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Literary Allusion in ‘The Silkworm’ Oxford’s Beatrice Groves on Strike 2

Last week our friends in the UK were able to watch the Bronte Studios adaptation for BBC1 of Robert Galbraith’s Career of Evil. We Galbraith fans on this side of the Atlantic Ocean were not able to watch.

What we did receive were two posts by Beatrice Groves, Research Fellow and Lecturer at Trinity College, Oxford University, on the subject of literary allusions in the second Cormoran Strike novel, The Silkworm.

This is a boon and grace on several levels.

First, The Silkworm is, to this reader at least, the most important single novel Rowling has written, either as ‘Robert Galbraith’ or ‘J. K. Rowling,’ Jo Rowling Murray’s two pseudonyms. More obviously and pointedly than any of her previous novels, Silkworm is a novel about novels, novel writing, and the reading of novels. It is dense in self-referencing, the book inside the book having the same name as the book the reader is holding, and in notes about Jacobean Revenge Drama via dialogue and chapter epigraphs while the story being told is just this kind of play. It deserves a book long gloss about the allusions in it alone. 

Second, it being a work largely about intertextuality or texts within a text referrring to other texts, anything written about it should be done by someone familiar with the art of literary allusion. He or she should also be more than familiar with the work of J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter to Lethal White. And, given what we know of The Silkworm and its heavy pointers to Jacobean Revenge Drama, our expert should be an expert in Early Modern Drama, Shakespeare and Marlowe of course but the lesser lights as well.

Enter Beatrice Groves,

  • author of the paradigm shifting Literary Allusion in Harry Potter,
  • fluent in the details and trends and keys to everything J. K. Rowling, from the novels to the decades of interviews to the daily Twitter feed, and
  • published authority on Early Modern Drama, her primary research interest and class subject at Oxford.

I have a healthy imagination. I cannot imagine a better match of exegete and subject than Bea Groves and The Silkworm. And, as you’d expect, I am taking no risk in saying this because we have the proof of the prediction (before I have posted it!) in the two MuggleNet posts on The Silkworm which Prof Groves has written.

It’s a downer for many in the States not to be able to watch the Bronte Studios adaptation of Career of Evil for television (I guess). We have been more than compensated, I think, by the happy providence of the nearly simultaneous arrival of glosses on Rowling’s best almost-stand-alone novel to date, one focused on the play, work, and business of publishing, writing, and reading, her Silkworm.

Don’t miss this opportunity to read the observations and insights of the only Potter Pundit skilled in all things Rowling, literary allusion, and Early Modern Drama. If Bea Groves did not exist, she would have to have been invented for this work, available via these links below. Enjoy!

“Didst Thou Not Mark the Jest of the Silkworm?”: Literary Clues in “The Silkworm”

“Does the Silkworm Expend Her Yellow Labours/ For Thee?”: Literary Clues in “The Silkworm” – Part 2

The Sword Hidden in a Frozen Pond ‘Dissolution’ and ‘Deathly Hallows:’ Literary Allusion and Reinvention?

I gave a talk to students at the University of Louisville last week in which, almost as an aside, I asserted that the pivotal chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, ‘The Silver Doe,’ was the best and most important chapter in the Hogwarts Saga. The Arthurian, alchemical, and Estecean Christian symbolism make it a one-stop introduction to everything brilliant in the series; that it is the story-turn in the series finale’s meaning-laden ring structure is just an ‘extra.’

My favorite part of the chapter is Ron Weasley’s description of how Dumbledore’s Deluminator enabled him to find Harry and Hermione on the run. The combination of light, heart, Christmas, and name tokens here and their deployment as set-up to Ron’s victory over the two-eyed Locket Horcrux (and his own transformed vision, cf. Matthew 6:21-23) reveals Rowling as a traditional allegorist in the tradition of Spenser, Shakespeare, Bunyan, Coleridge, and the Inklings.

I suspect, though, that others think of Harry’s descent into the pool to get the Sword of Gryffindor, the Locket’s attempt to strangle him, and Ron the Baptist appearing ex machina to raise the Boy Who Lived from a near-certain death by drowning as ‘The Silver Doe’s defining moment. (Did I mention the albedo-photismos qualities of this chapter?) I get that choice. High drama, plenty of action, a real Big Screen life-saving sequence. The Lady in the Lake sword-deliverer story in a snow-scape. This chapter has it all.

That being said, I want to share a passage from a 2003 novel that was a very big hit in the UK, one I think it more than credible that Rowling read at the time of its publication. If you don’t see the parallels with ‘The Silver Doe’ chapter’s sword in the frozen pond scene, I think you’ll need to read it again. It’s nothing like plagiarism or theft but a brilliant re-invention and re-purposing of another writer’s work, even perhaps a hat-tip to a like-minded author. The book is C. J. Sansom’s Dissolution, the connection with Rowling is through P. D. James, and the parallel scene and compare-and-contrast discussion with Deathly Hallows’ pivotal chapter are all to be found after the jump! [Read more…]

Literary Allusion in Cormoran Strike: Curious Case of Yeats’ Leda & the Swan

Ever since Rowling was outed as the author of Cuckoo’s Calling we have been discussing the mythological framework on which the Strike mysteries are written.We were talking about Cormoran’s mother Leda and her relations with rockstar Jonny Rokeby as a reflection of the myth of Leda and the Swan, an avian incarnation of Zeus, even before Joanne Gray broke the code of Strike and Ellacott being story stand-ins for Castor and Pollux.

Beatrice Groves, in a MuggleNet essay on literary allusion in The Silkworm, made a reference to Yeats’ poem, ‘Leda and the Swan’ as a gloss on Rowling’s swan twitter header. Does the Silkworm Expend Her Yellow Labors for Thee?

Rowling put up a rather aggressive-looking swan as a Twitter header during the period she was working on this novel, and a fanciful viewer could relate this image to Yeats’s famous sonnet on Leda:

The great wings beating still/ Above the staggering girl” (“Leda and the Swan”)

That was in February 2018. I didn’t even look up the Yeats poem then, I’m embarrassed to say now.

In March 2018 I was asked by Josh Richards, a brilliant novelist and literary critic out of St Andrews University, to read his The One and Only Sarah Jones. I was delighted to be among the first to read it (I hope you will one day have that opportunity, especially if you love Henry James).

Prof Richards included some notes as epilogue to the book in which he mentioned Yeats’ ‘Leda and the Swan.’ Incredulous that I had not found this in any of my readings about the Leda myth, I pulled down my copy of The Complete Yeats (thank you, Friends of the OKC Library booksale!) and took a look. Here’s an online source for you.

Leda and the Swan (W. B. Yeats1865 – 1939)

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
                    Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

If you’re like me, your ears perked up at that “shudder in the loins” line. Strike says that about Rokeby: “As far as Jonny Rokeby was concerned, I was just a shudder in the loins.” I was sure I’d heard Robert Glenister say that in his audio book rendition of one of the first three Strike mysteries.

Here’s the thing: when Strike bemoans that he was nothing to Rokeby but a “shudder in the loins,” he is of course quoting Yeats’ poem.

I thought, having forgotten Prof Groves’ citation on MuggleNet, that I’d made a major discovery or at least a significant confirmation of the Leda, Zeus, Castor, and Pollux theorizing here at HogwartsProfessor. I wrote to the merry band of HogwartsProfessor faculty and assorted Pundits to see if I wasn’t covering something already well known. The response was positive and enthusiastic, if I was reminded about the previous citation. One correspondent wrote:

Superb, John!
I love it when scholarship works like this – I suspected that she knows this poem, but you’ve found the evidence. I had forgotten Strike’s line … so I’m confident you’ve got something completely new here – and what a great ‘lock in’!
I’m confident Strike knows this is a quote too – finally she’s got a literary-quoting hero: not just Catullus and Tennyson either it seems!

While I did my victory dance and looked for details to post on the subject, my Serious Striker sons burst my bubble.

I was searching for the “shudder in the loins” line in the actual print-copy Strike novels and couldn’t find the exact citation. Confident it was a Strike line — I knew I’d heard it somewhere — I asked my two sons, who have listened to the Robert Glenister readings of each book several times and both of whom have remarkable recall of all things Rowling/Galbraith.

They insisted the line was not in any of the books. Probably why my gracious correspondent said she “had forgotten” it, right? I’d made it up? I did a long, slow crawl through the then three books trying to find the line, to include searches of the online texts via Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ option, and found nothing.

So I finally searched the BBC1 scripts. The good news was that “shudder in the loins” definitely is in the television scripts, Episode 3 of the Cuckoo’s Calling adaptation (September, 2017). Exact location in script:

00:26:46.523 –> 00:26:49.843
“As far as Jonny Rokeby was concerned, I was just a shudder in the loins.”

Strike says that to Robin after learning about Ageyman’s son in the Sappers. It’s not in the equivalent scene in the text of Cuckoo, but at least I wasn’t making things up. I wrote my Friends list to see if any of them remembered reading it in the novels. The best response?

Sorry John – I didn’t know the line was in Galbraith, just assumed you’d found it, and I’d missed it. It’s still interesting, given that it is her production company (do we know how involved she is in the script?), but disappointingly does look like its the script writer’s thought (which could just come from the Leda name) and might not make it any clearer that there is a Rokeby/Zeus tie-in.

I think Amazon’s ‘look inside’ still searches the pages that it will not show you? If this is the case then I’m afraid your search is pretty clear evidence that it is the script-writer’s innovation (though maybe we’ll see it later in the novels….?!).

There are plenty of shuddering loins in Lethal White, but, alas, no quoting of Yeats to describe them.

The good news is that I haven’t lost my mind; I’ve only confirmed how powerful visual media are (I’d only seen the BBC1 show once and hadn’t even been that attentive). The bad news? Well, as my correspondent points out, we have to assume this allusion is a screenwriter’s conceit rather than a bon mot from The Presence Herself. We just don’t know how much input or supervision Rowling has with respect to the adaptations.

I post it now because I have a backlog of more than 200 post drafts I’m working through and this is certainly one of the more interesting.

What do y’all think? Is the BBC1 writer of this Strike adaptation, Ben Richards, the source for the “shuddering loins” allusion to Leda and the Swan or was it J. K. Rowling, one of five ‘Executive Producers’ for this show (Richards is one of the five, as well)? Is it Strike canon or deuterocanonical teevee hash?
Let me know what you think in the comment boxes below!

Ink Black Heart Synopsis Pointers: Mythological and Ring Suggestions

Two days ago, the cover of Ink Black Heart and its fly-leaf synopsis were revealed — and already two of the world’s most insightful Rowling Readers have checked in here with in-depth explorations of ideas about what might be coming in Strike 6. Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, led the charge with The Ink Black Heart: Uncovering the synopsis clues and Louise Freeman, professor of psychology at Mary Baldwin University, followed up yesterday with The Social Science Guide to “Anomie” and What It Could Mean for The Ink Black Heart.

As you’d expect (and want), each addressed possibilities in those subjects in which Serious Strikers know these pundits are expert. Prof Groves gave us a fascinating exploration of the Cratylic name ‘Anomie,’ more on Highgate Cemetery with a focus on its disused Underground Station, and a prediction that Sidney’s The Arcadia will be the epigraph source in  the penultimate Strike mystery, first septology. Prof Freeman explored the social science meaning of anomie a la Emile Durkheim and Robert Merton, repercussions with respect to the 5-6 Flip Idea, what ‘lawlessness’ might tell us about Leda Strike’s supposed suicide, and wealth as the magic of the Strike series in parallel with the Wizarding World seven books.

I confess to being almost overwhelmed by these idea avalanches and left to wonder what else there is left to say about Ink Black Heart’s flyleaf copy and the new cover. After the jump, though, I will share two thoughts which, like Professors Groves and Freeman’s posts, you’d expect I would have, that is, what the synopsis suggests to me about the ring structure of the first seven books, the Parallel Series Idea, and the mythological templates of the Strike-Ellacott relationship. See you there! [Read more…]

Beatrice Groves – The Ink Black Heart – Uncovering the synopsis clues

This morning we finally have the cover for The Ink Black Heart, complete with a plot teaser from the publisher. A few hours earlier than expected, the details were released by Apple Books before 9:30 am BST, before the expected 2:00 pm BST reveal from the Robert Galbraith twitter account. Thank you SEFiles podcast for the tip! The wait was too much for @RGalbraith who released the cover at 11:30 am.

Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of  Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, has written a Hogwarts Professor Guest Post: The Ink Black Heart – Uncovering the synopsis clues. Join me after the jump for Prof. Groves’ look at what the cover and publisher’s blurb can mean for The Ink Black Heart.

Publisher Description:

The Latest instalment in the highly acclaimed, internationally bestselling Strike series finds Cormoran and Robin ensnared in another winding, wicked case.

When frantic, dishevelled Edie Ledwell appears in the office begging to speak to her, private detective Robin Ellacott doesn’t know quite what to make of the situation. The co-creator of a popular cartoon, The Ink Black Heart, Edie is being persecuted by a mysterious online figure who goes by the pseudonym of Anomie. Edie is desperate to uncover Anomie’s true identity.

Robin decides that the agency can’t help with this – and thinks nothing more of it until a few days later, when she reads the shocking news that Edie has been tasered and then murdered in Highgate Cemetery, the location of The Ink Black Heart.

Robin and her business partner, Cormoran Strike, become drawn into the quest to uncover Anomie’s true identity. But with a complex web of online aliases, business interests and family conflicts to navigate, Strike and Robin find themselves embroiled in a case that stretches their powers of deduction to the limits – and which threatens them in new and horrifying ways…

A gripping, fiendishly clever mystery, The Ink Black Heart is a true tour-de-force.

[Read more…]