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Reconstruction of Prehistory in the Kingkiller Chronicle (Detailed Version)

With all the talk about Game of Thrones lately, which is a series I haven't read and/or seen, I thought it wouldn't be too weird if I wrote a post about another fantasy series I got sucked into, namely the Kingkiller Chronicle, by Patrick Rothfuss. (The first two books in the series are The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear; the third and final book is not released yet but will be called The Doors of Stone.)

As with The Lord of the Rings, it describes a world with lots of clues about the past, and mysteries about how things work at the present, but much is unknown and is being debated. The third novel is likely to clear up some, but not all, mysteries.

Here I will present my current reconstruction of the events of the past, based on clues in the first two books. This reconstruction is based not so much on direct evidence, but on working back from known facts to come up with something that makes sense.

On Races

Races are not as important as they are in Tolkien's works, but they do come into play. There are two known races in Kvothe's universe: humans (Men) and fairies (Fae). However, Felurian spoke of a time that was before Men and Fae, indicating that a third race (perhaps a progenitor) must have existed. For the lack of a better term we'll call this race Ruach (although it isn't clear whether Ruach refers to the whole race, or just a group of people who survived the Creation War).

What is their relationship? According to my reconstruction, Ruach and Fae are the same species; Men are a different species. Probably all of the inhabitants of the Ergen Empire through the Creation War were Ruach. The Ruach were mortal but probably longer lived than Men. After the creation of the Faen Realm, some of the Ruach moved into the Fae [1] and, through Shaping magic, changed their bodies and became a new race, the Fae, which is immortal but possible to kill. The magic that made them immortal had them side effect of making them unable to tolerate iron.

The Ruach who didn't move to Fae remained Ruach. They might have been killed off during the Creation War, or they eventually all fled to the Faen Realm. Or, Ruach might still exist. I suspect that the Adem might be Ruach, and if they are, I am almost certain that Ruach (and therefore the Adem) were capable of parthenogenesis.

It's uncertain when Men appeared; they might not even have appeared until after the Creation War. If the Adem are human, then at least some Men were allied with the Ergen Empire in the Creation War. But, somehow or other they become the dominant race in the Four Corners.

Creation War Belligerents

So, before the Creation War, we know there were two groups at odds, the Knowers and the Shapers. At the time of the Great Betrayal, we know that one of the belligerents was the Ergen Empire. (The Fae, being a Shaped Realm, was almost certainly sympathetic with the Shapers, but we don't know if any of the Creation War took place in the Fae.) We are not told who the enemy of Ergen was, or whether Ergen was on the Shaper's or Knowers's side. This seems to be the biggest open question.

Most people put Ergen on the side of the Knowers, on very flimsy evidence. 1. Selitos was on Ergen's side, and he seemed to be Knowerish (though we don't exactly know what the distinction between knowing and shaping magic is). 2. Iax, known to be a Shaper, is said by Felurian to be imprisoned behind stone doors; also Skarpi says that an enemy of Ergen was sealed behind stone doors after Drossen Tor. It follows that, if they are the same person, Iax was the enemy of Ergen and therefore Ergen is allied with the Knowers. However, there it's said nowhere that they are the same person. 3. The Knowers and Ergen both seem to be the "good guys" from the biased perspectives we've been given. 4. Since Fae and Ergen are the only two places we know about from the Creation War, and the Fae was with the Shapers, Ergen must be with the Knowers.

However, I put Ergen on the side of the Shapers. The main direct evidence for this is that Ergen was clearly the defending party in the Creation War. However, I am just as persuaded by the indirect evidence: the aftermath of the Creation War, especially the actions of the Chandrian, just makes much more sense if the Ergen is allied with the Shapers.

So who, then, is the enemy? It's not the Fae. It must be people from outside Ergen. For a bunch of reasons, I believe Ergen was nearly coextensive with the present-day Four Corners [2], so the enemy is most likely to have come from over the Stormwal Mountains. Today that is where Tahlenwald is. So for simplicity we'll refer to the enemy as pre-Tahl.

With this in mind, we can start on a timeline.

Creation War Reconstruction: Theft of the Moon to Drossen Tor

I beleive Felurian's story is accurate. The first people to use magic were the old Knowers; then came the Shapers who used magic in a different way. They quarrelled and the Shaper created the Faen Realm to serve as their sandbox. But this peace was shattered when Iax stole the moon [3], and at that point the Knowers made war on the Shapers.

So much we are told. But who are the Knowers and the Shapers? What race are they, and where were their domains?

About the only direct evidence of where Shapers lived is Felurian's story about eating silver fruit on the walls of Murella, which was part of the Ergen Empire, so likely in the Four Corners. With so little to go on, my reconstruction basically works backwards from what makes sense later on, which I'll get to, but basically Ergen needs an enemy, it isn't the Fae, therefore the enemy has to come from outside of both [4]. The most likely place is pre-Tahl. Ergen was the Shapers' domain, pre-Tahl the Knowers'.

It seems likely that Ruach are the inhabitants of both Ergen and pre-Tahl, since Felurian said that this (before the Creation War) was before Men and Fae. This brings up the question of where Men came from, which is one of the biggest issues. I have four ideas.

  1. Felurian is talking only about Ergen when she says "before Men and Fae", but Pre-tahl is, in fact, human. This sets up the Creation War as being very polar: it's Men/Knowers/East versus Ruach/Shapers/West. It seems a little too tidy for me, but it has an interesting parallel with Tolkien mythos: Men cross mountains from the East and displace the fairy-like creatures in the West, who in turn flee to their immortal domain.
  2. Men are present but are considered inferior beings, chattel of the Ruach. They were forced to fight in the Creation War, either by both sides, or just by pre-Tahl.
  3. Men are from somewhere else. This is the one I prefer. However, at some point in the Creation War, humans began to fight in it, perhaps as allies of pre-Tahl, perhaps as mercenaries for either or both sides, or maybe again as slaves.
  4. Men were created ("shaped", if you will) by powerful Shapers early in the Creation War to serve as slaves or warriors. This seems too powerful for the magic we've seen so far, so I am highly doubtful, but I list it for completeness. In this scenario, enslaved humans fought for the Shapers but they were likely to side with the Knowers if they achieved freedom.

Well, the point is, there were a lot of humans on the Knowers/pre-Tahl side, and this is why, after most of the Creation War cities fell, humans moved into the Four Corners and replaced Ruach as the dominant race, although not (yet) the race in charge. But that comes later.

Here is my specific reconstruction (wherein I make some decisions on the theories I presented): Ergen was on the Shapers' side and was entirely Ruach. Pre-Tahl was on the Knowers' side and was a combined army of Ruach and Men, with Men making up the bulk. Fae was not involved in the war but sympathized with Ergen because they were Shapers. The goal of pre-Tahl was to attack Fae, steal the moon back, and destroy Fae and Ergen. For some reason it was necessary to conquer Ergen before attacking Fae, so that's what the enemy went about trying to do, and they mostly succeeded, until Lanre appeared. Lanre turned the tide of the war at Drossen Tor (capturing and sealing an enemy behind stone doors [5]). So after a long war Ergen was about to repel its enemies. Then something bad happened.

Creation War Reconstruction: Drossen Tor to the Great Betrayal

When I first read the Skarpi story, I assumed that Lanre betrayed the Ergen Empire out of grief for Lyra. However, a careful reading of the story shows that Lanre's wayward eye began before that. He tells Selitos that his wife's death is on his hands, although deceit and trickery brought him to it. Point is, deceit and trickery were going on before Lyra died: the betrayal wasn't all about Lanre's grief.

Shehyn's story [6] describes an enemy moving like a worm in fruit, poisoning seven others against the empire. So the enemy (Lanre) and seven others were together going to betray eight cities, but one of them remembered the Lethani and didn't betray a city. This agrees with Skarpi's timeline if we take "poisoning" to refer to the same events as "deceit and trickery".

Beyond reasonable doubt, the Lanre and the six other traitors became the Chandrian. But who was the person who didn't betray a city?

My guess is that it was Lyra. Lanre conspired with seven others against the Empire, one of whom was Lyra. Lyra then changed her mind and wouldn't betryal the Empire, and Lanre killed her in his rage. He went seeking the power to ressurect her. (He probably spoke to the Cthaeh at this point, possibly in the process of trying to get a panacaea flower, and was given great power at the cost of never being able to retreat behind the four doors of healing.) Once Lanre found he couldn't ressurect her, he grew desperate and went ahead with the betrayal with the remaining conspirators.

That's my reconstruction, but I'll mention another theory: that Lyra wasn't a conspirator. Lanre killed Lyra for a different reason (perhaps an accidental one), and another conspirator reneged, possibly in sympathy for Lyra. So who was the other conspirator? There isn't a lot of evidence, and it could be someone we never heard of. Possibilities among people we know include Aleph and Tehlu, but neither one strikes me as the traitor type. Iax is another (and wouldn't that be ironic--not that he reneged, but that he was part of the conspiracy in the first place).

But I will suggest another possibility: Taborlin the Great. And there is a bit of circumstantial evidence for it. In Marten's Taborlin story, Tab is fighting a king by the name of Scyphus, whose nume differs from the Chandrian Cyphus by only one letter. Scyphus wants Taborlin's help about something. What help would Scyphus need--could it be help betraying an empire?

However, this theory is not an officially a part of my reconstruction, as I have other plans for Taborlin.

Creation War Reconstruction: The Great Betrayal

Skarpi details the events of the Betrayal quite well, Shehyn's story agrees with Skarpi's, and Kvothe says Denna's song about Lanre tells basically the same story (but from a different perspective), so the basic events are not in question.

They do leave off a crucial piece of information. One city was not betrayed and the Empire was left with hope: but we're not told which one it was. We only know that it wasn't Belen or Myr Tariniel. So, which is it?

The default answer seems to be Tinuë. Tinuë has a similar name to the Ergen city Tinusa, and because Tinuë is reknown in Kvothe's time and place, is found in idioms, and appears in stories. It could have got this notoriety by being the surviving city, and thus the most important city post-Creation-War. Although there's no direct evidence linking Tinusa to Tinuë, I have very little doubt that Tinuë is named for Tinusa and is in the same location. It would be the least surprising thing ever if Tinuë was the surviving city. However, I'm going to reconstruct things differently.

The thing about Tinuë is that it's not the only city we know of that seems to be named for the Creation War cities. There is a city called Emlin (Emlen), currently being sieged, mentioned casually when Kvothe is talking with Sleat. Denna visits the cities of Andenivan (Antus) and Vartheret (Vaeret) as well as Tinuë. And the province of the commonwealth where Tarbean and Imre are located is called Belennay (Belen) [7]. The revelations of this evidence is enough to convince me that there are a bunch of existing place names derive from the Creation War cities, and therefore Tinuë isn't special.

And, for my reconstruction, Tinuë is in the wrong place. I suspect the surviving city was in Yll [8]. Based on Denna's travels, the best guess for which city might have been in Yll is Antus: she had recently visited Yll before meeting Kvothe in Tarbean at the end of WMF, and lists Andenivan as a city she visited. Therefore, my reconstruction has Antus, in Yll, as the surviving city.

Henceforce, I'll refer to the surviving city as Antus even if it turns out that my guess about which city was in Yll is wrong.

Creation War Reconstruction: Aftermath of the Betrayal

At this point in the story, the "mythological" story begins to diverge from the "anthropologcal" one. One one hand, we have Aleph casually turning some beings into a pantheon Angels. On the other, people living in the Four Corners would start forming countries that would evolve into the world Kvothe knows 5000 years later. We'll briefly look at the morphological story first.

Skarpi describes a scene where survivors of the Betrayal have gathered (probably in Antus, perhaps in the Fae) to discuss a strategy to oppose the Chandrian, under the guidance of Aleph. Aleph turns Tehlu and eight others into angels (who I suspect are the group that Haliax refers to as Singers). Aside from the fact that they seem to still be a nemesis to the Chandrian in Kvothe's time, we don't know a lot about them. More important to the reconstruction is the Amyr, the group of Ruach who followed Selitos. These are the "real" Amyr, which I think are (mostly) unrelated to the later Order Amyr from the Aturan Empire. But I'll cover that later. The takeaway is that the Amyr became a secret force to combat the Chandrian.

Those Ruach who became neither Amyr nor Singer ended up living normal lives in Antus and/or the Fae.

Now for the antropological story. After the Chandrian destroyed seven of the eight cities in Ergen, they would have set themselves up as rulers of the devastated lands. The devastated lands are now occupied mostly by uncivilized humans (who were the bulk of the conquerers). Now, for whatever reason, the Chandrian need to conquer Antus to be able to invade and attack the Faen realm, so the new front of the Creation War becomes the border (shore?) of Yll. And, thanks to the efforts of the Amyr, Singers, and Sithe maybe (if they exist at this point), the Chandrian are stymied and the Creation War turns into a stalemate. A civilized Yll, populated mostly by Ruach, lives on a war front, but relatively safe from being utterly devastated in the stalemate, and so begin to flourish as an intelligent society. They create writing (Yllish knots), build a city devoted to learning and history (Caluptena). But, they are not strong enough to stage their own offensive and get rid of the Chandrian altogether.

Then there is the Adem, who are wandering around somewhere. I have them as being Ruach in my reconstruction. At this point they are still nomads. I suspect they had political difference with the people of Yll and were kicked out or left, or maybe never even gathered with the survivors at Yll at all. But in any case they were nomads pestered by the Chandrian, and eventually settled in their current home because of its general undesirability.

Creation War Reconstruction: The End

So this stalemate persists for a least a thousand years, maybe two. Then something amazing happens.

The Chandrian, being who they are, run their kingdoms as the evil bastards they are, repressing and enslaving their populations. In this situation a great revolutionary arose to oppose the Chandrian from within their own kingdoms. This revolutionary was the first person who is powerful enough to actually defeat the Chandrian, rather than just fight them to a stalemate.

But the most shocking part of this is that this revolutionary, the first person ever able to defeat the Chandrian, is a Man. Not a Ruach. Not the Amyr, not the Singers, not the Sithe. A lowly man defeated the Chandrian. And he did it with Shaping magic.

Taborlin the Great, who knew the name of all things, arose in the eastern city of Tinuë, away from the civilized areas around Yll. He rebelled against Chandrian rule and defeated them, ending their open rule and relegating them to a life of striking like lightning from a clear blue sky, and managing bands of thieves. (He couldn't kill them, of course.) This, at long last, ended the Creation War.

This is why Tinuë is called the Free City: it was the first city free from the Chandrian and probably has retained its free status ever since. This event is also the origin of the city's current cultural importance.

Taborlin, being an expert at opening locks, was also the ideal person to create a box that couldn't be opened. In this box he placed an item, the size of a salt box, that held a great and dangerous source of power (probably the key to the Chandrian's former power and the reason why they can no longer rule openly). Taborlin founded the Lockless line in Tinuë to serve as keeper of the box. (Thus Kvothe is actually a direct descendant of Taborlin.)

As for Yll, I suspect it didn't necessarily see the new lands now ruled by Men as much better than the Chandrian rule. Although they weren't necessarily at war (yet), humans were a completely different species, backward barbarians in their eyes, and potentially just as dangerous. I suspect that, over time, many Ruach left Yll for the Fae.

The Aturan Empire

Some time after Taborlin's victory, the earliest historical (written) records that survive until Kvothe's time appear. After this point, what happened becomes more definite, and easier to comprehend since the stories involve definite places that can be seen on a map, and more definite times. Therefore the events themselves don't need much of a reconstruction. For completeness, I'll list (roughtly) the major events we know of:

  • Cealdish nomads began mining and created the first system of currency [9].
  • The Aturan Empire arose, closely associated with the Tehlin Church.
  • The Aturan Empire began to expand and conquer lots of territories: they eventually own what is now the Commonwealth, Vint, at least some of the Small Kingdoms. They conquer much of what was formerly Yllish territory. Ceald and Modeg remain independent.
  • Then the Aturan Empire fell, losing most of its former territories and lots of power.

So we know the events, but there are still mysteries, mainly surrounding the Tehlin Church and the Amyr. The Amyr were the group of Ruach, not human, whose goal was to confound the plots of the Chandrian, but in historical times the Amyr was an organization associated with the Tehlin Church and Aturan Empire, created and disbanded by decree. What relation do these two groups have, if any?

Here's how I see it: with humans now squarely in control of the Four Corners, and with the Aturan Empire growing and becoming a menace, the real Amyr and other enemies of the Chandrian are concerned now about Men becoming too powerful. So they used backroom tactics to try to control the power of Men as well as possible. The Tehlin Church I think was probably originally a cult dedicated to remembering the Singers and peserving the means to summon them, but under the (old) Amyr's influence it changed more into a religion that could stigmatize certain think like "Dark Powers". The efforts of the (old) Amyr likely led to the creation of the (new) Amyr, whose existence gave the (old) Amyr some standing to work within the Aturan Empire.

However, the Amyr could only do so much. They couldn't stop Atur from warring with Yll and destroying Caluptena (which I think is probably in Yll), or from a policy that purged ancient knowledge.

When the (new) Amyr disbanded and the Aturan empire fell, it was a double-edged sword: the (old) Amyr couldn't operate openly any more (though they seem to still keep people in the Tehlin Church), but the Aturan empire was no longer a risk. And that's roughly where we stand.


I haven't attempted to justify a lot of my theories. As I said, some of them I backed into based on what made the most sense.

However, the overarching rationale is that the Creation War doesn't make sense if we read and take everything we see at face value. The obvious intepretation of the Creation War, that it was Ergen vs. Fae, has a lot of problems. It would put Ergen on the Knowers side, and that has problems. For one thing, people on Ergen's side seem to using Shaping Magic. Lyra, in battle. Aleph uses it to transform some of the Ruach into angels. Even Selitos, whose main power is Sight, seemed to use Shaping magic when he changed the appearance and dismissed Lanre. Another problem is that the Chandrian are feared in the Faen realm as well as in the Four Corners. Why? Aren't the Chandrian on the Shaper's "side"? A final problem is that no resolution of an Ergen vs. Fae Creation War seems to result in the world we see today.

Well, there are many possible explanations for these difficulties. There was some drama concerning the Lockless box between the Great Betrayal and the historical period, which we know very little about, that could have been the missing link to explain current discrepancies. But invoking that would be hand-waving.

Ergen and Fae on the same side against a third party is a rather elegant solution to these difficulties, but of course it's not without its own problems. It fails to explain why the Cthaeh would help Kvothe find Cinder (by my reconstruction the Cthaeh, who is probably an Old Knower, would be on the Chandrian's "side"). The Chandrian don't appear to use Shaping magic much, but some of Haliax's treatment of Cinder seems like it might be Shaping (this is ambiguous though: we don't really know the exact difference). How the Aturan empire fits into this is problematic.

Point is, there are still questions. But despite this, I am standing behind this reconstruction as a reasonable way to make sense out of the incomplete and conflicting evidence we have so far.


[1]Another possibility is that the Fae wasn't originally intended to be a place where people lived, but was rather a playbox for Shapers, and perhaps a vacation spot. It wasnb't until the Creation War broke out, and maybe not until late in the Creation War when the Ergen Empire grew weak, that people fled into the Faen realm to escape the war, and only then did they start to live there and become fairies. However, the actual timing doesn't matter much in my reconstruction, since the Creation War never makes it into the Fae.
[2]The main reason is that the geography matches. I am satisfied that Denna is visiting modern cities built on the ruins of former Creation War cities, at least four of which are almost certainly in the Four Corners. There is the mountain location of Myr Tariniel, and the fact that the other seven cities were all on the same side of the ridge. There is the Great Stone Road being west of the mountains in the Jax story, and a few other minor things. One slight alternative to this is that Ergen did not occupy the whole FC because Yll existed separately. See Footnote [8].
[3]I have another theory. Iax is connected to the theft of the Moon by two sources: Hespe's story, and Bast. So it's a reliable fact on the surface. But Felurian refuses to name him, leading some to suspect it might not have been Iax. I consider Bast to be the least reliable of all (serious) sources, so maybe there's something to this. Felurian says that the person who stole the Moon was the "first and greatest" of the Shapers. And here's the thing: without Bast and Hespe, our guess for who this is is most likely to be Aleph. Is it possible that Aleph stole the Moon, and Iax took the fall? My problem with this theory is that it doesn't make a lot of sense. Aleph is still hanging around after the Great Betrayal, which means that at some point after the enemy would have had to push on and capture Aleph and seal him behind stone doors. That would explain nothing.
[4]Skarpi's story makes it doubtful that the Creation War was a civil war, at least not at first. The enemy sounds like it came from outside because of how they wasted the land. An internal enemy wouldn't do that.
[5]Most commenters assume the enemy sealed behind stone doors is Iax. I am taking the enemy sealed behind stone doors at Drossen Tor to be different from the one who stole the moon. Doors of stone might only be a metaphor for death, but assuming there really are stone doors, and since I place Ergen on the Shapers' side, the person (if it is one person and not an army) sealed behind stone doors at Drossen Tor is certainly an Old Knower. According to my reconstruction, then in the first two books we've only met one actual Knower....
[6]One thing that can be fairly certain about the Adem is that their ancestors (what the Adem people were before they were Adem) were on Ergen's side: Shehyn's story clearly sympathizes with Ergen.
[7]Tarbean itself could derive from Belen. If you consider that "Tar", or something like it, is a prefix meaning "city" in some semetic languages. Take Tar away from Tarbean and you have Bean, which is similar to Belen.
[8](1, 2) Reason: Yllish knots date to at least 3000 BK (Before Kvothe), since Kvothe believes the Lockless box could be etched with an Yllish knot. (Even if it isn't Yllish knots on the Lockless box, we assume Kvothe would note the discrepancy if the box was older than Yllish writing.) Elodin says Yllish knots were the first form of writing, and that Yll was writing with knots when "we" were scratching pictograms on animal skins. That suggests that Yll is civilized whereas the rest of the Four Corners was primitive, meaning that the surviving city was probably in Yll. (There's another explanation for this: perhaps Yll existed as a country during the Creation War, separate from the Ergen Empire. Then Yllish knots would predate the Creation War. That opens up another line of possibilities, but I won't pursue them here.)
[9]One argument that Taborlin the Great lived in historical times is the fact that one of his trademark tools is a coin; it seems coins didn't exist before Ceald invented them in early historical times. If he did live in historical times he was probably fictional, since the magic he uses and sitations he is in have a mythological air.
Tags: kingkiller_chronicle, literature, patrick_rothfuss
Last Edited: 21 July 2013, 11:27 AM
e wrote: Still working my way through your writeup but a quick thought: could the two Ergen "ll" cities now be Yll, separated by the Reft? You mention the antiquity of Yllish knots in footnote 8. The Yllish language seems to encompass Creation-Wars-time concepts that haven't yet been eroded away. Yllish knots also (via Denna) seem to work the way Sygaldry does now, suggesting there was a much more natural way of expressing magic through language, form, and writing.
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