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Super Lethal White Speculation Podcast! Reading, Writing Rowling, Episode 14: Cormoran Strike – and Harry Potter?

Tuesday morning, just after midnight or later in the day when your bookstore opens for business, we’ll all be reading Strike 4, aka Lethal White, the latest Robert Galbraith Cormoran Strike whudunnit. I have the day off from my Muggle job Tuesday and, no, I won’t be answering email or cell phone calls. It’s like a throw back to Midnight Madness parties and the anticipation of a first reading of a Harry Potter novel… and those are happy memories for Rowling fans, right?

I will, of course, be posting on a daily basis here about Lethal White from late on the 18th and the days following for at least a month. Until Tuesday, though, what are we to do?

Marietta College’s History professor and Potter Pundit Katy McDaniel, the host of MuggleNet’s ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ podcast anticipated our frustration in the waning moments of the Great Wait and recorded a conversation among three Strike Scholars, Karen Kebarle, Louise Freeman, and myself, about all things Cormoran with special emphasis on what we can expect in Lethal White. It was a ‘wow’ meeting of minds and I recommend it to anyone wishing for an appetizer beyond the excerpt teaser published yesterday in The Guardian.

Dr. McDaniel describes the podcast conversation this way:

J.K. Rowling’s second literary career as Robert Galbraith acts as a commentary on her Harry Potter series and also sets out on a new literary path. With guests Dr. Karen Kebarle and Dr. Louise Freeman, Katy and John examine the connections between the Harry Potter series and the first three Cormoran Strike novels. J.K. Rowling’s artistic signatures appear in the detective novels, in particular via the classical literary allusions that appear in both. Do apparent correspondences reveal more than just that the same mind created both Harry Potter and Cormoran Strike (or the reader’s tendency to see connections everywhere)? An understanding of mythology and ancient literature helps us ponder where the detective series might be headed in the fourth book, due out in mid-September.

Some fans have made the leap from Harry Potter to Cormoran Strike, but others have not. Our conversation explores why this second series has received less popular and scholarly attention, as well as the compelling qualities of the novels – the characters and relationships, plotting, descriptions of modern London, and themes – that have drawn us to them. We also contemplate the larger story arc: Is this essentially a romance between Cormoran and Robin? Does Strike have a “Moriarty” foil who will eventually become important? What will we learn about Cormoran’s father and mother?

Predicting where J.K. Rowling is heading with the series is tricky, but close readings of the previous books, her social media clues, Lethal White’s synopsis, and Rowling’s slow narrative release in the Harry Potter books point us in certain key directions. Do you think we got it right?

If that’s not enough, check out my post ‘Lethal White: What We Can Expect‘ and my most recent speculations about the White Horse idea with which Rowling has been teasing us vis a vis Lethal White in ‘Heroin Dark Lord.’

On Monday I’ll share my Day-Before-Publication ‘List of Ten Things that Have to Happen’ and my ‘Off-The-Wall Prediction List’ of the things I’d love to see in Lethal White. Let me know what you think of the MuggleNet podcast — and stay tuned for an exciting week of Strike posts here at HogwartsProfessor!

Rowling Interview Transcript and Notes

Rowling-Galbraith has given one interview about Troubled Blood in the first month of its publication history, a softball session (Tee-ball?) I complained about the day after its release. “So many more important questions she could have been asked!” et cetera.

I asked my wife to type up a transcript of the interview for ease in reference, and, Serious Striker that she is, it can be found below the jump. Reading through it, I confess my first response to the interview was both understandable in its disappointment — think of the work posted here on the Spenser epigraphs and Tarot card spreads alone, neither of which gets more than a head nod — and lamentable. The interview is much better and more revealing than I thought.

I have numbered the fourteen questions, provided a comment for each, and hope that you will use those numbers and add your own thoughts in the comment thread below. Corrections of the transcript are welcome, of course, as are alternative questions you would have asked The Presence, even if she was only virtually Present. Enjoy! [Read more…]

Troubled Blood: Cormoran Strike’s Journey with Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner

Elizabeth Baird-Hardy and Beatrice Groves have been writing about the Spenserian epigraphs adorning each of Troubled Blood’s seven Parts and all of its seventy three chapters, and, for those few, too-happy few Rowling readers well versed in Faerie Queen this has no doubt been a challenging and rewarding effort in literary exegesis. It is an unstated but key premise to everything we write here, I realized this morning, that Rowling writes and speaks to two audiences simultaneously — to those who read her work for entertainment and inspiration and to those who read her work (to include longer twitter threads as well as her novels and series!) for the text beneath the surface of the text, the narrative undergirding the plot narrative revealing the meaning of narratives in our lives. The Faerie Queen posts are, no doubt, examples of the hidden text within what the Russian Formalists called ‘literariness’ and we owe a real debt to Profs Baird-Hardy and Groves for the slow-mining they do per Ruskin to bring this gold to the light of day.

The problem with this work is that I do not think the overlap portion of a Venn diagram of ‘Readers of Troubled Blood,’ ‘Readers of Harry Potter,’ and ‘Readers of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen‘ constitutes even a very small shared sub-set of serious readers. More to the point, perhaps, in an area proportional Venn diagram in which the three sets of readers are represented in size relative to the number of their living members, the Faerie Queen set, alas, is the smallest of the three — and has virtually no overlap, with the important exception of Profs. Baird Hardy and Groves, with the other sets.

No doubt Rowling labors here to foster interest in Spenser’s epic poem among her faithful as well as her Straussian readers of her public and hidden texts, of her surface and hidden meanings, just as she did with Silkworm’s Jacobean Revenge Drama epigraphs and Lethal White’s chapter heading glosses from Ibsen’s Rosmersholm. But Faerie Queen is by far the biggest ‘ask’ in this regard, one with rewards proportionate to the time and effort necessary to enter Spenser’s realm, and the prompting I have to think that will be the least likely to be taken, even with the encouraging glosses written by Serious Strikers.

What I wish to offer today for your consideration is a much less obvious parallel text within Troubled Blood, one that many more if by no means most Troubled Blood readers have already read and which all could read with understanding in less than an hour. This work, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’ when read in parallel with Troubled Blood, highlights essential artistry and meanings of Rowling’s latest, of Rowling’s oeuvre taken as a whole, and even of the references to Agatha Christie and William Shakespeare in Strike 5. Join me after the jump for a deep dive into the parallels between Mariner and the fifth Strike novel, an Estecean interpretive journey through Troubled Blood! [Read more…]

Troubled Blood: Questions for Rowling-Galbraith from US & UK Serious Strikers

If you have watched the ‘Robert Galbraith Troubled Blood‘ interview and your experience is like mine, you left the fifteen minutes of actual questions disappointed at the wasted opportunity. Rowling will almost certainly not do another ‘event’ on the subject — with Troubled Blood topping the best sellers lists in the States and Great Britain, why should she? — and this softball exchange told Serious Strikers, Potter Pundits, and Rowling Researchers next to nothing.

Just one ‘for instance’ to make a point of what a blown chance this was. One third to half of her time was dedicated to praise for the teevee adaptations of the Strike series and the actor and actress playing Strike and Robin. I get that producers had an obligation of sorts to keep non-readers interested (and to promote teevee viewing) but the only interview with the world’s best selling author about her longest novel ever largely turns on Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger? Egad.

Let’s pretend for a moment that Rowling, Inc., was as disappointed as we were in this interview rather than the very people who chose the questions, wrote, taped, and edited her responses, and presented it as exactly as it stands. That’s a real stretch even for professional pretenders, I know, but it is a necessary imaginative leap for the exercise I want to propose.

Please tell me what you would ask Rowling-Galbraith if she were drunk on Veritaserum and the interview was filmed live.

What are the three questions you would ask Rowling-Galbraith about Troubled Blood?

Post your questions in the comment boxes below by clicking on ‘Comments’ in the space beneath the post’s title line. Make a naïve wish as you blow out the candles on Robin Ellacott’s birthday cake, a wish that The Presence sees them and will answer. I share my three questions for the author-who-must-tell-the-truth after the jump. Thank you in advance for writing out your questions and sharing your thoughts about the interview, especially, if, unlike me, you thought it was a brilliant Q&A that really opened up the artistry and meaning of Troubled Blood! [Read more…]

Liminal Women: Mermaids and Swan Maidens in Galbraith’s Strike Novels

Oxford’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, returns to HogwartsProfessor today — her third post here in a week! — to offer thoughts in the run-up to publication of Troubled Blood on the Mermaids and Swan Maidens in the Cormoran Strike novels. Enjoy!

In Lethal White there is moment when Britain’s sea-faring history briefly surfaces. Robin enters the rose garden of St Nicholas Church, Deptford and notes that its gateposts are ‘topped with the strangest finials she had ever seen. A pair of gigantic, crumbling stone skulls sat on top of carved bones.’ Robin thinks to herself that they would look at home ‘garnishing the front of a pirate’s mansion in some fantasy film’ (48). But, there is a persistent local legend that the indebtedness is the other way around: not that these finials recall the Jolly Roger, but that the Jolly Roger recalls them. The church’s website notes:

The famous flag of piracy sent shivers down the spine of unfortunate mariners whenever they came across it. But where did the flag originate? Legend has it that the flag was based on the skulls which still stand on the gate posts of St Nicholas’ church.

For centuries an economic and maritime war existed over the domination of the trade routes between Europe and the Americas, Africa and the Indian sub-continent. This battle of supremacy was mostly contested by Britain, France, Spain and Holland. Much of the conflict was acted out by privateers – ships in private ownership and outside the Royal Navy – whose activities were not fully investigated by the national authorities.

The British privateers did not necessarily want to broadcast their nationality when approaching say, a Spanish galleon returning from the Caribbean, particularly if they intended to loot her. So they invented a new flag, one intended to strike fear into the hearts of their victims and also to disguise their true nationality.

These ships were pirates, and many of them would have set off from Deptford – so hence it is thought that they borrowed the skull and crossed bones image from their local church.

This is, sadly, probably just a local tale, based on the link between the widespread, and ancient, Christian use of skulls as memento mori and the Jolly Roger (Though I do wonder if these memento mori skulls might have been in Rowling’s mind when she put up the Twitter header of Harmen Steenwyck’s ‘Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life’ as her Twitter header in Dec 2016, noting (when asked about it): ‘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’ (Jan 5, 2017)

Rowling would have been writing Lethal White at the time, and perhaps the memento mori skull in Steenwyck’s painting alludes to those church gates in Deptford, and the eye-catching local legend that they inspired the Jolly Roger itself.)

For Troubled Blood Strike will (at least briefly) be relocating to the coast, and given Rowling’s deep interest in folk legends and tales, I expect some Cornish sea-faring legends to appear. The most commonly noted Cornish link throughout the series has been Strike’s drink of choice – Doom Bar – and if this location merits a mention once Strike is back in Cornwall (as it surely might) Rowling may allude to ‘The Doom-Bar’ by Alice E. Gillington. We know from the blurb that Robin will be ‘juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention, as well as battling her own feelings about Strike’ in this novel – and I wonder if Gillington’s Victorian poem about a doomed romance may have caught Rowling’s eye. ‘The Doom-Bar’ relates the story of a woman who gives her lover a keepsake as he sails away across the Doom Bar sands. She remains faithfully waiting for him until one year, when the tide is unusually low, she walks out on the Doom Bar and finds her ring nestling inside a scallop shell. This find brings with it the realisation that her sweetheart was faithless, and he tossed her ring out to sea the very day she gave it to him. [Read more…]