The first book I examine is one of my current favorites, and a series to which I eagerly await the concluding volume: The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss.
I absolutely adore The Name of the Wind (the first book in the series). I find it easy to read, yet wonderfully engrossing and transporting. It has a magic system which makes sense and is believable, all of which aids in transporting the reader to the world. In terms of creating an "inner consistency of reality," I give it top marks. However, most of Rothfuss's dialogue fails LeGuin's "trick". For example,
One of the great elements of The Name of the Wind is that it primarily deals not with nobles but with students and children. Yet, these are still members of Elfland, and they should speak with the accent--a low accent, but an accent nevertheless--according to LeGuin. The same passage can be transposed to any college or high school in the real world as LeGuin did for DC and Capitol Hill:“I’m surprised I haven’t noticed,” I mused as I watched her talking to one of the other women in the crowd. “So am I,” Manet said with a low, knowing chuckle. “But she’s not here very often. She sculpts and works with cut tile and glass. She’s here for the equipment, not the sygaldry.” (From Name of the Wind, Chapter 62, Leaves)
“I’m surprised I haven’t noticed,” I mused as I watched her talking to one of the other women in the crowd. “So am I,” Mark said with a low, knowing chuckle. “But she’s not here very often. She sculpts and works with cut tile and glass. She’s here for the equipment, not the instruction.”With the change of only two words, the passage could be fit to a countless number of collegiate art studios. Comparing that to the closest relatives to "normal people" in the Lord of the Rings, the Hobbits, talking about a similar thing, Rothfuss's "Poughkeepsie" style is made very obvious:
"Good, good!" cried Farmer Cotton. "So it's begun at last! ... And I've had the wife and Rosie to think of..." "What about Mrs. Cotton and Rosie?" said Sam. "It isn't safe yet for them to be left all alone." "My Nibs is with them. But you can go and help him, if you have a mind," said Farmer Cotton with a grin. (From Lord of the Rings, Book 6, Chapter 6, "The Scouring of the Shire")Trying to switch the last phrase--the most similar bit between the two passages, both hinting at a romance--from "But you can go and help him, if you have a mind" to something that sounds more modern is harder. "But you can go and help him, if you want" is perhaps the easiest, but that does lose some connotation. "But you can go help him, if you want" is perhaps the closest to conveying the same tone, but by then half of the sentence has been changed. "My Nibs" is a similarly tangled, Elfland phrase, as simply changing the name of Nibs does nothing to the archaism of "My ___" as a way of speaking about a person.
However, when Kvothe, the protagonist of The Name of the Wind, speaks with Denna, his romantic interest and a mysterious character, the language switches from Poughkeepsie to Elfland:
Denna's speech is harder to turn into Poughkeepsie-speak. Despite talking about the same subject as a person dwelling in the real world could--there is no nobility or epicness in the subject of roses and wooing practices--Denna's words have a ring of solid fantasy to them. It is hard to even attempt to transpose the phrase "But it is always roses, always red, and always perfect hothouse blooms when they can come by them" into the way a modern speaker would say it. "It is always perfectly blooming red roses" cuts out most of the words, but "It is always red roses, and always perfect blooms when they can get them" still changes too much and doesn't sound quite right."Roses! I swear you men have all your romance from the same worn book. Flowers are a good thing, a sweet thing to give a lady. But it is always roses, always red, and always perfect hothouse blooms when they can come by them.” She turned to face me. “When you see me do you think of roses?" (From Name of the Wind, Chapter 62, Leaves)
Certainly, Rothfuss fails at writing in a perpetual "Elfland" tone, but he does demonstrate that he can write that way when he desires to, making the blahness, the everdayness of his prose and dialogue an intentional choice. His characters are meant to be plainspoken, and although they verge on "too normal" in their speech, I feel that his Poughkeepsie speak does help a reader enter the world, while still providing the Elfland, fantasy tone with some of his other, less common characters.
The second book I examine is Brian Staveley's The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, the first book of which is The Emperor's Blades. This series is fantastic once you pass the beginning. The third book, The Last Mortal Bond, is exciting from start to finish. It begins slow, but picks up throughout the series and culminates wonderfully.
The first piece of dialogue I went to (again, using LeGuin's methodology of simply picking dialogue at random, rather than trying to cherry-pick) is from the the beginning of the first book, as the son of the Emperor, who is training with monks, is meeting with his new teacher and is asked to paint a memory of a goat who had been killed.
“This is what it is,” Tan replied. “Call it a test if you like, but the name is not the thing.” Kaden suppressed a groan. Whatever eccentricities Tan might possess, he spoke in the same infuriating gnomic pronouncements as the rest of the Shin.
“I don’t remember anything else,” Kaden said. “That’s the entire saama’an.”
“It’s not enough,” Tan said, but this time he withheld the lash.
“It’s the entire thing,” Kaden protested. “The goat, the head, the pools of blood, even a few stray hairs that were stuck on a rock. I copied everything there.”
While Kaden, the protagonist, speaks fairly simply, the dialogue does create a class gap between them. Tan speaks with the tone of Elfland. If the same thing were taking place at a school that, for some reason, still allowed corporal punishment:Tan did hit him for that. Twice. “Any fool can see what’s there,” the monk responded dryly. “A child looking at the world can tell you what is in front of him. You need to see what is not there. You need to look at what is not in front of you.” (From The Emperor's Blades, Chapter 1).
The changing the names and the fantasy babble (saama'an, Shin) do little to harm the Elfland tone of the people. Kaden's second quotation reads as might a hobbit or dwarf--still with an air of Elfland, despite the plainness of the speech. And Tan sounds nearly like Elrond, using archaisms and mysticisms.“This is what it is,” Tanner replied. “Call it a test if you like, but the name is not the thing.” Kaden suppressed a groan. Whatever eccentricities Tan might possess, he spoke in the same infuriating gnomic pronouncements as the rest of the teachers.“I don’t remember anything else,” Kaden said. “That’s the entire painting.”“It’s not enough,” Tanner said, but this time he withheld the lash.“It’s the entire thing,” Kaden protested. “The goat, the head, the pools of blood, even a few stray hairs that were stuck on a rock. I copied everything there.”Tanner did hit him for that. Twice. “Any fool can see what’s there,” the monk responded dryly. “A child looking at the world can tell you what is in front of him. You need to see what is not there. You need to look at what is not in front of you.”
Regardless, Staveley writes like this through the book, creating differences in class by his character's speech, without ever losing the vibe of Elfland.
Conclusion: Although I would have loved to examine Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora as well, I left my copy of that book at home, and I am running low on words. However, I am pleased to discovered the Staveley, at least, doesn't write in the style of Poughkeepsie--as his writing can be dense, at times, like Tolkien, but is ultimately still gripping--and that Rothfuss can consciously decide when he wants to use Poughkeepsie and when he wants to write in a "proper" fantasy tone. I have read bad fantasy (The Shadowdance Trilogy by David Dalglish), and although I can't pull quotes from them--again, I didn't bring the books to college--I remember thinking that the language didn't ever feel fantastic enough. It was obviously Poughkeepsie, and, as LeGuin says, we know when fantasy doesn't feel right far more easily than we know when it does.