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What is the Cthaeh in Wise Man's Fear?

Bast has an almost absurd fear of it. From how they described it, it sounds like by simply talking to the tree, it would make you notorious in history, being single-handedly responsible for bringing about plagues and starting wars.

Also,

You can ask it anything and it must tell the truth, and by the things it tells you, it will make you be the worst kind of person you can be? I'm not sure I completely understand the idea.

And what is it that Kvothe does that is so horrible? Didn't they sort of imply that he was the cause for the war?

Is this Cthaeh supposed to be the prophetical "Broken Tree" that he mentioned in his first book?

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"Broken Tree" refers to Kvothe himself. –  apoorv020 Sep 15 '11 at 8:31
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There's got to be some relationship there. It can't be a coincidence that he runs into a terribly evil tree and is named "Broken Tree". –  Neil Sep 15 '11 at 12:30
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5 Answers 5

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The insidious thing about the Cthaeh's influence is that you cannot escape it. If you know it's danger, and think "I have to kill myself instantly to protect the world" --well of course, the Cthaeh knew what your reaction would be, so if you kill yourself, that is what will cause the damage in the end. And if you realize that, then you must realize that the Cthaeh knew you would. Thus no matter what you do, it is going to be the worst possible thing--at least so far as it is influenced by the Cthaeh's words.

This creature is one of the greatest and most chilling 'monster' creations in literature. The more you consider it, the better it is.

One question I have is: What effect does its bite have? That was the instant worry of Felurian--that he was bitten. What an excellent touch by Rothfuss! It's unseen so the imagination of the reader supplies the most horrifying interpretation--Lovecraft-style. And the effect of its bite is unspoken but suggested to be really, really bad and scary, so the reader's imagination is once again fueled to provide the most frightening and disturbing possibilities. Love it.

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The Cthaeh is a Fae creature described as an omniscient being having the ability to see all possible timelines. It is also said to be perfectly malicious/malevolent, in that when given an opportunity to do so it will always choose the timeline that causes the greatest amount of misery/suffering/despair for the greatest number of people.

Thus the Cthaeh is a perfect manipulator. It does not do anything directly, but if there is something that it can say to a person to cause them to bring ruin and destruction to themselves and others then that is what it will do without fail. So it won't bring the plague itself, but it may convince a plague-infested person that they need to return to their home city and confront their spouse over the affair that they have been secretly having for the past year, resulting in a bloody confrontation that ultimately brings the plague into the city.

However this doesn't mean that the Cthaeh can turn anyone into an unstoppable instrument of destruction. For instance, if we imagine a person dying of poison who stumbles upon the Cthaeh with only minutes or hours left to live, there is very little malevolent purpose that it might bend them towards. However the Cthaeh works in subtle ways, using the people it manipulates to manipulate other, more influential people perhaps years or decades down the line. This can be exceedingly dangerous, particularly when it is given the opportunity to manipulate a young, healthy, powerful, and short-tempered subject like Kvothe.

The thing to take away from this is that everything that Kvothe does after his conversation with the Cthaeh is essentially tainted by its influence. We don't know exactly what it is that he does yet, but it's probable that he kills a king (possibly Denna's yet unnamed patron) thereby starting a war. It's also possible that he may be directly or indirectly responsible for the demons (the scrael, the demon that possessed the soldier and killed Shep) that have been appearing in the mortal plane. Plus it appears that whatever happens he ultimately ends up losing Denna, his ability to make music, his ability to perform sympathy, and perhaps also his Ademic combat ability and his skill at naming. And the Chandrian remain at large. Given this, it seems that the Cthaeh is quite dangerous indeed. It set the world in turmoil, and robbed Kvothe of everything he held dear.

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So there's no hope for a happy ending? :) –  Neil Jan 17 '13 at 16:50
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The power of the Cthaeh is

to see all the possible futures. This means that through the butterfly effect, he has the power to change the world dramatically. Since he cannot leave the tree, his only tool to effect change is the conversations he has with people. So for example, the Cthaeh could inflame Kvothe's opinions of Ambrose and it may later cause Kvothe to kill Ambrose, thus causing Ambrose's father to kill Kvothe, thus causing a civil war between the Maer and King of Vintas.

However, I personally believe that the Cthaeh is not as powerful as he is made out to by Bast.

Sure, it can see all the possible futures. But that does not necessarily mean that it can make that future occur via its words. For example, if a person is dying of poison and Cthaeh talks to him, can the Cthaeh really accomplish anything?

As to what Kvothe does, it seems that he kills a King (in Imre) because of Denna, and that plunges the world in a devastating civil war.

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It's defended for that very reason. What damage can the tree do if people leaving it are killed no questions asked? I wonder why they don't try to destroy the tree once and for all. –  Neil Sep 15 '11 at 11:23
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The thing is, I get the feeling that while the Cthaeh is horribly powerful in its manipulations, it is not as all knowing as Bast made it out to be.

Think about it. If it were truly omniscient and malevolent, why would it have performed any action that would have led the Fae to blockade its tree? In its very essence, that prevents it from manipulating people to accomplish the greatest malice. If it were all knowing and wanted to accomplish the greatest harm, it would act more subtly so as to never alert those around it to its true nature, thus freeing it to speak to more people and accomplish more harm. And if you know EVERYTHING that can possibly happen, it wouldn't be hard to cause extreme amounts of harm without letting people know you caused it.

So, the way I see it, there are four major possibilities:

  1. The Cthaeh can see the future, but is not all knowing--there is a limit to how well he can know what to do and how to manipulate.

  2. The Cthaeh is all knowing, but the nature of Rothfuss's universe is more fluid and quantum--nothing is set in stone. The Cthaeh can merely influence events to be more likely to result in the greatest harm, but not assure that it happens.

  3. The Cthaeh is all knowing and can manipulate to assure the most harm--but it nature was known from the very beginning, perhaps before it was born, and so the Fae set out to limit it.

  4. The Cthaeh is not malevolent, or at least not totally.

There are two other possibilities that spring to mind--the first, the Cthaeh is all knowing and can assure the future it manipulates towards, but cannot control its impulses, and tries to do the most harm as fast as possible, which allowed its nature to be known. This doesn't seem likely as its nature seems to be patient--after all, if instant gratification was its thing, wouldn't it simply enrage Kvothe to do violence to the nearest possible person?

The second--The Cthaeh is all knowing, it can assure the future it selects, and it only let its nature be known...because being trapped is part of its overarching plan that in the end causes more harm. I don't want to think about this one. I can't see any ending to the story that won't break my heart if that's true.

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Well, perhaps it is the myth surrounding the Cthaeh because of all the harm that has been caused by people leaving the tree that it is all-knowing, but perhaps that is not the case. Perhaps it has limits that we don't yet know about (without which, there can be no happy ending to the king chronicles). –  Neil Jan 17 '13 at 16:55
    
That's why I think option 1 or 2 is the most likely. –  John Jan 19 '13 at 20:47
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More spoilers.

You can tell what Kvothe does from the title of the series, which is The Kingkiller Chronicles. He kills a king, which causes the political chaos that we see in the framing narrative. It's not yet clear which king he kills.

And.

I'm sure we'll be getting more about the Cthaeh in the third book, but don't underestimate the power of being able to reveal any truth, and knowing exactly how things will work out if you do.

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Damn, at some point in the second book I was certain I knew which king was meant. Now I can’t retrace my reasoning any more. –  Konrad Rudolph Oct 7 '12 at 11:36
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I would wager that the king he kills would be Ambrose, given that he keeps moving closer to the throne all the time. –  sarge_smith Oct 7 '12 at 20:04
    
Also remember that it has a fruit that can cure any wounds or heal any disease, which many of the Fae seem to desire. This might be worth keeping it alive. –  JayCrossler Dec 28 '12 at 19:39
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