Name that Not Quite Legible Book Title! The Mysteries on Rowling’s Book Shelf

The picture used for the back cover of the adult edition of Bloomsbury’s Goblet of Fire in 2000 features a picture of J. K. Rowling leaning against a bookshelf. The titles of the books on the shelf are just almost legible; with a little luck and maybe a reference list, you can read the letters on the spine if you magnify significantly and have any clue to guide you.

The two Ian Rankin paperbacks to the left of her right shoulder I’m afraid are indecipherable. Too many of the Rankin paperbacks are in just this format and the specific coloring of the books in question cannot be made out and the letters, beyond the oversized ‘Rankin’ are illegible.

Not so with the three Agatha Christie titles to the right of Rowling’s left shoulder. As Dolores Gordon-Smith first pointed out, these book titles can be read:

JG: Do you think [Rowling has] read any of the Christie Poirot or Miss Marple novels?

DGS: I’m absolutely certain she has. On the back cover of the adult UK edition of Goblet of Fire, because the books were published with two covers, one with the children’s covers and one with the adult covers, on the back cover of that, there’s a wonderful bookcase shot and, obviously, because I love looking at people’s bookcases, I looked at this in fairly close detail and I was delighted to see there were three Agatha Christie paperbacks. I recognized them immediately because I’ve got the same books.

And after some work with a magnifying glass, I got the titles. They were Three Act Tragedy which is a Poirot book, Dead Man’s Folly which is another Poirot book, and is actually set in Agatha Christie’s old home of Greenway in Devon, and Appointment With Death

[From the MNet Academia show on ‘Harry Potter as Detective Fiction (26 June 2012)]

I’ve discussed the great finds to be had in Appointment with Death here and here at HogwartsProfessor and I have ordered copies of the other two titles to see if there are any hidden jewels for Potter-philes to be found in those pages. Stay tuned for that discussion.

But what of the other books on The Presence’s shelf in 2000? Can we see make out any other authors and titles? Given how rewarding Gordon-Smith’s Christie finds have been, the picture deserves a close look.

I think I want to see a Ngaio Marsh book on the bottom shelf to Rowling’s right. One shelf up I’m all but certain of Peter Cook: A Biography. To the right of Rowling’s head is an Adrian Mole anthology (?) by Sue Townsend, I’d guess The Cappuccino Years. There is a guide to an exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on that shelf, too, but which one? No idea. Does anyone know what book by Sigmund Freud or about Freud is on the same shelf as Rowling’s three Christies? The Jane Austen’s… title obscured by Rowling’s head?

Have a look and share your best guesses in the comment boxes below! And your thoughts, especially if you think this is a fool’s errand and not Rowling’s bookshelf.

Christie’s ‘Appointment With Death:’ Reading Beyond the Ginny-Ginevra Find

I’m on something of an Agatha Christie binge this week (see my posted thoughts on the Queen of Mystery’s The Pale Horse [1961] for the ‘why’) and took up Appointment with Death (1938) yesterday to see if there was more to it than the red-haired youngest daughter named Ginevra but called Ginny. I think there are a few reasons for a Rowling/Galbraith reader to pick it up beyond the fun of touching imaginatively the point of origin for Ginny Weasley.

First, there is Hercule Poirot, the detective on the spot in this novel. It is set-up largely as was Murder on the Orient Express (1934) to which several allusions are made; Poirot is on vacation, stumbles upon a murder, is asked by the presiding gendarmes to solve the crime, and is confronted with a host of suspects all of whom have ample motive to do the deed, even to work together to kill the much-despised victim. The twists on the Orient Express model are masterful and worth the price of admission — and suggest lines of reflection for the Cormoran Strike reader who is aware that Galbraith is largely echoing and writing commentary of sorts on Rowling’s Hogwarts Saga in ‘his’ parallel novel numbers.

Then there are the references to Shakespeare’s Hamlet throughout the novel. If you read Christie’s earlier mysteries — and I’ve just finished Murder at the Vicarage (1930), her eleventh novel and first Miss Marple story — you find that they don’t feature the intertextual depth or number of literary allusions that the  so-called ‘mature’ works written after the war do. There are biblical passages quoted at length in Appointment and Shakespeare references playful and subtle, but we’re seeing the transformation of Christie from one kind of writer to another. By no means is this yet a story-about-stories as we get them in Rowling-Galbraith, if the jokes made about detective fiction merit more than a knowing smile from the reader. 

And, last, beyond Ginny-Ginevra and the wicked Mrs Boynton’s resemblance to Dolores Umbridge, both excellent catches made by Dolores Gordon-Smith (she read Appointment because she saw it on Rowling’s bookshelf in a Goblet of Fire publicity shot!), there no great Potter or Strike echoes to be found in this novel. Unless you think the description of a character as having “basilisk’s eyes” in the key scene of confrontation with Mrs Boynton merits a mention; that is, after all, the fantastic beast Harry must defeat to rescue Ginny-not-yet-known-as-Ginevra in Chamber of Secrets

The Pale Horse and Appointment with Death are not great Agatha Christie pieces, alas. Both seem liked hurried pieces to meet publisher deadlines, albeit always with wry observations, a rewarding twist, and an implicit and challenging moral. I recommend them to the serious student of all things Rowling and Galbraith, however, because they are I think undeniably in the author’s famous “compost heap” of everything she has read from which her imaginative works have grown. Please do let me know what you think about Appointment with Death if you’ve read it or decide to read it!

Emma Watson as Meg March: New “Little Women” Trailer Debuts

The trailer for the new Little Women movie has made its debut, and Harry Potter fandom is abuzz over Emma Watson playing the role of all-American protagonist Meg March. She apparently wasn’t the first choice for the role, and some have questioned whether she can pull off an American accent. Still, she looks beautiful, as always, and I have read comments comparing her pink ball gown to her Yule Ball attire.

What surprised me when I heard she was in the movie was her age.  Emma Watson is 29 years old, and playing a character who is roughly the same age as Hermione was in Deathly Hallows, which filmed a full decade ago.  When I first heard she was in the film, I thought, wow, she’s pretty young to be Marmee. Yes, Emma proved she could still do the young girl thing in Beauty and the Beast. But this is one of the biggest cinematic age mismatches since 33-year-old Stockard Channing played Rizzo in Grease.

Though since 39-year old Shirley Henderson pulled off Moaning Myrtle, and 11-year olds Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy are being played by actors in their mid-20’s onstage, I guess anything is possible.

I think it is interesting–and refreshing– that Emma Watson is continuing to embrace her wholesome young girl persona, when so many former child actresses are eager to move on to more adult (read: sexually explicit) roles.

While we wait for the Christmas season movie, let’s go back and read John Granger’s post on Harry Potter’s, and JKR’s connection to Little Women. 

Agatha Christie and ‘The Pale Horse:’ Rowling Borrowings from the Master

I bought a copy of Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse because (1) there is no other author with whom J. K. Rowling has more in common in terms of sales, personal life, and writing choices (did you know, for instance, that Christie wrote six books under a pseudonym?), (2) Rowling has expressed her great admiration for Christie as a mystery writer, especially for the Queen of Mystery’s sense of humor, and (3) previous forays into the Christie oeuvre – I’m thinking of Appointment with Death and The Moving Finger, books Rowling says she loves — have yielded some fascinating parallels and likely name-lifts. Dolores Gordon-Smith, noted mystery thriller writer, for example, noted that the young, spirited red head girl in Appointment has the name Ginny-which-is-really-Ginevra.

Those are good reasons for reading any of the almost seventy Christie whodunnits. I chose The Pale Horse specifically because of the flood of white horse notes scattered throughout the fourth Cormoran Strike novel, Lethal White, and all of Rowling’s pointers to its importance in her twitter notes and public comments pre and post publication (for a review of all that, go here, here, and here). White horses are also a theme of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, the play from which every chapter epitaph is taken and which play’s events and meaning the story in Lethal White parallels in significant ways.

If that weren’t enough, Robin and Cormoran even talk about the pale horse versus the white horse in Lethal White. While referencing the Ibsen play obliquely (the actor playing the Cormoran part may have had it on his mind…), we get the direct link to the last book of canonical Christian scripture, albeit with the usual layman error in its name, on the drive back to London after the group interview at Chiswell House (chapter 44, p 378):

“White horses,” [Cormoran] said. “Isn’t there a play where white horses appear as a death omen?”

“I don’t know said Robin, changing gear. “Death rides a white horse in Revelations (sic), though.”

“A pale horse, Strike corrected her, winding down the window so that he could smoke again.

“Pedant.”

“Says the woman who won’t call a brown horse ‘brown,'” said Strike.

Join me after the jump for the three reasons any serious reader of J. K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith will be delighted by reading Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse! [Read more…]

Laugh out Loud with Reading, Writing, Rowling Episode 26: Harry Potter and Humor

What do “Gran’s on the run,” Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans and the Rotfang conspiracy have in common?  They are all among the funniest elements highlighted by the podcasters of Reading Writing, Rowling. This is the show I have wanted to do for years.  Best of all, it’s only the first of two parts, so more to come!

Join me, Katy McDaniel, Emily Strand and Caitlin Harper for a discussion of how Rowling makes us laugh, and what the humor does for the Harry Potter series!