I’m back for the fourth installment of Discourse Grammar in The Name of the Wind! My last post had us talking about the crazy amount of inciting incidents that Patrick Rothfuss’ novel seems to have. In particular, we left off at Chronicler’s entrance into the story.
So, on with the grammar! (Yes, I’m posting this at midnight. Can you tell?)
By the third chapter of the novel, you eventually realize that Chronicler has come to the small town of Newarre for one purpose: to record the true story of the legendary Kvothe. Here’s where things get even more complicated. Patrick Rothfuss isn’t the only one telling a story: the innkeeper is, too.
And the innkeeper’s narrative also follows its own plot diagram.
Setting the Stage
Unsurprisingly, Chronicler eventually manages to convince the innkeeper to tell his story. Kote—who has changed his name from Kvothe in a failed attempt to escape from his past—takes a roundabout path to set the stage of his tale.
The innkeeper has several false beginnings before finally starting at the “proper” opening of his narrative:
“I expect the true beginning lies in what led me to the University. Unexpected fires at twilight. A man with eyes like ice at the bottom of a well. The smell of blood and burning hair. The Chandrian.” He nodded to himself. “Yes. I suppose that is where it all begins. This is, in many ways, a story about the Chandrian.”
. . . “[L]et us pass over innumerable boring stories: the rise and fall of empires, sagas of heroism, ballads of tragic love. Let us hurry forward to the only tale of any real importance.” His smile broadened. “Mine.” (38-39)
After this introduction, there’s a break in the story where the point of view shifts from third to first person. According to Bushman and Haas, “the first-person narrative point of view tends to connect more personally with the [. . .] reader” (37). This transition into first person draws the reader further into the story and marks the embedding of the novel’s third major narrative, the tale of the young Kvothe.
However, despite the narrator’s claim about the “true beginning” (39) of his tale, he begins his story further back, when he lived with his mother and father with a troupe of traveling performers known as the Edema Ruh.
Kote says, “If this story is to be something resembling my book of deeds, we must begin at the beginning. At the heart of who I truly am. To do this, you must remember that before I was anything else, I was one of the Edema Ruh” (40).
The narrator then spends a good deal of time detailing his background and the life he lived as a young member of the traveling performers. This section of exposition employs several copular verbs, past progressive verbs, and adverbial clauses as well as the modal “would.”
The most significant use of punctiliar, simple past verbs occurs near the end of the section, when the narrator briefly mentions the character Abenthy:
And then there was Abenthy, my first real teacher. He taught me more than all the others set end to end.
If not for him, I would never have become the man I am today.
I ask that you not hold it against him. He meant well. (41)
The character is introduced with the word “then,” which according to McClelland indicates the introduction of new and often important information (n. pag.). The active verb “taught” could be considered mainline, although the next paragraph is a negation sentence and in that case doesn’t indicate storyline.
However, the most interesting part of these short few paragraphs comes in the last sentence, when the narrator talks directly to the reader with the use of the second-person pronoun “you.” Such a direct address rarely occurs in this third embedded discourse and serves as rhetorical underlining that helps highlight the importance of Abenthy’s character.
If you consider the entire novel as a whole, the inciting incident for Kvothe’s story would probably be Chronicler’s entrance into the narrative in the second chapter—which I mentioned in my last post.
However, if you consider Kvothe’s story as a narrative in its own right, rather than just a narrative embedded into the larger story of The Name of the Wind, then two other inciting incidents become possible.
One possible inciting incident occurs when Kvothe first meets Abenthy. The section is marked with both grammatical and semantic elements of an inciting incident as Kvothe sees the old man attempting to sell sympathy-infused merchandise in a highly superstitious town. (Sympathy is this world’s name for magic, if you all will remember. Apparently I get increasingly Southern the more tired I am.)
The scene is marked with several action verbs and storyline clauses, although some clauses are demoted to lower bands:
The constable grinned and twisted [Abenthy’s] arm. The arcanist bent at the waist and gasped a short, painful breath. [. . .]
A furious gust of wind came out of nowhere, as if a storm had suddenly burst with no warning. The wind struck the old man’s wagon and it tipped onto two wheels before slamming back down onto four. The constable staggered and fell as if he had been struck by the hand of God [. . .]
“Begone!” the old man shouted angrily. “Trouble me no longer! I will set fire to your blood and fill you with a fear like ice and iron!” (45, emphasis added)
The punctiliar verbs in bold are all in simple past tense, without any subordinating elements—therefore, they indicate mainline. These storyline clauses occur in quick succession and in such a large amount rarely seen in the rest of the chapter, conveying a sense of “heightened vidideness” (Longacre 40) and underlining the significance of the scene.
This scene could also be considered an inciting incident given its context, for Kvothe’s predictable life as an Edemu Ruh is disturbed by his eventual apprenticeship under the arcanist Abenthy.
Another possible inciting incident occurs all the way in chapter sixteen, when Abenthy has already left the company of the Edema Ruh. Kvothe has been sent to gather herbs in the woods so that his parents can have some “alone time,” but he returns to find the campsite in shambles and the entire troupe dead.
Kote also realizes the importance of this scene, pausing to say, “I would pass over the whole of that evening. [. . .] I would spare you the burden of any of it if one piece were not necessary to the story. It is vital. It is the hinge upon which the story pivots like an opening door” (81).
The innkeeper then moves on to describe the utter destruction of the campsite, the fate of his fellow performers, and the dreadful appearance of the murderers themselves. In this scene, most sentences are descriptive, especially when Kvothe first catches sight of the Chandrian named Cinder:
His motion reminded me of quicksilver rolling from a jar onto a tabletop: effortless and supple. His expression was intent, but his body was relaxed, as if he had just stood and stretched. [. . .]
His face was narrow and sharp, with the perfect beauty of porcelain. His hair was shoulder length, framing his face in loose curls the color of frost. He was a creature of winter’s pale. Everything about him was cold and sharp and white. (82)
Instead of marking this inciting incident with a string of storyline clauses as he does earlier in the novel, Rothfuss employs several descriptive clauses with multiple uses of the copular verb.
According to Longacre, “the absence of certain features” such as conventional mainline clauses “can be a clue that we are at the peak [or climax] of a discourse” (38). Inciting incidents, if you’ll remember from my last post, can look a lot like the climax of a story, both grammatically and contextually.
Though the lack of storyline clauses is usually an indication of less-important material, the fact that so much description is given of this one character highlights the importance of that character and the scene in which the description takes place. The passive tone also helps convey a sense of otherworldliness to the reader, something that couldn’t be conveyed through grammar alone.
This scene is also marked by the use of short, abrupt sentences. The narrator, remarking upon how the young Kvothe couldn’t respond to Cinder’s questioning, says, “I stood there, mute. Frozen as a startled fawn” (82). Not only are these two sentences small, but the second one is a fragment that lacks a subject.
According to Longacre, “we may find at the peak of a story a shift to short, fragmentary, crisp sentences, which emphasize the change of pace” (43). The abrupt sentences in this scene help convey Kvothe’s numbed reaction to a devastating circumstance, but they also serve as indicators of an inciting incident.
Contextually, the scene functions as an inciting incident—probably more so than his interaction with Abenthy—because the murder of the boy’s parents at the hands of the Chandrian constitutes the greatest disruption in Kvothe’s everyday life and spurs his actions for the remainder of the novel.
Next up on the plot diagram: developing conflict! 🙂
A Brief Works Cited
- Bushman, John H., and Kay Parks Haas. Using Young Adult Literature in the English Classroom. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2005. Print.
- Longacre, Robert E. The Grammar of Discourse. 2nd ed. New York: Plenum, 1996. Print.
- McClelland, Clive. 2013. Lectures in ENGL 533.
- Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind. New York: Penguin, 2007. Print.