Guest Post: Mythological Leda Strike – Cormoran, Zeus, Castor and Pollux

Leda 4A Team ‘Guest Post’ by Joanne Gray and John Granger: Mythological Leda

I think that J. K. Rowling chose the name for Strike’s mother with a specific story line in mind. A quick Google search of the name ‘Leda’ means a host of links to the Greek myth about Leda and the Swan.

Leda was a beautiful Queen of Sparta, the ancient Greek city-state totally dedicated to military supremacy. She caught the eye of the King of the Gods, Zeus. [She was not the god’s first or last mortal mate; at any given time Zeus was seducing some poor earthling. Leda seems to be the only woman, however, with whom he used his swan guise to carry out the seduction.]  

Leda 5With both her mortal husband, the King of Sparta Tyndareus, and Zeus, the immortal King of the Gods, as her lovers, Leda gave birth to two sets of twins, one set of sons and one set of daughters. (For a refresher on why the ancients thought this sort of thing was possible read the history of telegony, an obscure rabbit hole on the trail of genetics.) Leda’s two daughters, Helen of Troy via Zeus and Clytemnestra by Tyndareus, were both tragic figures in the Trojan War.

However, her sons will be the ones that concern us here. The twin boys were named Castor and Pollux. Castor was known as a horse breaker and demigod Pollux was known as a boxer. Both were also known for their horsemanship and for their willingness to help those in trouble, especially travelers, guests, and sailors. For much more on these two, see Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia and the discussion therein on A Horse and His BoyCor and Corin in that C. S. Lewis tale are Archenland royalty separated as infants who are Castor and Pollux story ciphers.

Yes, I think Rowling is writing a Castor and Pollux story inside the Cormoran Strike mysteries. Read on after the jump.

HeroinIn yesterday’s post on the possible link of the title Lethal White and heroin hydrochloride, I all but dismissed the idea of Rowling getting the idea for her title from ‘Lethal White Syndrome,’ a fatal genetic condition affecting American Paint horses.  If there’s a ‘horse‘ in this story, the deadly heroin that goes by ‘Lethal White’ is almost certainly it. [For those of you not savvy to street idiom, ‘horse’ is vernacular for ‘heroin,’ just as, curiously, is the name ‘Harry.’ I kid you not.]

Lethal White coat 1I prefer the alternate reality theory that Lethal White is a pointer to the return of Guy Some, the fashion god of Cuckoo’s Calling. Check out these threads called ‘Lethal White’ and ‘Lethal White Plush.’ The fourth book in a seven book ring is supposed to feature characters who only appear in books one, four, and seven, right? Guy Some might be Cormoran’s Mr. Ollivander. Forget the ponies.

Listen to the Ents, though; let’s not be hasty to drive away those thoroughbreds! There may be a giddy-up connection after all between the book title and Lethal White Syndrome,’ in which albino horses are born to Paint mares and die soon afterwards. In the myth of Leda and the Swan, her two sons took their wives quite literally; they abducted two women from the Messenians, Phoibe (Lunar-Bright) and Hilaeira (Softly-Shining), who are known to history as the Leucippides, “Of the White Horses.”

Just like the “little trouble” that occurred from another abduction, that of Castor and Pollux’ half-sister Helen of Troy, the brother’s abduction of the two “White Horses” didn’t end with a “happily ever after.” Those princesses were already promised to Lynceus and Idas, the Aphareides, whose dad was Neptune, and these guys weren’t willing to let go of their betrothed without a receipt. They gave chase, and, you guessed it, everybody dies. As reported at Theoi.com:

Castor and Pollux 1Because of their kindness and generosity they were apotheosised at death. Polydeukes (Polydeuces), being a son of Zeus, was at first the only one offered this gift but he insisted it be shared with his twin Kastor (Castor). Zeus agreed, but in order to appease the Fates, the twins had to spend alternate days in heaven and the underworld.

The Dioskouroi were also placed amongst the stars as the constellation Gemini (the Twins). The division of their time between heaven and the underworld might be a reference to the heavenly cycles–for their constellation is visible in the sky for only six months of the year.

Brotherly love between twins with different fathers doesn’t come stronger (or stranger) than this.

Leda 10So what are the links between Leda and the Swan and Rowling’s Cormoran Strike mysteries? I think there are seven, our most magical and powerful number:

  • Our first link to the Leda and the Swan legend and Cormoran’s mum is the name.
  • The second would be her sleeping with someone well above her caste or station; ‘Leda and Zeus’ in the creative working mind of a Classical Studies type like Rowling might translate roughly, meaningfully, to ‘Groupie and a Rock Star.’
  • The third connection would be Cormoran’s non-relationship with his other-worldly daddy, who got in trouble with his terrestrial Hera for sleeping around.
  • Sparta has to be included as a tie-in; Cormoran has a distinguished if not Victoria’s Cross heroic military background.
  • The fifth would be the pugilist connection; both Cormoran and Pollux are heavyweight boxers.
  • Cormoran, too, has chosen a profession where he comes to the aid of a person in crisis or, just as good, in which he can act as an avenger, an agent of otherworldly justice.
  • And seven? Bluey’s twin brother.

First nominee for our story’s Castor to Cormoran’s Pollux is Police Inspector Richard Anstis.

Leda 3The half-brothers and fierce loyalty connection are there. Cormoran, you recall, does the sacrifice thing by pulling his brother-in-arms, Richard Anstis, to safety when he realizes the troop carrier he is in is about to be blown up by an IED. In the process, he loses half of his own mortal right leg. Both men suffered physical and psychological damage in the incident, which could be read as a shared mortality or reduced life consequent to a sacrifice by ‘Mystic Bob,’ the divine.

Which might be read as a bit of a stretch, especially after their falling out in The Silkworm. Monkey Boy actually has a real-life half-brother that is a more obvious nominee for Rowling’s embedded Castor. The unnamed half-brother we learn about in Career of Evil is the only son of Leda and the nefarious Jeff Whittaker. Cormoran has had no contact with him and there is quite an age difference. That, coupled with the fact that he isn’t even given a name, makes it very possible that he will remain just an asterisk in the series.

Or not. You’ll recall that we don’t meet Luna Lovegood until Order of the Phoenix and her family isn’t even mentioned until the opening chapters of Goblet.

Leda 1But there’s a much more likely candidate for Cormoran’s half-brother: Shanker. His connection as a brother to Cormoran and sharing Leda as his mother is more complicated but actually stronger than the other two. Although he is not connected genetically to either Cormoran or Leda, the Castor-Pollux telegonic link is fictional, too, remember. We’re talking myth here. Personally and emotionally there is a closer tie between Shanker and Stick than between Pubehead and either Anstis or Whittaker’s son.

Cormoran and Shanker are said to be close to the same age, as well, and they both definitely have different fathers. Leda is tied to Shanker as his substitute mother because she saved him both physically and emotionally. Shanker and Cormoran’s bizarro fraternity through an exotic mother fits most closely with the myth. There’s little doubt, though Shanker is unapologetically mercenary, that both would take a bullet for the other — and long for justice and resolution with respect to Leda Strike’s death.

Leda 7Shanker helped save Cormoran at the end of Career of Evil and perhaps Cormoran will return the favor in Lethal WhiteI am all but certain, however, that Strike Five won’t play out in the hereafter, the constellation Gemini, or even a back-and-forth heaven-to-hades existence for these brothers with a different mother.

If the speculation that Shanker is the Sirius Black stand-in in this septology — appearing by reference if not name in the first book, in the heroic flesh in Strike Three — I just hope that Shanker won’t be going to Castor’s Hades through the Veil in the series’ fifth installment as did Harry’s god-father.

Tomorrow? Some notes on Rowling’s Twitter headers, believe it or not: The Triumph of Death.

Comments

  1. Kelly Loomis says:

    Leda – seems Rowling is fond of that name recently! It will be interesting to see how it all fits in to both the Strike series and FBAWTFT.

  2. That would be ‘Lita’ in Fantastic Beasts which is probably a reference to the myth about Theseus and the Minotaur. See the post on that, Kelly, for more!

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