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The Burning Wheel: the Parts

Everything in Patrick Rothfuss’s amazing world is so interconnected that I am often challenged to break any subject down into a something less than novella-sized.  Everything is a fascinating rabbit hole that I want to dive down immediately! Alas, that gets confusing quickly, so today I’m going to try to put a box around some observations on NOTW Chapter  23, The Burning Wheel, so that I can use them in future analysis.  It is well known that KKC is “a story about stories.” And something that has always stuck with me is WMF Chapter 107 where Kvothe is telling his story of Felurian and he says he “borrowed a little from Taborlin the Great.”

This speaks to something Rothfuss gleefully admits to, the (quite realistic) unreliability of information in his world.  (“The Barons” anyone?)  I think some  in-world stories are more reliable than others (as reflected in some of my “everything about …” posts). But the statement from WMF Ch. 107 specifically interests me because it implies something that also happens in the real world. Sometimes events aren’t flat out wrong, they’re just misattributed.  The more famous the historical figure, the more debate we often see over whether they were the original protagonist of a tale. And in Temerant, no one is more famous than Tehlu.  So I like to view Trappis’s story as a collection of fragments, each of which might be something that happened, but it is far from certain that the character was Tehlu. I also subscribe to the common theory that (the devil) Encanis is not an individual, but a personification of many evils, especially including the Chandrian.

So between that and the fact Trappis was clearly kind of winging it (“No, wait. There was no church yet,”) Chapter 23 is most likely a melting pot of stories already previous attributed (rightly or wrongly) to Tehlu and Encanis, and possibly even more Trappis just threw in on the fly. I’m going to divide Chapter 23 into piece parts (some of which overlap and may be all one part). But I am erring on the side of small ideas, since the goal here is to identify fragments that may have been borrowed from other stories.

  1. Long ago the world was full of demons. “Encanis” was the worst, and “Tehlu” watched.
  2. There is apparently a distinction between a “demon” wearing the skin of a man, and it possessing or hiding in the body of a man. Twice in Chapter 23 these two concepts are brought up in the same paragraph as different things.
  3. Someone had some wicked neighbors.
  4. Perial’s dream and the immaculate conception of Menda (this is my favorite theory about Perial!)
  5. A smith named Rengen with an important hammer. Possibly the first to choose the Path. (Becomes Wereth, the forger of the path?)
  6. Tehlu offers people the choice of the Path. (I’m giving this one to Tehlu since his book is the Book of the Path!)
  7. Seven people refuse “Tehlu.” One of them (the fourth) is a demon wearing a man’s skin.
  8. The “outer darkness” is the home of “demons.”
  9. “Encanis” was the worst of the demons, and for 7 years “Tehlu” chased him.
  10. “Encanis” reached a great city. He ruined it. “Tehlu” stopped and appointed priests there.
  11. For six days “Encanis” fled, and six great cities he destroyed.  But on the seventh day the seventh city was saved.
  12. On the eight day “Tehlu” caught “Encanis.” His hammer felled “Encanis,” but was shattered in the process.
  13. “Tehlu” brought the defeated “Encanis” to the city of Atur.
  14. “Tehlu” bound “Encanis” to the iron wheel. The iron hurt him.
  15. People set a fire and celebrated that “Encanis” was trapped.
  16. Final confrontation between the trapped “Encanis” and “Tehlu.” Some interesting words exchanged, the ringing iron wheel brooks no lies.
  17. “Encanis” is thrown into bed of coals to burn.
  18. To prevent “Encanis” from escaping, “Tehlu” jumps into the pit and burns to ash with him.

“Parts of his story had been awkward and stumbling, but some were stately and grand, as if he had been reciting them from some half-forgotten memory. Of sermons? Of his readings from the Book of the Path?”

So now that we’ve broken this down, I’m going to pull out a few of these fragments for more specific analysis.