I’m back with the third installment of discourse grammar in The Name of the Wind! My last two posts on the novel unfortunately had a lot of technical terms thrown in, but hopefully we’ll be able to really get into the novel now. 🙂
For those of you who haven’t read those first two posts on Patrick Rothfuss’ novel, I wholeheartedly suggest that you do. (You can find the first one here, and the second one here.) They provide some very useful background information, and you get to see all the cool stuff that Rothfuss does with his prologue “A Silence of Three Parts.”
If you’ve been reading my other posts, you’ve probably noticed me mentioning how The Name of the Wind is basically a massive bundle of layers upon layers of stories. Throughout the novel, there are several areas that have grammatical and contextual markers that help reveal the multiple narratives the author embeds into his tale.
After “A Silence of Three Parts,” Rothfuss moves on to the first chapter of his book, “A Place for Demons.” Though some might call this next section a simple transition from a generalized prologue to a more specific first chapter, the case could also be made that Rothfuss has embedded a narrative of the main character’s present, everyday life within a larger narrative emphasizing the innkeeper’s disheartened soul.
Like most first chapters, this one includes a good deal of exposition where the author sets the scene of Waystone Inn and describes the daily lives of the citizens of Newarre. However, unlike most novels, the first two chapters of Rothfuss’ tale also seem to include more than one inciting incident.
These inciting incidents are revealed through context (knowledge of how they help propel the plot forward), as well as through grammatical markers.
As Robert E. Longacre suggests in The Grammar of Discourse, inciting incidents appear very similar to the “peak” (or climax) of a chapter or story. “Routine features of the storyline may be distorted or phased out” (38)—or, to put things more simply, an inciting incident will be characterized by grammatical features that aren’t often present in other parts of the narrative.
A Tinker’s Debt
For instance, the first inciting incident appears early on in this chapter, when the innkeeper recites a poem about the superstitious actions of the traveling salesmen known as tinkers: “A tinker’s debt is always paid: / Once for any simple trade. / Twice for freely-given aid. / Thrice for any insult made” (5, emphasis in original).
Though these four lines appear to be part of one sentence, the verse can be said to include three additional clauses with the elision of the subject, verb, and complement phrases—a structure that rarely occurs in the novel and never occurs again during this embedded narrative.
This poem may have the grammatical markings of an inciting incident, but semantically, its contents don’t seem remarkably significant at first. However, directly after the rhyming lines, Rothfuss reveals that the innkeeper’s statement is out of the ordinary: “The men at the bar seemed almost surprised to see Kote standing there. They’d been coming to the Waystone every Felling night for months and Kote had never interjected anything of his own before” (5).
The area is marked with several shortened clauses as well as with a rhyming quartet, and the context surrounding that grammatical marking reveals that it’s out of the ordinary; therefore, the section can be considered an inciting incident.
When Scrael Attack
Another inciting incident may occur later in that same chapter, when a man named Carter enters the Waystone Inn covered in blood-soaked wounds. His entrance is accompanied by several simple past tense verbs such as “stepped,” “clutched,” “jumped,” “hurried,” “dropped,” and “burst out” (5).
Since no subordinating elements are attached to these action verbs, and they occur during a specific time (as punctiliar verbs), they indicate storyline clauses. Though mainline clauses appear elsewhere in Rothfuss’ first chapter, they never occur so frequently—indicating that this section is important.
Another indication that this is an inciting incident is the author’s use of paragraph length. According to Longacre, “Peak may be marked . . . by paragraphs of unusual length as well” (45). In addition to the increase of action verbs, the section is marked by what Longacre terms a “change of pace” (43) as Rothfuss transitions between long, descriptive paragraphs and an abrupt, one-sentence paragraph:
Carter’s mouth made a thin line. He reached out and pulled the edge of the bloody blanket. Whatever was inside flipped over once and snagged on the cloth. Carter tugged harder and there was a clatter like a bag of flat river stones upended onto the tabletop.
It was a spider as large as a wagon wheel, black as slate.
The smith’s prentice jumped backward and hit a table, knocking it over and almost falling to the ground himself. Cob’s face went slack. Graham, Shep, and Jake made wordless, startled sounds and moved away, raising their hands to their faces. Carter took a step backward that was almost like a nervous twitch. Silence filled the room like a cold sweat. (7)
The sentences following Carter’s dramatic entrance as well as the contrasting paragraph lengths serve as grammatical markers of both an inciting incident and the peak of the chapter.
However, the context of the section also indicates an inciting incident, for Carter’s bloody appearance and his discovery of the strange creature certainly involve a disturbance in the “planned and predictable” (Longacre 35) lives of the patrons of Waystone Inn.
A Polite Robbing
The last inciting incident seems to occur in the second chapter, when the reader is introduced to a character referred to as “Chronicler” (15). These paragraphs are particularly marked by the fact that there is a change in vantage point as the narration “shift[s] to a more specific person” (Longacre 41).
Instead of the third-person point of view found in “A Place for Demons,” which focuses mainly on the patrons of the establishment and sometimes on the innkeeper himself, the point of view shifts to second person before shifting to third-person limited omniscience.
In the first paragraph of the chapter, Rothfuss opens with his usual exposition, setting the stage for the chapter: “It was one of those perfect autumn days so common in stories and so rare in the real world” (15).
After setting the stage, Rothfuss briefly summarizes the situation and brings it into context with the action of the narrative. In the next paragraph, the author says, “Everything said, you couldn’t hope for a nicer day to have a half dozen ex-soldiers with hunting bows relieve you of everything you owned” (15). The use of the second-person pronoun “you” makes the sentence more personal, causing the reader to feel more emphatically the ironic situation Chronicler finds himself in.
The rest of the chapter is written in third person; however, instead of focusing on a handful of people, it centers only on Chronicler—which could account for the chapter’s more sarcastic tone.
The shift in perspective and vantage point serve as “rhetorical underlining” (Longacre 39), emphasizing the section as particularly unique.
In context, it’s also clear that this second chapter includes an inciting incident since Chronicler is the first outsider mentioned and because he later admits to coming to the small town of Newarre for the sole purpose of gathering Kvothe’s story—a clear disruption of the monotony of the innkeeper’s existence.
A Story in Three Parts
As Longacre suggests, an inciting incident in some way involves a change that departs from the normal order of things. In the first two chapters of The Name of the Wind, three separate instances seem to indicate a significant alteration of the common, everyday life of the innkeeper.
Though these moments all have marked structures as well as contextual reasons to be considered inciting incidents, some might wonder at the reason behind Rothfuss’ decision to have more than one incident. However, if one takes into account the several embedded narratives in the author’s larger narrative, this meaning becomes clear.
The first inciting incident, the innkeeper’s sudden willingness to speak, is the inciting incident for the narrative introduced in the prologue. Since the main focus of the prologue is “the patient, cut-flower [silence] of a man who is waiting to die” (1), it naturally follows that the innkeeper’s sudden desire to break that silence is a significant change.
The second inciting incident, the one focusing on the strange, spider-like creature that Carter brings into the Waystone Inn, serves as an inciting incident for the first major embedded narrative within The Name of the Wind. This creature, which Kote later calls a “[s]crael” (5), is only one of many that eventually threaten the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of Newarre, and the introduction of the creature is as a significant alteration of the day-to-day events of the town.
The third inciting incident refers to the second major embedded narrative, which is in fact the focus of the book: the true story behind the legend of Kvothe. With Chronicler’s entrance, the reader gets a glimpse into Kote’s life before he became the innkeeper of Waystone Inn.
Can you guess what my next post is going to be about? 😉
A Brief Works Cited
- Longacre, Robert E. The Grammar of Discourse. 2nd ed. New York: Plenum, 1996. Print.
- Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind. New York: Penguin, 2007. Print.