The Larkin Ledgers

Like an endless chain of half-built houses


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Reading The Slow Regard of Silent Things: Part XII.iii ASH AND EMBER

We left off with, “breaching the door that’s not for her with neither warning nor comment.” The Larkin Ledgers took a holiday hiatus in much the same manner, but now that High Mourning has passed, I’ll see if I can’t get back to the text in earnest.

Auri walked into Boundary like it was no big deal. In a way it’s similar to the way the name of Annulet just slipped into the text without drawing attention to itself. Is this a new motif for the chapters across the ring?

She returns to Mantle to find her third fire burned down to ash with which she finally fills her clay cup full. She rinses her hands and face and feet. It’s worthwhile to revisit the bit quoted from The Wise Man’s Fear back when she sealed the pipe.

“Some of the compounds we use,” I said. “They’ll go straight through your skin and kill you in eighteen slow ways.” I thought back to the day my tenten glass had cracked in the Fishery. Of the single drop of transporting agent that had landed on my shirt. It was only a tiny drop, barely larger than the head of a nail. I was so certain it hadn’t touched my skin. “I hope that’s not it. But I don’t know what else it might be.”WMF 185

Auri’s making soap because she’s out. Any chemical or alchemical poisoning she experiences during the process can’t be mitigated by even basic hygiene. So far, she seems careful enough, but like that incident it’s not her actions as they happen that tell the story but her reactions afterward. Keeping that in mind makes what follows in the next few chapters easier to understand.

Everything’s ready. She sets the tallow to melt, resisting the urge to speed the process along. The she filters water through the ashes, the usefulness of the crack becoming clear. She kept it as a tool rather then a pointless odd piece of junk.

When the final drips had fallen, Auri held the jar of cinderwash aloft and saw it was as fine as any she had ever made. It was a sunset dusky red. Stately and graceful, it was a changing thing. But underneath it all, the liquid held a blush of wantonness. It held all the proper things the wood had brought and many caustic lies besides.

Calling it cinderwash rather than lye is almost like bear baiting, though in this case the bears are his fans. Depending on the denim brand, cinder wash is either ashen or crimson, but I kind of doubt that’s what Rothfuss was going for. It evokes mercurial grace, goat’s eyes, too many teeth. So it’s not surprising that he ends the paragraph wit the clever turn of phrase. Caustic lies connected to Cinder? The mind itches.

So she’s got water, lye, and fat. She can make soap. Plain, unscented, joyless soap. “How terrible to live surrounded by the stark, sharp, hollowness of things that simply were enough?” the text asks.  Auri’s intentional smallness, her resistance of desire, again grates against her minor indulgences.

And here the nutmeg comes in, together with Esther’s esters. A redditor explored the soap-making process in some detail here, which should clear up anything I negelct to explain and account for any gross misconceptions on my part. Chemists and alchemists weighed in to offer information. One went so far as to note that Pat was drawing a little bit from life in these scenes.

What I want to draw out of all that is the incredibly haphazard and generally unsafe extraction method Auri uses to get tetradecanoic acid. Presumably it’ll improve the lather of the soap and the selas scent will improve Auri’s day. But she’s chancing (or maybe courting, who knows) toxic exposure to myristicin.

A and E Byne

She wishes for a proper press, which she actually has in Boundary. Her rules for using it are, at this point, unclear. So she carries on straining, twisting, and absorbing psychoactive agents through the linen.

Auri lifted up the glass and eyed the viscous liquid, clear as amber. It was lovely, lovely , lovely. It was like nothing that she’d ever seen before. It was thick with secrets and sea foam.

In the whole of The Kingkiller Chronicle, there’s just one triple epizeuxis: Elodin’s “Blue! Blue! Blue!” in The Name of the Wind. There are two or three in The Slow Regard of Silent Things. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but lending Auri so many kind of illuminates her naming ability and sets her in a more rarefied space. It’s full of sea foam for lather. Whispers and secrets for the euphoric effects. Musk for the Selas scent.

The pomace left over, the linen, the sticks, are full of screaming. Auri handles them as little as possible “as if they had been poisoned.” With a proper press, she might not have risked the mounting anxiety and dissociation that’s coming. She gathers up everything she used to extract the oil and heads into Boundary again, this time with a bit more fanfare. We’re building to something, but that will have to wait.

Auri rinses. Rinses again. Wishes for soap. She wanders into Port and furtively checks over everything.  Everything. She checks to make sure the pages to The Book of Secrets are still uncut, so every reader will know something’s wrong. She rinses again.

The light was brighter and she heard the sound of things that normally she couldn’t hear. A keening of the world all out of place. A howl of everything all turned from true. . . .

The hallucinations begin, probably augmented by her continual fasting. Mantle itself is precarious. Things in their places only barely holding an illusion together. Page 116 is Auri’s bummer. “Everything was. Everything was everything. Everything was everything else.”

But she manages to find a focus, a fulcrum, in the brazen gear.

When all the world was palimpsest, it was a perfect palindrome.

This line seems so heavy handed, but each time I look back at it I grow a little more fond. Palimpsest is a great metaphor for the aggregate meaning that builds with each additional read of Rothfuss, scraping away old impressions and writing over them with new ones. And palindrome is as much a reference to the structure of this novella as it is to the gear itself.

A and E Brazen

It’s a ring with a clear start and finish that when turned right side up, with the middle in the most prominent place, fixes everything. But it doesn’t necessarily make sense that Auri turning it could bring her out of an entheogenic fugue. Unless you take the text literally. She didn’t turn the gear. She turned the world.

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Reading The Slow Regard of Silent Things: Part XII.ii ASH AND EMBER

It was just as Master Mandrag always said: nine tenths of chemistry was waiting.

The last time she remembered Mandrag she was sealing the pipe in Rubric. That time we didn’t get a direct quote and this time we do. We can expect to see more details, not just her using and appreciating alchemical creations but perhaps making something of her own. And that’s exactly where the text is going.

Last time wan’t exactly free of consequence, though. Even a relatively minor moment of clarity came with acute paranoia and subtle hallucinations. So we should also expect a proportional backlash.

While she’s waiting for her fire, she traipses off to Tree to gather supplies, including the lump of suet she nicked from the barn in the mirror chapter “A QUITE UBCOMMON PLEASANT PLACE.” She also grabs the bowl of nutmegs.

A and E Nutmegs

So strange and rare. So full of faraway. She picked one up and ran her fingertips along its tippled skin.

Out here in the extratextual world, nutmeg was available from only a single island until the nineteenth century. Given the roughly Renaissance setting of The Kingkiller Chronicle, a similar if not identical situation on Temerant probably accounts for the rarity and distance desc.  The choice of “tippled” to describe the outer skin of the seeds is interesting. Casual dictionary delving reveals two definitions, neither of which is really textural.

The first is related to alcohol and its consumption. For a general class of potential intoxicants, this could wit some stretching apply to nutmeg, which can produce myristicin. The other describes a device for overturning freight cars. Again, with a stretch, knowing what’s coming in the text, there’s some reverberation with the end of the chapter. But it’s an odd turn of phrase no matter how one conceives it. And yet it, if you’ve handled nutmeg pits, it seems to saound reasonable.

She retrieves a mortar and pestle from Darkhouse and some other items from Clinks and Tenners. She sets the suet to render and cooks the acorns, also gathered in the paired chapter. After eating them, she grinds the nutmegs in the mortar.

NMortar & Pestleate Taylor created several drawings of the mortar that didn’t make it into the book.  He and Pat were wary of showing too much of Auri, which is why so many of the images feature just her arms or legs. They previewed one such during their Worldbuilders hangout.

Ultimately this one was just too busy. Auri, the mortar, the bowl, the clay cup, the linen sack and the sticks, a bottle, the pot. Two pieces of it survived to become the starker, closer images in the published version.

When she was finished grinding, Auri pulled the copper pot of melted suet off the fire. She stirred. She sieved the dottle off till there was nothing left but hot, sharp tallow.

Dottle is another strange choice of words. There are impurities that separate and rise when rendering that need to be skimmed off. However, dottle appears to refer specifically to “unburned and partially burned tobacco in the bowl of a pipe.” So I’m either not looking in the right place or this is another sidelong glance at intoxicants foreshadowing her upcoming ethnobotanical experience.

She brought the bottle of Esther’s and set it near the fireplace with her tools.

This is Pat reiterating and indulging in the Esther/ester pun from the previous chapter. Esther’s esters will provide the selas scent for her soap. She tries to bring the laurel fruit from her excursion outside since it’s required by the structure of the story, but it won’t fit. For whatever mysterious reason, the Auri won’t be bathing in laurels. Those are for someone else.

It exasperated her, but she knew better than to force the world to bend to her desire.

Oddly enough, she’ll do exactly that with the laurels later. She’ll bend the world just a little for someone else. Like the hair-splitting that allowed her the faerie bread but not the milk, a little reality warping is sometimes justifiable. Just not for herself.

As she gets into the processes, Rothfuss begins to play a bit with the words.  Birch and Ash “make a medley without melding or meddling,” much like the silences in the Prologues and Epilogues of The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. Counterpoints, each existing alone but acting together. Hawthorn is sufficiently apetalous to make her blush. The nutmegs are “a cipher and a mystery.”

They’re a code to be unlocked. Hence the unusual descriptors. The mystery is essential to period appropriate alchemical texts, which buried their practices in allegory and code to throw off both persecution and easy proliferation. It’s a sort of metacommentary on the text. That it’s about a seed is doubly funny.

Anyway, having skimmed the tallow she finds it full of rage. Without, forgiving another pun, “laurel to keep it at bay” she needs to draw the animus out. We finally see some hands on alchemy as she takes the pot to a shaft of moonlight in tumbrel and absorbs the anger with a bead of beeswax.

 

A and E Wax

As neat a factoring as ever hand of man had managed.

Kvothe is surrounded by alchemists. His best friend, his creditor, his nemesis, and his companionable sewer urchin are all evoking principles and factoring around him and he knows nothing about it. For someone who prides himself on his own cleverness, he’s leaving himself at a distinct disadvantage.

She takes the copper pot to Tree to cool and extracts a clean white disc. Then she puts the wax bead with all the factored fury in a jar. And she places it on a high shelf in Boundary, breaching the door that’s not for her with neither warning nor comment.


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Reading The Slow Regard of Silent Things: Part VII.ii – WHAT A LOOK ENTAILS

One of the things it’s difficult to do in a reread is focus on, and only on, the text so far.  Knowing the end, it’s far too easy to read foreshadowing and mystery into the beginning.  Looking back at some of my conclusions about the first chapter, I think I’m guilty of that.  Sure, it’s easy to see that Auri’s relationship to the objects in Port is interesting, but if the narrative had continued without some of WHAT A LOOK ENTAILS reveals, there’d be absolutely no hint of deeper mysteries. Whispers of hints maybe. But mostly a cracked young woman.

THE FAR BELOW BOTTOM OF THINGS is fully twenty two percent of the novella, by far the longest chapter. And while see a fair bit of the Underthing, in a strict sense we learn almost nothing.  The stage is set in shadows, obscured in metaphor and poesy.  It’s a deliberate obfuscation that encourages a surface level reading of what is really a surprisingly deep text.

What this chapter does is begin to pull back the curtain.  I wanted this to be a sort of easy read that cataloged some of the interesting facts about the text.  I hadn’t even fully addressed the place of The Slow Regard of Silent Things within the parent text. luckily, some clever commenters took care of that.  I suspected it was constructed like The Wise Man’s Fear. I’d seen some of the parallel phrasing in the first and last chapters and made a mental note of how HOLLOW stood out as a turning point in the text.  And, y’know, it was obviously full of alchemy. But that could wait.

It couldn’t wait too long, though.  And so I’m gonna include some of it.

Anyway, we left off on Auri eating just enough to stop shaking.  I mentioned before that both Pat and Nate portrayed extreme hunger well, one with the sudden onset of physical symptoms and the other with think limbs and shadows. Whatever Auri’s mental state, it’s compounded by debilitating malnutrition.  She goes whole days without a morsel.

After eating , Auri knew it was past time she found the brazen gear its proper place.

I want to take a moment to talk about the brazen gear and brave Foxen.  On the one hand these seem like whimsical attributions of emotional qualities to inanimate objects. However, both have at least a double meaning.  Brazen simply means “made of brass.”  Brave: “fine or splendid in appearance.”  Chances are most of the consistent descriptions fit this mold.  In the foreword Pat suggests the book might be for you if you love words.  The more affection you show them, the more they reveal, I guess.

Footprints

So she begins adjusting, moving, and ultimately touring the the Underthing with the gear.  It’s interesting to note that at the same time as she’s trying to find the proper place for it, she’s also seeking its secret answers.  She wants it to be “forthcoming.”

If one of the locks this chapter opens is the practical nature of Auri’s descriptors, another is the overall shape of the story.  Seven chapters from now, on the other side of the ring, the gear accompanies her again, finally yielding its answers.  In a ring, the chapters should work in pairs. In this case: 1/10, 2/9, 3/8, 4/7, and 5/6.

According to Robert Lowth (via Mary Douglas) this pairing can be synonymous, antithetic, or constructive.  Pat likes to use all three. Chapters two and nine share synonymous staggering hunger, the traveling gear, and significant scenes in Pickering. Where a sense of wrong pervades chapter two, an antithetic sense of right, or at least truing, governs chapter nine. Auri’s spiral into panic in this chapter is referenced, and avoided, in the latter chapter. As an example of constructive pairing, these are the only two chapters where the word coruscant appears.

Eventually, Auri takes the gear back to The Twelve because maybe it belongs where she found it.  She’s relieved to find that isn’t the case, but her relief is short lived.  A nightjar taps three times on an iron pipe.

She looked after it numbly, the chill in her gut making a slow knot. She couldn’t ask for things to be more clear than that. Her pulse began to hammer at her then, her palms all sudden sweat.

This is probably the strangest thing that happens in the entire book and it’s never quite explained away.  It turns out that a little bird quite literally told her that there was a leak in an iron pipe. How? Why?

It’s probably no coincidence that it’s a nightjar, which only appears in one other place in the narrative, “The Boy Who Loved the Moon.” What the inclusion of a nightjar does here is draw the power of that story into Auri’s narrative and remind us of some of its thematic elements. Notice how the bird’s a bit of a mystery but the pipe is not.

There was no need to guess the type of pipe though. The ting of it let Auri know it was iron , black and twice the thicken of her thumb.

That’s remarkably specific, especially for something high above her head in the dark.  It might not be magic, of course, but it certainly highlights the importance of listening.  And listening is something altogether different in Hespe’s story.  So this is a third window into The Slow Regard of Silent Things.

Auri runs to Tenance, a liminal space between the Underthing and the University.  It’s a storage room where they keep stuff to repair the pipes.  Maintenance.  She’s desperate to find and fix the leak before someone from above comes to do it.

Pipe

Auri selects a stoppered Jar and a brush from the shelves and runs to Rubric where she eventually finds the leaking pipe.  She shuts off a valve and then waits while the area dries.  We learn she was an Alchemist.

Auri sighed. It was just as Master Mandrag said so many years ago.

We never do find out what Mandrag said.  Maybe it’s sitting right out in the open in one of Sim’s stories in the other books.  I haven’t found it.  The stoppered jar contains tenaculum, an alchemical substance that might be identical to the one Kvothe used to post his “Jackass, Jackass” lyrics.

We used a lovely alchemical adhesive Simmon had cooked up for the occasion. The stuff went on like paint, then dried clear as glass and hard as steel.NW 455

Tenaculum is unfortunately a medical instrument, so figuring out why this alchemical epoxy resin is called that is sort of difficult.  It’s Latin root is for holding and binding, though.  Auri’s able to smell naptha and sulphonium in it and apparently would have used something else to make it.

This tells us a couple things.  First, that alchemical recipes are personal.  You can achieve the same result with different ingredients.  This actually matches up with historical alchemy where, after getting through the obfuscation and allegory, you’ll find different methods for the same processes.  Pat goes a step further and includes a sentiment that appears over and over again over the centuries.

Whoever wrought and factored this was living proof that alchemy was art. It showed pure mastery of craft.

A fourth key to the novella is the way it’s written.  In adding the praise of alchemy itself, Pat’s winking at those who recognize it and suggesting there’s more than initially meets the eye. He’s telling us a lot about alchemy, and Auri, and Temerant.  But it’s all buried under an unstable mind: malnourished, possibly feverish, undeniably different.