Welcome back, faithful listen-readers, to our weekly Page of the Wind blog! Jeremy here. This week’s podcast episodes cover pages 167-173 of The Name of the Wind, in which Kvothe is on the receiving end of a few rare acts of kindness, and almost dies anyway! Today on the blog we’ll be talking about kindness, charity, and when our hero rejects help and why.
It’s a pretty common trope in fiction – genre fiction especially – for the hero to be a gruff, self-sufficient loner who refuses help and plays by their own rules. Hell, it’s pretty much a cliche at this point. On the surface, our hero Kvothe might appear to fall into that cliche pattern – even at his most wretched and destitute in Tarbean, he is very reluctant to take charity – and when good fortune does smile on him, it often comes with a cost. Kvothe’s reasons for refusing charity are complex, and they shift according to when we are in the narrative.
In Tarbean, Kvothe is a traumatized child, living in an environment where he has learned the hard way that people are often cruel and violent. His first interaction with other people after his parents are killed are kindly farmers who offer to take him back to their farm – an offer he rejects. It’s possible he doesn’t trust them, it’s possible he thinks he’s better off on his own, or it’s possible his traumatized mind doesn’t truly register what they’re offering him. Regardless, the next thing that happens is that he’s beaten and robbed, and loses his most precious possession – and then the safe haven the farmers offer is lost to him forever, because he’s late to meet up with them. Trapis offers kindness and aid – but not for free. The kids work for their drink of water or their crust of bread, if they can. That’s an arrangement Kvothe can live with – but he tells us he rarely takes advantage of it. Indeed, it’s only when he’s on death’s doorstep that he goes to Trapis for aid. And that whole chain of events is precipitated by Kvothe finally getting some real money – from the man playing Encanis – and spending it on a good meal – even though he can’t bring himself to go inside the inn he gets the meal from. Much of Kvothes’ reluctance to accept kindness from others comes from his trauma. The music from the inn dredges up memories Kvothe would better see buried.
However, later in the book when he’s more ‘himself’, Kvothe is perpetually impoverished, scraping together the money he needs for his tuition through a combination of cleverness, hard work, and luck. Even though he has friends who are much better off than he, who he could probably borrow money from if he needed to, he prefers to enter into a business arrangement with Devi, a notorious loan shark! By this point, it’s an issue of Kvothe’s pride. Like many people in difficult financial straits, Kvothe hates to be seen to be taking charity. He wants to be seen as someone who can manage on his own, even when it would be easier, safer, and more straightforward to rely on the kindness of his friends … or strangers.
Kvothe is reluctant to take charity, but his motivations and psychology are clearly demonstrated throughout The Kingkiller Chronicle. We understand why Kvothe thinks and acts the way he does (at least from what he’s willing to tell us), so even though we might rail against him “Just take the talent, Kvothe!” we understand why he might refuse. That’s the mark of a well drawn character. Hats off to Patrick Rothfuss.