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This week, as we release episodes 153 to 159, I want to talk about the Midwinter Festival and the concept of religion in fantasy fiction. Religion doesn’t play a huge role in the story of The Kingkiller Chronicle, but it does serve an important worldbuilding function, and thereby informs how the various characters interact with the world around them. Through thinking about religion in the Kingkiller Chronicle, Patrick Rothfuss is able to do a lot of low-key worldbuilding.
The major religion in Temerant seems to be the Tehlin Church. It has a lot in common with familiar western religions – a powerful central clergy who operate houses of worship called Churches. The Telhin church even has a form of religious police, known as Justices, and in general the church seems a bit on the nosy side, if not outright autocratic. We know that the Telhin faith isn’t above stamping out heretical sects, like the Yllish faith. The Tehlin faith is about the conflict between good and evil (represented by Tehlu and his angels, and Encanis and other demons, respectively.)
Religion has a close relationship with geography. The church is strongest in the old Aturan empire and the Commonwealth, but holds much less sway in places like the University or Adem. Aturans are stereotyped as being more pious than other folk – which makes sense, since the Tehlin church is strongest in Atur. In Adem, however, they do not adhere to the Tehlin faith at all – having never been conquered by the Aturan Empire, they hold on to their Letantha philosophy instead.
Characters’ religious attitudes tell us a lot about them. Kvothe’s parents seemed pretty agnostic, which explains Kvothe’s ambivalence towards religion. Other characters, such as the peasants in the town of Trebon, are much more pious. Broadly speaking, it seems that in Temerant, the better educated you are, the less likely you are to be particularly devout. This is unlike the medieval world, in which education went hand in hand with religion, since priests tended to be the best academics around, having lots of time on their hands. Likewise, Tempi (in The Wise Man’s Fear) comes across as quite foreign, in no small part to the different cultural taboos he has thanks to his different beliefs.
With religion come religious festivals, like the Midwinter Festival that happens during Kvothe’s time in Tarbean. Midwinter’s upsetting of the social order reflects real world festivals such as Misrule, Saturnalia, or Krampusnacht – and tells us about the culture – this otherwise repressive faith gives people one week in the middle of winter to cut loose and act wild. I’d be interested to know what the religious festivals in Adem are – if there are any – given their very different culture.
Just like in the real world, religion plays a vital part in the tapestry of worldbuilding, affecting people’s morality, cultural taboos, and their general outlook. Not to mention all the clues in the religious stories that fuel Nick’s harebrained theories …
Look, that’s all we got space for this week. Feel free to chime in with your insights on the religions of Temerant on our Facebook or Twitter pages, at our e-mail address [email protected], or on the comments of this here blog!