In "Downed," Thursday26 tends to use comparatively more tactile and kinetic imagery in addition to the more traditional visual and auditory. This becomes apparent in the first line of "Downed": "Hiccup stumbles through the forest, bumping into trees and tripping over exposed roots." Aside from the assonance in the almost-identical first syllables of "stumbles"/"bumping", both pairs centering on a plosive consonant and therefore reminiscent of impact, we have three verbs paired with three nouns which all serve to emphasize clumsy movement. These are "stumbles/forest", "bumping/trees" and "tripping/roots". Once more, the shared 'p' sound in "bumping/tripping/exposed" is plosive, which, repeated throughout the phrase, is almost onomatopoeic in its evocation of impact. This is a description of a character who cannot walk with any kind of balance or confidence. Thus, the first sentence establishes character subtly through sound.
What I would like to focus on in addition is the pairs mentioned above, "stumbles/forest", "bumping/trees" and "tripping/roots". All three of these pair a motion, a kinetic image, with an element of setting – a forest, composed vertically of trees, and horizontally of roots. The kinetic image, paired with the elements of a forest (general to specific, first "forest" then its component elements), shows us a character incapable of keeping his balance, either staying upright (by bumping into trees) or with forward motion (tripping over roots). What this does in addition to establishing setting and mood is also to use physical imbalance to parallel the character's emotional imbalance.
There are many example of tactile imagery in the paragraphs that follow. "Real Vikings don't cry. Real men don't cry, but he can hardly see past the tears stinging his eyes." This paragraph, aimed at showing the dichotomy between what Hiccup feels and what he believes is the correct way to feel, also includes a subtle tactile reference to keep the reader grounded in "stinging". The author could have said "…hardly see past the tears in his eyes," but the 'stinging' establishes the fact that the tears are an unwelcome intrusion, an attack on him by his own body almost, while again adding to the immediacy of what we feel from the character.
"Hiccup remembers exploring this forest when he was younger, a small, sharp memory from when he was too dumb to know any better." There is no reason for the adjective "sharp" here except metaphor. A "small, sharp memory", like a stone in his shoe, or like a barb piercing flesh. Something hard and uncomfortable piercing his current thoughts, evoking perhaps shame? Coupled with the self-denigration, "too dumb…", perhaps the sharpness is because the memory causes pain, but metaphorical intent aside, what this does is reaffirm the tactile nature of the imagery. The reader is meant not just to see or hear, but to touch.
In the flashback, the tactile imagery continues. "Hiccup woke to gruff voices... Hiccup feels heavy." Gruffness is auditory, but almost tactile in its similarity to "rough", and "heavy" confers a ponderous slowness you can touch. Later in the same scene, Hiccup realizes he is in tears when he feels them: "Are his cheeks wet? Is he crying?" The touch of the wetness results in another tactile image.
But the tactile and kinetic imagery is strongest not in the flashback sequence, but in the forest segments. "Hiccup stumbles again, this time falling flat onto his face and unable to make himself get back up… sobs tearing from his body, heavy and loud." The "stumble" and "fall", both kinetic, are followed by "tearing", which is both kinetic and tactile – severing in a ragged manner – and we get "heavy," another tactile image of weight, with "loud", an auditory description. But the tour de force is yet to come.
"His hand is by his head and he twists it into the earth. This far in, the forest floor is mostly dirt. It's heavy and damp between his fingers. He pushes his forehead into the ground, pressing it into the dirt. And he sobs harder. Dirt sticks to his teeth and he can taste the earth, but he can't stop crying."
In this paragraph, Hiccup is brought so low that he is literally as well as metaphorically eating dirt. "Dirt" is repeated three times, as well as two synonyms, "ground" and "earth" (twice), for a total of six repetitions of dirt and its synonyms in a single paragraph. "Twists" is kinetic, and not a happy verb – it connotes distortion and misalignment. Kinesis continues in "pushes" and "presses", alliterative as well as kinetic. "Heavy and damp" are tactile, adjectives of weight and moisture. Being close to the earth can connote rebirth, but in moments of humiliation, grief and sorrow, being in the dirt connotes extreme humiliation because of its connection to death. This moment is actually a turning-point in the story. Would it be too far-fetched to say that his almost-burial in the dirt leads to his rebirth instants later with the first appearance of Toothless? It might, but then again, he is brought to his lowest, he is completely destroyed, he is eating dirt, almost in a grave… and then the appearance of the dragon is the start of a new life for him, although he is still unaware of it.
"There's a snap of a twig near him" heralds the change coming into his life. And again, he does not see anything, but rather hears a snap, auditory. His response to the dragon's appearance is entirely kinetic: "Hiccup's knees start to shake under him... He can't stay standing… he collapses... He pulls… and curls... Every part of him is shaking, but he can't do anything..." Even Hiccup's final, frustrated thought in the paragraph is about action, about motion: "He can never do anything." Everything in this piece is about sensation and action, not vision and contemplation.
And this is how Toothless is introduced: "Hot breath on his left ear." "…he can feel its breath following him." (my emphasis) In his first encounter with Toothless, there is so much focus on motion and sensation that Hiccup does not see the dragon. Not yet, at least – his first encounter with Toothless is intimate, tactile: "hot breath." It might be said that the focus on touch and motion so far is a gambit to speak to a more visceral, more animal part that both Hiccup and Toothless – at least at this stage – share, a level of connection that is not intellectual (as visual connections tend to be) but more related to the senses, the heart, the emotions, as touch tends to indicate. In other words, it may not be a stretch to say that Hiccup and Toothless connect not on a human level, but closer.
This theory may be borne out by the way Hiccup, in his fear of death, remembers his father, and the way they connect: "And the last thing his father saw was him running from the house, probably with tear tracks on his face... Why is he such a disappointment?" There is still kinetic imagery there ("running from the house") but his father does not feel Hiccup; he sees him. Seeing is more distant than feeling. This brings us to the metaphor which is a driving force behind the story, and explains why so much tactile imagery is used.
The metaphor is surprisingly accurate: "I feel you" is a common phrase currently to indicate "I empathize," or "I understand." In the metaphorical sense, this story's Stoick does not "feel" Hiccup: he will not take the trouble to empathize or understand Hiccup, get close to him (the expression itself being a dead tactile metaphor), and this is why there are so few tactile metaphors in the flashback sequence: nobody is there who "feels" Hiccup. And this is why, in contrast, the introduction of Toothless into Hiccup's life is so overpoweringly tactile: "The breath puffs over his side again and Hiccup can hear the creature sniffing at him." There is the sensation of breath – close – and even though the verb used is "hear", the scenting bespeaks closeness. In a few verbs and phrases, the dragon has come closer to "feeling" Hiccup than his family ever has. Also, "There's an inquisitive purr. Gods. It's a dragon." Purrs, much like sniffs, are not only sounds but vibrations, combining auditory, kinetic and, again, tactile. This introductory sequence goes far in demonstrating the way Hiccup and Toothless relate to each other, physically and metaphorically closer than Hiccup has ever been to his family.
"This dragon is alone." (Like Hiccup.) "And it keeps on moving towards Hiccup." (Kinetic, and the reverse of what his family does.) When visual contact inevitably comes, it's eye contact, shorthand for intimacy. "He's staring right into its eyes." Also, the present continuous verb is used to make the action more kinetic ("He's staring" is more kinetic than "He stares").
With "And it's getting closer", the metaphor starts to become more explicit. There are more and more references to closeness, which connotes emotional/metaphorical closeness as well, especially after Hiccup has been shown to be abandoned (or at least ignored) by his family and his humililation and loneliness has left him lying weeping in the dirt. "Hiccup backs into a base of a tree." (kinetic) …It's getting too close, its steps bigger than Hiccup's scrambling. The dragon gets closer…" Of course on the realistic level, Hiccup is justifiably afraid. On another, this is the dance of intimacy: the reader knows that Toothless will be a better friend to Hiccup – and closer – than anyone Hiccup has known so far in his life, but Hiccup, pushed away by years of prejudice, runs away from the offer of friendship. And Toothless refuses to give up ("The dragon gets closer"). "Hiccup stretches out on the ground, trying to keep as much distance between them as possible" functions on two levels: realistically and metaphorically.
"The dragon radiates heat and smells like lightning." Tactile and olfactory, again, only then moving on to visual "Its pupils are large" – which, again, one would only see when very close. "Then, without warning, a large, wet tongue swipes over Hiccup's face, slobbering, heavy, and so wet!" More tactile imagery – touch, and intimate touch at that. "Hiccup sputters, reflexively trying to push the dragon's head away…" metaphorically still fighting the relationship. "The dragon purrs and nuzzles his head, too heavy to be pushed away." And then, "The dragon snuffles over him from head to toe…" Everything in this interaction is explicitly intimate. "It nuzzles Hiccup's face. Hiccup jerks at the display of affection." For the first time, Hiccup makes the metaphorical literal, the "closeness" being replaced with "affection." Touchingly, Hiccup cannot imagine any being giving him unsolicited affection: "Why is the dragon doing this? Is it trying to lower Hiccup's defenses? Does it plan to strike when Hiccup relaxes?" This reflects the fact that Hiccup is unaccustomed to being shown affection for its own sake.
"The dragon nuzzles the other side of his face and Hiccup's hands come up without a thought. He freezes when he feels warm scales against his palms…. The dragon leans into the touch and Hiccup starts petting its neck." Finally, the touch, the tactile intimacy, breaks through Hiccup's defences, and he moves (kinetic) toward Toothless and they share a moment of touch, of tactile comfort. Significantly, the mere thought of his human family revives his misery: "If only Stoick could see him now. But thinking about his dad reminds him of the conversation he overheard this morning… Hiccup starts crying again."
Both literally and metaphorically, Toothless is there to ease Hiccup's distress with tactile comfort and affection: "The dragon makes a soothing noise" (auditory, tactile) "and pulls Hiccup as close as possible with its forelegs." (kinetic, tactile) "Hiccup can feel the rumble of the dragon purring, (tactile, auditory) "and the heat radiating from it is so nice." (purely tactile, emotional. Metaphorically, the warmth of Toothless' affection is thawing the cold of Hiccup's loneliness.) "It's freezing outside. Cold enough that a person never truly warms up unless they're almost inside their fireplace. But being pressed close to this dragon is warming him straight to his core." Tactile imagery is used to convey, subtly but unmistakably, that just as Toothless' warmth is penetrating Hiccup's core, the warmth of his friendship is touching his heart.
"Hiccup, exhausted by the extreme feelings over the morning, falls asleep without thinking twice about it, tears still streaming down his face. He should be scared of this dragon, terrified that he will be eaten at any moment, but he only feels comfort. Even if the dragon does decide to kill him, Hiccup almost wishes it would happen in his sleep. He wants his last memory to be this warmth."
Again, "this warmth" is merged by now, tactile heat, and affection. Sleep is indicative of trust, rest, and healing. The conclusion of this segment shows that selfless affection has conquered humiliation and fear.
The second part is less overwhelmingly tactile and more visual: "…he's still seeing that Night Fury. Then he's surprised to see that the dragon's face is pulled tight…. The dragon looks for a long time…" (my italics) This makes sense, since they have transitioned from visceral trust to Hiccup's more impersonal medical urgency, and this part is more about the development of this friendship and the actions that Hiccup must take to save Toothless.
Still, movement and touch (and sound) seem to take precedence in the relationship of this pair. "Hiccup shoots to his feet…. he rushes off, light footsteps echoing his heavy stomps…" (kinetic pairs of verbs and tactile adjectives respectively, my emphasis) "…he feels the dragon nudge his back…" (tactile) and in general, it seems that Toothless' affection literally as well as metaphorically nudges Hiccup out of his depression, brought on by seeing his family home: "He has mixed feelings about being back here, the memory from the morning still too fresh in his mind. He's snapped out of it though when he feels the dragon nudge his back." The nudge is not just physical, but emotional, and metaphorical as well. Toothless is more often associated with tactile and kinetic verbs and adjectives so far, with Hiccup sharing this but withdrawing from the offer of friendship. When they leave Hiccup's house, it changes, back in the forest, with Hiccup becoming the pursuer instead of the pursued.
The blossoming of their trust shows kinetically: "Give me your tail," Hiccup orders, taking his dagger out of its sheath and holding it up, turning back to the dragon." (my emphasis) This is filled with motion verbs. "The dragon focuses on the knife and hisses, hunching its back and spreading its wings, taking cautious steps back." Fans of the show will know that this subtly yet strongly reflects canon Hiccup and Toothless' dynamic: they are both kinetic and tactile. If they are not flying or moving, they will probably be very close (while Hiccup works) or touching (while Hiccup reads). The action verbs continue: "No. Don't do that," Hiccup scolds, turning his back on the dragon, scanning the ground... He spots a flat rock and rushes over to it, kneeling next to it. He waves the dragon towards him... "Come here. I need to cut off the dead parts." (my emphasis) Every verb but "spots" is a motion verb.
"The dragon takes half a step and freezes, eyes going to the knife again." Now it is Toothless who will not move, reflecting Hiccup's instinctual fear of dragons in the first part, with Toothless' instinctual fear of armed Vikings in the second. In this way, the second part perfectly mirrors the first: in the first part, Hiccup freezes in fear and shrinks away from Toothless' affection; in the second, Toothless freezes in fear and shrinks away from Hiccup's assistance. Further, the chasing dynamic is now reversed, in a perfect mirror to the first part: "No," Hiccup calls, standing up and chasing after the dragon…" We are still in the kinetic mode, but now it is Hiccup doing the chasing— "Hiccup catches the dragon's face between his hands..." —and Hiccup who is resorting to touch In order to soothe the dragon's pain and fear. Fans of Defenders of Berk will remember Hiccup's line from "What Flies Beneath": "You save me, I save you. That's the way it is." It is this perfect reciprocity that is echoed and portrayed in this story.
Feeling is mentioned one final time, when it occurs to Hiccup that he could kill this dragon (literally stab it in the back) but "it doesn't feel right." The "feeling" meaning touch and sensation unites with the "feeling" meaning impetus and emotion.
In the remainder of the action, Hiccup uses touch, once again, to soothe Toothless: "The dragon sits next to Hiccup, tense, fear radiating off it. Hiccup doesn't know what possesses him, but he reaches up and scratches under its jaw… it won't help to have the dragon so scared." The use of tactile metaphors has gradually evolved into the characters using touch, touching each other, to convey comfort and affection. There is still a lot of immediate, visceral imagery, such as "the sickly sweet smell of rotted flesh" (olfactory) and everything is also very kinetic "The dragon… stays as still as it can, only twitching a couple of times under Hiccup's movements. Hiccup apologizes as much as he can, cutting and cutting… picks up the tail and wades into the shallow river."
By the time the crude surgery is completed, the bond is completed: each has overcome their own fear of the other, and allowed the other to heal their pain. The word choice shows that the atmosphere is lighter: "The dragon huffs and turns its back. "There we go," Hiccup chirps, walking out of the water to prevent the bandage from getting wet. He uses the already wet cloth to clean his dagger and rinses it out afterwards. The dragon watches, curious, its tail suspended off the ground." Huffing and turning away are generally ways of showing playful or mock annoyance, while "chirping" is a synonym for "to say brightly or cheerfully." Finally, "suspended" obliquely references their relationship status: where do we go from here? Toothless could head back into the forest, never to see Hiccup again—or not. Even the decision is demonstrated in kinetic fashion: the twin verbs "look" and "follow." The final short segments are divided by the passing of time, and the full circle is further emphasized when Hiccup says in his mind, "He's never felt this close to anyone, ever," echoing the physical closeness that was such a point of contention between them at the start.
In conclusion, this short and deceptively simple story, divided into two mirrored parts, uses kinetic and tactile images as metaphorical shorthand: Touch is closeness. Kinesis is moving toward each other and taking action for each other. Together they show the start, and growth, of a relationship based on mutual comforting and perfectly balanced give-and-take.