Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Three: Take Three

Kenny Brechner -- March 15th, 2018

I’ve written twice here to have a little fun with the prolonged non-appearance of The Doors of Stone, the third and concluding volume of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller trilogy. There is no question, however, looking at the comments for those posts, that for many readers said non-appearance is a very serious topic. The strong senses of frustration, attachment, and resolve being expressed revolve around an age-old issue: the nature of the relationship between author and reader. It is not only an inherently interesting issue but, given that social media has transformed access to authors, an evolving one as well.

The author has himself added another log to this fire recently at the Emerald City Comic Con. When asked by a fan, “Are you like a DM [Dungeon Master] taking us on a journey where the bard is the hero of the story?” Rothfuss responded,  “It’s way worse than that. I am an author who has tricked you into reading a trilogy that is a million-word prologue.” Sure, it would be wonderful to have many millions of words set in the world of Kingkiller, but given the vast length of time that has gone into the “prologue,” frustrated readers might be forgiven for wondering if Rothfuss has been spending his time overcoming the temporal limitations of mortality.

Positions on the issue of authorial responsibility, as seen in the comments to our previous two (one  two) Kingkiller posts, can be boiled down to three basic forms.

  1. The author has no responsibility to the reader. The creation of books is a complex process which has no linear rules of engagement. (The reader has your back.)
  2. The author’s only responsibility is to do his best work, however long that takes. (The reader appreciates your past excellence, and understands your commitment to ultimately delivering the goods.)
  3. The author has a direct responsibility to his readers. (The reader is frustrated with you)

Without question readers and authors who are contemporaries share a dynamic link to the same object, a particular book, or set of books. The author has provided the narrative. The readers’ relationship to that narrative is itself a separate but related narrative and one which is impacted by the author’s personal actions as an author, including speed of production and personal perspective.

Take the Harry Potter books for example. Readers who happened to be roughly Harry’s age when the series began, 10 to 12, had the special experience of growing up with him as the books were released. Each book became successively more complex and mature and these readers grew along with that. It was a wonderful effect, and one which no reader today can experience. For example a 10-year-old who devours books one and two will often falter as she continues and the books age beyond her. Sometimes the reader’s narrative is a lucky one, as it was for Harry Potter readers born in 1988–90, particularly when it is an experience shared by so many other readers.

Many times there is less joy and more waiting, shared waiting which, just as with a flight delay at an airport, no passenger loves, but still provokes different degrees of resignation among those affected. With a shared book there is an added element of literary camaraderie which elevates the process. Personally I think it’s is very important to take the long view with an awaited book, and understand that contemporary readers are one of only two important audiences. There are future readers as well, at least so every author hopes. Rothfuss is very mindful of that. When he noted that “it’s late once, but it’s bad forever” he is essentially saying that if allaying the frustration of the contemporary audience leads him to produce a substandard book there will be no future audience. That is more than fair.

Finally, what of the author’s attitude and perceived industriousness or lack thereof? How can he be audience casting for the mini series, attending conferences, eating meals out and so forth when he should be leading a cloistered life in a locked room from which he can only gain egress when book three is done?

Grief unconfined: illustration by Jean-Baptiste Simonet, from The Sorrows of Young Werther

The author’s relationship to the production of his work is part of the readers’ personal narrative, but it is not personal between author and reader. Goethe wrote Sorrows of Young Werther to remove what he saw as the contagion of romanticism from his mind. Many readers did not share Goethe’s cathartic experience, instead identifying with and emulating Werther, even to the point of committing suicide. Goethe did not murder his readers but his relationship to producing the book had obvious personal effect on them, however lamentable.

In short, the readers’ narrative is both a personal one and a dependent one. The author does not owe his readers anything, but what he has given connects us all in different ways. Strong feelings are understandable and a mark of engagement. It all goes with the territory. Let’s enjoy the ride, with all its frustrations and delays.

6 thoughts on “Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Three: Take Three

  1. Joanne Brothers

    I trust that Patrick will release the book when he feels confident that it is ready.
    In the meantime I have read the first two multiple times and intend to continue re-reading them until the new one comes out, thereby being fully prepared for it.
    I enjoy them all over again with every read so I don’t mind, even though I am left with a longing for closure. A lifetime is full of open and closed doors. We get excited about the open door and look forward to going through it, but then after we’ve been there and close that door, we miss that excitement. So I sort of want it and don’t want it, because I don’t want it to end.
    Careful what you wish for!

  2. Sarah

    I personally wish that I had never read any of Rothfuss’s books. Tired of being left hanging with the promise of an end to the story dangled in front of me like a carrot. If I could go back in time and give my younger self some advice, it would be to never invest money or time in any of his books – no matter how well written they are.

  3. Teresa

    The flip side for the publishing industry is that readers afraid to be burned by long wait periods refuse to buy or read any series of Sci-Fi/Fantasy that is not already finished. Indeed I saw a long thread of people with this same indignant stamp of the wallet attesting to this on a recent FB post by Rothfuss (about a new book he was excited to share).

    This would be a disaster for any new author with a contact to earn back and to be picked up for the rest of the planned series if not already in the initial contact.

    Is Netflix to blame for the idea that we as entertainment consumers deserve a complete series before venturing into the water?

  4. Kevin

    Similarly, we do not owe the author anything. There is no dearth of great material to read and if I have already forgotten great swaths of the story it is likely I will opt for something else to whet my appetite even when the next book finally arrives. Much like HBO figured out: While the author may not owe any reader a book, they (as a media company) owe their paying viewers media. Similarly publishers should work in a like regard and ensure that a series has a path to closure.

    With that said, people may still argue implied responsibility – no, we don’t believe a cloistered life is required, but there people do not purchase books in a series as gambling tokens. They do so assuming that the series will continue, because reading is something that one invests oneself in for many days (or weeks). I imagine if the foreword of every book said:

    “You’ve just gambled as much as you might have on a kickstarter. There is no promise I will finish this series, it isn’t even implied. Trust that I have no obligation to do so. If you are buying this Book 1 of 3 assuming that means a Book 2 and Book 3 are in the future then you are sorely mistaken. Also, if you believe it will come out within a decade or two then you are sorely mistkaken.”

    You might see book profits go down, and if you can agree on that then you agree there is an implicit agreement that the other books will be forthcoming.

    Oh well, we can disagree.

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