Welcome back, Pagerinos! It’s Jeremy here, with the latest blog from your favourite Name of the Wind podcast! (And if we’re NOT your favourite, you can keep that to yourself. Our egos are very fragile.)
This week, we’re gonna touch on the same themes that Ben touches on in his fireside chat with Kvothe – power and responsibility. This is an idea that comes up a lot in The Kingkiller Chronicle – Kvothe’s relationship to power and his use or misuse of it is reflected in many of the other characters in the book.
Kvothe has a great many teachers at the University, and the best ones try to hammer Ben’s lessons home. Kilvin is impressed by the craftsmanship of Kvothe’s hooded sympathy lantern – but he takes Kvothe to task for inventing something that could be used to do great harm. Kvothe was so busy trying to impress his teacher that he didn’t think about the fallout from his invention. Kilvin’s more down with Kvothe’s arrowcatch (which he invents in The Wise Man’s Fear). Likewise, Elodin is reluctant to teach Kvothe naming, precisely because it’s so dangerous and volatile – and Kvothe proves he’s reckless when he literally jumps off a roof on Elodin’s say-so.
We also see how other characters in the book are reckless or downright abusive with their power. Hemme is an example of a character who misuses his position of power in ways that are comparatively subtle. He’s a teacher at the university, so he should be impartial and patient with his students, you’d think. But he’s not. He delights in bullying new students in his lecture, and he tries to put Kvothe in his place early on. And when that backfires on him in spectacular fashion, he spends the rest of the book looking for ways to get his revenge. He’s a great example of a petty bully who’s been given a bit of power, and let it go to his head.
But the prime example of “too much power, not enough restraint” is Ambrose. He’s a poster boy for abusing one’s privilege. He makes unwanted sexual advances on women who are too polite to refuse, fearing the backlash. He abuses his power at the University Library to get Kvothe banned. He uses a low-down trick of sympathy to try and sabotage Kvothe’s performance at the Eolian. When that doesn’t work, he uses his financial and political position to make sure Kvothe has a hard time making a living as a musician for hire. And of course, he hires some thugs to do Kvothe some serious mischief. Ambrose is a petty, vindictive, spiteful scumbag who has been given a ton of power and never been taught how to use it responsibly.
Rothfuss sets these characters up as deliberate foils to Kvothe. Kvothe is not as responsible or wise as he could be – he’s got a reckless streak that gets him in trouble, and he doesn’t think through the consequences of his actions. But at the same time, Kvothe isn’t malicious or mean-spirited. (Unless you’ve done something to deserve it). He doesn’t abuse his power on purpose to hurt people. I’d argue that’s because he was well brought up, and because he’s lived enough of his life with no power that he respects it.
So, maybe Ben’s lesson did end up sticking after all.