Out on a Limb
If we are going to look at the Trees of Temerant, we need to distance ourselves from a few things. This is not Planet Earth. Everything that you think you may know does not apply here, unless Pat tells you that it does. And if he tells you things that don’t make much sense, that just means that you are applying Terran ideals to Temerant trees, which makes you wrong, not him. Pat can do what Pat wants, as long as he is consistent about it.
Our first example occurs just after Chronicler has been robbed where, because it is obviously necessary to the plot, we hear all about him going to have a shit in the woods.
‘Feeling an urgent call of nature, Chronicler pushed his way through the bloodred Sumac at the side of the road. As he was rebuttonning his pants…’
Nothing wrong with the description, in our world the whole of the Sumac tree does indeed turn a noteworthy bloodred in autumn, which indicates that we are talking about the exact same tree, but Sumac also has a quite unique characteristic in that every part of it, be it leaf or branch, trunk or root it is poisonous to the touch. They call it the poison sumac for a reason, Toxicodendron Vernix, and it is even sometimes referred to it as the poison dogwood as it’s bark is as bad as it’s bite. Simply put, it leaves a Very nasty rash and it is Not something that you ever want to bare your bum to… Seriously not! But the Sumac trees in Pat’s world are different, apparently, as Chronicler then pushes his way back through the sumac for a second time with no ill effect except for a feeling of remarkable lightheadness. These paragraphs deserve a thorough reread as they are our first steps down the rabbit hole, as it were, which also contain a deliberately unexplained yet clearly important encounter with spiders and crows, the foreshadowing in this whole ‘let’s waste some ink and talk about someone having a shit in the woods for a while’ aspect runs very deep here in that this passage adds nothing to the storyline, and even detracts from it a little, but the one thing we do learn from it is that the Sumac of Temerant has clearly not behaved as Terran Sumac does. This is one example of why we can take nothing for granted as we begin a study of the Flora Temeranti.
Ash and Elm (and Rowan too)
Denna say’s that she is a city girl, which might give her some excuse as to why the flower that she picks for Kvothe is non-existant. She immediately goes with willow blossom, but Kvothe correctly points out that the Willow tree doesn’t have blossom. Later on, when Kvothe holds up the leaf of an ash tree, she asks if it he is sure it’s not elm, adding that it’s a common mistake to make. But Ash leaves in our world are long and thin like a spear whereas an Elm leaf is broad and round. Elm also has a very distinctive feature in that the two leaf edges meet the stem at a markedly different place and in no way could the two leaves be commonly mistaken for each other, but perhaps Temerant Ashes and Elms are a completely different shape from English elms and ashes.
Kvothe compounds matters further by declaring that Elm is ‘feminine’ which is nonsense as trees don’t have such defining types as men and women do, well, not usually at any rate. But there are exceptions to every rule and there is one famous instance of a species that does produce male and female receptors on two different trees, the holly tree is one such example, which at least gives us some earthly understanding of how various trees may propogate themselves, but here and now we must always take Pat’s word as our touchstone and we should believe what Kvothe says since Kvothe is definitely not a city boy and he knows more about Temerant arboriculture than most anyone. He grew up learning about such things on his worldly travels and he displays the fruits of his knowledge when discussing some obscure woodlore to Marten and co. when he teaches them about the peculiar burning properties of a tree unique to Temerant, the Rennel, but that is a tree with no real earthly comparison. As for the Rowan, this is a tree steeped in magical folklore and the only thing I can add about it is that Bast and Kote both know that it is important to add some to the fire when disposing of a scrael corpse.
We are on much safer ground when it comes to dealing with ‘alien’ trees where we have no arboreal preconceptions to influence our thinking. And this is where stuff begins to get interesting. There are two special trees that are encountered by Kvothe which are both described as being new to him too.
‘It was a tall tree, the likes of which I had never seen before with high arching branches like an oak but it’s leaves were broad and flat’
‘It was no type of tree that I had ever seen before, it resembled a vast spreading willow with broader leaves of a darker green’
Can you tell which is which? We are talking about the Cthaeh’s ‘butterfly’ tree and the Latantha ‘sword’ tree here and they are clearly very similar in their general overall descriptions, so confusing them for each other might be a common mistake to make too. The shape of the trees might be deliberate since one of them stands in the faen realm where everything within was deliberately made so by the shapers to fit their desire. The shape of a tree is mainly defined by the branches and they too match up nicely as on approaching the Sword tree Kvothe notes that
‘The thick canopy of hanging branches reminded me of the Cthaeh’s tree’
Which is exactly what we wanted to hear, and this line tallies as we are also also told of that tree’s
‘Deep hanging foliage scattered with pale powder-blue blossoms’
which gives us the assurance that we are talking of two trees of the same defining shape.
Shehyn asks Kvothe where would he choose to strike if he, for some reason, wished to attack the sword tree, and to consider the roots, branch or leaf in his choice. Even at this third level of comparison we find that the leaves of our two trees again have some self-same resemblance as they are both broad leaf trees. I might also suggest that the Faen tree is going to be an evergreen since the fae is an unchanging sort of place.
One further clue we have is that Kvothe considers the Cthaeh to be ‘feminine’ because it’s tree bears a blossom, (although the Cthateh itself is almost certainly a ‘He’) whereas the Sword tree has no flowers to speak of, and so we might as well use Kvothe’s reasoning in regard to this absence of flowers to indicate the Latantha to be a ‘masculine’ tree. No I know that is not 100% proof, but it’s fair to say that it is the most likely answer, given the lack of material we have to work from.
Two out of Tree ain’t bad
What I am hoping to show here is that these two unique trees, rooted in two entirely different realms are connected in more ways than might be apparent at first sight. I think that they are two halves of the same thing, or to use Kvothes terminology, the feminine and masculine of the species. Now this isn’t quite as daft as it may sound because there are some Earthly examples of this very thing happening which will provide us with a complimentary framework to use for comparison. In one species of earth tree in particular the two part process of the blossom and the pollen that are necessary for germination to occur are usually found on two seperate trees. The male ♂ parts grow on one and the female ♀ parts grow on the other. And only the female plant will go on to bear the distinctive red holly berry. Pollination is achieved through the activity of insects that may happen to fly between both trees… such as butterflies, perhaps. The name of our two piece earthly tree is Holly, which is rather lucky for me because whilst I was hoping to find a tree exactly like this to act as a suitable example of what can exist, I couldn’t have asked for a better named tree to link up to Pat’s own pair of special trees as Holly just happens to be the eponymous character in Pat’s lesser known work How Old Holly Came to Be.
This book is notoriously difficult to comprehend, and much of it seems unapproachable to even the most tenuous of tinfoil theories, but one thing we can say about it is that it is a story of creation covering a Vast amount of time. Some parts of it are still completely unintelligible to me as to their real meaning and import but there is one part of it which does appear to provide backing for my own ‘broken tree’ theory, in fact it’s more like ‘bent tree’ than broken.
‘The lady turned to Holly. The lady laid her hand upon his trunk. The lady spoke to Holly. Holly bent, and that was good. The Lady drew a breath and sang a song to Holly. She sang a song and Holly burrowed deep into the earth. She sang a song and all along the stream there sprung new holly from the ground… The Lady sang and they were both. Around them both there grew new holly…The Lady stood beside Old Holly, smiling. They looked out at their new-grown holly grove and it was good.
The actions of the Lady have clearly turned two into three. Herself, Old Holly, and their combined offspring, the new-holly with it’s lower case lettering to differentiate it. The Lady has spoken her desire and in doing so has created a secondary form of holly, one that could continue to grow and spread all by itself until it had fulfilled her desire and a whole grove of new trees was made . What she did to achieve this was touch him, speak to him, and then she drew a breath and sang a song to Holly. Or to put it another way, she read him like a heavy lettered book and then she spoke and she sang the longname of Holly that lay in his heart, and she changed a piece of what she found there into something new and bent it to her desire. Just like Aleph was won’t to do when he changed the longnames of the ruach and turned them into the angels.
So now there were two kinds of holly in the world. Old and new, where before there was only the one lone tree. They are essentially both of the same species, but at the same time, they are different. New was born from Old when it was created by the breath of the lady and so it can be said that the new has her breath inside it to make it bend to her desire, unlike the original Old Holly which does not share her exact same link of breath. Old Holly’s link is instead a link of love, not of creation, meaning there will always be two kinds of holly in the world. He-Holly and She-Holly. This seemingly small difference is actually vast in it’s implication in that this willingly granted reproduction of Old he-Holly into new-she-holly was the first known instance of name-shaping and therefore of re-creation of a living species, making it the initial step towards the kind of shaping that caused the entire creation war which eventually bought all and any such shaping to it’s conclusion.
Bend me, Shape me.
Bent is the operative word here, as danger was then seen approaching in the form of a shadow which was ‘bent to look as if it were a man’, a thing that corrupted the very ground beneath it (which was bad, and sounds rather familiar too) Old holly chose to be bent himself, and he bent towards his lady and in doing so he willingly allowed himself to become her tool. The lady contemplated her choice of actions, and then asked, and Holly bent again in deference. With permission granted,
‘The lady sang, she sang (the longname of) Old Holly. She said to him. She said her words. She said. Old Holly bent and he became a man. He was both and it was good.
And so Old Holly was bent into a man shape by application of a three-part naming ‘spell’, and then the lady sung again , only this time she sang to the new-holly they had created between them.
‘The Lady sang, new holly bent and it became a spear, and it was good.
The Holly man with his holly spear faced and fought the bad shadow thing. This threat to the very earth itself had caused to be it’s own army of bent mutations, creatures bent out of birds and men and wolves with mouths of fire. But for a second time Old Holly was wont to bend himself in order to confound them and protect his lady love. Old Holly had bent and became a man (which was good) and new-holly also bent and became a spear (which was also good). Then Old he-holly took up his spear of new-she-holly and between them they defeated the fire-wolves, and the bird-men (Daruna and Gremen?) and finally the newly shaped man-holly overcame the shadow thing itself which he pinned to the very earth that shunned it with a spear of the newly shaped she-holly and the shadow was caught by the combined power the holly couple. And together they watched it howl, and burn, and die. (and this was good). It is now clear that bending and shaping are simply two words for the same process. I might suggest that Our new holly was a shaping of earth and tree since earth is mentioned in the fate of the enemy, but that’s getting a bit over technical.
After the shadow had left, the lady also left, (and that was bad, but probably very necessary), but before she departed, Old Holly bent himself three more times for her of his own desire. First be bent a branch of himself into a walking stick of green wet wood. Secondly he bent and wove a crown for her, all bright with berries and Thirdly, as he was a man, he bent and brushed her cheek with his own bark-rough hand, an act of boldness and love which Kvothe unwittingly copies when he is seen picking a flower to suit his own lady love!! The lady in this story wept and laughed and left (and that was both and neither and all and other) but she left with his three gifts made of his wood and his berries and his barken touch, but Old Holly himself stayed. (which was also necessary, but it was also good). And thus the threat of the shadowy enemy, who corrupted the land itself, was averted for all time. But where did his Lady go to? That is the next question.