Patrick Rothfuss is a very generous and genuine individual, his writing both beautiful and admirable in construction. Pat has clearly invested a tremendous amount of work and thought into his world and books. In particular, I admire how well he assembles his frame story, a technique with which I have struggled. Where as many frame stories consist of a narrative constructed within a rather flat backdrop, reading The Name of the Wind is like admiring a painting, only to realize that the craftsman had carved an intricate mural into the bordering wood.
The success of the frame structure in Rothfuss’ works comes from the contrast in the two stories. Essentially, the frame is a biographer seeking to chronicle the life of the protagonist, Kvothe. He tracks Kvothe to his hidden life and convinces him to narrate his autobiography. The frame narrative is written in the third person perspective, lending it not only a measure of reliability in narration, but also a grittier, real-world feel. By grounding the frame in reality, it gives the reader a point of reference by which to judge the autobiographical narrative.
Kvothe’s autobiography is written in the first person perspective, as if the reader is listening to Kvothe’s narration directly. This is the first major difference between the frame and narrative, allowing the reader to be very clear as to which part of the story they are experiencing. Secondly, Kvothe’s narrative is clearly unreliable as it has a sense of idealized heroism. This is only apparent, however, because of the gritty reality of the frame. What can you expect? A character as vain and arrogant as Kvothe is given the opportunity to write his own mythos. Would the Chronicler call Kvothe on a piece of his story if it contradicts with what the Chronicler knows to have happened? Probably not, as he is there to record an autobiography, not find truth. By reading between the lines of unreliability, Rothfuss and the reader are able to establish and elaborate upon character.
Without the frame to provide contrast and perspective, many of the subtle details that signal the unreliability of the narrator may have been lost. Though Kvothe’s hubris comes through clearly enough in the autobiographical narrative, by choosing to frame the story as he has, Rothfuss is able to communicate to the reader the extent to which the narration is biased. He is also able to provide foreshadowing for the autobiographical narration in the frame story by having the characters reference events or interacts with objects that will become important later.
Rothfuss’ frame provides contrast, detail and a point of reference and therefore cannot be ignored or overlooked without missing important content. Could I pull The Name of the Wind apart, rebind only the autobiographical narrative and have a very good story? Yes. Would it have as much depth and intrigue as the whole work? No. Frame stories, therefore cannot be passive backdrops, but must instead add meaning and depth to the story.Tags: Sequence 04: On the Shoulders of Giants