It had flaws, but what does that matter when it comes to matters of the heart? We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.
—  Wise Man’s Fear

I have heard people say that men and the Fae are as different as dogs and wolves. While this is an easy analogy, it is far from true. Wolves and dogs are only separated by a minor shade of blood. Both howl at night. If beaten, both will bite.

No. Our people and theirs are as different as water and alcohol. In equal glasses they look the same. Both liquid. Both clear. Both wet, after a fashion. But one will burn, and the other will not. This has nothing to do with temperament or timing. These two things behave differently because they are profoundly, fundamentally not the same.

The same is true with humans and the Fae. We forget it at our peril.

—  Patrick Rothfuss, Wise Man’s Fear
Free will in KKC and the power of the Cthaeh

Free will is defined as the ability to chose your own path given two or more options. At first glance, there does appear to be free will in KKC. Every character makes conscious choices. Kvothe goes to the University, SIm hopelessly courts women, and Ambrose is an asshole. No matter how small the action, there is motivation behind it that seems to come from the character themselves. Religion in these books hasn’t been crucially important so far, so it’s probably safe to say there are no gods meddling with the lives of the characters.

In the frame story, Kvothe has stated many times that his life is a tragedy. It’s not like the stories of Taborlin the Great where everything works out nicely in the end. Kvothe seems like the perfect tragic hero. He killed a king, which brought about his own downfall. Everything that is wrong in the frame story, the war, heavy taxes, and the Scrael is Kvothe’s fault. Sort of.

The illusion of free will does not mean that the characters are actually free. This is where the Cthaeh becomes so much more important. In the frame story, Bast says that there isn’t anything  worse that the Cthaeh. It’s put in backdrops of plays to signal that the story is the worst kind of tragedy. We already know that Kvothe’s story is a tragedy, but by having the Cthaeh be an active part of it makes it so much worse than previously imagined. The Cthaeh knows exactly how each person will react to what it says, and it purposefully says the exact thing that will cause the worst outcome. So not only is Kvothe’s life the absolute worst possible tragedy, he also isn’t in control. He is “a plague ship sailing for harbor”. Everything that he does from that moment on is because the Ctaeh. 

But wait, it gets worse. Jax spoke to the Cthaeh before he stole the moon and sparked the entire Creation War. Lanre spoke to it before he betrayed Myr Tariniel. The Ctheah sees all futures in perfect detail from the perfect moment, The Creation War was over 2000 years before Kvothe, and the Cthaeh has been running everything since then. Whatever the Ctheah told Jax to make him steal the moon put the world on the timeline that led to Kvothe coming to talk to it as well. No one in Temerant is free because none of them can escape the influence of the Cthaeh. People have the illusion of free will because they make decisions every day that seemingly have no significance, but everything is happening because of the Cthaeh. There is no free will because the Cthaeh set all of this in motion before the Creation War. Chronicler dismissed Bast’s outbreak over the influence of the Cthaeh, but Bast was correct to be freaking out. No matter how many pretty farmer’s daughters Bast kisses, he ultimately has no control over his life. 

You know the two scenes from the finale, where Nora leans against Ren and they have a personal moment and then in a later scene Nora leans against Jaune and they have a team moment?

I finally remembered what the scenes reminded me of. Here’s a snippet from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear where one of the characters, Vashet, is explaining to Kvothe the differences between two kinds of touch and thus, what is intimate and what isn’t. 

Vashet looked thoughtful for a moment, then seemed to reach some kind of decision. “Here. It will be simpler to show you. Watch.”

I watched the familiar Adem impassivity slide over her face, leaving her face blank as new paper. Her voice lost most of its inflection at the same time, shedding its emotional content. “Tell me what I mean when I do this,” she said.

Vashet stepped close, making no eye contact. Her hand said, respect. “You fight like a tiger.” Her face was expressionless, her voice flat and calm. She grabbed hold of the top of my shoulder with one hand, and gripped my arm with the other, giving it a squeeze.

“It’s a compliment,” I said.

Vashet nodded and stepped back. Then she changed. Her face grew animated. She smiled and met my eyes. She stepped close to me. “You fight like a tiger,” she said, her voice glowing with admiration. One of her hands rested on the top of my shoulder while the other slipped around my biceps. She squeezed.

I was suddenly embarrassed at how close we were standing. “It’s a sexual advance,” I said.

It’s not 100% the same situation, but it explains wonderfully how the same action can have different meanings.