The Mysterious Rowling Twitter Anagram

I searched the internet recently for connections between Agatha Christie and J. K. Rowling lest I find at the end of a long road that someone has already traveled it and written the travelogue. I found this note at the bottom of a 2014 NPR page whose feature was about a lost Christie longbox:

A Possible Potter Puzzle: J.K. Rowling dipped a toe in Twitter on Monday, apparently just to stir things up. When anything Harry Potter is remotely involved, that’s not hard to do. After mentioning Sunday that she was working on a novel and editing a screenplay, she responded to fans’ excited guesses at the novel’s topic, tweeting, “See, now I’m tempted to post a riddle or an anagram.” Hours afterward came this little riddle:

Answers to the riddle have as yet proved inconclusive.

Rowling was outed as the writer behind ‘Robert Galbraith’ in July 2013. In September 2013 Warner Brothers had announced that Rowling was writing a screenplay for Fantastic Beasts. Why in October 2014 were the guesses about this supposed anagram on her Twitter feed not about Cormoran Strike and Newt Scamander?

More to the point, can anyone find Newt’s and Cormoran’s full names in this tweet along with a message?

If you pull out the letters for ‘Cormoran Strike mystery,’ you’re left with a-a-a-a-d-e-e-e-f-f-h-l-n-n-n-n-n-o-o-o-t-t-u-w-w-w-w-y. Spelling ‘Newt Scamander story’ leaves a-a-a-e-e-e-f-f-h-i-k-l-m-n-n-n-n-o-o-o-o-r-r-s-t-u-w-w-y-y.

There is only one ‘c’ so ‘Cormoran’ and ‘Career of Evil’ together is not possible. There aren’t any ‘b’s so ‘Robin,’ Fantastic Beasts, and Albus Dumbeldore are out. The solo ‘c’ also precludes ‘Scamander’ and ‘Jacob.’ The solo ‘k’ means ‘Kowalski’ is a non-starter. ‘Tina’ works but the absence of a ‘g’ or a ‘q’ means ‘Queenie’ and ‘Goldstein’ won’t work, not to mention ‘Gellert’ or ‘Grindelwald.’

It’s supposed to be about the novel’s topic, though, right? So forget Warner Brothers; we’re talking Career of Evil.

Working with the remainders from ‘Cormoran Strike mystery, ‘Leda’ works as does ‘death’ but not both. Jonny Rokeby is impossible (and he no-shows Career). Shanker, Whittaker, Laing, Brockbank, Digger Malley – all fail.

Love to hear your ideas!

‘Alchemical Gardens & Fantastic Beasts’

Brady Pendelton has posted a hermetic interpretation of J. K. Rowling’s first two Fantastic Beasts screenplays,Alchemical Gardens and Fantastic Beasts.He spends most of the essay discussing traditional English literature’s alchemical stream with special attention on the meaning of Garden imagery and symbolism. Almost all of that was new to me and it proved a delightful challenge.

When he gets to the discussion of Fantastic Beasts, the text becomes challenging in a different way and I found it difficult to follow his argument or to see the connections he does between alchemy and the transformations taking place in the first two films. Even in my hurried reading, though, I couldn’t fail to be impressed by some of Mr Pendelton’s points, especially those about Jacob Kowalski, whose last name, it turns out, means ‘Smith.’ You don’t get much more metallurgical than that and even in the first movie the changes he goes through are remarkable.

Are there problems with the essay? Sure. I found one distracting mistake, for instance, the assertion that Newt “asks Jacob” to be obliviated at the end of Beasts. There may be more missteps I missed. I enjoyed his discussion of Marvell and the aside about ‘The Hanged Man.’ Your mileage may vary; it’s pretty esoteric stuff and the argument is not conventionally discursive. I wish, too, there had been a lot more on the screenplays and its alchemical content, especially Crimes of Grindelwald. He doesn’t mention the couples as representatives of the four elements, Dumbledore and Grindelwald as the Quarreling Couple of Mercury and Sulphur, or Nicolas Flamel.

Those problems aside, though, it’s a serious bit of writing about literary alchemy and Rowling’s latest Wizarding World writing adventure. GiveAlchemical Gardens and Fantastic Beasts the time it and the subject merits — and then let me know what you think of it in the comment boxes below!

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.

Ezra Miller: Life Imitating Art?

Ezra Miller is an interesting character — and I use that ch-word deliberately. His life seems a studied piece of improvisation, a staged and predictable performance in conventional, perpetual non-conformity. His sexual polyamorism and adventurism, his strident identification with and defense of anyone and everyone oppressed (except Christians, of course; “Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world and it’s accelerating,” USCIRF Report, 2019), and his attention-demanding choice of clothing make him something of a historical glyph or cartoon capturing the Zeitgeist. I rather like watching the ‘Ezra Miller Show’ as it plays out, even if the series currently seems caught in a loop of re-run spontaneity; I enjoy his having been cast as the loner Credence Barebone, lost and confused about who he is and the meaning of his life as much as anyone. He plays the part really well.

Lately, though, I have been worried about Boy Wonder Ezra. He may have over-played the ‘bad boy’ hand, the guy who knows-better than the experts, with Warner Brothers, the movie studio responsible for the DC super-hero movies (as well as, y’know, the Wizarding World).

On 17 March, it was reported that Miller was disappointed with the script for The Flash film in which he plays the lead role. DC wanted a relatively light and engaging film like its recent successes with Wonder Woman and Aquaman; Miller thought they needed a more profound and challenging story — and said he would be writing the script?  [Read more…]

Whom Should We Blame for ‘Crimes’?

Another missive in my email inbox:

Mr. Granger,

I know you do not particularly care for the HP movies and frankly I don’t like most of them as adaptations myself. Just a thought, maybe fans have been going about this all wrong when placing blame at the feet of Yates. I was guilty of this also in the past. I now believe the fault lies with Heyman and WB. They are the true “bosses” of the entire film production. They are the “money men” as it were. 

As soft spoken, thoughtful and humble as Heyman seems when interviewed, he is ultimately who approves of the dailies. As much as he professes to adore Rowling’s stories, it is he who allows Yates the freedom to audible out of canon and change the plot (dumb it down) such as he did in HBP with the “setting the burrow on fire” scene. 

It is such a shame, as someone whose company specializes in adapting books to film, that Heyman doesn’t have the guts to let the canon stand on its own. It is such a shame he doesn’t feel audiences are intelligent enough to follow the canon in a film version. Maybe he should finally have the wherewithall to follow Rowling’s FB scripts instead of fiddling with them. 



Three quick thoughts on this, Matthew:

(1) You’re right that, of the two Davids, director David Yates and producer David Heyman, I tend to focus on the director as the bad guy who films the agreed on ‘shooting script’ and then cuts it into the prescribed formula of the studio. This is a mistaken application of Auteur Theory, the convention of laying praise and blame for a film on the director rather than anyone else; this theory is only truly applicable if the director is acting relatively independently. You’re right to note that Yates’ hands are tied and guided by the studio bean counters so, as much as there is blame for the final product of Crimes of Grindelwald, it falls as much on the other David, producer Heyman, as on director Yates.

(2) It’s probably best to think of the two Davids as the right and left hands of Warner Brothers, though, rather than assigning more responsibility to Heyman than to Yates. Each of them is a studio mechanic rather than free-wheeling artist; both answer to the studio chiefs who answer to stock holders looking for the greatest possible return on investment. The money required to put together and to market these extravaganzas means the age of auteur directors who create films largely unsupervised is long gone.

(3) My biggest mistake is not the proportion of blame that I routinely assign here for the train wreck of the Fantastic Beasts films. [Warner Brothers took what Rowling offered when she said she would write the screenplays and that hasn’t worked out as hoped; I doubt she is interested in returning to the franchise winning formula of novel-first-then-film-adaptation but that is the go-with-your-strengths and division-of-labor solution to the problem.] Where I go way wrong here is the absence of charity I exercise in criticizing Yates and Heyman for something over which they really have no control, i.e., studio film length requirements that allow so many screenings per day at the cine-plex, without mentioning all they do very well. Each of their remarkable skills and their team work as a pair with respect to team building, shot selection, budgeting, lighting, actor coaching, musical score inlay, as well as scene and film editing contribute to the final product and magical experience in the theaters.

I almost always neglect to mention the semi-miracle of technical artistry brought to these films, however incoherent the story may be due to inevitable and unfortunate scene deletions, and that is a function of my ignorance with respect to films and what makes them work beyond the screenplays. My apologies both to the two Davids and to you readers for that omission and a tip of my hat to them, non-fan that I remain, for the visually stunning and fun movies they have made.