Is Kvothe the Bloodless a Gary Stu (Mary Sue)?
Original Artwork by Kim Diaz Holm
(Used with his permission under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.)
What is a Mary Sue? Before we get into the analysis section of this post, it's important to have a basic understanding of what is a Mary Sue. A quick Google search will tell you, "(originally in fan fiction) a type of female character who is depicted as unrealistically lacking in flaws or weaknesses. "'she was not a 'strong woman' so much as an insufferable Mary Sue'" The term initially showed up in Star Trek fan fiction due to a lack of strong female characters in the day. However, as time moved forward, writing became better and more focused on character work, rather than just a strong character (of any gender) in their physical, emotional, or even mental capabilities. The term Mary Sue has made a popular comeback in the last decade with characters like Katniss Everdeen, Rey Skywalker, and other female characters in popular franchises. We have had many other characters, such as Anakin and Luke Skywalker from Star Wars, Paul Atreides from Dune, and Kvothe from The Kingkiller Chronicle, yet many refuse to see them as the male version of a Mary Sue. And, in my opinion, to say that either character is a Mary Sue comes from male and sexist viewpoints.
One of the most popular Fantasy series of our modern age is The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss. It tells the tale of one young boy of many talents, one of which seems to be his temper--as red and fiery as his hair--that seems to get him in trouble quite a bit. He appears to consistently get out of his trials with too few repercussions. At least, that has been my consensus in the years since I started to read and analyze these books.
It is difficult to make a full conclusion on the aspect of a Mary Sue, or in Kvothe's case, a Gary Stu (being male in gender) without having the rest of the story as the third book, Doors of Stone, is yet to be published. (Not rushing you, Pat, you take your time, man! I know it's important to you to get it done right). But because Doors of Stone has only been seen by Patrick's eyes and by those (I assume) of beta readers, editors, and his publisher, none of us, least of all me, can say definitively whether or not Kvothe is a Gary Stu. But, I can speculate under an analytical lens. So speculate and analyze, I will.
Let's break down a few characters by their traits to determine whether or not Kvothe really is a Gary Stu, shall we? We will take a look at physical abilities--innate and learned, inner struggles, and actions
vs. consequences (all of which should be significantly considered when writing a fleshed-out character) for the characters examined here. Then, giving them an "Anti-Sue/Stu or AS point out of three, I will determine whether or not they are a Mary Sue. I will also be talking about what I call "Chosen One Syndrome" or COS throughout this analysis as a factor.
***Before diving into Rey's character, I would like to say a couple things. First off, this is not an analysis of Star Wars; this is an analysis of characters across fiction who have been branded as a Mary Sue/Gary Stu. I realize that Anakin and Luke could both, just as easily, be classified as Gary Stus, and maybe I'll make a post about that one day, but it is not this day. That said, keep in mind that this analysis of Rey (or any of the characters in this post, for that matter) is not an attack on gender, characters, or the people/writers/creatives who made them. Also, this is just my opinion. You are allowed (and I encourage you) to disagree with me, as that is what makes humanity so great. That we can have differing opinions and learn and grow from them.
Alright. On to the analysis.
Minor and Major spoiler warning from this point on for the following books and movies: Star Wars Episodes 7, 8, and 9; The Hunger Games, Dune, and, of course, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear.
However, these have been out for at least two years. The most recent is The Rise of Skywalker (2019) (or Dune if you're counting the movie (2021), but the book has been out since 1965), so if you haven't gotten around to reading or seeing these titles, that's on you.
Rey Skywalker: Star Wars: The Sequel Trilogy (Episodes VII: The Force Awakens, VIII: The Last Jedi, and IX: The Rise of Skywalker)) "That's not how the Force works!" -Han to Finn in The Force Awakens
Physical Abilities: Uses/learns how to use the Force quickly and with barely any trial. Knows how to fight (through context, we understand that she had to defend herself growing up as a scrapper on Jakku). However, fighting with a lightsaber is supposedly very difficult and takes years to master. Although we see her train briefly in with Luke in The Last Jedi and less in The Rise of Skywalker with Leia, there is still little-to-no explanation of the origins of her talents. Until The Rise of Skywalker, where it's explained that she is Palpatine's granddaughter. Many of her abilities seem to be granted by the blood of Palpatine. Or worse yet, COS or what we call plot armor. And is, therefore, robbed of one AS point.
Inner Struggles: Many of today's fictional characters' struggles lie within; it is no different with Rey. Her primary source of character growth lies in the vain hope that her parents return for her on Jakku where they left her as a child in Ep. 7. For someone to show her a "place in all this." in Ep 8. And in Ep 9 deals with the fear that comes with her Palpatine bloodline. In each, she comes to accept or move past each one toward hope.
In her struggle through all of these examples, Rey is able to either overcome or accept certain aspects of each one. She accepts that her parents are never returning to Jakku, and therefore, neither should she. Rey found a new family in BB-8, Finn, Poe, Han, Leia, and Chewie though she hadn't yet found a purpose to her newfound life with the resistance. Which, of course, she then looks for in Luke Skywalker, Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, and even in Snoke in the sense that she tries her hardest to kill him to help redeem Kylo/Ben. Eventually, she finds her place with Leia as the Princess turned General decides to teach Rey the ways of the Force and train her as a Jedi. However, finding a place in the galaxy brings the new struggle of finding out she is the granddaughter of Palpatine and, therefore, has to fight the innate evil within her. Unfortunately, this fight is not shown in her as much as in Kylo Ren throughout the entire trilogy. But she did find, with the help of Luke, that it's not what's in her blood, but what she chooses to do. After overcoming so many inner struggles, I believe Rey deserves one AS point.
Actions vs. Consequences: This is a hard one for me because when it comes to action/consequence in Rey's story, there doesn't seem to be that many negatives, which in character growth, is paramount in its importance. Most of her actions lead to unprecedented consequences. For example, She decides to run away after her vision with Luke's lightsaber and is caught by Kylo and taken to Starkiller Base. But as soon as she's left alone with her Stormtrooper guard, she uses Force mind manipulation (which, to my understanding, she'd never practiced before) to get out of her cell. And, it seems, she was well on her way to escaping when she ran into Han, Chewie, and Finn. Easy peasy. And from there, most, if not all, of her other (positive) actions are equal in their consequences. If she makes a good choice, her result is met with a superior outcome.
On the other hand, if she makes a not-so-good choice, there is a consequence, but the effect on her (or her friends) is not dire. Not in the way Poe's actions at the beginning of The Last Jedi do. Or Kylo's choices in The Force Awakens. And thus, she loses another AS point.
Anti-Sue Rating: 1/3
Final opinion: Though she has some redeeming qualities, Rey Skywalker is still a Mary Sue.
Katniss Everdeen: The Hunger Games Trilogy "Here's some advice. Stay alive." -Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games.
Physical Abilities: Like Rey, Katniss's physical abilities are already in place, but (especially if you'd read the books) you understand that her skills in hunting and archery were taught to her by her father at a young age. Which she kept up on out of necessity to help her family survive in the poor conditions of District 12, Panem. However, skilled in her prior abilities, her other survival skills pale in comparison, as shown in her time during the 74th Hunger Games. The narrative often shows how Katniss consistently struggles--and often fails--to survive until she is helped by either a patron or other Tributes. We see this through the many times she learned something new and not something that she knew intuitively. Her physical abilities were limited. Therefore, gaining one AS point.
Inner Struggles: Katniss keeps her circle of trust very tightly knit from the beginning. The boundaries of which are stretched throughout the trilogy more out of need than wanting to let people in. Eventually, she learns to trust those around her; Peeta, Haymitch, Cinna, and even Effie) in varying capacities. But in the end, her trust was betrayed when she found out that Coin was responsible for Prim's (Katniss's sister's) death. Of course, nothing would or could prepare her for the repercussions of winning the 74th Hunger Games, the events that followed, and the PTSD brought on by horrible memories that haunted her. Dealing with all of this and choosing to push forward definitely warrants an AS point.
Actions vs. Consequences: Unlike Rey, Katniss's actions have dire consequences throughout the trilogy. From small, snap decisions like running after the backpack at the cornucopia, which ultimately saved her life only moments later. To the man who was killed after her speech in district 11, then Cinna's brutal death, both as an ultimate result of winning the 74th Hunger Games and her rebellious acts since. All of which, of course, led her to become the Mockingjay and choose to fight than simply survive underground. Even the seemingly minor choice between Peeta and Gale. Pushing both away and pulling them in closer, nearly losing the important friendship she and Gale had shared since their childhood. Her choices in relationships always led to something big in her life, rather than something insignificant. Her actions and consequences earn her one more AS point.
Anti-Sue Rating: 3/3
Final opinion: Katniss Everdeen is far from the title "Mary Sue."
Paul Atreides: Dune "Fear is the mind-killer." -Frank Herbert, Dune
Physical Abilities: To deny that Paul is a skilled fighter would be a moot point. However, questioning his growth as a fighter—or his many other skills, for that matter—is another topic entirely. As he seems to reach a god-like level early on and plateau. Any struggle is won with the sort of ease that we find in the heroes from 1960's Sci-fi or Fantasy novels. His ability to lead is innate, as is his ability to survive on Arakis, many times without prior knowledge of how. Yes, I understand that "He shall know your ways as though born to them." but that only goes to help "The Chosen One" narrative plot armor found so often in the '60s and on in modern media such as Star Wars, as mentioned above. The problem with having a "chosen one" as the main character is that they rarely struggle with or learn from mistakes. Let alone learn anything new at all. And therefore, Paul is robbed of one AS point.
Inner Struggles: Losing his father on Arakis and wanting revenge/justice for House Atreides is a huge driving factor for Paul. But even with his desire, he loses sight of it quite quickly when he accepts his name as Muad'Dib, and his desire to win Arakis back for the Fremen becomes higher than anything else on his list of things to do. During this time, he rarely has to convince himself that it is the right thing to do. He accepts it as pure fact because of, once again, COS (Chosen One Syndrome).
One of the most powerful moments in the book happens at the very beginning when he has to face fear, and we are given this beautifully prolific line, "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path." Paul conquers fear at the beginning of the story when facing the Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit. Which, no doubt, is a fantastic scene. However, when Paul has to face fear once again, all he has to do is say those words, and his fear melts away, as though he never has to deal with any fear ever again. Not as a teen nor as an adult. And I doubt very much that anyone, chosen one or not, would be able to dismiss fear so easily without more practice than placing their hand in a box. And, therefore, loses one AS point in this category, as well.
Actions vs. Consequences: As a victim of COS, Paul's actions are hardly his own. Driven by destiny, prophecy, his mother, the Bene Gesserit, the Fremen, etc., he rarely has a choice of his own and therefore has very few negative consequences that are his own. Like Rey, we are robbed of knowing how he deals with any results and thus loses another AS point.
Anti-Stu Rating: 0/3
Final opinion: Paul Atreides is the epitome of the modern definition of a Gary Stu/Mary Sue
And, finally, that brings me to the final subject and character who got me thinking about this whole topic in the first place.
Kvothe the Bloodless: The Kingkiller Chronicle "You have to be a bit of a liar to tell a story the right way." -Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
Physical Abilities: Kvothe is a man of many talents. He's a musician, a sword-bearer, artificer, smooth-talker, Namer, practicer of Sygaldry and Sympathy magics, and--according to Felurian (essentially a sex goddess)-- is really good at love-making, especially for his first time.
Given all of these skills, however, Kvothe does not suffer from COS, at least not in a direct way. Interestingly, however, his tale is told from the first-person point of view, which means, as the reader, we should be highly speculative when it comes to his story. According to Kvothe, he learned to play the lute and sing from a young age. Taught by his parents and Edema Rue troupe, continuing to practice any moment that he could afterward. He spent two months (88 days) in the Four Corners of Civilization time when it came to learning the sword. And struggled with just about every bit of it. That is to say, that he did not master the Lethani nor their sword training, merely scratched the surface, in fact. But he did learn quickly, despite his setbacks. His skills in Artificing/Sygaldry, Sympathy, and Naming all come in varying levels of study. Sympathy, he picks up quickly and is smug and a total jackass about it. Sygaldry and Artificing (which I group in the same category, as they are used in similar practices) he struggles with a bit, but mostly when it comes to following rules (more on that later) and coming up with new designs. He fights to understand Naming the most, and by the end of A Wise Man's Fear (book 2 of the trilogy), he has yet to master it. In fact, he has only called the name of the wind a handful of times and all by accident. Even in his Naming class with Elodin, it is difficult to learn anything. Admittedly, this comes much from his pumped-up opinion of himself and his inability to see that he is not as great as he thinks he is. And, finally, the fact that he is so good at sex, Felurian is surprised that he was a virgin before doing it with her says so much about Kvothe's ego. I don't even know how to classify this one.
Overall, Kvothe has several abilities that he is innately good at and plenty that he struggles with, as many people do. Granting him an AS point.
Inner Struggles: "That is how heavy a secret can become. It can make blood flow easier than ink." -Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man's Fear.
From the beginning of his story, Kvothe loses his parents, which propels his journey into researching the Chandrian to exact his revenge on the immortal, demon-like legends. Each time he gets closer to information about them, it is tainted in one way or another. The intel isn't enough; the people that would have known were murdered, the Cthaeh distracts him with torturous information about his love interest, Denna. Each grueling step forward seems to set him back ten.
Kvothe's ego and pride are paramount when considering the factors of his inner struggles, like many young men his age. He wants to be independent, and the fact that he survived on the streets for many years before going to the University shows that he can, which adds to his pride. He did a huge thing (mostly) all independently and therefore thinks he can do everything else likewise. His pride grounded in this and his many other talents give him (at least in his mind) the freedom to be arrogant and push those close to him away when they try to help, rather than accept that he may actually be able to trust them with secrets such as the Chandrian.
Though we have seen little growth in this aspect of his character, the evidence is clear that he has begun to let go of his pride, even if just a little. And in the interludes where we see Kvothe as an adult, we see that he can accept help quite a bit more than he had in the past. I believe that the third book, Doors of Stone, will likely show us what his pride eventually brought him--which is what we see in Kote, the Inn keep--a man fallen from his high horse, brought brutally down by his pride and forced to accept that he could not do everything himself. Though he does not realize it yet, he is one of the main reasons for his own pain.
For these reasons, I am inclined to give Kvothe another AS point.
Actions vs. Consequences: Something remarkable about Rothfuss (and other great authors) is that he makes sure that every act has a consequence. Especially when Kvothe has done something idiotic, the results are apparent if not understood. This is shown in his rivalry with Ambrose. Though Kvothe gets away with some of his pranks toward the loathsome fellow, there are those he does not escape, and the consequences are dire such as getting whipped, the wax mommet (sort of like a voodoo doll) Ambrose uses to torture Kvothe, losing out on any attempt to gain a patron, and finally, leaving the University for a time due to all of the bad blood between the two and the financial influence Ambrose's family has with the University.
There are his many screw-ups with his love interest, Denna. His pride gets in the way of letting her in. And let us not forget when he allowed his arrogance to get the better of him and challenge Devi to a duel using Sympathy. Using everything he had, thinking he was oh-so-powerful, but in the end, Devi not only overpowered him, but she also made sure that he never forgot it. (Granted, Kvothe's action here was out of desperation. Nevertheless, the consequences were severe).
And lastly, there is Maer Alveron and Lady Lackless. After months of work, he earned both their trust and respect. Still, after insulting the Lady in a heated argument that Kvothe blamed on his ancestral blood, he lost most, if not all, the respect he had gained with such influential people within the Four Corners of Civilization and was sent back to the University.
Kvothe, thus, gains another AS point for having several severe consequences to his actions.
Anti-Stu Rating: 3/3
As much as I didn't think I would come to this conclusion myself, Kvothe is not a Gary Stu.
When I started this little project, I honestly didn't think that I would come to this conclusion. As much as I love Rothfuss's work in all aspects (including his fantastic character work), I have had a sort of love-hate relationship with Kvothe since he is such a pretentious douche bag most of the time. And I allowed that to cloud my judgment when it came to his complex character. But at the end of the day, I find it difficult to disagree with my final rating, even though a large part of me would still like to.
What do you think of my rating(s)? Do you agree or disagree with any? Did I get you all hot and bothered? Go ahead and let me know by leaving me a comment. Let's discuss this further, as I'd really love to know your opinions. As I said before, disagreeing is how we grow and become better. Let's just keep it respectful and thoughtful. I don't want to see any personal attacks, and if I do, you will be banned from my site.
Thanks for reading!