Welcome back, constant readers! This week we’re rounding up pages 41-47 of Page of the Wind, in which Kote stumbles home, bruised, bloody and triumphant, toting Chronicler, who has come seeking a legend. Patrick Rothfuss masterfully ratchets up the slow-burning tension and the cat and mouse game as Kote and Chronicler match wits, and Chronicler teases out just who Kote really is.
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What I want to focus on in this little blog entry is what we learn about Kvothe and Bast’s relationship in the few pages that come before the start of Chapter Six. Kote comes home, badly wounded after a night of surreptitious heroics, and Bast, who has been left behind, anxious and hurt that his friend and master didn’t trust him, quickly gets over that in order to tend to Kote’s wounds. Once Kote falls asleep, he even goes in to check on him in the night, and sings a lullaby.
It’s a quiet sequence full of feeling, and it reveals a new dimension to Kote and Bast’s relationship. Up until now, Kote has seemed like more of an adult figure in the relationship – he’s the one who runs the bar, and Bast treats him with deference and follows his orders. There’s friendship and respect on both sides, but Kote seems more responsible and grown up, in a lot of ways (besides his mischievous ribbing of Bast).
But in this scene, that dynamic is reversed. It’s Bast who is taking care of Kote, Bast who stayed up all night worrying, Bast who salves Kote’s wounds. Bast takes on a parental, even maternal aspect in this scene which is sweet and tender – and reveals how much Bast cares about his friend and teacher.
This reflects an emotional dynamic that we don’t often see in fantasy literature. As Nick pointed out this week, Bast and Kote clearly have the kind of relationship where Bast can be honest and open about his emotions with Kote – “I’m hurt that you didn’t trust me” he says. There are lots of great male friendships in fantasy – the deep loyalty and affection of Frodo and Sam, the ribald, underdog friendship of Tyrion Lannister and Bronn, the bromance of Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen (of The Lies of Locke Lamora), just to name a few.
But I don’t think I’ve ever read one that rings quite the same note of tenderness and care. It’s one thing to have a good friend, who you can go drinking with, get into trouble with, or go on a quest to destroy a Ring of Power. And as we’ll see later on in the book, Kvothe develops a circle of friends who fill that need in him. It’s something else to have a friend who cares so much about your well-being that they will choose to live with you, watch over you in the darkest hours of your life, and literally sing you to sleep. We should all be so lucky to have such a friend in our lives.
This exploration of an emotionally honest (hell, emotionally available) kind of masculinity is the kind of thing a lesser fantasy novel would never touch, for fear of making its characters look less cool, less badass. And maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe the average fantasy reader wants their heroes as gruff and no-nonsense as they come – brick walls of emotionless machismo. There nothing wrong with that – I’ve enjoyed my Conan the Barbarian stories as much as the next guy.
But, I don’t think it’s crazy to say that a lot of us look to fiction to find role models – or find them even when we’re not looking for them. Fiction is a cracked mirror we hold up to the world, after all. Why should fantasy be different? I grew up reading comics, and devouring genre fiction in every medium. My models of friendship in fiction included the Scooby Gang on Buffy, and Jesse and Cassidy in Preacher. I looked to those characters, and internalized important lessons about what it means to be someone’s friend, to care about them and mean it. That’s not nothing. But how many deep, emotionally nuanced, caring male friendships do we have to model ourselves on in fiction? That eschew the morays of often-toxic masculinity in media to tell us that it’s okay to hug your friend, it’s okay to cry and talk about your feelings, and, above all, it’s okay to care.
The willingness to portray male friendships as deep, emotionally mature, and nurturing is just one more thing that sets The Kingkiller Chronicle apart from your run of the mill fantasies, and makes it something special, something that readers can take away and apply to their own lives.
What do you say, readers? Did you take that away from this scene? How do we feel about the other friends (male and otherwise) Kvothe makes over the course of the books? Are there other big-time friendships in fantasy that you love, that I have glossed over here? We want to hear from you! Sound off in the comments!
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Thanks for reading – we’ll see you next week!