The Silkworm 2: Shades of and Keys to The Hogwarts Saga?

Spoiler alert:  Don’t read this if you haven’t read The Silkworm and if you want to read it without having had key plot points revealed to you beforehand.

I’m guessing that it’s safe to assume that most readers of the Cormoran Strike mysteries are readers of the Harry Potter novels as well and that they chose to read these books because of their enjoyment of Ms Rowling’s previous work, to include Casual Vacancy. Or maybe despite Vacancy. Whatever.

Reading The Silkworm, consequently, it’s only natural that we serious readers of the Hogwarts Saga be sensitive to what we hear or experience in this detective novel that seem to be echoes from the Boy Who Lived’s magical adventures.  I want to make three observations for your comment and correction here, thoughts that will not include a list of fun correspondences (did you flinch when you read that you can “hear the rumbling of the traffic on Charing Cross Road’ from Strike’s flat? Me, too), but all of which, I think, put the Cormoran Strike novels in a new light.

First, as noted in my ‘first thoughts’ post that I put up after reaching the half-way point of Silkworm, there are several rather jarring correspondences between this mystery and the second novel of the Harry Potter series, Chamber of Secrets. The key to the case, as Strike observes more than the once, is the book within the book, namely Bombyx Mori, and its transparent depictions in story of the suspects in the murder of the book’s author.

Along the way to discovering whodunnit, we are given a short course in the difficulties and inevitable mistakes to be made in drawing dot-to-dot correspondences that seem obvious and are not. Readers of Chamber of Secrets, perhaps the best stand-alone Potter novel, will recall a similar book-within-a-book experience there with Riddle’s diary and how we are to understand what we learn from reading or entering into it. Hagrid is sent to Azkaban because of what is misunderstood about the events depicted — and the woman whose “purity of desire” makes Strike sure she is not guilty, an echo of Harry’s surety about the Gameskeeper, is also jailed unjustly and then liberated.

My first idea for your consideration is this: Ms Rowling is writing this seven book series in parallel with her previous seven book series. As Elizabeth Baird-Hardy said to me this afternoon, we’ll know when the next Cormoran Strike mystery appears if it involves a wo/man who has been unjustly accused and found guilty, a prisoner in fact or in history whom Cormoran clears by his heroic investigation and intervention. (I’d guess that it will be the crime or scandal that interrupted Robin Ellacott’s work towards a psychology degree years ago — a driving accident for which she was charged and found guilty though unjustly?)

Two, if you’re wondering why she would want to do that, I think there is a better answer than the obvious, which is that she had a significant success with the first series that she might like to repeat. the better answer, one that she suggests within Silkworm, is that this parallel series can act as the key to a right understanding of the first series, the Hogwarts adventures.

Turn to chapter 28 of Silkworm, pages 242-243. Robin and Cormoran are driving to Devon in a snowstorm. Robin is discussing one of the Mori author’s previous works and images in it, namely, a bloody sack with an aborted baby.

Strike digested this information as they passed the turning to Maidenhead.

“Strange,” he said at last.

“Grotesque,” said Robin.

“No, it’s strange,” insisted Strike. Quine was repeating himself. That’s the second thing from Hobart’s Sin [Quine’s first book] he put in Bombyx Mori. Two hermaphrodites, two bloody sacks. Why?”

“Well,” said Robin, “they aren’t exactly the same. In Bombyx Mori the bloody sack doesn’t belong to the hermaphrodite and it hasn’t got an aborted baby in it… maybe he’d reached the end of his invention,” she said. “Maybe Bombyx Mori was like a — a final bonfire of all his ideas.”

“The funeral pyre for his career is what it was.”

Strike sat deep in thought while the scenery beyond the window became steadily more rural. Breaks in the trees showed wide fields of snow, white upon white beneath a pearly gray sky, and still the snow came thick and fast at the car.

“You know,” Strike said at last, “I think there are two alternatives here. Either quine genuinely was having a breakdown, had lost touch with what he was doing and believed Bombyx Mori was a masterpiece — or he meant to cause as much trouble as possible, and the duplications are there for a reason.”

“What reason?”

“It’s a key,” said Strike. “By cross referencing his other books, he was helping people understand what he was getting at in Bombyx Mori. He was trying to tell without being had up for libel.”

Robin did not take her eues off the snowy motorway, but inclined her face towards him, frowning.

“You think it was all totally deliberate? You think he wanted to cause all this trouble?”

“When you stop and think about it,” said Strike, “it’s not a bad business plan for an egotistical, thin-skinned man who’s hardly selling any books. Kick off as much trouble as you can, get the book gossiped about all over London, threats of legal action, loads of people upset, veiled revelations about a famous author… and then disappear where the writs can’t find you and, before anyone can stop you, put it out as an ebook.”

As I mentioned in my first post about Silkworm, this last comment is an acidic depiction of what Ms Rowling did with the Galbraith pseudonym for Cuckoo’s Calling. Go ahead and draw the parallels yourself.

But this passage, just before Robin demonstrates her extraordinary driving skills, has a lot more in it than this (this and the repeated white references of the albedo narrative — about which another post). Ms Rowling has a character discuss a writer writing a book that repeats elements of his other work as a key to understanding the current work. You do not have to be a student of Leo Strauss to see this as the author talking about herself. After all, the book in question, Bombyx Mori, is the Latin name for silkworm, and, that’s right, you’re holding a book called The Silkworm. What is said about the book-within-the-book can be, maybe even should be understood as a reference to the tome in your mitts.

Which brings me to my third point.

Remember that kerfuffle several months ago about Ms Rowling saying in an interview with Emma Watson for Wonderland that she probably should have realized that Ron and Hermione were not a good match? What she said then was:

“I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That’s how it was conceived, really,” Rowling says in the interview.

“For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron.”

Ms Rowling, in brief, then, invites her readers to understand her fiction as a psychological distillation of her experiences, which is to say, we are to read them through the filter of her biography if we are to get at the heart of their meaning. I wrote in February what rot this is, even if I have written about the parallels beneath Casual Vacancy‘s characters and conflicts with Ms Rowling’s life experience.

Rot or not, however, because in The Silkworm’s book-within-a-book this is how all the authors (except the bodice-ripper romance novelist and senescent children’s picture book writer) are writing — straight from their lives to your imagination with only the patina of elevated language to shield you from it, I’m all but sure that this is what Ms Rowling is offering as “the key” to the Hogwarts Saga to be found in the Cormoran Strike novel parallels.

She is inviting some ugly interpretations, of course, if this is wish-fulfillment exercise for her. Robin is the most obvious Rowling stand-in in the book (Classicist Strike the anti-celebrity is another, but let’s start with the woman…). The theme of her story in Silkworm is that of being true to her vocation rather than just making money. The resistance she gets is from her fiancee and the approval and understanding she wants she gets from her mentor and boss, Cormoran Strike. Fiancee Matthew finally signs on to her being a detective in training but it’s touch and go.

Are we to assume that there is conflict in Ms Rowling’s personal life about her vocation, what she does that will or won’t make money? If we assume that the publication of the Strike novels under the Galbraith pseudonym was not a publicity stunt to make more money via the revelation of the real author (again, a Silkworm parallel in Elizabeth Tassel ghost writing Quine’s Mori post mortem…), was this a subject of some rancor in the Murray-Rowling household?

Fun, right? Not at all, not really. And, worse, this sort of speculative gossip passing as literary criticism is no help in understanding why we love the stories as we do. None of us know Joanne Rowling; her autobiography is the least accessible or desirable trot, then, for exegesis of her artistry and meaning.

Anyway, I ask for your thoughts on these three points, please.

Links to sources mentioned in post above:

Delusional Joanne Rowling Joins Harry-Hermione Shippers?

The Wonderland Interview: Context, Confirmation, even Cars

Casual Vacancy 4: Literary Narcissism — Art of the Psychic Realm

The Silkworm: First Thoughts on Rowling’s Latest

The Silkworm 1: Kathryn Kent’s Plot/Narrative Distinction

The Silkworm 2: Shades of and Keys to The Hogwarts Saga

Comments

  1. Spoilers ahead!

    I think we must remember that during the conversation in Silkworm (242-243), Rowling is primarily feeding us a clue as to the nature of Bombyx Mori and therefore the murderer. So while Robin and Strike argue whether the Bombyx Mori manuscript is 1) “the end of his invention” or 2) a key, it turns out that they are BOTH wrong because Quine never wrote this version of Bombyx Mori in the first place.

    It does seem as though Rowling had great fun writing this particular story precisely because of the opportunity it provides to lampoon so many people (or at least types) and settings in her world. Could she have set this story in literary London precisely BECAUSE the pseudonym scandal is over now, and in a sense she is poking fun at herself?

    I get the feeling that we serious readers are also included in her wide net of tongue-in-cheek criticism. How many of us have spent hours of our lives mining her texts for meaning and clues? How many fans, would-be authors, or interviewers have asked her to extemporize on distinctions like plot vs. narrative, for example? I think we do split hairs when we try to differentiate between the “intricacy and cleverness of her plots” vs. “her ability to work the slow reveal in narrative exposition,” for example.

    So is the Strike series the key to unlocking Hogwarts? Maybe—Rowling has always been cagey about her upcoming plans. Is her fictional story autobiographical? It could be, but don’t all authors use what they know to inform their characters? I doubt that there is substantial friction in her household now due specifically to her chosen vocation, but what Robin and Matthew are going through (balancing career and spouse/family) is probably something she has seen in many variations in other people’s lives.

    Thank you for the intellectual stimulation during the summer break!

  2. My pleasure! Stay tuned for more on this today —

    How many fans, would-be authors, or interviewers have asked her to extemporize on distinctions like plot vs. narrative, for example?

    Exactly ‘zero.’ Check AccioQuotes and look for any kind of discussion at this level. There is none.

    Thank you for the thoughtful response. I hope to put up some thoughts today about the real echoes with Chamber of Secrets and look forward to reading your feedback.

  3. Does anyone else think that Cormorant Strike is a reinvention of Alastor Moody in the muggle world? They share many characteristics.

  4. Louise M. Freeman says:

    Strike seems to me like an interesting hybrid of Hagrid (with his “giant” name) and Moody, the legless war vet with signs of PTSD. Robin, however, is a blend of Hermione and Dobby.

    Which, if John is right about the Strike series following the Harry Potter pattern, leaves open the possibility of tragedy befalling one or both in Book Seven.

  5. In both Silkworm and Chamber of Secrets, someone writes a false book in order to cause dissension and confusion. Their ultimate goal is to kill someone.

    In both books people trying to solve a mystery use a book to try to learn why and how someone was hurt or killed. In both books people are badly misled by the information they receive from the books because the author is not trying to communicate the truth about what happened. Instead both authors are trying to communicated a distorted picture that suits their own destructive purposes.

    This indicates to me that if Rowling has any message about using a book to understand it’s author, that message is a warning_ remember that authors have their own motives. The “reality” portrayed in a book is communicated to suit their own purposes.

    And I can’t help but wonder if any folks in the British publishing industry thought they recognized themselves in Silkworm!

  6. Warning – this post is a festival of spoilers!

    About whether Silkworm is based on Chamber of Secrets; there are so many similarities.

    In both books:
    Someone sneaks a false book to others in order to cause harm.
 Although people try to hide and destroy this book it is impossible to eradicate.
    The last time each “author” had influence a young woman died.
    The protagonist defends a person who loves and cares for someone who is unpredictable and feared or avoided by most people. (Hagrid- Aragog, Leonora – Orlando)
    People are struggling to determine whether they will be who others say they are or who they themselves choose to be. (Harry and Robin)
    Harry and Cormorant both struggle with how to respond to having famous parents and being well known as a result of events they did not cause.

    In addition:

    Ron and Harry hit the whomping willow and are “found out” for taking the Ford Anglia.
    Robin and Cormorant almost hit a tanker and are “found out” when Robin remarks on a newspaper article about the accident.

    Hogwarts students find petrified classmates with messages written on the walls near them.
    Cormorant finds Owen in a setting that has been staged to point people to the false book.

    Michael Fancourt (“god like one” who courts fans) seems like a muggle version of Gileroy Lockhart.

    Tom Riddle uses an accomplice who does not fully understand the impact of what she is doing (Ginny) to release the Basilisk.
    Liz Tassle uses an accomplice who does not fully understand the impact of what he is doing (Owen) to release and publicize the false Bombyx Mori (Silkworm)

    In Chamber, Harry summons GIlderoy Lockhart to help him face the Basilisk.
    In Silkworm, Cormorant summons Michael Fancourt to draw out Liz Tassel

    Near the end of Chamber, the villain is trying to kill red haired Ginny.
    Near the end of Silkworm, the villain is trying to kill red haired Robin.

    Similarities between Sorcerer’s Stone and The Cuckoo’s Calling are less easy to find. The primary one that stands out to me is the in both books focus on orphans (Lulu and Harry) who are trying to figure out whether they are who the people who have raised them think they are or someone far more powerful and interesting. For both Lulu and Harry, learning about their birth families helps them make life changing but dangerous choices.

    However, even if one series of books is based on the other, I hope that the Cormorant Strike novels are not the “key” to the Harry Potter series. Strike’s world is bleak. There is no wise Dumbledore. There is no welcoming Weasley family. There are no caring teachers and mentors who will eventually form the courageous Order of the Phoenix. There are only Strike and Robin, in a Gotham City of evil people who prey on the innocent while inept protectors convict the wrong people. Strike’s world is 100% muggle. I would much rather that this “key” worked the other way around.

  7. About Robin in Silkworm, and who she parallels in the Harry Potter series;
    The person Robin reminds me of most in the Harry Potter series is brave Ginny, the one girl with many brothers, who really knows how to maneuver a broomstick and who never tries to talk Harry out of doing what he needs to do. Ginny never says, “Don’t. It’s too dangerous.” And – oh yes, she has long red hair.

  8. Ah! I just finished reading Silkworm way too late last night. An alchemical note and a ring cycle note, aka Being a good student of John Granger has some practical perks.

    1. A couple nights ago I was reading at bedtime and getting too sleepy to continue. I had just read that Cormoran passed a pub that was painted red, and I thought, “Crucible! This is going to be an action-packed chapter.” Not wanting to doze through whatever was coming next (like I did when I turned 2 pages at once at the end of Mockingjay and completely missed the death of _______…), I closed the book and went to sleep. Next morning, I read the rest of the chapter in which Pippa (with her red fingernails) attacked Cormoran and the subsequent interrogation.

    2. At the end of Chapter 36, Cormoran experiences an epiphany remembering something he heard before, “Mummy’s made a beeline…” but I could only vaguely remember it. So I did some ring cycle math and guessed that Cormoran was remembering something that happened in chapter 13. There it was, spoken by a young woman named Joanne, even.

    So thank you, John! I’m waiting to hear more from you about the alchemical patterns. There were a few black and white chapters there, and I’m pretty confused about those. My school year is about to start, and I don’t have time to re-read and research and figure it out. I’m counting on you!

  9. Kenny Idan Rub says:

    To add to the list of similarities:
    In both books a character at the end is given a white (envelope/sock) to release them from their duties. Releasing Robin from secretary (helper) to become more of an investigator. Releasing Dobby from being a slave (helper) to become free.

    This whole book has to do with water just like chamber did. This whole book is set in the rain and snow and winter. The guts were found underwater, same as the chamber.

    Rowling outrightly points out that his name is strike as in lightning strike and in lightning bolt.
    Strike’s leg is his “scar”
    I should look but I wonder if his leg hurt him most during his meeting with elizabrth….

  10. Christopher Thomas says:

    Do yourselves all a favor, and just stop.

    You said it best yourself: “…this sort of speculative gossip passing as literary criticism is no help in understanding why we love the stories as we do. ”

    Then stop it.

    You are operating in the same vapid stereotype that plagues burnt-out highschool english teachers. Try as you might to create meaning between the lines, the bottom line is that this author has multiple storylines and literary goals running parallel within her genius mind, and you are not only wasting your time but likely also diminishing your and your readers’ respect for the individuality of each of these stories.

    I grew up with Tolkien, Lewis, Piers Anthony, and Rowling as my fantasy writing idols and there is something very refreshing about an author adopting varying genres and writing styles to express their ideas (two of those four were great at that, two of those four were “typecast”).

    In today’s instant-read news atmosphere, the benefit of a pseudonym and fresh literary identity are clearly demonstrated.

    Yeah I know it’s a year-old thread, sorry, I just finished the book.

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