'The Kingkiller Chronicle' Author Patrick Rothfuss On What Terrifies Him About Movie and TV Adaptations

Appearing on the Feminist Frequency Radio podcast, The Kingkiller Chronicle author Patrick Rothfuss described what terrifies him about adapting his novels—The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man's Fear and an upcoming Book 3 tentatively titled The Doors of Stone—to screen, including both a Showtime series and a movie directed by Sam Raimi.

In a wide-ranging discussion about both the responsibilities of storytellers and the wider creative culture, host Anita Sarkeesian, media critic and founder of educational not-for-profit Feminist Frequency, made a point about representation in film that prompted Rothfuss to speak at length about the process of adapting The Kingkiller Chronicle.

"The fact that Wonder Woman and Black Panther are being held up as: Wonder Woman is for white women and Black Panther is for black folks, right? It's crumbs. We're fighting for crumbs. How about we have 20 movies about black folks and women and women of color and disabled people? Because then we wouldn't be putting all our energy into the one thing and expecting it to be everything for everyone of that background," Sarkeesian said.

"This is something that I'm currently in the midst of terror about," Rothfuss responded. "Any significant book is more than a two-hour movie in terms of the story it's conveying. And my books are much bigger than that. But always what happens during these conversion processes, and honestly even in the revision process in publishing, is there's this fear that people are dumb. And it's like: maybe make the story simpler, maybe review a plot, remove a potential confusion, remove something that might be outside their experience."

"In this search for simplicity and ease of story consumption, traditionally what will happen is you will combine female characters—and this has got to be old news for you right?" he continued. "I actually talked to somebody who was like 'My editor cracked it!' Because the story wasn't working well. He had one female character that was a friend, that he hung out and worked with, and there was another one who was his love interest. It's like, why not just put them together?"

He further explained why such shortcuts, though convenient, often undermine the female characters. Combining women in a story isn't a solution because it ends psychologically flattening the character into something incoherent.

"And it does simplify the story. But if the only female in your book—which is to say, in the world of your story there is only one female—and then they get together and love each other, it implies so many dark things," Rothfuss said. "You combine all these characters into one, this woman is psychologically a mess, like a nightmare psychotic, because she cannot fill all these roles in any meaningful way."

Rothfuss tied his fears back to Sarkeesian's original critique, lamenting that a narrowed spectrum of movie roles flattens characters and impoverishes the medium. "Having one female character does not provide true variety and true experience and true representation," Rothfuss said. "As humans we go from the specific to the general and the general to the specific. And if you only have one female in your story, she is the specific and the general and it fucks up all sorts of mental stuff."

During the interview, Rothfuss describes fighting those editorial impulses when originally selling The Name of the Wind to publishers, especially after one objected to the use of "alloy" and "counterpoint" in the same sentence. His Kingkiller Chronicle tells the story of the bard Kvothe, but expands from the small tavern he runs into a sprawling saga ranging across Rothfuss' world of Temerant. Though Kvothe's initial ambitions are to avenge the death of his parents and finish his studies at a university for magic, he's soon tangling with faerie-folk, Vintish noblemen and seven deadly beings known as The Chandrian. It's not an easily simplified story.

Anticipating movie and TV studios urging more and more simplifications to the elaborate tale of Kvothe, Rothfuss fought to prevent such narrative compression from the beginning. "It's something that I wanted to write into my contract, that you cannot combine my female characters. Because, to be completely frank, one of the failings of the first half of Name of the Wind is, there's just not a lot of women in it."

Rothfuss went on to say that the problems he anticipated had not yet materialized while working on the Showtime adaptation with showrunner John Rogers (Leverage, The Librarians), though no mention was made of the in-development movie adaptation, executive produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who Rothfuss recently fan-cast in a small but pivotal role).

The Kingkiller Chronicle Book 3, the movie and the Showtime TV series don't yet have a release date.

'The Kingkiller Chronicle' Author Patrick Rothfuss On What Terrifies Him About Movie and TV Adaptations | Gaming