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: Solving the Horcrux Mystery

I get a lot of mail. Most of it is questions or requests for my thoughts. A few e-letters, though, offer theories about Rowling’s writing that only close reading reveals. These can be risible parallels with passages from the minor prophets in the Old Testament (I kid you not). They can also be, as this post below certainly is, a look at a subject I thought I knew well but about which I had missed a great deal. I begged the author, a friend in Australia, to let me share her thoughts with you as a Guest Post and she has given me her permission. Enjoy this exploration of what Dumbledore knew about the Horcruxes and when he knew it towards a better understanding of the Headmaster’s character!

Solving the Horcrux Mystery   Emma Nicholson

When James and Lily Potter died, Dumbledore was certain that Voldemort would return – he knew Tom Riddle made himself immortal.

What remains a mystery is when Dumbledore realised Voldemort had plans for immortality, when he knew the plan was based on Horcruxes, and when he realised Harry was the final Horcrux.

JK Rowling gave us seven very clear mysteries in each book, mostly stated right in the title, and many more expressed mysteries that span the series, like “Who is Snape really working for?”

However, there are “unexpressed mysteries” left to discover. These aren’t directly addressed in the book, but are left for the fan to ponder. By cleverly mixing up the order of events, JKR disguises the trail of clues.

Luckily for us, when it comes to Dumbledore, Rowling left a key to deciphering her ‘Riddle’.

“The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution. However, I shall answer your questions unless I have a very good reason not to, in which case I beg you’ll forgive me.

I shall not, of course, lie.”

Dumbledore may keep secrets, but he doesn’t lie to Harry (except about woollen socks).

So let’s look at when Dumbledore figured out Voldemort’s plan, in the order of time when they occur. Then we might see why it matters so very much to our understanding of Dumbledore as a character.


This all started when Riddle was still Riddle at Hogwarts…. This is what we know happened in order of events: [Read more…]

Guest Post: ‘Serious’ Punning in ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’

Serious Punning in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

By David Martin

We all know that J. K. Rowling is fond of puns.  In his book Repotting Harry Potter, James Thomas suggests that in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban J. K. Rowling uses the words “serious” and “seriously” often when the mysterious prisoner – Sirius Black – is, in some sense, looming in the background of the discussion.  For example, when Professor McGonagall finally returns Harry’s Firebolt broom to him – the broom that we learn later was given to Harry by Sirius Black as a Christmas present but then confiscated to be checked for possible curses – the exchange is as follows:

Harry’s jaw dropped. (Professor McGonagall) was holding out his Firebolt, and it looked as magnificent as ever.

“I can have it back?” Harry said weakly. “Seriously?”

“Seriously,” said Professor McGonagall, and she was actually smiling. “I daresay you’ll need to get the feel of it before Saturday’s match, won’t you? And Potter — do try and win, won’t you?

(Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, page 248)

I decided to look into this idea from another perspective: statistics.  I’m a computer guy and so I was able to work some computer magic and come up with the following numbers:


Harry Potter and the

Sorcerer’s Stone 77,726 6 0.77
Chamber of Secrets 85,692 12 1.40
Prisoner of Azkaban 107,314 27 2.52
Goblet of Fire 192,499 38 1.97
Order of the Phoenix 259,296 48 1.85
Half-Blood Prince 169,896 28 1.65
Deathly Hallows 200,077 18 0.90

So, at 2.52 instances of “serious” or “seriously” per 10,000 words of text, Prisoner of Azkaban is significantly ahead of the other books in its usage of those words.  Further, when we look at the instances of “serious” or “seriously” in the book, it’s clear that Sirius Black is lurking nearby.  Congratulations to James Thomas for spotting this.  I never would have seen it.

I also find it interesting that the LAST usage of the word “serious” or “seriously” is on page 377 as they’re about to leave the Shrieking Shack (emphasis added):

“What about Professor Snape?” said Hermione in a small voice, looking down at Snape’s prone figure.

“There’s nothing seriously wrong with him,” said Lupin, bending over Snape and checking his pulse. “You were just a little — overenthusiastic. Still out cold. Er — perhaps it will be best if we don’t revive him until we’re safely back in the castle. We can take him like this…”

There is nothing “seriously” wrong with Snape because, of course, it wasn’t Sirius that attacked him.  It was Harry, Hermione, and Ron.  There are another three chapters and 56 pages (about one eighth of the book) remaining until the end of the book, but apparently after that final pun, and once the truth about Sirius Black has become known, there’s no need for (or fun in) that pun any 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:
  • 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…]

Guest Post: Crimes of Grindelwald, Locks of Love, and Nicolas Flamel

A Guest Post from Oxford’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potterabout the lock with Nicolas Flamel’s initials that can be found on the Crimes of Grindelwald screenplay cover. Enjoy!

When MinaLima’s new cover art for The Crimes of Grindelwald dropped on Pottermore at the end of May, the write-up stressed the Parisian nature of its design.

Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima spoke to Pottermore about the creative process behind the heavily detailed cover, and how important it was to portray France in their designs.

‘The Art Nouveau aesthetic is so strong in this film… So while there are Easter eggs and hidden gems in here, they’re all knitted in with these swirls and flourishes that really follow that traditional aesthetic.[1]

Paris is going to be an important setting for Crimes of Grindelwald – and the Eiffel Tower (central to the cover design) has been shown on a postcard in a previous photo drop. But I was interested how strongly Paris was stressed in the Pottermore write-up of the cover given that other than the Eiffel Tower and general Art Nouveau aesthetic, there is nothing else obviously Parisian about it. So, is there a Parisian Easter egg perhaps?

            Five objects stand out as breaking the symmetry of the image – the Dark Mark-style skull at the top, the quill-knot-lock above the title, and the trio of a pendant, a stone in a display case and a ‘NF’ locket below it. Let’s take a look at that stone and locket for a possible Paris connection.

[Read more…]