Patrick Rothfuss stormed onto the epic fantasy scene in 2007 with The Name of the Wind, an instant hit and bestseller. In The Wise Man's Fear, he adds depth to his already rich world as retired hero Kvothe continues narating his life story.
There is a lot of introspection and contemplation in The Wise Man's Fear. Where did the themes of education and enlightenment come from?
The center of Kvothe's character is his curiosity. He's a young man who wants to know the truth of things, he wants to explore, he wants to know the hidden turnings of the world. I owe it to the reader to give Kvothe's discoveries substance. If he travels to the edge of the map, the cultures he encounters should be fully fleshed and interesting. If he talks to someone clever, that person better have some genuinely clever things to say. If I don't do that, I feel I'm not holding up my end of the bargain as an author.
Folklore and song are significant forces in your writing. How much research went into the stories of the Edema Ruh and Kvothe's songs?
A long time ago, maybe 12 years or so, I read about every folktale I could get my hands on. I wasn't thinking, "This will help me develop my fantasy novel a decade from now"; I just liked them. I was curious about their shapes, their common threads, and what they revealed about the cultures they came from. It was only afterwards that a lot of those elements ended up in the book.
Kvothe's story is heroic, awe-inspiring, heartbreaking—but it's essentially a man sitting in a tavern recalling the events of his life. Were you deliberately trying to do something different from other epic fantasies?
I wasn't trying to be all antithetical, but I wanted to avoid most of the fantasy clichés and focus on something simpler and more personal: the story of a man's life. Fantasy is my favorite genre for reading and writing. We have more options than anyone else, and the best props and special effects. That means if you want to write a fantasy story with Norse gods, sentient robots, and telepathic dinosaurs, you can do just that. Want to throw in a vampire and a lesbian unicorn while you're at it? Go ahead. Nothing's off limits. But the endless possibility of the genre is a trap. It's easy to get distracted by the glittering props available to you and forget what you're supposed to be doing: telling a good story. Don't get me wrong, magic is cool. But a nervous mother singing to her child at night while something moves quietly through the dark outside her house? That's a story. Handled properly, it's more dramatic than any apocalypse or goblin army could ever be.