Guest Post: Lethal White and Dorothy Sayers? Rowling, Rankin, and James

This is less a ‘Guest Post’ per se than my comments on a note from ChrisC, a long time reader and frequent post-er at this site. He makes the suggestion that ethal White, the fourth Cormoran Strike mystery, may echo in some ways a novel by one of Rowling’s favorite writers, Dorothy Sayers. First his note than my three observations in haste:

I have two questions regarding Ms. Rowling’s upcoming 4th Strike mystery.

For my purposes, what can be known boils down to a few simple points:

  • “We know…that (JKR) has sketched the story of an office drama in which Robin goes undercover as the Personal Assistant to the CEO of a company (web)”.
  • She has recently released a twitter statement saying she has finished Book 4.  What’s notable about this tweet (aside from the notable lack of a release date) is the photo that comes with the tweet.  The photo is a file saver stick in the shape of a white horse.  The photo and tweet can be seen here.

With all this in mind, my question boils down to whether or not Ms. Rowling is drawing inspiration (as distinguished from influence) from one of the mystery writers of the past.  Specifically, I wonder if part of the inspiration for Lethal White might be Dorothy L. Sayer’s 1933 detective novel, Murder Must Advertise.  In that book, Lord Peter Wimsey does the unthinkable for a member of the upper classes, and gets an actual paying job in an advertising firm (under the pseudonym of Death Bredon, no less).

He’s there to solve a murder of course, and other critics have noted that Sayers drew on her own personal experience as an ad employee to give a good satire of office politics, and how advertising can take advantage of the working and middle classes.  There is even a sequence where Lord Peterbilt attends an office costume party in the guise of a harlequin.  One perceptive reader had some interesting thoughts about the symbolism of the harlequin, to the point where I do have to wonder if the harlequin might be a type of the figure of Hermes.

However, what makes me believe in at least the possibility that Lethal White could draw some of its plot elements from Murder Must Advertise comes down to just three points.

  • Both novels feature a detective figure going undercover in an office space business in order to solve a crime.
  • There is a discrepancy between the gender and identity of the private eye in each book.  Wimsey is obviously not Robin.  In fact, the closest analogue to Robin Ellacott in Sayer’s novels is Harriet Vane, a character notable by her total absence in MMA, except for a passing mention by Wimsey that he has a date with Harriet, and even then, her name is never mentioned.
  • I wonder if this complete absence of Harriet in the 8th Wimsey novel might have acted as a spur to Rowling by giving her the idea to switch the situation around so that this time, Harriet (i.e. Robin) gets a chance to shine in the spotlight for once.

So, there’s my thoughts on the matter.  What do you think?  My own belief is that it’s at least one avenue of consideration that can at least be kept open as a possibility until such time as her release of LW either confirms or puts such ideas out to pasture.

Here are my three thoughts on this possibility after the reveations of the book blurb and further reading in Rowling’s possibe source materials for her Cormoran Strike novels: [Read more…]

Guest Post: Rowling’s Mercurial Hermetic Artistry from Snape to Strike

Late last month, a reader wrote a note on an old thread about the role of Severus Snape in the alchemical artistry of Harry Potter. “Hi, I don’t know if this question has been asked before, but in HP, which alchemical (or else) role embodies Severus Snape ?” More than ten years ago, I wrote a longish post on this subject, a post that aimed to refute the idea that Snape was the ‘Green Lion’ of the Great Work.

I have been corresponding with Evan Willis, though, since 2015 on this very subject and his work is the best by far I have read on the subject of Snape and alchemy. He has recently expanded his critique to include Cormoran Strike and what we might expect in Lethal White along the mythological, Orestian, and alchemical lines Rowling/Galbraith seems to be writing. His command of the classical and achemical strands is mind boggling, which integration makes his writing important, dense, and a lot of fun; speculative, insightful, and rich with meaning, I’m confident that you will find as I have that this piece rewards a close reading (and a second and third reading, too). Enjoy!

Dark Gods Beneath the Earth: Hermetic Plot Elements in the Cormoran Strike Series

Evan Willis

I have divided this analysis into four sections.

  • In the first, I will attempt to build up an account of the character of Hermes and its place in the interpretation of texts, particularly ones like those of J.K. Rowling. Much in this section has already been covered in other blog posts on this blog, but here I condense it and present much of it outside of a strictly Alchemical context. Some elements are also derived from the account of Mercury to be found in Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia, particularly the chapter on The Horse and His Boy.
  • The second part traces, through analysis of the Deathly Hallows epigraph from The Libation Bearers of Aeschylus, the meaning of the Orestes myth and Hermes’s place in it (c.f. this blog’s previous interpretation: http://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/the-aeschylus-epigraph-in-deathly-hallows/).
  • The third part includes my application of the previous parts to the Cormoran Strike novels as I was able prior to the release of Career of Evil.
  • The fourth part includes my conclusions from what was revealed in Career of Evil, looking ahead to Lethal White and beyond.

[Read more…]

Lethal White Publication Date At Last

Coming on September 18… The official blurb-synopsis below points to the original Lethal White speculation here when the title was announced that it is about the equine genetic disease called by that name —

‘I seen a kid killed…. He strangled it, up by the horse.’

When Billy, a troubled young man, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.

Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott – once his assistant, now a partner in the agency – set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.

And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been – Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much more tricky than that.

There seem to be correspondences between Books 1 and 4 already in the story set-up. Please share your thoughts below!

A Cratylic Cormoran Strike Fan Theory: Is Robin Doomed? The Dobby Link

From the mailbag!

Dear John,

My name is Joseph A and I have been reading and enjoying your books thoroughly since I found The Hidden Key to Harry Potter way back in 2003. Your books have certainly given me a new set of eyes to scan J.K. Rowling’s text.

In light of J.K. Rowling’s apology for killing Dobby yesterday I want to share a concern that I have.

I was researching Robin’s surname Ellacott and came across this:

Ellacott is prominent in Devon, Cornwall, and Wiltshire, is of Anglo-Saxon and Cornish origin.This placename is composed of the Olde English pre 7th Century personal name “Ella”, a short form of various compound names with the first element “aelf”, elf, and the Olde English “cot, cote”, a cottage, shelter for animals. Read more. 

Is it reasonable to interpret Robin’s name as Elf House or House Elf?

In the Galbraith books Cornwall is referenced in connection to Cormoran (The Cornish Giant) and Robin through her surname. Cornwall is only is used once in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; Shell Cottage is located on the outskirts of Tinworth, Cornwall and is the final resting place of Dobby. What could this be pointing to?

In fear for Robin’s safety,
Joseph A

Great letter, Joseph! Three quick thoughts to jump start the conversation here: [Read more…]

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