Hello, everyone! I’m back for the sixth installment of Discourse Grammar in The Name of the Wind. If you’ll remember from my last post, we just wrapped up our discussion of the developing conflict in Patrick Rothfuss’ novel.
Next up: the climax of Kvothe’s story! 🙂
According to Robert E. Longacre, the climax of a story “is where everything comes to a head” and “confrontation is inevitable” (35). Although the complexity of Rothfuss’ narrative makes a clear-cut climax hard to determine, one scene in the book stands out as particularly confrontational, where several threads of the plot come together.
Driven by rumors of the Chandrian, Kvothe travels to the town of Trebon and eventually comes across a wounded Denna. The two of them investigate the bloodbath that occurred at a local wedding the night before and meet a creature known as a “draccus” (379).
The climax of the innkeeper’s tale does not begin until the draccus’ drug-induced actions begin to threaten the lives of the citizens of Trebon. Several punctiliar verbs are utilized in this episode, especially once Kvothe realizes that the townsfolk are in danger:
I ran madly through the woods, the light from my sympathy lamp bobbing wildly, revealing obstacles ahead of me bare moments before I was on top of them. [. . .]
I fell twice more before I made it to the road, then I tucked my head like a sprinter and ran toward the distant light of the city. [. . .]
I slowed to a trot as I came into town, catching my breath. Then I scampered up the side of a house to one of the few two-story rooftops so I could see what was really happening. (407, emphasis added)
Despite the use of past progressive participles such as “bobbing” and “catching,” the presence of simple past action verbs such as those in bold as well as the use of word “then” indicate storyline clauses and also help convey a sense of urgency.
Although description is seen throughout the episode, mainline clauses occur frequently until the peak—where two long paragraphs are broken up by the short paragraph “I concentrated, focused” (409). This sentence contains a simple past verb that is passive rather than active, but the abrupt nature of the paragraph serves as a type of rhetorical underlining that could indicate storyline.
This kind of emphasis is seen again near the end of the chapter, when the narrator shifts back to short, fragmented sentences: “But there was no one there to see the truth of things. And there was no God guiding it. Only me” (410). The use of mainline clauses and abrupt sentences mark this episode as the climax of at least the main embedded narrative—the one focusing on Kvothe’s story.
Contextually, the episode also serves as the climax because two plotlines—the major plotline involving the mystery behind the Chandrian, and the minor plotline involving the developing romance between Kvothe and Denna—come to a head in the cluster of chapters surrounding the episode.
Although Rothfuss’ narrative includes a climactic episode, the same really can’t be said about a denouement. Typically, the denouement—or falling action—occurs when “[t]hings begin to loosen up” (Longacre 35) as the story draws to a close. The major conflict of Kvothe’s story is resolved and the town of Trebon saved, but Denna vanishes without a parting farewell, and the Chandrian remain shrouded in mystery.
The reason behind this unconventional denouement is most likely because of the underlying structure of the narrative. Before the innkeeper begins telling his story to Chronicler, he insists that it be told over the span of several days, saying, “I’ll need three days. [. . .] I’m quite sure of it” (35). By the end of the first book, however, only one day has passed. Kote has covered but a third of his story, so conventional story structure understandably falls by the wayside.
Some decrease in tension can be seen in the next few chapters, when the narrator describes and summarizes events rather than placing the reader directly into the action.
For instance, in the chapter directly following the climax, few storyline clauses are present as Kvothe slowly recovers from his injuries:
I woke up in bed. In a room. In an inn. More than that was not immediately clear to me. It felt exactly like someone had hit me in the head with a church.
I had been cleaned and bandaged. Very thoroughly bandaged. Someone had seen fit to treat all my recent injuries no manner how minor. I had white linen around my head, my chest, my knee, and one of my feet. Someone had even cleaned and wrapped the mild abrasions on my hands and the knife wound from three days ago when Ambrose’s thugs had tried to kill me. (410, emphasis added)
Although action is certainly hinted at in this section, apart from the simple past verb phrase “woke up,” punctiliar verbs are demoted from Band 1 by the past perfect “had.” Though denouement in The Name of the Wind may not follow conventional structures, there does seem to be a lessening of narrative tension before the protagonist’s final exchange with his rival.
As you all probably remember, our handy-dandy plot diagram has falling action moving directly into the resolution. However, Longacre argues that there is often a “final suspense” with the occurrence of “one or more [post-climax] episodes” (38).
In Rothfuss’ book, this final suspense happens during yet another argument between Kvothe and Ambrose.
Like the climax, this tension-filled episode is characterized by storyline clauses and changes in sentence structure. Every interaction with Ambrose includes dialogue paragraphs—which always indicate mainline—but the sheer amount of simple past tense verbs indicates something significant about this episode.
At the beginning of the scene, Kvothe is busy talking to his friends about his recent escapade with Denna (the story’s climax) while Ambrose sneaks up and steals the musician’s lute.
When Kvothe demands the instrument be returned, his rival does not rush to comply: “Ambrose smiled and cocked an eyebrow. ‘But I’ve written a song for you, and it needs to be accompanied.’ He gripped the lute roughly and dragged his fingers across the strings with no thought for rhythm or tune. People stopped to watch as he sang” (421, emphasis added). Apart from the last sentence, which includes the adverbial phrase “as he sang,” this paragraph includes several punctiliar verbs placed back-to-back without any subordinating elements.
This post-climax episode is also marked by the use of a rhyme, which Ambrose sings in order to mock Kvothe: “There once was a ravel named Kvothe / Whose tongue was quick at quipping. / The masters thought him clever / And rewarded him with whipping” (421, emphasis in original).
Ambrose’s rhyming quartet could hardly be called witty, but it marks the first time the reader has seen his poetry, and the lines themselves include the introductory phrase “There once was” as well as the storyline punctiliar verb “rewarded.”
This portion of the episode includes the most storyline clauses and seems to be the episode’s grammatical peak (the mini-climax of the final suspense). However, dramatically the peak of the episode occurs later.
Ambrose eventually decides to “toss” Kvothe’s lute back to him, but instead the instrument “hit[s] the cobblestones bowl first and [makes] a splintering noise” (421). In the next few clauses, the narrator uses several simple past verbs such as “shouted,” “took,” “said,” and “bent”—all broken up by long, descriptive clauses.
Two long paragraphs are also sandwiched around one smaller, more important paragraph: “I opened my mouth to howl, to cry, to curse him. But something other tore from my throat, a word I did not know and could not remember” (421, emphasis in original).
Not only does Rothfuss switch from long to short paragraphs, but later he also has a shift in pace as the next few sentences seem to be in slow motion:
Then all I could hear was the sound of the wind. It roared into the courtyard like a sudden storm. A nearby carriage slid sideways across the cobblestones, its horses rearing up in panic. Sheet music was torn from someone’s hands to streak around us like strange lightning. I was pushed forward a step.
Everyone was pushed by the wind. Everyone but Ambrose, who pinwheeled to the ground as if struck by the hand of God. (421)
According to Dr. Clive McClelland, the use of long, descriptive clauses slows the pace of a scene, making it seem to occur in slow motion (n. pag.). The peak is also marked by the use of rhetorical questions as the narrator says, “I considered shouting at him again, wondering what would happen. Would the wind come again? Would the ground swallow him up?” (422).
A small shift in the size of paragraphs, a change in pace, and rhetorical questions mark these paragraphs as the peak of the episode, but the case could also be made from a dramatic standpoint since the paragraphs mark the first time that Kvothe manages to call upon the name of the wind, a special kind of sympathy that he has been striving toward for the entire book.
A Brief Works Cited
- 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.