Five Reasons Harry Potter Fandom Isn’t Excited about Cormoran Strike — Yet

Kernel's Corner Fan Art

Kernel’s Corner Fan Art

Last week, ChrisC! wrote a guest post about the Cormoran Strike mysteries, in which reflection he shared his thoughts about several reasons that Harry Potter fans have not warmed to Rowling’s latest hero and series. He was criticized for not mentioning every reason; he responded that the issue had been discussed before, both at the website and on MuggleNet Academia.

Which is true, but not as true as we’d like! Links to MuggleNet Academia’s old home on MuggleNet are dead (go here to find the elusive ‘Cormoran Strike and the Invisibility Cloak’ discussion) and the HogwartsProfessor post I wrote on the subject was linked to CormoransArmy.com, a website no longer up and running. Fortunately, I have that piece in my vaults and was able to find it to share with you here.

It was written before Career of Evil was published, of course, but 4 1/2 of the 5 reasons are still valid. I’ve updated the fifth just a touch and included the comments left at Cormoran’s Army for your reading pleasure. Be sure to read Oona Eisenstadt’s five reasons at the end for why the series will NOT ever be popular with Potter-fans. Enjoy!

Burke 1When I have given talks at Harry Potter conferences the last two years about the artistry and meaning of the Hogwarts Saga, I see big crowds, great interest, real enthusiasm. When I speak about Jo Rowling’s new seven book series, the Cormoran Strike novels, the crowds are much smaller and the prevalent attitude is a mix of curiosity and something like confusion. “Wait — there’s a new series from my favorite author? Why isn’t anyone besides John talking about that?” (Not knowing, it seems, that Karen Kebarle is also on the case….)

Which raises the question: “Why so little enthusiasm in the Harry Potter fandom for the Cormoran Strike mysteries?” Here are five reasons from the top of my head; please let me know why you think in the comment boxes below.

Five Reasons Harry Potter Fandom Isn’t Excited about Cormoran Strike — Yet

(1) There’s No Controversy.

Harry Potter was selling very well in the UK and word of mouth was growing in the US before Prisoner of Azkaban was published in 1999. But there was no mania to speak of, no Midnight Madness parties at bookstores nationwide, no covers of important periodicals, no flood of online speculation about its possible contents as there were a year later before Goblet of Fire’s appearance. What happened?

Two things: Prisoner, about which more in a second, and the Potter Panic.

f4220454The Potter Panic which took off in earnest at the very end of the 20th Century was the hullaballoo about the sorcery in Harry Potter. In a nutshell, quite a few Christians, most notably Culture War watchdogs Richard Abanes and the like, used Harry’s magical adventures as a launchpad to score Culture War points with their flocks. Academics and Cultural Gatekeepers, odd bed-fellows with the critics among the various Christian camps, joined in to lament that books that were so poorly written had become so popular.

For the next five years, very few stories in American mainstream media about The Boy Who Lived did not include reference to or significant discussion of objections to the content or quality of Jo Rowling’s work. The controversy, in fact, created many and, for a long period, most of the public discussion of the series.

The controversy, in other words, created awareness of Harry Potter, which begat curiosity, which begat book purchases ‘to see for oneself,’ which begat a love for the series. There is no corresponding story-hook to create interest in Cormoran Strike; therefore, there has been no great flood of interest in the series.

(2) The Robert Galbraith Pseudonym.

Denmark Street 2008It’s not exactly right to say there was no controversy. Rowling’s decision to write under a pseudonym upset a few professional contrarians but she silenced most of those objections by making significant charitable contributions to UK Veterans charities (and kudos to her for that gesture). The pseudonym, however, while not generating much more than a blip after the initial revelation kerfuffle, is responsible in large part, I think, for the subdued reaction in Potter Fandom to Rowling’s latest work.

Imagine the tsunami of interest in fandom, press coverage, and online if Rowling and her publishers had announced that she was writing another seven book series, not fantasy but detective fiction, and that she thought it was at least as exciting as her Harry Potter efforts. There would have been book stores open for sales in the first seconds of the day of publication. There would have been intense analysis of what she was up to and about how the book was different from and resembled Philosopher’s Stone. There would have been websites, fan conference tracks, and fan fic novellas devoted to the Peg Legged Private Eye’s thrillers.

By taking the pseudonym route, Rowling short circuited any of that. When her authorship was revealed, I suspect part of fandom felt, if not betrayed, at least a token of condescension from The Presence. She clearly felt that much of their interest, our interest, was driven by a collective energy, a mob mania, rather than by any real appreciation of her work. Sales and interest have been more than respectable post-revelation, but her insistence on persisting with the pseudonym (JKR’s Amazon.com page, for instance, does not list her Robert Galbraith titles), has blunted enthusiasm significantly.

(3) Casual Vacancy.

Casual-VacancyIt’s important to remember, too, that fandom enthusiasm for their favorite writer’s new work had already taken a hit before Cormoran came on the scene.

Cuckoo’s Calling followed Casual Vacancy, Jo’s post-Potter debut piece, her political fairy tale, what more than one critic called Mugglemarch (and not in a flattering reference to Eliot’s trying Middlemarch)Vacancy was not a fun read but an exercise, edifying in the end but certainly joyless compared to the Hogwarts adventures. Many serious readers of the Potter books found Vacancy with its not very well disguised political posturing simultaneously pedantic, patronizing, and petulant, which is to say, completely unlike their experience of Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s adventures.

Potter fandom dutifully bought a copy, read it, and thought little more of it before returning to discussion of Rowling’s masterful Harry Potter stories, which, of course, were similarly polemical only the political messaging was much more subtle and light handed. In the wake of almost universal disappointment with Vacancy, the over-clever pseudonym exercise and the jump in genre we have with Cuckoo’s Calling threw the figurative wet blanket over the fire of fandom enthusiasm for poor Cormoran.

(4) Cormoran Strike is not Cuddly.

SIB RMPHaving said that, I need to note immediately that fandom as a rule has very little difficulty in swallowing Ms. Rowling’s left leaning politics whole. Groups like the Harry Potter Alliance are “truth to power” organizations celebrating every aspect of political correctness; they are sadly incapable, as often as not, however well intended and open hearted, of recognizing that their brand of righteousness long ago became the Goliath Power that needs David Truth-tellers to confront. They do wonderful, admirable work which deserves all the celebration they get and generate. Black-White Manicheans for the most part, though, organized fandom is anything but politically diverse or ideologically flexible.

These observations won’t win me many fans, I know, but it seems undeniable except to the willingly blind. I say this as a man who has never voted for a Republican in my life. Is there anything in Cormoran Strike for this activist group that dominates fandom to love? I think there is, oddly enough.

Rowling commented on her ‘Open Book Tour’ after Deathly Hallows‘ publication that she hoped her readers would not trust the government or media. That strong anti-authority message is the heart of Cormoran Strike’s adventures, the ‘police are dangerously negligent and stupid’ and ‘the media are evil’ notes in almost every chapters we’ll be discussing here at Cormoran’s Army in the coming weeks. It plays to both anti-fascist fascists on campus and Tea Party Republicans, of course, but counter-conformity — even when it becomes the ideal as it has in the US to which everyone conforms — is not an idea anathema to the left, fandom’s base. The Doom Bar Detective despises “journos” and “the Met,” and does everything he can to undermine them, which should have its appeal.

But is there something, anything, in Cormoran Strike that might make political activists on the left uncomfortable? Oh, yeah. There is.

Viking Vehicles Open Fire on Taliban Positions in AfghanistanHe’s an Army veteran. He even won a medal, one assumes for valorous service. He wasn’t an infantryman or involved in combat arms but a Special Investigations Branch, the military police. I suspect, however, that this distinction is lost on readers for whom life in an organization devoted to national defense would be a living death. That Strike is not only proud of his time in the Army but that he admits to missing it at times, does not win him the empathy and great interest that the boy under the stairs had from our first meeting him.

No one, in other words, on the political left or right, will mistake Cormoran Strike for Oliver Twist or David Copperfield. Yes, he is a disabled vet, missing the better part of one leg below the knee. That wins some sympathy points, especially because he is heroic in his lack of self-pity and whinging. But his maturity, over-sized personality, and prodigious intelligence and memory — no boy wizard insecurities here — makes him a tough character to love. Hence, fandom is both lukewarm about Rowling’s new hero and indifferent, for the most part, to her new series of books.

(5) The Narrative Release Tipping Point.

Let’s tie off this ring argument by going back to the beginning with our fifth reason. What was it about Prisoner of Azkaban that caused Potter Mania to lift off?

Lolita 5Part of it, as discussed above, was the publicity consequent to The Controversy. It’s smart not to discount what millions of dollars of free publicity can do for an author and her work. Think ‘Nabokov and Lolita.’  Controversy sells.

I don’t think, though, that the Potter Panic and all the stories about Rowling as a Cinderella single-mom Red Riding Hood being beaten down by the Big Bad Wolves and Wicked Stepmothers in churches and University English departments were what caused Harry’s great success post Prisoner. Nor do I think that the absence of such an endless publicity wave has been why Cormoran Strike has not been as successful thus far. (Maybe I should italicize ‘thus far.’)

Certainly any other writer on Planet Earth would sacrifice a limb (or two) to enjoy the access to all media outlets that Ms Rowling does. The author of the Hogwarts Saga will never suffer from lack of attention, cf. the interviews at the cream of media outlets each book is able to get effortlessly (NPR is ever ready to sit down with Jo). Who else could offer portions of their new books to TIME and The Guardian and have them snapped up, posted, and reported on or linked to by every news organization in the world? That would be ‘No one else alive and writing today.’

f38696678There was something about Prisoner of Azkaban, I think, that caused the avalanche of interest in Harry Potter which in turn caused the Culture Warriors and Gatekeepers to mount their attacks. That ‘something’ was the narrative release tipping point we crossed in the Shrieking Shack.

Remember, the first two Harry Potter adventures seem to be stand-alone novels albeit stories with continuity in location and cast of characters for the most part. Stone and Chamber are charming stories with frightening spots about a young wizard’s coming of age. Everything turns out right in the end of both books and there is a high ‘fell-good’ factor in the story resolutions.

With Prisoner, that changes.

It changes with respect to story sophistication for one thing. New readers and ones who were very young back in the day are almost certainly unaware that the great jump in the plot complexity and quality of character exposition from Chamber to Prisoner had writers in their online bulletin board chat rooms discussing what notable ghost-writer had been hired by Bloomsbury/Scholastic to raise Rowling’s game. Not nice, I know, but it was out there.

Prisoner, of course, also represents a real change in its ending. Sirius Black escapes, yes, on Buckbeak but the hero’s godfather isn’t exonerated or a free man — and the friend who betrayed Harry’s parents to the Dark Lord is on the loose. Dumbledore gives Harry the obligatory “bright side” talk in his denouement speech, but we’ve reached and crossed a threshold.

f38699878This liminal moment is the change that revealed an aspect of Rowling’s story telling genius that, because it is so obvious, is much neglected, even though no other author has attempted it to my knowledge, at least not in a seven story package (Meyer’s Twilight and Collins’ Hunger Games are the closest things to imitators). This is the seventh key to Harry Potter and the critical piece I believe for understanding why Cormoran Strike has not yet been embraced by Rowling’s many millions of readers.

Prisoner of Azkaban is the novel in the Hogwarts Saga in which the larger, over-arching story comes to the forefront. Yes, we’ve seen Voldemort on the back of Quirrell’s head in Stone and we’ve gone toe-to-toe with Tom Riddle, Jr., in Chamber. But it isn’t until the revelations of the Shrieking Shack that the back story of Harry’s parents’ deaths takes center stage and the real danger and continuity of the story hits us. In light of what we learn in Prisoner, everything in Stone and Chamber takes on a third dimension, opens up with fresh meaning and relevance.

And the world of serious readers really began to be curious about how this was going to work out. This was no sentimental Tom Brown’s Schooldays or Dickens-esque orphan Bildungsroman. The fate of the whole world was in the balance as much as Harry’s life and reader interest jumped proportionately to this change in our understanding of the stakes. That slow-reveal took on even greater force on the return in Goblet’s Little Hangleton graveyard of Lord Thingy himself, Death Eaters in tow, but the important shift happened in Prisoner.

So what?

COERowling, as we have discussed, is writing the Cormoran Strike novels largely in parallel with and commentary on the Hogwarts Saga, a bizarre twist that I think explains the Robert Galbraith pseudonym much better than her given reasons (it would be argued, inevitably, that her writing novels that shadow her previous work — see Silkworm on same — is the sign of Gilderoy-like self-importance or just a writer without new ideas). Perhaps the most important parallel, however, is not the many plot points and story elements we see in the twinned series, but the narrative slow release.

The first two Cormoran Strike mysteries seem like stand-alone private detective fiction pieces. The office location and the principal characters remain the same but Robin, Cormoran, the continuity of the extended cast of players related to them and their ever more mysterious back stories — why hero and heroine left school, the circumstances of Leda’s death, Cormoran’s near death in Afghanistan, Charlotte Campbell and Matt Cunliffe, Jonny Rokeby! — all of this is obscured in Cuckoo and Silkworm by the mystery at hand, the murderer to be outed and arrested despite the Met’s bumbling and ill will.

In the third book, though? We’re going to see a Prisoner of Azkaban echo in a lot of godfather-stepfather real daddy plot points and in Jago Ross not being identified as the 21st Century’s Jack the Ripper and sought by the police. But the important parallel is in our reaching in Career of Evil the narrative slow release tipping point on the key mystery and conflict of the initial seven book set (Rowling has said there may very well be more than seven Strike novels).

In Career of Evil’s Shrieking Shack, we are going to learn from the stepfather what happened to Leda Strike and why he was not guilty of her murder or negligent homicide, which in turn will open up Cormoran’s departure from Oxford, his queer relations with his biological father (who had to fear what Leda knew about him), even perhaps some revelations touching on the blow-up Strike experienced in the wrongful death investigation in Afghanistan.

We are, in other words, about to enter the gripping, fascinating, and wonderful world of speculation about the story the whole series is telling rather than just another whodunnit one-off thriller. Career of Evil promises to create the magical firestorm of interest that Rowling’s unique genius is alone capable of producing.

Kendrik's Corner Fan Art Lethal White UK Cover

Kendrik’s Corner Fan Art Lethal White UK Cover

2017 aside:

I wrote the above paragraphs in 2015 before Career was published. I’ll claim a bulls eye prediction hit on Jeff Whittaker and the beginning of the Big Reveal about Leda Strike’s death (and, okay, admit an air-ball on Jago Ross). Is it plausible, though, that Rowling could not work an exact parallel Career to Prisoner only because, unlike Voldemort, in whose service Pettigrew is revealed to be at the end of Prisoner, Jonny Rokeby is a person with a known street address and a public presence? If Whittaker had been uncovered at the end of Career as the stooge responsible in some way for Leda’s death (say, by poisoned heroin?) acting on Rokeby’s instructions, because Rokeby could be arrested that day consequent to the revelation, the series narrative release collapses like a soap bubble.

Forgive me the Gilderoy face-saving speculation, but isn’t it possible that I was right — only a book early? Lethal White, if it includes the revelation of Rokeby’s relationship with Whittaker and the Rock Star’s reasons for wanting Leda silenced forever to secure his secrets (silence he thought he’d purchased by admitting paternity to a son not really his?), will cinch the Potter-Strike parallel series theory. 

Back to 2015!

hall jaggerAre there other reasons Harry Potter fandom hasn’t warmed to Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott? Sure.

You can just go through the ‘keys’ I’ve discussed as essential for understanding Harry’s popularity: the Christian content, alchemical symbolism, hero’s journey, Eliade Thesis, etc. There are no Gothic touches (yet! The Castle of F’n Croy could be our Shrieking Shack), no magic, no soul triptych, no innocent romance, just repeated heartbreak and overnight stands for the Big Guy and a bad relationship on Robin’s side. There is alchemy, ring structure, and even a little Christian content, but none of it is as obvious in Strike as it was in the writing of the Potter Epic.

I have to get packing. I hope to see some of you at the Chestnut Hill Harry Potter Conference on Friday; look for me in the Rotunda at a table selling and doing the Gilderoy with Unlocking Press books.

These are exciting times for serious readers of Harry PotterCareer of Evil promises to create, if not Potter Mania levels of excitement, at least a much, much greater interest in the direction of the series. Accio 20 October!

4 thoughts on “Five Reasons Harry Potter Fandom Is Not Excited (Yet) About Jo Rowling’s New Cormoran Strike Mysteries”

  1. Louise Freeman says:

October 15, 2015 at 5:22 pm

LouiseGreat insights, as usual. I think another issue is the re-readibility difference. First, adults are much less likely to re-read books than kids. Second, the Cormoran Strike series is much more within the pure mystery genre, rather than the mix of kid detective/schoolboy drama/Gothic novel/superhero story that Harry was. Lots of people don’t see the point of reading whodunnits multiple times, since the appeal is lost after you know whodunnit. Even faithful Potter fans who have read the first two mysteries often did so from library copies with no intention of revisiting them. You really have to re-read multiple times to catch the richness of Robin and Cormoran’s backstory; and for the most part, we haven’t been given a reason to, yet.
Like you, I hope that changes with Career of Evil.
See you at Chestnut Hill!

  1. Sharon Leighton says:

October 15, 2015 at 7:49 pm

I’m a major Potter fan, and I am now a Cormoran Strike fan. But I haven’t read the pre-publication excerpts – I’m waiting for the novel. It’s a detective mystery. You don’t read it in bits and pieces. And I’m not going to start talking about what it means, or listening to someone else talk about what it means, before the novel is in my hot little hands. So that’s my opinion: the only real difference is that these are adult murder mysteries, a different genre, with a different approach. (On the other hand, I wouldn’t have read excerpts of any of the Potter novels before I got the novel either.)

  1. ChrisC says:

October 15, 2015 at 8:12 pm

Austen Emma 3At first I didn’t think I could add anything to this part of the discussion. My thinking was all centered in the idea of the limits of personal taste in the individual audience member, and thought, well, different strokes for different folks and all that.

Then I remembered something about Ms. Rowling’s methods. Part her overall narrative strategy is not only to reveal the Pride and Prejudice of her characters, but also, if lucky, to awaken the reader to their share flawed and limited viewpoint. What I’ve realized just now is that, looked at from Ms. Rowling’s perspective, the lack of fan response to the Strike books could mean more than just questions of taste (though no doubt that plays a part in it). It could be that she is well aware of the drop off of enthusiasm ever since the end of Potter.

This raises a question rather than any kind of assertion. Knowing her interest in Pride and Prejudice both on and off the page, could it be that another part of Ms. Rowling’s strategy might be to awaken in her audience an awareness of their general lack of interest, not just for her recent books, but of The Arts in general, both past and present? It could be (I don’t claim, just wondering aloud) that she is aware of a lack of interest or belief in the value of fiction from modern audiences? It is at least some kinda interesting food for thought. It certainly lends a another level to a novel like “Silkworm”, at any rate.

Again, I’m not saying I know this is something that’s part of her strategy as an author, yet is perhaps something worth thinking about. It would be interesting to find that “appreciation” is just as much an “Art” necessary on the part of the audience as Imaginative Ability is for the author, as both would mean the creation and reception of art are an somewhat more active process than regularly assumed.

  1. Oona Eisenstadt says:

January 25, 2016 at 4:06 am

BookshelfMr. Granger, I should start off by saying that I think your work is whip smart, and that I appreciate your tenacity and sincerity. But… here are my 5 reasons why people are NOT ever going to be that interested in the Strike series.

(5) It’s not Children’s Literature, so you lose a large part of your readership right there–also one of the things that delighted adult readers of HP was the ability to share it with children, so maybe because it’s not Children’s Literature you lose three-quarters of your readership.

(4) Novels set in the real world don’t allow for the kooky semi-technological inventiveness of the HP books–all those gadgets, all that stuff that Byatt criticized as not being proper magic, that was a ton of fun.

(3) These are just detective novels. Though I’ve admired your attempts to link them to the HP series, the link pretty much falls down at number 3. I think she’s just having some fun with genre fiction. And though they are ripping good detective novels, there are a lot of ripping good detective novels in the world.

(2) They do not have the Christian/alchemical substructure that you’ve so carefully outlined in the HP series, and that, I think, really made kids and grown-ups too reflect deeply on the construction of the moral world and its relation to the cosmos.

VVN7(1) The top reason, absolutely: they are not that funny. The whole bread and butter of the HP series, the milk and cookies if you like, was humour. Those books were funny as hell–even throw-away lines, throw away sub-clauses, almost every page was just frigging funny. The Weasley’s drove it, but it was there even when they weren’t. And this made the books deeply comforting and light, even when they were unsettling and serious. It was utter charm.

So, the lack of extraordinary popularity just doesn’t have that much to do with the pseudonym, or the dreadful Casual Vacancy. They’re good books in a genre filled with good books is all.

Meanwhile, I’m dying to find out how long it takes Robin to dump Matthew.

That would be “how long it takes Robin to divorce Matthew” now, Oona! John again! Let me know your thoughts in the comment boxes about Cormoran Strike, why Potter fans haven’t warmed to him, and… do you think Lethal White might just confirm my best guesses for Career of Evil, a book later? Will Rokeby be revealed in the fourth book as the guiding hand behind Jeff Whittaker and the drug overdose that killed Leda Strike as the Dark Lord was behind Pettigrew in Prisoner of Azkaban?

Comments

  1. Mr. Granger,

    I’ll admit I’m hoping you’re right about the character of Whittaker being more of a patsy or glorified gopher for Rokeby ala Wormtail.

    The idea of undisclosed secrets, some of which Strike may not even be aware of, just sounds much more exciting.

    All anyone else would have to do to understand this creative logic is to consider whether a series whose ultimate villain is a clever and devious rogue who is protected in many by his celebrity, versus some rundown failed singer we’re introduced to in a flash and just told to accept.

    The former option seems to have greater potential from a purely creative standpoint, at least that’s how it appears to me.

  2. Dr. Freeman,

    I wish I could know a bit more about the criteria you’re thinking when you state that knowing the whodunit of a mystery novel erases its appeal. In other words, do you hold this as a truism of the genre in general, or are you implying that this could be an approach taken by certain readers?

    I suppose I’d have to admit the possibility of the second option, though in such a case I’d argue that perhaps reading or even entertainment might not be the goal such a reader would have in mind.

    I keep hearing statements that I wish I had more context on so as to get an accurate reading of where the other person is coming from. Then again, the fact that same question has been asked of me over a day and a half or so perhaps just goes to prove the point.
    Therefore if I had to make a case for the re-readability of a detective novel, I’d have to bring in the experts.

    In his study of “The Detective Fiction Reviews of Charles Williams” Jared Lobdell places the value of repeat readings not in a surface concentration on the culprit is, but rather in more thematic concerns:

    “…already Dorothy L. Sayers, in “Whose Body?” (1922), thought of herself as trying to write something more than the common run-of-the-mill puzzle. These mysteries whose flowering came so suddenly were essentially the same thing as the medieval “Mysteries” were-that is, morality plays-and their popularity, as the succeeding chapters in this book suggest, was that of redemptive comedy. In times that were out of joint, at least affairs in these stories were put back in joint. They were put in joint by the deputy stage-manager, the Great Detective.

    Increasingly, whoever the Great Detective, these were stories about death. There are few enough murders in the Sherlock Holmes Stories, and fewer in most of his serious emulators (though many deaths of villains (though many deaths of villains in the sensation fiction of the 1860s and after)…it is also true that the dance their strings command is a dance of death. I suggest that the reason for this has something to do with the purpose of the medieval Dance of Death, playing away the horrors of death and the unknown. And that playing away the horror of the unknown is, I think, connected with the unmasking of the villain and the unmasking of the author’s misdirections. We might call Miss Sayers for witness here in her Introduction to the “Omnibus of Crime” (1929, reprinted in Haycraft, “The Art of the Mystery Story [1946], p. 72), where, observing that the pages of every magazine and newspaper swarm with detective stories, she suggests that the reader “finds a sort of catharsis or purging of his fears and self-questionings. These mysteries made only to be solved, these horrors which he knows to be mere figments of the creative brain, comfort him by subtly persuading that life is a mystery which death will solve, and whose horrors will pass away as a tale that is told (3-4)”.

    The funny thing is both Lobdell and Sayers have brought up a key Rowling theme without ever once mentioning her name, or showing any awareness of a shared idea. Again, though, it is in the thematic depth of both masking and misdirection and their solving that is the real reason some might find a good mystery novel to be re-readable.

  3. Oona,

    I’d disagree with the idea that the Strike series lacks the same alchemic symbolism compared to Potter. I’d also argue that it has a sense of humor.
    The one element that told the most that she is still working with traditional symbols is the character of “Pip”/Pippa Midgely from “Silkworm”. I didn’t see importance to the character at first until I realized that she featured a trans-gender character as an important sign. Turns out the character is meant to figure as a homunculus. The homunculus turns out to be an actual symbol from medieval/renaissance times. Back then it was understood as a symbol of wholeness and completion. It’s therefore fitting that Midgely’s testimony is crucial in helping to bring the case of “Silkworm” to a close.

    I also wonder is the same symbolism figures in the character of Lula Landry, a girl of bi-racial heritage whose death brings about the slow resolve of justice, and who has an inadvertently distant relation to Strike himself.

    As for humor, the type to be found in Strike is simply a different, more adult form compared to Potter. To give an illustration of that difference, picture Fred and George. Okay, now drop either Richard Pryor, George Carlin, or Mel Brooks next to them and the contrasts should be glaring.

    Granted, I personally like the humor of all three comics just mentioned, yet I also know they’re not for everybody (although most might be willing to let Brooks slide with his sixties spy spoof “Get Smart”; the jury could be more divided re: Brooks’ satire of the mystery genre and Alfred Hitchcock in particular, High Anxiety”).

    Okay, I’ll admit that makes me old at my early 30s. Apparently 30 is the new 60, while 60 somehow still might wind up the new 30.

  4. Brian Basore says:

    ChrisC,

    If you’re willing to read an old book, Out of the Night, by Jan Valtin (New York: Alliance Book Corporation, 1941) might give you something particularly ‘solid’ by which to judge Cormoran Strike.

  5. Oona,

    One more thought.

    I said earlier that I was able to demonstrate the presence of traditional/alchemical symbolism in the Strike series by pointing out that the character of “Pip” Midgely is probably a homunculus symbol. I also (though with a certain amount of caution) pegged “Cuckoo’s” Lula Landry as another riff on this symbol. I also sort of wonder if she isn’t a bit of an Astrea symbol (long story, some other time, never mind, sorta).

    The point is that with at least the possibility of her familiar thematic bells and whistles being utilized in her new series, two conclusions can be reached.

    1. She’s taking this new venture as seriously as she took her first.

    The very fact that she is bringing her professionalism, and the related hidden depths to Cormoran Strike’s story has to mean, at the very least, that it is a serious deserves serious critical attention, mining, and excavation, regardless of how popular it may or may not turn out to be. If it never achieves the same level of fame as Potter, then it wouldn’t change the fact that the skill and talent with which these books were written merits at least a serious critical reception.

    Should it fail to garner much in the way of critical reception and inspection, then I suppose what it would have to mean is that we have the next underground classic on our hands, something that could appreciated by a coterie. In that case, Rowling’s fame would now mirror that of both Lovecraft and Tolkien back during the 50s and 60s.

    So far, the results I’m seeing are justifying my final point.

    2. Any possible story depends and the sympathy, interest, and imaginative interaction of its audience.

    If the underwhelming response to Strike proves anything, despite the presence of traditional symbolism, then it would have to be that it is possible for the audience to determine how it reacts to any and all possible works of art.

    What I mean is that it is apparently possible an artwork to be under-girded by traditional symbolism, and yet for the audience to still be unresponsive and unmoved by their presence.

    This wouldn’t mean that the artwork itself is either bad or without value. The very detectable presence of the symbolism inherent in the work means at the very least that it is a work of value, possibly of permanent value. The problem is that value will always go unrecognized unless the audience has, apparently, the proper amount of imaginative ability, sympathy, and perception.

    In other words, the ability to enjoy a story to its fullest measure, while possible, is also not an automatic guarantee. For the longest time, an unspoken assumption on this blog is that traditional symbols can command an automatic response of entertainment and enlightenment.

    If anything this lackluster response seems to mean that the status accorded even great literature is similar to the status accorded actual real life religious belief. Both subjects depend upon the nature of the value that is placed upon them by the perceiver. A person who comes to both religion and literature with a pre-established outlook that neither amounts to much, will be unable to get entertainment from art, or enlightenment or even any possible understanding as to why anyone would believe it in the first place.

    The only logical conclusion then is that books, like religious conviction, is something that has a value. However people must be made to understand that value before it can achieve its proper effect.

    This presents an interesting challenge, though not an insoluble one. I almost wondered if this meant we needed some sort of apologetics for literature. However, the criticism of the best minds of the past is more than enough to supply that need.

    The crux is that, like claims of religion, the claims of good writing also finds itself shot down in the public sphere, usually by whatever imitation for the real thing comes easiest.

    …I’ve been rambling, haven’t I? Never mind.

  6. P.S.

    My whole point is that it does seem that the individual must first learn how to either train, or tap into, or else do both with regard to what Coleridge as the Imagination.

    This could mean that first the question of Imaginative Incentive must be addressed before all other considerations.

    To give an example, for me, it was the vague awareness that fiction could help to address ones anxieties that grabbed my interest to begin with. However, the comments of others demonstrate that another motive could be some form of escapism that provides whatever desire to read or watch. It remains to be seen what counts as a positive and negative in this question of Incentive for Fiction.

  7. No genius on my part. Of the 3 types that come to art I fit the group that Sees “it” once “it”has been pointed out-to me, then I’ll test that, too. So my simple approach to addressing the Question rather than answering it is more by a sense I find in a parallel: “It’s” the same difference in approaching Christmas and Easter. Both are (still) holidays (small popular “h”) where the latter, though the more significant Holiday is celebrated by those that acknowledge the capital “H”. (Did I just bump into Prof. Granger’s Apr.17 post?)

    This isn’t to elevate JKR’s works but to question if it’s in our hard-wiring? That would make “it” something though expected, and (being reminded of a different “tipping point”) cannot be short-cut.

  8. I’ve read all the Cormoran Strike books and will read the next one, but they do not evoke any of the passion and love in me that I have for the Harry Potter books. And I don’t think most of my Potter fan friends even read them. I think for myself and those I know personally, the difference is quite simple. The Harry Potter books created an entire world for us—a world that was filled with people we love and that we want to visit again and again. Heck, I know a lot of people who want to live in the Wizarding World! Hence the costumes and the conventions and fandom activity that gives us the sense of being closer to that world. I’ve gone through various fandoms in my life, and that was the case with every fan culture: Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. The author(s) have constructed a richly-imagined alternative universe for us for us to visit, or if we’re obsessed enough, to live in inside our heads.

    The Cormoran Strike books (and books like them—the sort of real-life, gritty, noir books) produce almost the opposite effect in me. It’s like the world I already inhabit, only worse—like the most depressing parts of the news I watch every day. I believe, John, you mentioned the sheer joy to be found in the Harry Potter books, but the Strike books produce a sort of depressive anti-joy in me. I want to escape FROM the world of those books, rather than into it. Sorry, I sound more anti-Strike than I intended. As someone else mentioned, I don’t hate them—I read them as I do other mysteries or gritty suspense novels. And then I’m done.

  9. Kelly Loomis says:

    I tend to agree with much of what Oona and Robin have said. One thing that hasn’t been brought up, although it goes along with the thought that the HP books were geared more towards children, is that whole families experienced HP together. Both of my brothers read aloud the series to their boys. It was a family affair. I’ve found it’s been an area where my son and I can still connect even though he’s in those independent years of college and breaking away from us.

    For the kids who grew up reading the series, I think they felt they were growing up alongside Harry. The stories became more complex and deeper as the series went on – as did the kids reading them. They can have wonderful memories of family togetherness but also the maturing they did while going through the series. We now have second generation readers and parents who are passing on their love to their own kids.

    I’ve already commented on the guest post about the escapism quality – and even though there are deep themes, they are put in a context that is more fanciful and less gritty.

    The world building was also such a draw for me – discovering spells, history, transportation, weddings, etc along with Harry. I have always loved “the book” more than the movie” in any story. I missed the daily life at Hogwarts in the movies from the descriptions of getting to class or the topic of the day’s lesson.

    There was a also wonder and excitement for each book. Not only for what would happen in the overall stories but also in the details we learned about the world.

    Finally, the humor was also a draw for me.

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