The Three Fates Meet The Weird Sisters: Cormoran Strike, Harry Potter, and the Question of Fate, Free Will, and Choice

On 7 July, I thought to check J. K. Rowling’s twitter feed to see if she had posted anything about the anniversary of the 7/7 terrorist bombings that hit London in 2005. Though the 52 deaths and 784 injuries caused by four suicide bombers on 7/7 is recalled in the UK something like 9/11 is by Americans, she did not tweet or re-tweet any of the many articles and messages about the event online.

I was struck while at her page, however, by the header, that is, the picture she has placed across the top of her Twitter page. I do not keep up with these things but the header picture had changed from the last time I dropped in. The current Rowling Twitter Header is a marble relief sculpture by Johann Gottfried Schaddow on the tomb of Prince Alexander von Mark in Berlin called ‘The Three Morai’ or just ‘The Three Fates’ (picture above). 

The only reason Rowling readers should care about such things — why I write this blog post — is something she shared in January 2017 about a previous header: “It’s hard to find a header that sums up everything I’m working on at the moment, but this painting comes close! It’s by Harmen Steenwyck.”

The faculty here at HogwartsProfessor spent some time back then discussing that painting, ‘Allegory of the Vanities,’ amongst ourselves about what it might mean in terms of Lethal White, the Cormoran Strike mystery we’re waiting on and the work we assumed The Presence was working on then. We came up with little more than ‘remember death.’ Which given the first word of the Lethal White title and it being a murder mystery, did not seem to warrant a post. I’ll return to that in a moment after noting that Rowling was then working on two novels, one a Strike mystery as Robert Galbraith, the other of unknown subject matter as J. K. Rowling.

The reason to take a moment to reflect on Rowling’s choice of Twitter Headers is if what was true of ‘Allegory of the Vanities’ continues to be true, i.e., that she is showing us a picture of what her current work is about. That conditional clause does not seem a great leap to me.

What makes her choice of the ‘Three Fates’ mortuary relief that much more interesting in this regard is that Rowling has had a Twitter Header with the Three Fates as her Twitter Header at least once before, probably twice. The certain one is a 16th century Flemish tapestry called ‘The Triumph of Death’ or ‘The Three Fates.’

It hangs in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. We’re told at the page dedicated to the tapestry on the museum’s website that:  [Read more…]

Cursed Child Comments From a Theater Junkie.

95875-300x211-Comedy_tragedyLive theater is absolutely my favorite form of entertainment. Most years, I get season tickets to the Mary Baldwin theater and I try to see at least a few shows a year at the American Shakespeare Center or ShenanArts. When my husband asked me how I wanted to celebrate my upcoming 50th birthday, I immediately said, “I want to go to New York City and see some Broadway shows.”  He just texted me that we have tickets for Wicked and Fiddler on the Roof.

I also love reading plays. It was always one of my favorite parts of English class, because we would often read the entire play aloud in class, with different students taking different parts. I remember Romeo and Juliet and The Glass Menagerie in 8th grade, and Julius Caesar and A Doll’s House in 9th:  the teacher particularly liked my interpretation of Krogstad.  As I got older, acting was one of my major extracurriculars.  I played such roles as Ruth in Blithe Spirit, Marilla in Anne of Green Gables and Mrs. Sowerberry in Oliver!

CCSo, am I looking forward to the publication of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? Merlin’s beard, yes!  If I were wealthy enough to hop on a plane to London and see the shows I would already have done so.  I can’t avoid spoilers until the play comes to Broadway (maybe as soon as next season?) so reading is the next best thing.  I don’t care so much about whether the story is the “8th book” or not. I don’t care if there are some changes from the cannon of the book, which there certainly will be.  I confess to being vaguely curious to see if young Scorpius Malfoy has a henchman, and if so, is his last name Goyle (book-cannon) or Crabbe (movie-cannon). What I am most looking forward to see seeing the wizarding world in a different medium. [Read more…]

Guest Post: On Harry and Hamlet

One of the frustrating things about writing a weblog is that, as often as not, the things I think are brilliant get little feedback or response (cough-Dante-cough) and filler-posts about a Potter movie star’s alchemical aside fuel exciting discussion from all quarters. The reward, of course, is when a reader catches hold of an idea and takes it in a direction I hadn’t thought of and takes it to some altitude as well.

That happened this morning when I received the following comment from Tinuvielas in Germany in response to my post on literary influence, Austen, Shakespeare, and Rowling, a post that very few others thought worthy of comment. Needless to say, the shared insights were a double delight for me. I hope you enjoy them even half as much as I did — and that you’ll respond to the invitation for comment and correction at post’s end. Thank you, Tinuvielas!

Hi John,

Thanks a lot for that truly great post, including the fantastic Leavis-quote. Your comments are always inspirational… and [in response] to Arabella Figg’s [question]: There actually is a course (by Monica Arellano-Espizia, entitled “similarities between Harry Potter and Hamlet”), that tries to do just what you said, “use the series as an introduction (…) to read Shakespeare”. Only, it’s not high-school-level, but fourth-grade…

As to how Shakespeare influenced JKR, in addition to the Macbeth-stuff above, there’s another, perhaps less obvious point, i.e. the similarities between those international superstars of the literary universum, Harry and Hamlet. There’s quite a list of them, actually (and not only the fact that both names begin with an “H”…): [Read more…]

Why Call the Encyclopedia “The Scottish Book”?

We are going through my Deathly Hallows Lectures again for the official version that will be available next month. My partner and editor at Zossima Press asked me why I referred to the Harry Potter Silmarillion that Ms. Rowling is writing as “the Scottish book.” The shorter answer is “because that’s what Ms. Rowling called it” and “it’s a joke about MacBeth being called ‘The Scottish Play’.” The longer answer gets into Ms. Rowling’s life as a Scot, the agonized history of her back-story Encyclopedia, and her references to Shakespeare in interviews and the books. [Read more…]

On Literary Influence: How Austen and Shakespeare Affect Rowling — and Vice Versa

Travis Prinzi, brother Potter blogger and fellow Zossima Press author, sent me an email two weeks ago about a Russian professor who believes that the best way to understand Voldemort is an echo of Dostoevsky’s character Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment. He posted on the subject at Hog’s Head — a Pub for Potter and the conversation on the resulting thread was very good. The speculation that Severus was the real Raskolnikovian echo I thought was especially intriguing.

My thoughts about this went in a different direction, so, rather than hijack Travis’ post, I add my two thoughts here, namely, (1) that this kind of comparison confirms the theory that Ms. Rowling’s books will prove to be a gateway to English and World literature and (2) in a post-Deathly Hallows landscape where Harry Potter is the shared text, we will come to understand other books and the tradition as a whole through her books, like it or not. Literary influence is not a one way street, oddly enough, but sometimes works ‘present to past’ as well. [Read more…]