Literary Alchemy and the Mythic Context ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ Episode 25


From the MuggleNet podcast page:

In this episode, Katy and John do a deep dive into the symbolism and transformative power of J.K. Rowling’s work. First, John describes the concept of literary alchemy and how literature can effect an alchemical transformation on readers. Then, special guest Evan Willis (University of Dallas) explains how Renaissance alchemical symbolism intertwines with classical myth in Harry Potter and Cormoran Strike. From the Orestes myth to Castor and Pollux and Leda and the swan, we learn about the well of myths Rowling draws from in her literary creations. Willis particularly directs us to the importance of a Hermes/Mercury figure to serve as the invisible force behind the uniting of opposites. Who is this mysterious figure in Harry Potter and in the Strike books? Listen to find out the surprising answers!

Does literary alchemy work on us the same way when we’re watching films? We tackle this issue in light of the classical references in the Fantastic Beastsmovies. We also try to predict the next developments in Strike and Fantastic Beasts based on our understanding of the deep mythic context in both series. We’ll help you sort out the stories of Leta and Theseus, Dumbledore and Grindelwald, Cormoran and Robin, and Shanker and Rokeby and anticipate where they might be headed.

The ‘Lethal White’ Pillar Post

Readers and film goers come to for challenging discussion of popular literature and especially the novels of J. K. Rowling. There are Harry Potter fan sites which are much more popular than this one, but there are none that I know of that take Rowling and her work as seriously as we do or offer the insights about the artistry and meaning in play in the novels, screenplays, even the longer Twitter sequences she writes.

We may also be the only website that offers extensive, in depth, and fun commentary on and speculation about Rowling’s Cormoran Strike mysteries. There’s so much good material in our archives, in fact, on each of the four books we have from Robert Galbraith that the Serious Striker needs a guide or catalog for easy reference.

Hence the Pillar Post project. If you look on the left sidebar of the HogwartsProfessor homepage, you’ll see a list there of subject categories beneath which links are hiding a panoply of posts within that category. All the Strike novels’ Pillar Post listings, for example, are to be found by clicking on INDIVIDUAL ROWLING WORKS, posts about literary alchemy and ring composition are under KEYS FOR INTERPRETATION, and Hunger Games, Twilight, and Divergent discussion in AUTHORS NOT J.K. ROWLING.

I’ve really only just started this cataloging work; forgive me if the Pillar Post you want or need isn’t done yet. The ‘Literary Alchemy’ pillar only has urls sorted into categories, but The Hunger Games collection is done (just in time for discussion about the prequel) and, as of late last night, the Lethal White set is finished as well. (I shouldn’t say the Pillar Posts are “done” or “finished” because they will need to be updated, but the first gathering and cataloging is ‘up.’)

If I say so myself, the Lethal White Pillar Post is the equivalent of a very, very good published guidebook to the fourth Cormoran Strike novel. There are more than eighty entries that cover subjects as varied as the Cratylic names, literary alchemy and mythic context, and the novel’s ring composition, not to mention discussion of the science in the book, the historical Rattenbury for whom the mad terrier is named (Peeves!), and the literary allusions and influences (Rosmersholm!).

It has writing from Louise Freeman, Beatrice Groves, Joanne Gray, M. Evan Willis, Elizabeth Baird-Hardy, and others as well as myself, and frankly, it doesn’t get better than that crowd of Serious Strikers.

Did I mention the echoes of Goblet of Fire and Cuckoo’s Calling in Lethal White? All the links to those posts are in one spot on this page, too.

Check it out if you have a moment — and, if you have two moments, let me know what you think by writing a note in the comment box below! Let me know, too, if you’d like to volunteer to help gather together the urls for one of these Pillar Posts yourself; I could sure use a hand in completing this project.

The Three Things about J. K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike Novels Every Harry Potter Fan Should Know

Rowling as Robert Galbraith is writing a playful, intertextual re-visiting of Harry’s adventures in the Hogwarts Saga inside the Cormoran Strike mysteries.

Why is Harry Potter fandom, a global population numbering in the hundreds of millions, so indifferent to the current series of detective novels written by J. K. Rowling?

It’s a mystery more puzzling than any of the murders solved by Holmes, Poirot, or Cormoran Strike. I’ve written about this before — see ‘Five Reasons Harry Potter fans are not Interested in Cormoran Strike — Yet’ — and many of the reasons offered in that post are still valid; the whole continued Galbraith pseudonym, for example, is not helping, right?

I haven’t written about this since the publication of Lethal White, however, and I think some facts about the series that the fourth book largely nailed down may interest the uber Potter-phile. Here, then, is my list of three things about the Cormoran Strike novels that might encourage the most hesitant Rowling-reader and Wizarding World fan to give them a try.

(1) The Cormoran Strike Series is a Seven Book Series, y’know, like Harry Potter:

In the news article run in the London Times that broke the story of Rowling writing under a pseudonym, a source at her publishers told the reporter that it was going to be a seven book series. Rowling and the publishers were as eager to deny this as they were to express their disappointment that her cover had been blown. Rowling went on to say in interviews that there would be a whole bunch of Strike novels, as many as fourteen (“twelve more” after the second one), that they weren’t really a series, and it was open-ended rather than a closed set like Harry’s adventures.

Rowling has since allowed in an interview about her BBC adaptations of the mysteries that the books are obviously a series. There may turn out to be more than seven. The four books we have, though, in their structure and relationship one to another, are almost certainly a seven book set that may or may not run on from there.

The evidence we have for that is based on Rowling’s structural near-fetish, namely, ring composition. A seven book series written in this fashion as we know from her Potter series and the story axis connecting Stone-Goblet-and Hallows, will have its story turn in book four with a bevy of parallel story points linking it with the first book. Lethal White has an overload of pointers to and echoes of Cuckoo’s Calling in it; see ‘Cuckoo’s Calling: 25+ Lethal White Finds’ andLethal White: Add Seven Cuckoo’s Echoes.’

If that weren’t sufficient evidence, Rowling/Galbraith inserts a page at the half-way point of Lethal White that reads ‘Part Two.’ That book, however, does not have a page in either its hard cover or paperback editions that says ‘Part One.’ As if to confirm that this is the second part of the series rather than just this novel, i.e., “we are half way through the seven books,” the story line in Letal White that begins in Part Two is a repetition of the opening chapters of Cuckoo’s Calling, i.e., Cormoran accepting a case from a berieved relation of the deceased who does not believe that the death was a suicide. See  Lethal White: The Missing Page Mystery‘ and ‘Lethal White: Missing Page Mystery 2’ for more on that.

Why should a Potter fan care if there are seven, nine, or a hundred Strike novels? Beyond the bizarre curiosity of the author of their favorite seven book series writing another seven book series? [Read more…]

‘Lethal White’ Wins CrimeFest Award

J. K. Rowling’s four Cormoran Strike novels, written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, have pretty much appeared under the radar at least relative to Potter Mania. They don’t win prizes, they don’t set records for copies sold per minute at each successive book release, and there have been no fan conventions or academic conferences dedicated to them. It is still a commonplace when speaking with Potter-philes, even Potter Pundits, to discover the person you are speaking with has not read the Strike novels even though the books are written by their “favorite author.”

I shouldn’t say they don’t win prizes, though, because three of the four books — and the first before Galbraith was outed as Rowling — have won awards for the audio-book versions as read by Robert Glenister. I’ve written about that before (see ‘Lethal White: The Robert Glenister Audiobook’) and my family’s enjoyment of these versions, exceeding I think our delight even in the Potter audiobooks, as good as those were.

I write about this today because CrimeFest, the annual gathering of crime fiction writers and readers in the UK, has awarded the Audible Sounds of Crime Award to Lethal White for best audiobook against competition including the venerable Ian Rankin (no small influence on the Strike books: Strike can be read as another John Rebus, a damaged veteran with relationship issues in Rankin’s novels, set free in London rather than Edinburgh), the preposterously popular Stephen King, and William Patterson writing with side-kick Bill Clinton. Glenister and Rowling have won the award for every Galbraith novel except Career of Evil, certainly the most, shall we say, challenging Strike book thus far.

If you haven’t downloaded or purchased the CD version of Glenister’s readings, I’ll go so far as to suggest you really haven’t enjoyed and appreciated Cormoran and Robin’s adventures as you might. It is a surprising, I confess, and delightful thing to see the experts and award-givers agree with me here.

Let me know what you think of the Glenister readings in the comment boxes below!

London Production of Rosmersholm (2): Starring Tom Burke (Cormoran Strike)

Back in February I reported in London Production of Rosmersholm: Starring Tom Burke (Cormoran Strike) the beyond-possibility-of-coincidence of the star of the adapted for teevee Strike would be playing the lead role in Ibsen’s Rosmersholm the year he plays Cormoran in the Bronte Studio’s version of Lethal White. As I wrote then:

Every chapter-heading epigraph in Robert Galbraith’s Lethal White is taken from Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm. As we have discussed hereit would be hard to overlook the importance Galbraith/Rowling attaches to this play about the haunted lives of people living in the wake of a woman’s suicide for which they were responsible. That longish post and the conversation that followed with Joanne Gray in its comment thread — Lethal White: Ibsen’s Rosmersholm — offered five reasons beyond the ‘white horses’ for Serious Strikers to study the play.

Joanne Gray wrote me today to share the news that there will be a new production of the Ibsen classic in London this summer. Tom Burke, the star of the Strike novel adaptations for the BBC, will be playing the lead role of John Rosmer. As Professor Gray noted, he will be on stage with Rosmersholm just before he returns to filming Lethal White, the only Strike novel not yet transformed into little screen fare.

I am very hopeful that our Serious Strike Fellowship in London will be attending and reporting on this version of Rosmersholm, how it preserves and how it revises Ibsen’s classic (FYI, Social Justice crusaders do not come off well in the original), and how Burke chooses to play Rosmer, especially with respect to his responsibility for the suicide of his wife. Will it be a clue about Strike’s reflections on his culpability in his mother Leda’s supposed suicide and his denial of responsibility?

Daniella at in the UK wrote me after spotting my post (who else in the US is writing about this Ibsen revival and begging UK friends to attend?). She urges those looking to buy tickets to check out the Duke of York Theatre’s seating plan to be sure they get the best seat tickets for their money.

As well as information about the show, it is essential for your users to be able to get comprehensive details of the seating of the 2019 London production. We host an interactive seating plan with user reviews and view from seat photos for the theatre here:

It is a remarkable web site; you click on a seat in the theater the way you would for making an online airplane seat reservation and up pops a picture of the stage taken from that seat with a review-of-the-view written by someone who sat there! Highly recommended — I would certainly be clicking like mad on seats all over this page before buying my Rosmersholm tickets and I hope very much all HogPro readers and Serious Strikers who will be in London this summer will buy tickets, watch the show, and let us know what you think of the production.