good. I will never read another Rothfuss book again though. I find this mentality alien and repellant.

    • hgldks

      personally, I feel like the Rothfuss is a good writer in the same way Keanu Reeves is a good actor. Keanu was great in bill and ted. It was the perfect role for him and fit his abilities. When he played prince siddhartha on the other hand…

      Point is, I think that the breezy fairy tale story told by a shameless self promoter is the perfect medium for rothfuss. I doubt any of his other books will be worth reading at all.

  15. You are exactly right — except I think you miss a key point. Kvothe isn’t just a Mary Sue. He is the apotheosis of the Mary Sue. This is, in fact, the perfect Mary Sue story, done completely deliberately — these books are a post-modern riff (but not quite a parody) of the “fantasy” in every sense of the word. The classroom scene where Kvothe shows up his arrogant teacher by teaching the class is just one,pretty obvious example. (Who among us hasn’t entertained a similar fantasy). By the second book, Rothfuss makes his joke pellucidly clear with the absurd Felurian sequence — saying– “c’mon people — surely by now you get the joke?” Folks don’t like that part, because they think it goes too far — but it is all part of the same continuum/joke.

    • Possibly, but if it’s unclear that it’s trying to be deconstructive, then at the least it’s not very well communicated (this is also my objection to the unreliable-narrator defense). The number of commenters here who think Kvothe is a reasonable and well-balanced character are evidence that, if “Mary Sue taken to its greatest possible extreme” is what he was going for, he didn’t do a very good job of it.

    • Screen Candy

      I seriously disagree. There is no way that so much slavish and loving attention is given to this know-it-all knob-head by the author if he were just a deconstructionist inversion of the standard hero trope, ala Mary-Sue. We would be invited to laugh at the hero, along with the author. That is absolutely demonstrably a lie. The author loves the character. The characer loves himself and no one else. This genius clown Kvothe is smarter than his magician teacher, he is a talented actor, he is a brilliant musician, his troupe of roving mountebanks is superior to anyone they encounter… it’s tiresome and sickening. It’s beyond being a Mary-Sue, it’s a moral deficit, a breach of the author-reader contract.

      Mary Gentle’s Grunts is a brilliant deflowering of the fantasy genre, if you want deconstructionism. There is nothing like that here. What we have is technically proficient writing, but what John Gardner would call a deficit of soul, replaced with mannerism and fanciness. On top of it, the author actively insults the reader on multiple occasions. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s astounding in its absolute narcisssim. At times, you could say the author’s own arrogance shines right through.

      Compare say Brandon Sanderson’s Vin to this psychopathic travesty. Who would you rather have on your side, watching your back? Vin, of course. Rothfuss’ character — and there is only one character in this book, everyone else seems to be some sort of static surface for Kvothe to push against, is a psychopath. He steals from people, insults them, beats them, without a qualm. He has no conscience. I don’t even think he knows what it means.

      The only part of the book I have enjoyed so far was when Marty Sue ended up in the city and suffered. But my enjoyment of that portion ended when I realized belatedly that this is where the author was trying to build sympathy for his monster. More Mary-Sue-ism: “Oh, what a hard life the poor boy had, of course we can forgive him!”

      One of the most despicable characters in modern fantasy literature. He is morally insane, in the historic sense of the term.

      • Thursday

        I’m impressed by your knowledge of moral insanity, but sorely disappointed by the implication that because he is insane we should therefore despise him.

        Not having read the book yet myself, I can’t comment on whether I think the character has an actual personality disorder – it seems likely, though – but even if he does that is not a reason to despise him.

      • Alp

        I’ve never heard someone rant so passionately about a book I personally enjoyed. When one is so utterly convinced of their own opinion it usually reveals more about oneself – I understand that there are some people who wouldn’t enjoy the book, but you have to stay a bit more open minded than that. Your opinion is hard to get around.

        Narccistic – Its an easy term to use, but implicates the book in a way that I don’t think it deserves. You focus on how ‘arrogant and repellant’ the character is. After reading this post I became aware of things I didn’t focus on and admit he does have flaws as a character.

        When I read the book, I saw a character that came from an inspired and varied background, who, with the building blocks from his alchemist tutor and family of performers went on to achieve the impossible. His young age, talented companions and natural prowess allowed him to prepare for whatever could be thrown at him. Sometimes he gets lucky, sometimes he atonishes, and sometimes he deceives in order to become this legendary figure. But thats the whole point of the book. The excitement of somehow managing to become this incredible figure. I fail to see why the author has created such a profoundly unlikeable character – How would you write a hero that comes from natural origins and has songs written about him across the world?

      • Good question (your apparent dislike of opinions notwithstanding). I’ve addressed it on my other blog by comparing Kvothe with Ursula K. Le Guin’s Ged, another magic worker of great renown, but a vastly better characterized one.

      • Plus fucking one. These people who’re claiming the parody/deconstruction defense are ignoring the fact that the book…is not funny. That no one within the story seems to be reacting to the new-heights-of-arrogance Qvhvhvhvhvv like a real human being would–y’know, with loathing and contempt, even if he really were as good as he’s described. You can’t just write a book that’s start-to-finish vile wish fulfillment tropes and then label it a deconstruction. It’s just a construction. Even if it were an intentional construction, which I don’t believe or a second NotW is, that doesn’t excuse it failing to actually challenge the genre conceits.

        If NotW was supposed to be a deconstruction, it actually failed worse than if it were just supposed to be fuckawful genre lit. Because that implies it is all of the awful things it is -intentionally,- and not just because of authorial incompetence. “Madam queen, I have satirized the entire notion of indoor plumbing my shitting myself while spending the night with you.” I don’t think so.

  16. Ebod

    Hi Mism! I see you made some really fine points :)

    The thing with the “he’s too clever”, well, I think it goes more to “he does EVERYTHING fine, better than anyone and in less time than anyone” which, after the 10th, starts to be incredibly boring and annoying.
    I mean, being clever doesn’t make you talented at everything, even if your IQ goes beyond 300. And it certainly doesn’t make your eyes to change color, or your voice to be the most beautiful voice ever heard on the universe.
    What happens with this? It happens that the story stops being interesting to be just “a boring lot of incredible deeds made by Kvothe” it’s boring because you already know what’s going to happen and that he’s not gonna have a real “challenge” to made them, just some “villain” who happens to don’t like him for unfair reasons (Lorren, even if he do has a reason to dislike him, it’s still unfair because Kvothe didn’t know candles weren’t allowed).
    Besides, he’s not just clever, he’s strong enough to kill that spider-things (I didn’t end the book yet, so I don’t know if he makes another super-strenght-needed thing), he’s great at arts (music & theater), he has great social skills, he isn’t described as being ugly or unnatractive, he’s nimble, he learns really fast, he’s mature (remember we’re talking about a 15-16 year old teenager or a 11 year old kid at the beguinning)…
    I mean..what else? Ok, he’s an selfcentered and narcicisst asshole, but the trick is that ONLY us (readers) see that, all his world doesn’t appear to see it, let alone thinking it.
    Even among the villains, only Hemme seems to be aware of this, the rest just hate him “because”.

  17. Richard Crossin

    Great job on this review. This is the only book I’ve ever read where I disliked or flat out hated every major character, and had a severe dislike of most of the minor ones.

    Without question, Kvothe is the most unlikeable protagonist I’ve ever read.

  18. No offense, but it seems that all of you guys—original author and respondants alike—are forgetting two very important factors in this series…

    1) It’s about a LEGENDARY HERO, from the perspective of the legend himself. The stuff that happens to him, you would EXPECT to happen! I mean, if we were to take somebody like Hercules (provided he was a real person), and look at his life through a lens OTHER than myth, you would find many of the same qualities—quick on the draw and EXTREMELY lucky, given breaks and opportunities that many people never see. That’s how the vast majority of important people BECOME important, after all: right place, right time.

    2) Kvothe’s telling of the story is designed to be AGE APPROPRIATE. He’s not just telling his story from his perspective—he’s telling it from his perspective AT THE TIME the events take place. As such, have you ever met a brilliant, inordinately lucky kid that WASN’T an arrogant ass?!?

    One of the greatest things about this series, in my opinion, is that you can tell that elder Kvothe has many of the same views of his younger self that you all do. He sees a pompous jerk who takes way too much for granted, from his friends to his smarts to Denna. And yet, in order to be true to the story, he has to TELL the story from the perspective of that pompous jerk that he used to be. All one has to do is look at Kvothe the Innkeeper to see the regret he bears from Kvothe the Legend.

    Yall are more than entitled to your opinion, and I mean no offense. I just think yall are selling him short by not reading the story in the light it was intended.

    • hgldks

      Hercules? really? find another analogy, it’s not wise to go greek here.

      • Fine. Pick another hero, maybe something more realistic. John Henry, for example. George Washington. Audie Murphy. Sergeant York. Harriet Tubman. William Tell. Miles Standish. Whoever.

        The point is, every hero is a combination of personal attributes and unique circumstance. Many people have exactly the same qualities as these we take to be heroes—some unknowns arguably have BETTER qualities than they—but these select few were subject to special opportunities, and often had the good fortune for things to simply go their way. It’s just like getting discovered in Nashville: right place, right time, right combination of talent.

        This is what happens with Kvothe. Whatever qualities he possessed, he had stuff HAPPEN to him that allowed him to showcase those qualities. His legend is as much a product of LUCK as it is ability and personality—exactly the same thing that you see whenever you research REAL heroes, looking into the man behind the legend.

      • If you’re going to take that position, you’ll have to point to some real-life heroes with Kvothe’s track record of being both completely undefeated and a master of a huge variety of skills.

  19. As I read the novel, thought to myself, “The problem with this book is that it is one huge ‘Mary Sue’ story.” I even said it to my wife aloud. Today, I plugged the title and “Mary Sue” into Google.

    It was, therefore, extremely gratifying to read your cogent and meticulous analysis.

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  21. Matt

    Kvothe narrates like Patrick Rothfuss narrates, feels and thinks like he does. They’re not an exact match, but anything you don’t like you probably will also find in the author’s normal style of correspondence, of reviewing, of talking about everything under the sun. It’s a certain (pop-)cultural mentality that you can either like or dislike, but yeah, it’s harmless and also clever in its own way (naturally).

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  23. Ky

    I find it amusing that this so-called “Mary Sue Limitus Test” seems to be some kind of writers guide to not making crappy characters, yet I have read many fantasy books with characters that would fail the test and still these authors have been more or less successful. The Name of the Wind is a best seller,and internationally published. If I were to rate sucess by reviews on amazon for example with like 1200 4 or 5 star reviews compared to roughly 200 1 or 2 stars, well if Kvothe is a Mary Sue then to me it would seem like accepting bad advice if I were an aspiring writer(which I am obviously not)
    Seems like lots of people are ok with Mary Sues then..

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  25. Ryan

    Well, as far as everything being about Kvothe, that could be dodged by saying that the majority of the story is him recounting his childhood.

    I lost interest when every woman he met was all over his dick. (possible exaggeration)

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  27. cake

    I agree with this whole list. I still enjoyed the books quite a bit but I was starting to get very tired of Kvothe’s inability to fail.

    It would have been a little less grating if he used his supposedly vast intellect to put himself in an advantageous position, as he does do on a couple of occasions but seemly more and more as the story goes on he just wings it and comes out on top, “because”.

    The whole point does seem to be to set Kvothe up for his big “fall” to get him to where he is in the frame story, all of the problems in which seem to be caused by him.

  28. Kvothe is not a Mary Sue. He’s a super-hero in a genre where mere heroes are the expectation. To the extent that he violates that expectation, he commits a faux-pas. While never called by name, Kvothe has an Eidetic memory in a universe were memorization, visualization, and concentration are the keys to magic’s endless power. This makes him a literal superman, not a figurative one as you stated above.

    What makes a Mary Sue is not an inability to fail – it’s an unexplained ability to succeed. Whether you buy it or not, Rothfuss goes to great and exhausting lengths to explain how Kvothe succeeds. What’s exciting is the fact that all the tools to his success are laid bare well in advance and its fun to figure out how he’s going to do it, before he does it.

    Lastly, Kvothe is a jackass. If you have no friends like him, I can’t begin to explain why he’s sympathetic. There’s something endearing about someone who tries their hardest to succeed and then shoots themselves in the foot at the last moment. It’s not very heroic at all, but even flawed people can be the source of heroic legend.

  29. Pingback: What People Don’t Like Are Poorly-Done Versions Of Tropes or: In Defense of Mary Sues | Ferrett Steinmetz

  30. Anonymous

    Kvothe failed at the most important things like learning names and about the chandriand and amir , being supersmart doesn’t help you with names , sympathy is kinda useless against other arcanist because the armor against sympathy i forgot the name . Devi beat him in a sympathy match like a little kid Fenton beat him later , Small girl beat him a lot . He is like ender and i bet you loved him

    • Danila

      Interesting you bring up Ender because that is actually an example of the “deconstructed hero” trope Rothfuss was supposed to be going for. With both Ender and Kvothe, we follow them from childhood until they reach hero status only to discover the heroics aren’t what people thought they were (presumably in Kvothe’s case since the story isn’t finished and I have real doubts Kvothe is anything more than a traditional hero fallen on slightly hard times).

      Ender is rejected for his smallness and seeming insignificance at every turn, starting with his own family. Kvothe is embraced and loved and mentored for his genius at a young age. At the academy, Ender had very few friends and was viciously bullied with no one on his side. At university, Kvothe makes close friends easily, one after another, and every good person loves him. There is no moral ambiguity at all in any of Kvothe’s conflicts (at least not in the first book), whereas Ender’s story is nothing but moral ambiguity even as you feel for the kid. Kvothe’s genius is constantly praised and rewarded, Ender’s really isn’t and he is scorned, misunderstood and mocked. Ender’s genius is also more realistic, unlike Kvothe he isn’t strongly gifted in fifty different things and the one thing he’s good at has terrible consequences because there isn’t enough balance. In the end, Ender becomes the villain and ends up alone. Kvothe has powerful, loyal people following him even as an innkeep.

      Even some of the lesser criticisms of Kvothe don’t hold up with Ender. Take the criticism that everyone in the story revolves around Kvothe and only exists to further his tale. From the beginning, Ender’s siblings have their own strong storylines separate from his, and an entire series (Ender’s Shadow) was created using other characters from the story because the characterization is rich enough. Kvothe is surrounded by cyphers and sycophants.

  31. Anonymous

    This commenter has been banned for sockpuppeting.

    • I don’t find this a very compelling line of argument because, although he’s a bartender in the ass-end of nowhere, Kote’s still got it together in an amazing way. He’s got a fae prince as a devoted apprentice and he makes Chronicler, himself no slouch, look completely useless in the spider fight.

  32. Anonymous

    This commenter has been banned for sockpuppeting.

    • I notice you’re ignoring Bast. Chronicler, it’s established, can take Bast in a fight and knows the name of iron; Kvothe is more powerful than, and able to order around, both of them. He’s been set up at such a level that he can lose everything and still have more ability than practically anyone else.

      Anyway that’s all water under the bridge for a set of stories that spend the vast majority of the time focused on Kvothe being awesome.

  33. Jimmy

    This commenter has been banned for sockpuppeting.

    • It’s interesting how much Kvothe’s very existence skews perceptions of realism and competence; in any other context, they would both be setting off a few Mary-Sue alarm bells, but here they get presented as the height of moderation

      EDIT: Quick reminder to stay polite if you want to stay part of this conversation.

      EDIT EDIT: And that I know when you’re sockpuppeting. If you can’t be polite, I’ll delete your previous comments as well.

    • Ben

      Well it’s established that Chronicler might be able to take Bast in a fight anyway.. I seem to remember Kvothe telling them that if they fought one or both of them would probably die. But that’s only because Bast is some type of fae creature and and Chronicler knows the name of iron, which is basically kryptonite to the fae. It is interesting that at the end of the second book Chronicler slaps Bast twice (after spending the rest of the book backing down as fast as he can any time Bast so much as gives him a mean look) and Bast does nothing about it, other than threaten to “beat 10 colors of guts” out of him if he does it again.

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  36. Anonymous

    I think you’re missing the point that this is a frame story and Kvothe is implied to be a biased and even misleading narrator.

  37. the excuse of “my horrible boring story may eventually be revealed to be the consequence of an unreliable narrator” does not actually in any way encourage me to read your horrible boring story. Kvothe is despicable, the novel is unreadable, and it makes me sad for the human race that this stuff’s bestselling. you don’t know how much of a relief it is to know I’m not the only person who feels this way.

  38. Actually, I believe his “perfection” and his ego are his fatal flaw…he doesn’t believe he makes mistakes and just moves forward. Also, he was raised by proud people: edema ruh, it’s normal he learned to “recognize” his talents.
    Then…i believe that the story has to be all about Kvothe: he was asked to tell HIS story. So I don’t really expect Rothfuss to tell us the goals of secondary characters :/ although I agree Kvothe is an awful friend xD

  39. “This puts him in the company of Ash from Pokemon.”

    ash from pokemon is like the exact opposite of the stereotype you’re trying to make here. he always loses. one of the common jokes among pokemon watchers is how he never wins and never learns. lots of gym leaders he has to go back and refight. lots of times he’s saved by the power of friendship. he’s never even won a pokemon league. he’s really an awful trainer.

  40. alanmv01

    Reading your review really made me tear my hair out. You make really good points here. But I still love this book and Kvothe.
    To me, Kvothe (in his younger days) was a person who was struggling to to reach up higher in the society. He has some guys who have, more or less, lived for forever as his enemies. He cannot afford to lose. He cannot afford to make mistakes. I cannot even imagine the Kvothe at the end of the two books, taking on someone like Cinder let alone Halliax. He has to be extraordinary, he faces an immortal enemy. How do you even kill someone who cannot be killed?
    True, Kvothe is good at everything he puts his hands on. (Sort of like a Midas touch). But the author makes it plain that he is not the best at many things his good at. If I remember correctly there is this other mathematician who Kvothe finds out has skill ‘far outstripping’ his own. He is humbled by Simmon in the Wise Man’s Fear when he acts like he understands alchemy. It is shown that Elodin is in fact an even greater genius than Kvothe.
    All his successes are not unearned. It is shown in the books that he works harder than the average student, no may be harder than the hardest working.
    The character is one who has nothing to lose. He is prepared to work hard and does so. I think that he has a right to be arrogant. Wherever he has reached, he reached there because he sweated it out on his own. He did not get the help of ‘Chosen One’ prophecies and he has nobody influential to help him. When he finds somebody influential, they know nothing that can help him. I think, he has a right to be arrogant.

    Now, why are Simmon and Wilem friends with Kvothe? Because they admire him. It is not his extraordinary brilliance that they admire. There are many in the University who are brilliant. No, I think they admire him because, Kvothe is a person who has some principles. They know that they can trust him as a friend. Because if they are ever in trouble, they can count on him to get them out of it. Too bad, however that it is more often Kvothe himself who is in trouble and he is the one who needs their help. What else do you expect from a genius miscreant?

  41. alanmv01

    By the end of the second book, we know that Kvothe’s story is sure to end in a tragedy. Where there is a rise, there is a fall… Even though he has steadily risen up the rings of society, i believe he is going to go downhill from there.
    I just felt like I had to defend Kvothe. Even after saying all this, I do concede one thing.
    I do not understand how the author can ever finish this tale. There are too many loose ends to tie up. I think, if he attempts to get Kvothe to right the wrongs he has done, he would probably lose control of the story. I think Kvothe’s story will hang at the point of the tragedy and that the author will continue with a fresh hero in later books. I do not ever see Kvothe getting a happy ending.
    If the author ever attempts to tie all the lose ends, I think, we will have a book the size of an encyclopedia as the third book.

  42. Marco

    Kudos for the review! Really, it’s accurate, thorough and you pretty much nailed it for both Kvothe and Denna. They are almost the epitome of a Mary Sue in every detail, but there are a few things to consider:
    1- As you have been told by many other comments, it’s Kvothe who tells the story and therefore how the hell can such a narcisistic person NOT make the story revolve all around himself??
    2-Again, the same argument can be made for Denna. It’s obvious that everyone desires her, she’s perfect and so on. She’s the lost love of the damned storyteller (who has most certainly idealized her in all the years spent fondly remembering his past love), she’s SUPPOSED to be perfect!
    3-I don’t think you guys know the novel “La coscienza di Zeno” by Italo Svevo, but if you do then you should notice the similarities, since that’s another novel about someone that “normal” people (whatever normal is supposed to mean) would regard as mentally ill.
    And you know what, Zeno (the protagonist) writes a book telling his own story and he lies! You don’t say? Everyone would do that, more or less blatantly, when writing an autobiography.
    4-If you don’t know that book, I strongly suggest that you read it. The author was a good friend of someone named James Joyce, and is regarded as one of the best italian authors of the 20th century.
    (if Rothfuss read it before writing The Name Of The Wind then kudos to him as well)
    5-Despite all of this “Mary Sue! Mary Sue!” criticism almost everyone here agrees that Rothfuss can write beautifully and make the story interesting despite Kvothe and Denna. Then how can such a gifted writer leave such a gaping hole in his work without wanting to do so? Better yet, he has lived more than thirty years on this planet, and you’re telling me he has never met someone with a demeanor similar to Kvothe’s?
    I believe that it would have been more Mary-Sueish if Kvothe had been telling the whole truth all along, and I believe that Rothfuss has willingly built his characters this way.
    I’ll wait and see whether the third book or a Q&A tell me if I’m right.

  43. Anonymous

    Omg what is wrong with you don’t get worked up its only a story just enjoy it and stop being so perfect

  44. Vel

    I refer you to http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/11/rothfuss-re-read-speculative-summary-16-you-may-have-heard-of-me

    Also, Mary Sues are necessarily a bad thing, like most tropes. As long as it’s not poorly written, I’d rather read a story about someone competent than a loser.

  45. Honestly, I cant say I read your whole post. I read just about the first quarter of it and then few sentences now and then. But I think either you or me missed the point of the book. You seem to criticise Kvotte being sort of.. superhuman. You criticise the books concentrating on him way too much. You criticise few scraps of text that are (as far as I am concerned) taken out of context strongly. I dont know, if you read the sequel, Wise men´s fear.. I read both of the books in about one week and let me tell you, the way I understand it is, that its sort of “superhero” story. You know, why you know nothing about other characters? Because its not their story. They are just little parts of Kvothes story. Also, that story isnt developed yet. Do you know why the mainframe in present is so… overlooked and underdeveloped compared to the “flashbacks” where Kvothe tells the story? Because the “flashbacks” are like 90% of the book, and THOSE are, what the story is really about. Do you know, why the story is told like Kvothe is the center of universe? because in the story he IS center of the universe. he is telling it from his viewpoint… and from our viewpoint, arent we all sort of self centered? the chronicle-writing guy is writing about a legend after all. there are people telling stories of Kvothe. he is a center of universe in the story about him. thats like.. reading the legend of king Arthur and wanting it to concentrate less on him. thats like reading conan the barbarian and wanting less of conan the barbarian.
    also, you complained that kvothe masters everything immediately. there you are immensely wrong. he doesnt. he gets fairly good at things and thats it (the lute playing being the only exception). as you said, he lacks experience and lacks years of training to do things properly. and you say that he honestly thinks he is the best in everything? well, at the time he probably did think that, but from the “present” of the book it seems to me, that that really didnt work out for him. that he overestimated himself greatly and that now, in the present, when he opened the inn, he is sort of… paralysed and is too afraid to do anything. i think thats just the aftermath of him thinking that he is the best. he thought too much of himself and that was his fall eventually. and now, in the present, when he retells the story, he realises that. thats how i see it anyway.
    I think that the things you criticise as being wrong are EXACTLY the point of the book. Thats what it is all about, and you are supposed to enjoy it. But then again, maybe its just me, who is wrong and it is, after all, only a bad book and the things I see in there were never intended Who knows.
    PS: if you read this far, thanks for the patience. i know that my post might be a bit confused and that my written english is far from perfect, so if you managed to get this far, it means a lot to me.

    • …Did you just beg me to read an entire comment that begins by saying that you didn’t read my entire post?

    • Alp

      Always nice to see people still trying to defend things rather than criticise. It does have things that could be considered flaws but I don’t see why it has to be that way when it could be taken as something more positive. I agree, nice post.

  46. D.

    Dear Katz,

    I’ve just read the two books and just stumbled upon your post upon after googling “Name of the wind mary sue” (first search result, congratz).

    Just wanted to say I completely agree with your analysis. Although I did find the story enjoyable to read, I was not very fond of the main character since most chapters would pop a “mary sue” thought in my head.

    Best,
    D.

  47. Blue

    I’ve read a lot of negative book reviews and articles about this issue, each of them giving different arguments and different points of view into Kvothe’s annoying perfection… and I completely agree. But I personally believe that Kvothe’s Mary Sue characteristics are not a flaw in the story or a mistake made by the author that should have been fixed. This is Kvothe’s character. Yes, he is sometimes almost grotesquely arrogant, talented, charming, heroic… you pretty much summed it up. But it is because of these characteristics that we have a plot. If Kvothe was a dim-witted, overlooked, struggling student who spent the holidays at home with his parents, where would our story be? I won’t say that I can speak for the author about what he has planned for the rest of the series, but my theory is that this story is about a rise and a fall. First, the rise of the broken, vengeful orphan cliché to the role of the hero, the prodigy, the one that everyone loves to tell tales about, the perfect living legend. We see this in so many books, and yes, in most stories it bothers me as much as the next person and I put the book down without finishing the story, bored and slightly disgusted. Why should I fisnish it? I know how it will end already: the perfect, shining hero wins some great victory, and they all live happily ever after. The end. But I don’t think this is that kind of story. As Kvothe himself says, “…this is not a dashing romance. This is no fable where folk come back from the dead. It’s not a rousing epic meant to stir the blood. No. We all know what kind of story this is.” Do we really? So I think that the third book will take a turn for the darker. I believe that Kvothe’s arrogance, overconfidence and selfishness will end up being his greatest flaws, the instruments of his downfall. We’ve already seen him as he is in the “present” part of the story- an innkeeper, broken and tired, a shadow of what he used to be. I look at that person and I wonder, “how did our perfect hero fall this low?”. I believe that Kvothe becomes this somehow lesser version of himself because of the fall- because of all his seemingly perfect traits changing him, turning against him and making him into something less like a hero and more akin to a monster. And so he does something terrible, something selfish, something unforgivable in his eyes and in the eyes of the world. Who can say what the exact act, the turning point, will be? I think it has something to do with killing the king, with the ‘tricking a demon to gain his heart’s desire and killing an angel to keep it’ story that is brought up (by Chronicler?) early on in the first book. But the point is, Kvothe falls from the status of hero. He gives up everything he lived for, retreats into himself, cuts himself off, and becomes Kote.
    So my theory remains that, in the end, Kvothe needs to be a Mary Sue. And if some people can’t stand his character because of it, I understand and I respect their opinion. I can totally see why people would hate him or find him annoying, so in the end, it comes down to a matter of personal opinion. You like Kvothe? That’s fine. You don’t? That’s fine too. But I can’t and won’t agree with the idea that his character is “just bad writing” on the author’s part.

    • Mmmm…nope, sorry, every great tragedy ever written has a great fall in it, and none of them require a cliche, unrealistic hero archetype protagonist to do it. Even if it was absolutely required for the plot, writing yourself into a situation where you need a Mary Sue character in order for your plot to work is bad plotting. And, as mentioned elsewhere, his great downfall isn’t really very dismal at all.

  48. seriously, it’s just shitty writing. you guys don’t have to defend your love for high fantasy. it’s okay to be wrong. it’s okay to like awful things. it’s just fuckawful writing. we don’t need the “Mary Sue” vocabulary to describe him; I didn’t have it when I hated him. I’ve learned it from people defending him from being it. so. obviously. yeah. tell me more about how he isn’t that thing I’d never heard of before you told me about it.

  49. jet199

    At the moment I am just hoping for a scene in Doors of Stone where Kvothe meets a real Ruh troop and they say “yeah, sometimes we steal because we are hungery or because the kids go through that stage and sometimes there are Ruh rapists because we are just normal people not the magical angel gypsies you seem to think we are. Also are you yourself not both a Ruh and a massive thief and murderer.”
    There was really no need to give Kvothe super cleverness after describing the amazingly supportive and varied childhood he had. All his skills could have been justified by his upbringing and I was always more interested in him using the things we have seen him learn than just being generally smart. The only good reason I can think of for giving Kvothe his super learning skills is if they turn out to have been gifted to him for a specific purpose by a character in the story. Maybe he was gifted with super intelligence so that he can open the Lackless door and let whatever nasty thing behind it out, rather than for any good purpose, then has to hide because he realises he is built for destruction rather than heroics. This could possibly save the trilogy. As long as the ending doesn’t involve Ambrose, the most useless antagonist ever.

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