Meanwhile and Elsewhere: Parallel Narratives in the Ender Series and Kingkiller Chronicles

When TV shows do a spin off series it often feels like a money grab, but when an author publishes a parallel novel to one of their existing works many readers are simply thrilled to access the narrative from another angle. This is a type of writing that is found most often in the speculative fiction genres and it in many ways ties into the unique reading experiences that speculative fiction offers. Sci-fi and fantasy allow the reader to explore a world that is vastly, or not so vastly, different from our own and parallel narratives are expansion on those worlds. By presenting events and mechanics from a different perspective there is an opportunity to understand the fictional world in a way that simply isn’t possible as part of the mainline narrative. There are numerous but examples of these kinds of stories but Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Shadow and Patrick Rothfuss’ Slow Regard of Silent things show two separate but related routes that parallel narratives can take while exploring the world of the large narrative.

Ender’s Shadow follows Bean, who is being kept as the fall back for if Ender fails to live up  to the expectations of those in charge. But Ender himself is the epitome of naievety for much of the series and fails to understand how he is being manipulated. Bean’s narrative in Ender’s Shadow offers a view of Ender that isn’t so constrained. Bean has no delusions about their place in the larger system and his observations of Ender offer a different view of the main series protagonist. This is a side of Ender that is not visible in the main narrative, as much as Ender is often depressed or worried throughout his story he does view himself as in control of himself and his own success. Bean’s narrative undermines this and shows a version of Ender that is obstructed by the third person limited point of view that is used in Ender’s Game.

Auri, the narrator of The Slow Regard of Silent Things, doesn’t have the kind of direct interaction with the main series of Kingkiller books that happens in Ender’s Shadow so what she reveals about Kvothe is more tied to his place in the larger system rather than a statement on his character directly. Where Bean observes and critics Ender throughout the Shadow series Auri simply goes about her life and through that exposes the way magic functions outside of the system that Kvothe exists in. That system is so central to Kvothe’s character, he has been educated in it and seeks success within the paradigm it sets out. Auri does none of those things and through her the reader is able to see how closely tied to the mainstream system Kvothe is even though in his narrative he is viewed as something of a rebel.

Including these kinds of conflict or complexity in the main narrative would undermine the strengths and characterizations of these stories. But the complication of the main narrative is what makes the  is what makes parallel novels strong additions to the main series. Ender’s personality doesn’t allow him to see how he is being manipulated by those around him, and Kvothe’s drive stops him from truly considering the ways power might manifest outside of the academic system. It is not that these main series hero characters are weak, they are far more powerful than the protagonists of the parallel narratives, it is simply that the come from a different place within the constructed world and can show the reader parts of the world that are just not visible through the main narrative perspective.

By exposing the reader to a different perspective on the world of the main series the authors of parallel narratives also offer a second perspective that the reader may find more relatable. For some people Ender’s continuing naivety might be grating to read, or Kvothe’s relentless ambition might make him seem too distant; but the parallel narratives can create a perspective that might be much more relatable. Narrators don’t necessarily have to be relatable to make a book enjoyable but when the speculative fiction reading experience is so heavily based in creating an immersive experience having a relatable narrator can improve the impressive experience. The world of the Ender’s Game feels more real to me when accessed through the kind of critical narrator that the Shadow Series provides while I find Kvothe’s experience of his world to be much more compelling than the less structured experience of Auri. Personal preferences have a huge impact on how the reader interacts with the fictional world that an author creates, and this might be why parallel narratives are so much more common in the speculative fiction genres – these are just the genres that benefit the most from more diverse narrative perspectives.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things and Ender’s Shadow are a pair of texts that may not characterize the uses of every parallel narrative, but they do demonstrate some of the ways in which these kinds of stories can be used. Especially within the speculative fiction genre where world building and an immersive experience are particularly important parallel narratives develop the world and make it accessible to readers. Whether by providing an outside perspective on the main series hero who spends their books saving the world or by showing the small manifestations of magi outside of the substantial powers of a system these novels are allowing the reader to learn something new about the world the author has created. These are not the stories that introduce an audience to a new world, but they are sometimes the stories that make those worlds truly believable.