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Is Kvothe the Bloodless a Gary Stu (Mary Sue)?

Updated: Mar 1


Original Artwork by Kim Diaz Holm
(Used with his permission under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.)
https://denungeherrholm.smugmug.com/

Introduction


Before we get into the analysis section of this post, it's essential to have a basic understanding of what makes a "Mary Sue." A quick Google search will tell you, "(originally in fan fiction) a type of female character 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 progressed, 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."

One of our modern age's most popular fantasy series is The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss. It tells the tale of one young boy of many talents, one of which is his temper--as red and fiery as his hair--that gets 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 novels.


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 as of writing this. But because Doors of Stone has only been seen by Patrick Rothfuss's eyes and by those of (I assume) 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 Kvothe is a "Gary Stu." We will 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, give them an "Anti-Sue/Stu" or "AS" point out of three; I will determine whether or not they are a Mary Sue. Throughout this analysis, I will also discuss what I call "Chosen One Syndrome," or "COS," as an added factor.

***Before diving into Rey's character, I would like to say a couple things. First, this is not an analysis of Star Wars but 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. Remember 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. Finally, this is my opinion. You are allowed (and I encourage you) to disagree with me, as that makes humanity great. That we can have differing opinions and learn and grow from them.***


Minor and Major spoiler warning from this point on for the following books and/or movies: Star Wars Episodes 7, 8, and 9; The Hunger Games series, Dune, and, of course, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle).

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: Episodes VII: The Force Awakens, VIII: The Last Jedi, and IX: The Rise of Skywalker "That's not how the Force works!" -Han Solo to Finn in The Force Awakens


Physical Abilities: However, she learns how to use the Force quickly and with barely any trial, which brings me to lightsaber combat, which is supposed to be very difficult and takes years to master, even with Force sensitivity. Although we see her train briefly with Luke in The Last Jedi and in The Rise of Skywalker with Leia, there still needs to be more explanation of the origins of her talents, which we don't get until The Rise of Skywalker, where it's explained that she is Palpatine's granddaughter which can easily explain her abilities. This, unfortunately, is the bane of many fictional characters today as they are gifted with COS or plot armor (not that plot armor is inherently flawed, but it must be tactful, just as any armor should be). Because of these points, Rey is 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 either overcomes or accepts certain aspects of each one. She acknowledges that her parents will never return to Jakku; 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 in her newfound life with the Resistance. Which, of course, she then looks for in Luke Skywalker, Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, and even Snoke (albeit briefly) 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 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 her many inner struggles, Rey deserves one AS point.


Actions vs. Consequences: This is a hard one for me because when it comes to Rey's story's action/consequence dynamic, there seem to be only so many negatives, which, in character growth, are paramount in 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. Her result is met with a superior outcome if she makes a good choice.


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 rarely ever dire. Not in the way Poe's actions at the beginning of The Last Jedi are. 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. If you've read the books, you understand that her skills in hunting and archery were taught to her by her father at a young age. She maintained this 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 compared to her time during the 74th Hunger Games. The narrative often shows how Katniss struggles--and is often close to failing--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, Coin, and even Effie, in varying capacities. But in the end, her trust is betrayed when she finds out that Coin is 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 this and pushing 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, ultimately saving 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 before the 75th. All of this led her to become the Mockingjay and choose to fight rather than 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 childhood. Her relationship choices always led to something big in her life rather than something insignificant. Her actions and the consequences they bring earn her one more AS point.


Anti-Sue Rating: 3/3


Final opinion: Katniss Everdeen is far from being a "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. He reaches a god-like level early on and plateaus. Any struggle is won with the ease we find in the heroes from 1960s 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 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 their 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 story's beginning when facing the Reverend Mother of the Bene Gesserit. Which, no doubt, is a fantastic scene. However, when Paul has to face fear 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 again, not as a teen or an adult. And I doubt that anyone, Chosen One or not, could dismiss fear so easily without more practice than placing their hand in a box. Therefore, he 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 few negative consequences. Like Rey, we are robbed of knowing how he deals with 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"

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, a Namer, a 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 by his parents and the Edema Rue troupe, continuing to practice any moment 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 or their sword training; he merely scratched the surface. 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. He struggles with Sygaldry and Artificing, but mostly when following rules (more on that later) and developing new designs. Most of all, he fights to understand the magic known as "Naming," and by the end of A Wise Man's Fear (book 2 of the trilogy), he has yet to come close to mastering 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 for him to learn anything. Admittedly, this comes much from his exaggerated opinion of himself and his inability to see that he is not as great as he thinks. 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. Regardless, as many people do, Kvothe has several abilities that he is innately good at and plenty that he struggles with. 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 information isn't enough; the people who would have known are murdered, and when he asks the Cthaeh (an almost omniscient and very evil tree), it distracts him with torturous details about his love interest, Denna. Each grueling step forward sets him back ten. 


Like many young men his age, Kvothe's ego and pride are paramount when considering the factors of his inner struggles. 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 only adds to his pride. He accomplished a colossal feat (mostly) independently and, therefore, thinks he can do everything else this way. His pride is 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 relinquish at least some of his pride. In the interludes where we see Kvothe (Kote) as an adult, we know 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: 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 information isn't enough; the people who would have known are murdered, and when he asks the Cthaeh (an almost omniscient and very evil tree), it distracts him with torturous details about his love interest, Denna. Each grueling step forward sets him back ten. 


Like many young men his age, Kvothe's ego and pride are paramount when considering the factors of his inner struggles. 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 only adds to his pride. He accomplished a colossal feat (mostly) independently and, therefore, thinks he can do everything else this way. His pride is 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 relinquish at least some of his pride. In the interludes where we see Kvothe (Kote) as an adult, we know 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.


Something remarkable about Rothfuss (and other great authors) is that he ensures every act has a consequence. The results are apparent and well understood, especially when Kvothe has done something idiotic (as he often does). This is shown in his rivalry with Ambrose Jakis. Though Kvothe gets away with some of his pranks toward the loathsome fellow, there are just as many he doesn't, 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 gaining a patron to fund his studies, 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. 


Adding to the above, 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 also ensured he never forgot it. (Note that Kvothe's actions here were 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.


Thus, Kvothe 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."


Conclusion

When I started this little project, I didn't think 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 love-hate relationship with Kvothe since he can be a pretentious snob most of the time. And I allowed that to cloud my judgment regarding 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.


When writing a fictional character, it is paramount to understand that they need their flaws just as much as their strengths. It defines them as a person and gives the readers something to be attached to. So many writers in popular media miss this mark, as we can see in productions such as Netflix's live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Almost every character is robbed of their personality because of their lack of flaws: Sokka not being a sexist at the beginning of his arc makes him a less-interesting character, and Katara not needing to study water bending with a master doesn't make her the strong, female character we all know and love, it makes her a Mary Sue who now no one cares about. So, when writing your characters, remember to give them their flaws. Your readers will thank you.


Thanks for reading!

-Adam


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Very interesting! I like the ranking system. Intriguing approach. I agreed right off with your rankings of Rey and Katniss, but was surprised with Paul’s (as I personally didn’t want him to be) and Kvothe’s (who I thought would be)… at first. But your analysis was sound and swayed me.

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Right on!

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