Rowling’s Outline of Order of the Phoenix: What Does It Really Tell Us?

Whenever I give a talk to a larger group about the ring composition structure of Rowling’s various works, inevitably someone asks about the piece of notebook paper Rowling has made public, a one-sheet snapshot of her chapter by chapter breakdown of what happens when in the various plot threads in Order of the Phoenix. If you haven’t seen it, it looks like this:

That’s pretty hard to read, right? Fortunately the mavens at The Harry Potter Lexicon have created a transcription that is crystal clear legible on a page devoted to this outlineThey include the helpful information that the picture of this piece of paper was posted at Rowling’s original website with the explanatory note, ““Part of the umpteenth revision of the plan of ‘Order of the Phoenix’… Some of the Chapter Names changed and there are a few ideas that didn’t make the final draft.”

C. S. Plocher of The FriendlyEditor.com and WriteLikeRowling.com has taken this transcription-to-legibility process one step further. Check out her fascinating ‘How Rowling Revised Order of the Phoenix post in which she not only shares her transcription of the page Rowling had put up but her color coded guide to what of this plan survived, what changed, and what never made it to Phoenix.

Wild! That is some invaluable grunt work and follow-through for which every serious reader of Harry Potter should be grateful. I certainly am.

But what does it tell us about Rowling as a ring writer? Three things (at least).

(1) It’s obviously true that she works from a plan. This is not the work of a ‘pantser’ that lets her characters tell their story as she writes.

(2) There are no chapter correspondences noted on the page, i.e., it is not a confirmation of Rowling as ring writer. The chapters included on this one sheet, 16 to 29, include the story center (19), and the parallel chapters fore and aft (16-17 with 22-23, 18 and 21, and 19 to 20; see Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cyclepp 79-82, 142-143), so, if this was Rowling’s principal concern as a writer, you’d expect there to be some lines or notes making these connections.

(3) That being said, I think the chiastic phrase “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” is appropriate here. There are no notes about the alchemical structure of the work here, of the Christian content, or of literary allusion and her intratextuality, that is, references to correspondences with Philosopher’s Stone and with Prisoner of Azkaban. But all those things are embedded and make up the less-visible structure and scaffolding both of the book itself and the series of which it is a part.

My conclusion? It’s a fun chart and Rowling historians in future years, especially if they gain access to more of her drafts and outlines, will no doubt make a lot of it, even more than C. S. Plocher has. But the plot outline and sequencing, a kind of check-list preliminary for the story to make sure everything proceeds without a major glitch (as happened in the writing of Goblet) tells us very little about the writer’s formalist and iconological artistry which are under-the-hood, beneath the story-line.

That is Rowling’s greater achievement and to suggest that her tweeking and editing this graph paper is what makes her great is, I think, no little error, however important editing and time-line organization certainly are.

Your thoughts?

Lethal White: Missing Page Mystery (2)

Way back in October, 2018, soon after the release of Lethal White, I noticed an oddity in the structure of the fourth Cormoran Strike novel (see Lethal White: The Missing Page Mystery‘). There is a page marking the beginning of the second part of the book when the investigation of the dead government minister begins. It reads, ‘Part Two.’ The mysterious bit is that there is no page at the start of the book that reads ‘Part One.’ My thought was and remains that this ‘Part Two’ — and the beginning of ‘Part Two’ being a near exact parallel with the meeting of Cormoran Strike with John Bristow in Cuckoo’s Calling — is a marker of the second half of the series, a seven book series having its natural turn half-way through book four (as Goblet of Fire does in ‘The Hungarian Horntail’ chapter).

Beatrice Groves commented at the time:

I like it John! I think we’ll have to see if the paperback comes out with the Part 1 page (I’m sure that either this is a mistake or you’re right: no-one deliberately leaves off ‘part 1’ pages) before speculating further (do you know when that paperback is due?).

The paperback Lethal White came out in the UK on 18 April 2019, a good month before its publication in the US, and I asked friends in the UK to check to see if ‘Part One’ was included in the new edition. Beatrice Groves reports:

So I went to check for you and 

*drum roll*

there is still no part 1 page!

I didn’t do an extensive search, but did note that it still misattributes the 1900 Ibsen translation (by Robert Farquharson Sharp) to Robert Farquharson – so it doesn’t look like there has been much proof reading between hard and paper back.

So what? Well, I think we can assume that the Part One page was intentionally left out, that ‘Part Two’ refers simultaneously to the second part of the book and of the series, which suggests as we have suspected for some time but especially after all the echoes of Goblet of Fire and of Cuckoo’s Calling in Lethal White that we are looking at a second seven book series from Rowling (and one that parallels the first).

Thank you, Professor Groves, for the help here. It’s a small thing compared to the inter- and intratextual evidence we’ve done but this marker is an important piece of evidence in itself, a confirmation of sorts for the greater findings.

‘Full Circle’ Thoughts on the Narniad: LWW’s Ring Composition and Alchemy

I gave a series of seven talks at Oklahoma City’s Full Circle Bookstore on the subject of the artistry and meaning of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Recordings are available as an ‘extra’ to anyone signing up for my Wizard Reading Formula course online (about which, ‘stay tuned’). To the delight of my inner Gilderoy last night, I found a review of the first class that was written by a student taking a public speaking course at a local college.

If C. S. Lewis or talks by the Hogwarts Professor in person are of any interest to you, that evaluation of my class content and delivery are after the jump. Feel free to let me know what you think of this student’s judgment and of the content he describes!

[Read more…]

Ring Composition

Pillar Post Place Holder for Sidebar Listing

Lethal White: The Missing Page Mystery

I have started the process of charting Lethal White. This involves taping together large pieces of paper, drawing a line with a ruler and dividing that line into 71 segments for the 69 chapters, prologue and epilogue, and then re-reading the book and making notes on the chart with respect to the time, place, characters, events, and noteable signs, symbols, or stray thoughts I find meaningful. The reading is done first chapter, last chapter, possible middle, and then forward and backward to spot any possible ring echoing. When I’m done, I’ll have an oversized atlas page from which to work on topics like links to Goblet of Fire and Cuckoo’s Calling, the structure of the book, and thematic elements like those touched on in yesterday’s post. Not to mention the thought that struck me on my fifth time through Robert Glennister’s audiobook recording of Lethal White, namely that Della White is a stand-in of sorts for Hillary Clinton.

Before I begin this labor of charting love, I wanted to share with you a mystery I discovered while comparing the superficial structure of Strike4 with that of the three previous books.

Cuckoo’s Calling has five parts bracketed by a prologue and epilogue. The Silkworm and Career of Evil are both straight up chapter books, no ‘Parts,’ no bracketing at beginning and end. Mark that down as another Cuckoo and Lethal White correspondence.

The mystery is in the two parts of Lethal White. ‘Part Two’ is given its own page between the end of chapter 35 and the beginning of chapter 36 (page 287 in the edition I have). I checked to see which of the two parts is longer (part two by almost sixty pages if you’re interested). I wasn’t sure if the page for ‘Part One’ was included in the pagination so flipped to the book’s beginning to see if it was before the prologue or chapter one and how it was numbered.

In my copy of Lethal White at least, there is no page set apart for ‘Part One.’ Cuckoo’s Calling does have a separate ‘Part One’ page after its prologue and its ‘Three Months Later’ page, and before its chapter one frontispiece and epigraph.

There are three credible solutions to The Mystery of the Missing Page: [Read more…]