I’m continuing to read Patrick Rothfuss’s huge novel The Wise Man’s Fear. (I’ve been an extremely slow reader this year… I usually finish one or two books a month. But this year I’ve only finished reading one in the last eight months. Terrible! But the wordcount for The Wise Man’s Fear is about a bazillion magillion frillion, so my slowness is somewhat justified.) Anyway, if you plan on reading the book and don’t want anything about it revealed to you, read no further.

There’s an interesting conversation between two characters about the nature of power on pages 380 to 382. (Chapter Fifty-six is entitled Power.) As a character says:

“There are two types of power: inherent and granted. Inherent power you possess as a part of yourself. Granted power is lent or given by other people.”

After talking a bit about them, he asks:

“Which do you think is the greater type of power?”

And he argues that granted power is greater.

Of course, it made me think: how would I answer the question? How would I talk to this man?

First, I have a problem with the premises, that there really are two types of power. I would argue that inherent and granted powers are just two sides of the same coin. Everything action you take requires both inherent and granted power. If I want to post this blog post, I must have an inherent power to know how to write, to know how communicate in a certain language. But I also must be granted the power of electricity and Internet access by other humans who chose to make such things available to me.

I suppose the question of “which is greater” is asking: “through which power can you accomplish more of you might wish to accomplish?” (Really “greater” could mean several different things, but this is, I think, the most obvious interpretation, yes?) But they depend on each other; neither is truly greater. You can’t work through a granted power without also relying on inherent power; likewise, you require granted power to exercise your inherent power.

In the book, the character makes a point that being part of nobility is a granted power, even though many people think it is inherent, as if one’s social status were in one’s blood. (A celebrity’s child? Queen of England, anyone?) But, the character argues, nobility is actually a power granted by those who agree to do what they say, probably in exchange for some sort of granted power they can use (to a lesser degree) themselves (like money or a higher social rank).

What the character does not seem to realize (or disagrees with) is that inherent power is required to use such granted power to any “great” degree. Therefore, I can not fully agree with his conclusion.

I guess I would agree with the character if he argued that granted power was the more “show-offy” power; our inherent power (or potential inherent power, at least) is much more similar to each other’s. But our granted power can vary immensely. Which leads some obsess over gaining granted power (social status, fame, fortune). But I still wouldn’t say that it’s “greater.”

Or, to get religious on you, as Jesus says in Matthew 16:26:

What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world [granted power] and forfeit his life? [inherent power]

(Though I guess if I wanted to get really religious, I could argue that all inherent power is granted by God in the first place!)

Anyway, I hope the points of the conversation will end up playing into the plot; philosophy is always more interesting (to me) when it affects character decisions. We shall see…

1 Comment

S P Hannifin · August 28, 2011 at 11:35 PM

By the way, I’m currently on page 394… but there’s nothing about werewolves on this page…

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