Clench Counting

20 Nov 2006

A revised version of this post is part of my collection The Books That Wrote Me Collection 1, available here.

I thought I might be able to search for the number of occurences of “clench” in Lord Foul’s Bane using Google Books, but that book doesn’t seem to be part of the database yet. However, I was able to do it using Amazon’s “search inside this book” feature.

The results: “clench” appears 4 times. “Clenched” appears 41 times (wow!) And “clenching” appears 8 times.

There might be other variants of the word, but just those gives me 53 occurences.

In The Wounded Land, “clench” appears 9 times; “clenched” appears 41 times, and “clenching” appears 12 times. That’s 62 occurrences. That’s a lot of clenching. Covenant should talk to his dentist or about that, or maybe his therapist.

Just for comparison, I did a search on David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest. “Clench” appears once; “clenched” appears twice, and “clenching” does not appear.

Just for kicks, I note that using the same tool, The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre contains 105 instances of the word “fear,” 51 instances of the word “vague,” 32 instances of the word “blood,” 36 instances of the word “nameless,” 9 instances of the word “shapeless,” one instance of the word “faceless,” 22 instances of the word “dread,” 41 instances of the word “terror,” 5 instances of the word “tentacles,” and 4 instances of the word “ichor.” In particular, ichor is always green:

…on its side in a foetid pool of greenish-yellow ichor …foetid greenish-yellow ichor” …monstrous tracks and that foetid green ichor Their blood was a sort of deep-greenish ichor…

So clearly if Donaldson is guilty of something in particular for his excess use of “clench,” Lovecraft must be guilty of something similar.

Interesting. I just discovered another feature: the searchable books on Amazon give you a concordance. You can look at the most commonly occurring words! These are the top 100 words by frequency in Lord Foul’s Bane:

across again against air arms atiaran away bannor behind between bloodguard came come company covenant darkness day done down drool earth end enough even eyes face fear feet felt fingers fire first foamfollower foul found gave giant go hand head heard heart held help high himself horses keep know land last left lena life light long look looked lord man mhoram moment moved must night nothing now old people power prothall ranyhyn reached ring river rock saw see seemed shoulders side soon staff still stone stood things thought time took toward tree turned two voice wall warriors went without word

Of those words, these are actually names or titles:

Atiaran Bannor Bloodguard Covenant Drool Foamfollower Foul Lena Lord Mhoram Prothall Ranyhyn

Comparing it to the general Science Fiction and Fantasy category tells us that with a fog index of 9.1, 37% of Amazon’s science fiction and fantasy is harder to read than Lord Foul’s Bane. 41% of Amazon’s science fiction and fantasy books have more complex words, 58% have more syllables per word, and 37% have more words per sentence. This confirms my intuition that it is not actually the style, vocabulary, or sentence structure that make Lord Foul’s Bane difficult reading for some people.

The length statistics place Lord Foul’s Bane quite high, which I found a little surprising. It is about 162,000 words. Only 14% of books classified as science fiction or fantasy are longer than Lord Foul’s Bane. That is interesting to me, because I’ve never thought of Lord Foul’s Bane as a particularly long novel.

Let’s compare it to Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Gravity’s Rainbow weighs in at 325,000+ words. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace weighs in at almost 480,000 words. Infinite Jest contains 10 instances of the word “repellent,” 10 instances of the word “pathos,” and one instance of the word “presbyopic,” and an amazing 29 instances of the word “dissemination.”

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards contains ten instances of the word “impulse” — perhaps the protagonist is impulsive? The word “limestone” appears five times. “Surge” appears ten times, as does “diaper.” The word “damp” appears fifty times, and “wet” twenty-six, while there is not a single occurence of the word “moist.” I find that “odd,” which appears nine times; it makes me “uneasy,” which also occurs nine times; however, “nine” occurs only seven times, while “seven” occurs six times and “six” occurs twenty-nine times despite the fact that “occurs” occurs only twice. If we count up the appearances of the word “twice,” we get twenty, which itself makes eleven appearances.

At the present time I do not wish to hazard a guess as to exactly what this all means.

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