The Larkin Ledgers

Like an endless chain of half-built houses


Reading The Slow Regard of Silent Things: Part X – Hollow

What do we make of this? It’s the shortest chapter in Rothfuss, isn’t it? It’s six words long. Or is it seven if we count the chapter title?


Setting aside potential references to John 11:35, we have to find a way to interpret this. It could simply be a bad day. The worst day. Auri struggles through portions of the surrounding days, but they’re never characterized by a single action or emotion.

The consensus seems to be that “HOLLOW” corresponds to chapter seven of The Wise Man’s Fear, “Admissions.” Kvothe gets dosed with the plum bob and ends up bawling in Auri’s arms.

“You can say it,” Auri said softly. “It’s okay if you say it.”
“I’m never going to see her again,” I choked out. Then I began to cry in earnest.
“It’s okay,” Auri said softly. “I’m here. You’re safe.”WMF 77

The parent text never mentions her crying, but it’s told from Kvothe’s extremely self conscious point of view, especially at that moment. If “HOLLOW” is a corresponding reference to that day, to that scene, then there might be ample reason for Auri to cry during or after it.  Her pity for Kvothe could be overwhelming.

Physically, it’s at the halfway point of the book. Structurally, chapters and six form the central pair. In several ring narratives, there’s an isolated central chapter that serves as a pivot point, a fulcrum, but Pat’s don’t work that way. His chapters come in even numbers. The Wise Man’s Fear has seventy seven pairs including the Prologue/Epilogue. The Slow Regard of Silent Things has five with a latch.

Nonetheless, for the ring to exist, there has to be an obvious indicator that the narrative has turned.  Formally, then, this six word chapter is that obvious indicator.

If the end is going to join the beginning the composition will at some point need to make a turn toward the start. The convention draws an imaginary line between the middle and the beginning, which divides the work into two halves, the first, outgoing, the second, returning. In a long text it is important to accentuate the turn lest the hasty reader miss it, in which case the rest of the carefully balanced correspondences will also be missed.Thinking in Circles

It does so by by being an isolated page, an incredibly short chapter, and having quite a bit of emotional impact. We’ve been with Auri for awhile now and come to care for her well being. “HOLLOW” puts us at a distance and inspires our concern.

However, it does so at the expense of an easy set of parallels between the two chapters in the pair. It’s hard to see anything of “THE ANGRY DARK” in “HOLLOW.” Indeed, it’s impossible. The latter actually does all the work in that regard, which we’ll discuss over the next couple posts. One example, though, is that it contains two title drops that also include the title of this chapter.

It also has an interesting functional role that only becomes clear after finishing the book and reflecting on it or rereading it.  This six word chapter mirrors the length of the book.  The imaginary line between these six words and the next chapter marks not only the structural turning point, but the narrative midway mark as well.

While we assume the first time through that Auri’s knowledge at the beginning that she has seven days is correct, we know once we finish that she was wrong.  She had six days. So it’s quite clever to place six words, or is it seven, at the real center of the story.

The tension between six and seven is something that comes up again and again in The Kingkiller Chronicle. Whether it’s six betrayed cities and one spared in “Lanre Turned” or Kvothe’s inability to split his mind a seventh time, the two appear together only to highlight their difference.  Once of the best examples occurs after Kvothe plays ‘The Lay of Sir Savien Traliard.’

“You must play at my house some day,” Threpe said, then quickly held up a hand. “We won’t talk of that now, and I won’t take up any more of your evening.” He smiled. “But before I go, I need to ask you one last question. How many years did Savien spend with the Amyr?”
I didn’t have to think about it. “Six. Three years proving himself, three years training.”
“Does six strike you as a good number?”
I didn’t know what he was getting at. “Six isn’t exactly a lucky number,” I hedged. “If I were looking for a good number I’d have to go up to seven.”NW 410

It even has some peculiar similarities to “HOLLOW” and to the novella as a whole. In addition to the tension between six and seven, they share weeping, music, and some minor information about the Amyr.

That’s a lot of words to justify and contextualize a chapter that, in all honesty, feels right. It batters the reader and encourages hir to move on to the next page, to find out if Auri’s okay.

But I think it’s important to show that Pat’s not just messing around. This story wasn’t banged out in a short period of time like “How Old Holly Came to Be” or “The Lightning Tree.”  Both of those are compelling for their own particular qualities, but The Slow Regard of Silent Things was crafted carefully. It was handled gently and polished to a bright shine.  And it’s set deeply into the world, the narrative, and even the structure of the greater story.

We’ve covered the first three days. Next we’ll begin to close the circle with the next three.



Reading The Slow Regard of Silent Things: Part III – The Table of Contents

I’m gonna go ahead and skip the TITLE PAGE and COPYRIGHT.  I’d planned to skip the Contents as well, but the title of chapter seven, “ASH AND EMBER,” jumps out immediately.  It’s part of the rhyme Bast recites in the frame narrative of The Wise Man’s Fear.

Maple. Maypole.
Catch and carry.
Ash and Ember.
(WMF 4, 991)

He recites it twice.  First in chapter one, “Apple and Elderberry;” and in chapter one hundred fifty-two, “Elderberry.”  In fact, it’s one of the phrases that pairs those chapters in what anthropologist Mary Douglas called ring composition.

The minimum criterion for a ring composition is for the ending to join up with the beginning… A ring is a framing device. The linking up of starting point and end creates an envelope that contains everything between the opening phrases and the conclusion… There has to be a well-marked point at which the ring turns, preparatory to working back to the beginning, and the whole series of stanzas from the beginning to the middle should be in parallel with the other series going from the middle back to the start. Each section on the second side of the ring corresponds to a matching section on the first side… It comes in many sizes, from a few lines to a whole book enclosed in its macro-envelope, arranged throughout in intricately corresponding parallelisms. (Thinking in Circles)

The Wise Man’s Fear is constructed this way.  The Prologue and Epilogue are nearly identical, providing a solid frame.  Within that frame, chapters one through seventy-six, and seventy-seven through one hundred fifty-two mirror one another in a variety of ways.  One of the primary ways is the restriction of particular words or phrases only to the chapters in parallel, like “Ash and Ember” in the first and last chapters.  I explained a little bit about how chapters two, “Holly,” and one hundred fifty-one, “Locks,” were related during the Tor Reread.

This is all a long way of saying that I sort of suspected The Slow Regard of Silent Things might be a ring as well.  Based on a chapter title.  I’ll show how that might be the case when I get into the actual text.  The fact that the narrative is framed by an AUTHOR’S FOREWORD and an AUTHOR’S ENDNOTE is also a strong clue.

The rest of the chapter titles weren’t so glaringly obvious in their relationship to the parent text.  At least not to me.  But I figured it might be worth noting whether they evoked anything.

Here’s what the Contents look like in the Kindle edition:

Contents (not actually listed in the contents)

Anyway, here goes.

THE FAR BELOW BOTTOM OF THINGS only appears in The Slow Regard of Silent Things.  It refers to the pool in The Twelve, the only place in the Underthing (that we’re exposed to) with a changing name.  There’s a title drop on page 6 followed by this image.

WHAT A LOOK ENTAILS includes a word that hasn’t appeared in Rothfuss before.  It’s worth considering its various nuances.  But think about what’s tied up in looking and seeing in The Kingkiller Chronicle.  Puppet comes to mind.  As does this line from Felurian:

“these old name-knowers moved smoothly through the world. they knew the fox and they knew the hare, and they knew the space between the two.” (WMF 669)

BEAUTIFUL AND BROKEN immediately calls to mind Kvothe’s meditations on and descriptions of Auri. Chapter titles like “The Broken Binding,” “A Beautiful Game,” and “The Broken Road” show a fondness for the words which appear frequently.  And, of course, there’s the bit from Kvothe’s introductory boast:

The Adem call me Maedre. Which, depending on how it’s spoken, can mean “The Flame,” “The Thunder,” or “The Broken Tree.” (NW 57)

A QUITE UNCOMMON PLEASANT PLACE sounds like a decent description of the Underthing, but seems deliberately unspecific.  Nothing really comes to mind.

HOLLOW also leaps out.  It’s the “hollow, echoing quiet” of the first silence in the Prologue of The Name of the Wind and both Epilogues.  It’s also Hollows, home of admissions and the horns.  Hollow is how Kote looks to Graham.

While it might not be relevant, it also reminds me of the Hollow Gods featured in the Modegan Pairs deck designed by Shane Tyree.  They’re the “gods all around us” sworn by Sovoy and Bredon.

THE ANGRY DARK suggests both Kvothe and Lanre as well as Adem mojo, but little else.

ASH AND EMBER I’ve already covered.  Ash is also the elephant in the room: Denna’s patron.  The only chapter to mention is The Name of the Wind chapter eighty-two, “Ash and Elm…”

ALL TO HER DESIRE was something I was sure I’d seen before, but it turns out it’s only a common form without an exact match.  The closest is the secret ritual of the Edema Ruh that Kvothe reveals in his story about Faeriniel and later exploited by Alleg.

The man at his elbow smiled. “Then have water and wine, each to your desire.” And saying so he brought the beggar to their water barrel. (WMF 283)

Bast uses similar phrasing when describing the fae to Kostrel in “The Lightning Tree.”

There are many types of fae, many courts and houses. And all of them are ruled according to their own desires …” (Rogues)

THE GRACEFUL WAY TO MOVE brings to mind Kvothe’s hands, Denna, Felurian, and Cinder.  It also provides a nice lead in to the scene in chapter eleven of The Wise Man’s Fear, “Haven,” that the novella is leading toward.

I turned in time to see Auri scurry across the roof toward us, her arms full. She stopped a short distance away, eyeing us both, before coming the rest of the way, stepping carefully as a dancer until she was back where she originally stood. Then she sat down lightly on the roof, crossing her legs beneath herself. Elodin and I sat as well, though not nearly as gracefully. (WMF 107)

THE HIDDEN HEART OF THINGS repeats the “of things” from the first chapter, another sign that the story’s probably a ring.  It also suggests a secret, perhaps in the Underthing and perhaps within its inhabitant.  We can’t forget our Teccam, either.

Secrets of the heart are different. They are private and painful, and we want nothing more than to hide them from the world. They do not swell and press against the mouth. They live in the heart, and the longer they are kept, the heavier they become. (WMF 487)

CODA provides what Douglas calls a latch, which further ties the beginning and end of the story.  It also ties the story into The Wise Man’s Fear.  In a way, The Slow Regard of Silent Things becomes an inner ring within the larger ring of that book.