In this week’s pages, we learn Kvothe’s titles (“Kvothe the Bloodless”), his epithets “Six-String, Shadicar” and he tantalizes us with some of his famous deeds (“stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings”). He also impresses on us the importance of his lineage, that he was Edema Ruh, and that they were spinning stories since “before Caluptena burned”, whenever that was. The language of this passage is infused with a sense of the mythic, the epic. It is, in some sense, his book of deeds.
Rothfuss places himself in the traditions of fantasy literature. How many fantasy novels have you read where a character is introduced with their badass titles (“Daenerys Targaryen, First of Her Name …) or their epithets (“Logan Ninefingers”) or their famous exploits? This kind of mythic language is part and parcel of the genre. It feels instantly resonant, and fills us with a sense of awe.
That’s because the tradition of the epic hero reciting their name and deeds (or having them recited for us) goes back thousands of years. In Homer’s Iliad, the poet makes frequent use of epithets like: “Achilles, who breaks through men”, “Athena, whose shield is thunder”, “crooked-counselling Cronus”, “cunning Odysseus” and “flaming-haired Menelaus”. (Those last two sound familiar, don’t they?) They served as a mnemonic device for the singers and listeners of his poetry – for remember, in Homer’s time these stories were transmitted orally, and it was only later that they were written down.
Another, even more direct influence on Western fantasy is the Norse Edda. They also feature the adventures of gods and heroes, and you better believe those characters have sweet titles.“Thor who Rides Alone”, “Shifty-Eyed Odin,” “Odin Bale-worker”, and “Loki, Father of the Sea Thread” are just some examples. Norse and Germanic myth made their way to the British Isles in the early middle ages, when the Norse invaded and settled. Their myth, culture, and art forms intermingled with the existing Old English culture.
And who do we know who was both a professor of Old English, and the father of all modern fantasy literature? None other than J. R. R. Tolkien. And Tolkien’s mythology of Middle-Earth is rich with references to Old English and Norse language, culture and myth. So it’s no wonder he gave his characters the same kinds of mythic titles that the ancients did. And since pretty much every subsequent fantasy author owes something to Tolkien, the influence of the ancients is felt today in our modern fantasy.
Do you have a favourite character title, epithet, or other nickname that didn’t make it into this article? Do you see other ways in which ancient myths have influenced The Name of the Wind? Sound off in our comments section! Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter or Facebook @pageofthewind. You can support us on Patreon.com/pageofthewind or buy our merch at Jordana Heney’s Threadless account! And of course, tune into our show, where we drop seven new episodes every Monday on Dork Shelf!