Literary Allusion in ‘The Silkworm’ Oxford’s Beatrice Groves on Strike 2

Last week our friends in the UK were able to watch the Bronte Studios adaptation for BBC1 of Robert Galbraith’s Career of Evil. We Galbraith fans on this side of the Atlantic Ocean were not able to watch.

What we did receive were two posts by Beatrice Groves, Research Fellow and Lecturer at Trinity College, Oxford University, on the subject of literary allusions in the second Cormoran Strike novel, The Silkworm.

This is a boon and grace on several levels.

First, The Silkworm is, to this reader at least, the most important single novel Rowling has written, either as ‘Robert Galbraith’ or ‘J. K. Rowling,’ Jo Rowling Murray’s two pseudonyms. More obviously and pointedly than any of her previous novels, Silkworm is a novel about novels, novel writing, and the reading of novels. It is dense in self-referencing, the book inside the book having the same name as the book the reader is holding, and in notes about Jacobean Revenge Drama via dialogue and chapter epigraphs while the story being told is just this kind of play. It deserves a book long gloss about the allusions in it alone. 

Second, it being a work largely about intertextuality or texts within a text referrring to other texts, anything written about it should be done by someone familiar with the art of literary allusion. He or she should also be more than familiar with the work of J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter to Lethal White. And, given what we know of The Silkworm and its heavy pointers to Jacobean Revenge Drama, our expert should be an expert in Early Modern Drama, Shakespeare and Marlowe of course but the lesser lights as well.

Enter Beatrice Groves,

  • author of the paradigm shifting Literary Allusion in Harry Potter,
  • fluent in the details and trends and keys to everything J. K. Rowling, from the novels to the decades of interviews to the daily Twitter feed, and
  • published authority on Early Modern Drama, her primary research interest and class subject at Oxford.

I have a healthy imagination. I cannot imagine a better match of exegete and subject than Bea Groves and The Silkworm. And, as you’d expect, I am taking no risk in saying this because we have the proof of the prediction (before I have posted it!) in the two MuggleNet posts on The Silkworm which Prof Groves has written.

It’s a downer for many in the States not to be able to watch the Bronte Studios adaptation of Career of Evil for television (I guess). We have been more than compensated, I think, by the happy providence of the nearly simultaneous arrival of glosses on Rowling’s best almost-stand-alone novel to date, one focused on the play, work, and business of publishing, writing, and reading, her Silkworm.

Don’t miss this opportunity to read the observations and insights of the only Potter Pundit skilled in all things Rowling, literary allusion, and Early Modern Drama. If Bea Groves did not exist, she would have to have been invented for this work, available via these links below. Enjoy!

“Didst Thou Not Mark the Jest of the Silkworm?”: Literary Clues in “The Silkworm”

“Does the Silkworm Expend Her Yellow Labours/ For Thee?”: Literary Clues in “The Silkworm” – Part 2

Beatrice Groves on ‘Cuckoo’ Allusions, Censorship, and Live at LondonMoot

Four Notes for Beatrice Groves Fans out there! If you enjoyed Nagini Maledictus and ‘Fantastic Beasts,’ you’ll love these new posts —

(1) Oxford University Research Fellow and Lecturer in Renaissance Studies Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, has turned her significant learning and great love for Rowling’s work to the Galbraith murder mysteries. In two posts up now at, she explains the depths of the poems that bracket the action of The Cuckoo’s Calling, Rossetti’s A Dirge and Tennyson’s Ulysses.

In the first,Literary Allusion in The Cuckoo’s Calling: Christina Rossetti’s A Dirge,’ Prof Groves opens up the mysterious and relatively obscure Rossetti poem that serves as epigraph to the first Strike novel and perhaps to the whole series. If you were left scratching your head about the ‘Cuckoo’ part of that book and its relationship to the poem, prepare your mind for illumination!

In the second,Literary Allusion in The Cuckoo’s Calling: Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses,‘ she parses the closing reading from memory the peg-legged private eye makes to that poem and the meaning of ‘I am Become a Name.’ More after the jump —

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BBC Scotland: Harry Potter’s Edinburgh

The link to the BBC Scotland radio broadcast is here. You can listen anytime for three weeks before the BBC link dies. And it is a lot of fun.

The show is about how Edinburgh as the home of J. K. Rowling has become a pilgrimage point of sorts for Harry Potter true believers. I thought it was very well done — and I hope I’m not saying that because they interviewed me for the show as well as friend-of-this-blog, Oxford’s Beatrice Groves. She happens to be an authority on literary pilgrimages and the real thing, so her portion of the discussion makes the whole thing more than worth the time. (At the link, ‘Harry Potter’s Edinburgh’ begins just after 3:00 of news programming.) Enjoy!

And Happy New Year!

Beatrice Groves: ‘Nagini Maledictus’ Literary Allusion in Fantastic Beasts

A Guest Post from Beatrice Groves, Research Fellow at Trinity College, Oxford University, and author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter — Enjoy!

John has recently posted on the current fan theory that Claudia Kim’s character in Crimes of Grindelwald – ‘a Maledictus, the carrier of a blood curse that destines her ultimately to transform into a beast’ – will turn into Nagini. 

John notes that ‘the Nagini theory has legs,’ which is a rather satisfying pun. It is pun I particularly like because the serpent in Eden is ‘cursed’ (maledictus) to go without legs:

‘So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.’ (Genesis 3.14)

Or, in the Vulgate (Latin):

‘Et ait Dominus Deus ad serpentem : Quia fecisti hoc, maledictus es inter omnia animantia, et bestias terræ : super pectus tuum gradieris, et terram comedes cunctis diebus vitæ tuæ.’ 

If the Maledictus becomes Nagini it will continue the link between Voldemort and the Satanic snake of Genesis which Rowling began in Harry Potter [John says: see chapter 4 in Prof Groves’ Literary Allusion in Harry Potter]. In Christian visual heritage the Satan-inhabited-snake in Eden is – rather surprisingly – often depicted as half-woman. This rich medieval visual tradition flourished despite the fact that Satan is described by a male pronoun in the biblical text. It culminates in the famous image of Michelanglo’s Satan-as-snake-woman on the roof of the Sistine Chapel. 

Within Harry Potter there are many hints of Nagini as a snake-woman rather than simply a snake. Not only does she take the form of a woman in Deathly Hallows, she also has a disturbingly humanoid relationship with Voldemort from the moment we meet her in Goblet. She tells Voldemort that Frank is listening at the door of the Riddle House and while his not-to-be-named form resembles a baby – ‘the thing… looked like a baby’ (Goblet, Chap. 32) – Nagini keeps him alive with her ‘milk’ fed to him from a ‘bottle’ (Goblet, Chap. 1). Nagini takes the place of the mother to this parody of a child.

Then there is her name. Nagini is a name for Ma Manasa Devi, the Hindu snake goddess: [Read more…]