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…]

Guest Post: Is ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ the Prophecy of the Cormoran Strike Series? Strike5 and Treasure Island

Whodunit?: Some Thoughts on the Strike Finale by Chris Calderon

While predicting the future of a popular book series is something I’ll probably never be entirely comfortable with, the fact is I’ve got a rough idea of what could be in store for some of the main characters of J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike Mysteries. It all boils down to two ideas which, taken together, could form the briefest potential outline for the over-arching meta-narrative of the series: Who Killed Leda Strike? The rubric for this narrative involves echoes of one specific work from the Literary Canon. A good overall descriptor label for it might be:

The Treasure Island Scenario

The two ideas that make up this prediction go as follows.

(1) The solution to the mystery of Leda’s death could revolve around one giant, three part hunt for a definitive clue that will reveal all of the guilty parties and all potential motives. The nature of this Clue Treasure Hunt could be confined to just Books 6 and 7 or else it could always start with Strike 5 depending on how the author decides to move forward with her meta-narrative.

(2) This hunt for the vital clue would essentially make the final triad in the Strike series a literary riff or parody of R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island. This is what the basic outline of one possibility for the next three books amounts to. Strike and Robin might uncover a piece of information, possibly through one of Shanker’s contacts, that Leda left behind some very incriminating evidence that would throw open all the answers to her death. From there, “Mystic Bob” and His Gal Friday would be off on a hunt for the location of the major stash of hidden evidence along with hoping to uncover any reliable information as to its whereabouts.

Is Treasure Island a stretch for Rowling to use as her model? That book is a ring composition, as is the author’s Kidnapped, Rowling lives in Edinburgh, a city which lionizes its Stevenson legacy everywhere, and he is best known for his children’s books as is Rowling.

The Nature of Leda’s Clue

I have a very specific idea of what kind of clue would make sense on both a surface and thematic level that would help tie in Strike’s narrative with that of Harry’s. It all revolves around one of the inspirations Rowling has pointed to in the making of her books. It’s the hit single Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult. The reason why the song could serve as a useful series maguffin has to do with the nature and meaning of the song itself. [Read more…]

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 HogwartsProfessor.com 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…]