I’m gonna go ahead and skip the TITLE PAGE and COPYRIGHT. I’d planned to skip the Contents as well, but the title of chapter seven, “ASH AND EMBER,” jumps out immediately. It’s part of the rhyme Bast recites in the frame narrative of The Wise Man’s Fear.
Catch and carry.
Ash and Ember.
(WMF 4, 991)
He recites it twice. First in chapter one, “Apple and Elderberry;” and in chapter one hundred fifty-two, “Elderberry.” In fact, it’s one of the phrases that pairs those chapters in what anthropologist Mary Douglas called ring composition.
The minimum criterion for a ring composition is for the ending to join up with the beginning… A ring is a framing device. The linking up of starting point and end creates an envelope that contains everything between the opening phrases and the conclusion… There has to be a well-marked point at which the ring turns, preparatory to working back to the beginning, and the whole series of stanzas from the beginning to the middle should be in parallel with the other series going from the middle back to the start. Each section on the second side of the ring corresponds to a matching section on the first side… It comes in many sizes, from a few lines to a whole book enclosed in its macro-envelope, arranged throughout in intricately corresponding parallelisms. (Thinking in Circles)
The Wise Man’s Fear is constructed this way. The Prologue and Epilogue are nearly identical, providing a solid frame. Within that frame, chapters one through seventy-six, and seventy-seven through one hundred fifty-two mirror one another in a variety of ways. One of the primary ways is the restriction of particular words or phrases only to the chapters in parallel, like “Ash and Ember” in the first and last chapters. I explained a little bit about how chapters two, “Holly,” and one hundred fifty-one, “Locks,” were related during the Tor Reread.
This is all a long way of saying that I sort of suspected The Slow Regard of Silent Things might be a ring as well. Based on a chapter title. I’ll show how that might be the case when I get into the actual text. The fact that the narrative is framed by an AUTHOR’S FOREWORD and an AUTHOR’S ENDNOTE is also a strong clue.
The rest of the chapter titles weren’t so glaringly obvious in their relationship to the parent text. At least not to me. But I figured it might be worth noting whether they evoked anything.
Here’s what the Contents look like in the Kindle edition:
ALSO BY PATRICK ROTHFUSS
Contents (not actually listed in the contents)
THE FAR BELOW BOTTOM OF THINGS
WHAT A LOOK ENTAILS
BEAUTIFUL AND BROKEN
A QUITE UNCOMMON PLEASANT PLACE
THE ANGRY DARK
ASH AND EMBER
ALL TO HER DESIRE
THE GRACEFUL WAY TO MOVE
THE HIDDEN HEART OF THINGS
Anyway, here goes.
THE FAR BELOW BOTTOM OF THINGS only appears in The Slow Regard of Silent Things. It refers to the pool in The Twelve, the only place in the Underthing (that we’re exposed to) with a changing name. There’s a title drop on page 6 followed by this image.
WHAT A LOOK ENTAILS includes a word that hasn’t appeared in Rothfuss before. It’s worth considering its various nuances. But think about what’s tied up in looking and seeing in The Kingkiller Chronicle. Puppet comes to mind. As does this line from Felurian:
“these old name-knowers moved smoothly through the world. they knew the fox and they knew the hare, and they knew the space between the two.” (WMF 669)
BEAUTIFUL AND BROKEN immediately calls to mind Kvothe’s meditations on and descriptions of Auri. Chapter titles like “The Broken Binding,” “A Beautiful Game,” and “The Broken Road” show a fondness for the words which appear frequently. And, of course, there’s the bit from Kvothe’s introductory boast:
The Adem call me Maedre. Which, depending on how it’s spoken, can mean “The Flame,” “The Thunder,” or “The Broken Tree.” (NW 57)
A QUITE UNCOMMON PLEASANT PLACE sounds like a decent description of the Underthing, but seems deliberately unspecific. Nothing really comes to mind.
HOLLOW also leaps out. It’s the “hollow, echoing quiet” of the first silence in the Prologue of The Name of the Wind and both Epilogues. It’s also Hollows, home of admissions and the horns. Hollow is how Kote looks to Graham.
While it might not be relevant, it also reminds me of the Hollow Gods featured in the Modegan Pairs deck designed by Shane Tyree. They’re the “gods all around us” sworn by Sovoy and Bredon.
THE ANGRY DARK suggests both Kvothe and Lanre as well as Adem mojo, but little else.
ASH AND EMBER I’ve already covered. Ash is also the elephant in the room: Denna’s patron. The only chapter to mention is The Name of the Wind chapter eighty-two, “Ash and Elm…”
ALL TO HER DESIRE was something I was sure I’d seen before, but it turns out it’s only a common form without an exact match. The closest is the secret ritual of the Edema Ruh that Kvothe reveals in his story about Faeriniel and later exploited by Alleg.
The man at his elbow smiled. “Then have water and wine, each to your desire.” And saying so he brought the beggar to their water barrel. (WMF 283)
Bast uses similar phrasing when describing the fae to Kostrel in “The Lightning Tree.”
There are many types of fae, many courts and houses. And all of them are ruled according to their own desires …” (Rogues)
THE GRACEFUL WAY TO MOVE brings to mind Kvothe’s hands, Denna, Felurian, and Cinder. It also provides a nice lead in to the scene in chapter eleven of The Wise Man’s Fear, “Haven,” that the novella is leading toward.
I turned in time to see Auri scurry across the roof toward us, her arms full. She stopped a short distance away, eyeing us both, before coming the rest of the way, stepping carefully as a dancer until she was back where she originally stood. Then she sat down lightly on the roof, crossing her legs beneath herself. Elodin and I sat as well, though not nearly as gracefully. (WMF 107)
THE HIDDEN HEART OF THINGS repeats the “of things” from the first chapter, another sign that the story’s probably a ring. It also suggests a secret, perhaps in the Underthing and perhaps within its inhabitant. We can’t forget our Teccam, either.
Secrets of the heart are different. They are private and painful, and we want nothing more than to hide them from the world. They do not swell and press against the mouth. They live in the heart, and the longer they are kept, the heavier they become. (WMF 487)
CODA provides what Douglas calls a latch, which further ties the beginning and end of the story. It also ties the story into The Wise Man’s Fear. In a way, The Slow Regard of Silent Things becomes an inner ring within the larger ring of that book.