photo by onkel
Elodin proved a difficult man to find. He had an office in Hollows, but never seemed to use it. When I visited Ledgers and Lists, I discovered he only taught one class: Unlikely Maths. However, this was less than helpful in tracking him down, as according to the ledger, the time of the class was ‘now’ and the location was ‘everywhere.’
For those fantasy lovers that haven’t read The Name of the Wind, do yourself a favor and start reading it. Though admittedly, it seems at first like your typical, slow starting epic fantasy, you will find quickly that it is far from it.
In any case, one thing that Rothfuss does extremely well (in my opinion) is write characters who are absolutely mad. Elodin (mentioned above) is a professor at a somewhat archetypal “‘Roke Island” or “Potter” -style magic school. Tales have been told of how incredibly talented he was in his youth. He was once chancellor of the whole university. Now he does not teach a single class, he wanders around aimlessly with one sock on. He is harsh when he speaks, and makes little sense.
And yet, there are glimmers of pure genius that shine through his actions. Glimmers so hidden that perhaps they are not realized as genius until hours later.
As much as I love Brandon Sanderson’s work, I will be the first to admit that the character Zane in the Mistborn Trilogy is unconvincingly “insane”. Zane is fully functional. Zane is a deadly fighter. Zane is not even really quirky, he is merely a bad-ass with a soft spot for a lady and a desire to kill his father (who is a terrible person well worth killing). But because Zane has a voice in his head that tells him to kill people (which he can choose to ignore), he is constantly described as “mad”. I was totally unconvinced that even he would consider his own self crazy in any way.
So what makes insanity work on the page? In my observations, it seems like crazy characters work the best when they are still partially in touch with reality, albeit a distorted one. Recall any moment in your life when you talked to someone with Alzheimer’s. They have such a tenuous hold on the world around them. And yet, occasionally a moment of crystal clarity slips through. Where they seem to be totally there, totally with it, and can answer questions and recall moments in time when they spanked you for almost swallowing a quarter when you were four. But then this moment of clarity passes and everything seems lost.
I believe it is these glimmers that we must strive for in the madness on the page and table. Yes, it is quite a chuckle to write the character who randomly recites stanzas and times tables. To roleplay the crazed alchemist with his constantly singed beard. But when that character lets slip a glimmer of understanding that hints that perhaps they are better informed even than our sane characters, even than the reader or writer him/herself…
That is just plain chilling.
Now get back to your stanzas and times tables, your alchemical agents. But you better start paying better attention to them. Meaning is hidden everywhere.