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.

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

  1. Michelle W.

    As a writer of fantasy series, you enter into a “contract” with your readers the moment your first novel hits the shelves for sale with the promise that you intend on writing and eventually finishing the series in a timely manner. Patrick said in 2007 his trilogy was finished, and has since spent his time going to conventions, making comic books, writing on his blog, and being an *sshole to any fan who asks him when his third novel is coming out: basically he’s been doing everything BUT writing his third novel which, according to him, was finished in 2007. I don’t care about his depression or his excuses. He CHOSE to be a writer and a writer is supposed to produce consistent work for their readers whom pay their hard-earned money and spend their precious time reading. SIMPLE AS THAT. I stopped feeling bad for Patrick after 5 years passed and still no third novel. He should be ashamed to even call himself a writer, especially considering it took him 15 years to even write his Kingkiller Chronicle (his own words) in the first place. There’s nothing worse than starting a series then having to wait so long for the writer to produce another novel that you forget almost everything about the previous novels so that you no longer care, and that is what Patrick Rothfuss has accomplished with a large number of his fanbase.

  2. Karol

    I can no longer recommend Patrick Rothfuss as an author and have often steered others away from his books with the note they are not complete. As for me, I have put the books on the bookshelf, created my own endings and moved on. It matters not if he writes the third book. Patrick Rothfuss has lost me and a fair number of others as readers. I wonder if history will ever really care how good the third book may or may not be. But history will remember that the angst and the ill will with his false words words and promises. And the third book (if ever published) will always be held hostage by his acts.

  3. charlotte

    I’ll be honest. I’m sick of waiting for his 3rd book and at this point, when it does come out, I’m gonna pirate it illegally and read it that way. I’m not paying this liar that said “Oh, hey, you don’t have to wait to read my books! Because they’re already written!” Pfft. How did I ever fall for that crap?

    If you release the first two books in a trilogy and tell your audience “Oh, well, I have no obligation to you!” after already telling your audience “Hey, all the books are written, no waiting!” You most certainly DO Have an obligation to the audience: To keep your word and release the books on time.

    At this point I’m pretty sure the book is going to be crap anyway. If you have to wait this long for the conclusion to a story, it basically means that the author doesn’t have any idea what to do and whatever he does write is bound to be bad.

    The really sad thing is this affects other authors who have done nothing wrong. But from now on I only read series until they are completed.

  4. Morris

    This has passed through the ridiculous, but took a wrong turn on the way to sublime.
    To those of you attacking his Charity work – shame on you! There are plenty of “Celebs” shilling their crap goods out there who don’t give an iron drab to worthy causes.
    To you, M.r Rothfuss, I want you to know that for 30 years, my two favorite scifi/fantasy authors have been JRR Tolkien and David Brin. I added your name to that list when I read TNOW. NOW, I am seriously considering removing your name from my list of preferred authors altogether.
    You’ve broken the compact. Robert Jordan did essentially the same thing with TWOT (although his ‘sin’ was stretching a 3 or 6 book series out over 23 years and 14 volumes but at least he was getting them out until he died in 2007). Tolkien released The Hobbit in 1937 and didn’t release the Trilogy until 1954. But the Hobbit was a stand alone book… if he’d never written LOTR, The Hobbit would have been just as good. When he got it ready, he released the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1954 and 1955. He had them mapped and written before he ever released.
    David Brin took 18 years to release his entire Uplift Universe series, but he also understood the compact between author and reader — the first three were stand-alone books, and the ‘second trilogy’ was released within a 4 year time frame, eight years after the Uplift War (the last of the first 3). My point being – an author DOES have a duty to his readers – either write stand-alone books and take all the time you need, or don’t release the first book in a continuous series until the third is at least nearly complete – written and in edit.
    Mr Rothfuss, I am very sorry that you are overweight; unhealthy; running ragged skyping and making appearances on cruises and talk shows discussing your books; designing games and toy swords and jacket covers; spending time with your kids; and have some kind of depressive / emotional issues. You are talented and supremely imaginative. However, I have not purchased or read Slow Regard because I consider its release to be an insult to your readers — at least JK Rowling held off on the “second stories” until she got the Potter series done.
    You can fix this, but you need to move the Kingkiller chronicles up to the top 3 — family, health, write the Book.

  5. Bummed

    It is a shame that the author has drug this out so long, if he ever publishes the 3rd book I will read it promptly. That said I will never start another series he writes before all books are published again. I have and will continue to let sellers of his work know that too. What ever his reasons for dragging this out so long are I hope it is worth the cost I will not support anything he does until the 3rd book is published.

    I will continue to support authors that actually write books and get them published and bring so much more to look forward to than rothfuss does. At this point it is more the publishers fault than the authors, they are letting him do this. He must have one sweet contract.

  6. TheBeleaguredFangirl

    I went into reading this series eager and grateful to learn more about Kvothe and his world; however – after constantly being strung around with potential release dates and snide excuses from Rothfuss – I couldn’t deal with it all anymore. My desire to finish even the second book died with my hope to ever finish the series.

    Authors may not think they owe anything to us readers; but when they create such sprawling worlds and make us care about the characters populating them…only to stop halfway through and say “wait wait wait, it’s coming it’s coming”, it’s like they’re leaving a canvas only halfway painted. That blank space NEEDS to be filled sometime, and the authors/artists need to stop making excuses, or else they’ll lose the fans that made them what they were in the first place.

  7. Jon

    I’m all for artists taking their time with their work, but Rothfuss has been particularly reckless with the goodwill of his readers. For me, the last straw was when he announced he releasing a special edition of his first book to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the date it was first published. This rings with hubris and callousness towards his readers who have been waiting more than 7 years at this point for the final book. I’ve learned my lesson. I won’t start new book series until all of the books have been published, or, unless the author has proven that they’ll publish the books within a reasonable time frame (like Robin Hobb, who takes 1-4 years between each of her books). Hone your craft, make things perfect, but don’t expect your readers to buy your first book TWICE before you finish the story- that’s just crass.

  8. Tony Danza

    It’s one thing to say you have no responsibility if you’ve not made any comittments, but when you market your trilogy as a “Completed Work” and then utterly fail to deliver, the frustration of people who started the series is reasonable. We feel lied to, decieved, or strung along.

    The problem with waiting this long is I would tend to bet he’s lost a significant portion of his audience. There are some, like me, who won’t buy the book firsthand anymore. I’ll wait until I can get it at a yardsale, a third party or dare I suggest a bootleg PDF.

    After a decade of being strung along, IF we finally are lucky enough that he finishes this book, I will make every effort to be sure he doesn’t see one red cent of mine, because that’s what his lack of transparancy is worth to me.

  9. Andrew

    It’s taking so long because he wrote himself into a corner he can’t get out of with any grace. It’s been a decade and most people no longer care so he should just crap on the floor and call it a day. Then he’d be left alone again like he so badly wants. If this is a prologue I will never read the real story, diabetes will finish its work before he does.

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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?

  13. 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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