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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!

Reading, Writing, Rowling 37: Troubled Blood? Spencer, Manson, and More!

 

From the MuggleNet write-up by Laurie Beckoff:

In this bonus episode John and Katy predict what will happen in the next novel in the Rowling/Galbraith Cormoran Strike series with the help of Elizabeth Baird Hardy (Milton, Spencer, and the Chronicles of Narnia) and Beatrice Groves (Literary Allusion in Harry Potter). Given the Strike 5 title Troubled Blood, John explains Rowling’s reliance on the blood motif in Harry Potter and ponders its recurrence in Cormoran Strike. We speculate about the possibility of Marilyn Manson epigraphs through the book, how Manson lyrics could connect with key characters, and whether this blows apart the potential for repeating the chiastic structure of the Harry Potter series. Other clues point to the phrase “troubled blood” in Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Like Rowling, Spenser mixes genres, with literary allusions abounding. Britomart, Florimell, and the Redcrosse Knight provide hints for the plot and characters of Strike 5: women in danger, Robin in disguise, depression and suicide, doppelgängers. From tattoos to Twitter headers, we leave no clue unexamined! Are we on the right track? What do you think?

What is the Place of Pottermania in the Cormoran Strike World?

In the first Reading Writing Rowling podcast on Cormoran Strike, we speculated about whether the Harry Potter phenomenon would ever be mentioned in the Robert Galbraith series. The series is well-known for including mention of contemporary news stories in the series: William and Kate’s engagement and marriage, the shutdown of the News of the World amid the phone-tapping scandal, the London Olympics. But, there has been no mention another major news event of the time: the premiere of the final Harry Potter movies. Deathly Hallows Part 1  opened on the day of the Roper Chard party in The Silkworm; Part 2 would have premiered during the prologue of Lethal White, when Robin was nursing Matthew back to health after his encounter with the sea-borne bacteria.  Save a mention of Emma Watson on a real-life magazine cover–at the same time Charlotte Campbell graced the cover of the fictional Tatler–there has been no hint of the Harry Potter phenomenon in any of the Strike books. It was Dr. Karen Keblare’s opinion, and I think the rest of us concurred, that Mr. Galbraith would probably avoid the awkwardness that mention of Ms. Rowling’s creation would bring.

That doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t wonder, though.  Overlapping key Harry Potter dates on the Strike books’ timeline shows that Robin would have been prime Generation Hex age, as a twelve-year-old schoolgirl at the time of Philosopher’s Stone’s publication. As a straight-A student with an inquisitive mind and a thirst for mysteries, it is highly likely she would have been a fan of the series. Moreover, she would have been near the end of secondary school and preparing for university when the three-year book drought was broken by the publication of Order of the Phoenix. This puts the start of her university career, the rape, and Matthew’s first betrayal during the gap between Order of the Phoenix and the Half-Blood Prince. 

Once you realize that, it becomes easy to imagine Robin as a Potterphile, and even speculate that she, like many other readers, found the series a source of comfort after trauma. I’ll admit that idea has been percolating in my head for some time.  Therefore, when I saw a fan-fiction challenge to write a short, romantic story with the prompt of “That Touch of Magic,” I saw an opportunity to flesh out this idea a bit.  Thus, I have written my first real fan-fiction in probably a quarter of a century, and the first not to involve a DC Comics character. As you can see, I took the opportunity to plug Hogwartsprofessor.com, pull an extensive Mary-Sue on Robin by letting her write my own paper, and even give Strike a chance to meet his own author.

Please check it out and comment, here or there.  It is quite G-rated, except for a few of Strike’s usual swear words. And be assured, I have no intention of contributing further to his particular genre.

Strike5 To Be All About Marilyn Manson?

Late last week Satanic rocker Marilyn Manson tweeted that J. K. Rowling had sent him a gift:

I think this is a strong pointer to Strike5 having Marilyn Manson song titles and lyrics as its epigraph and story backdrop the way that Blue Oyster Cult lines and themes were so evident in Career of Evil. Here are my three reasons beyond the gift of red roses, which floral present, unlike Manson fans at Metal Head Zone, I do not think suggests a romantic relationship between Rowling and the Rock Star. She’s a Fat Cops fan, remember? My bet is the roses are just a thank you for permission to use his lyrics in her new book.

Three Reasons Strike5 will be a Marilyn Manson Novel:

(1) The Anton LaVey Connection: We learned in Career of Evil that Jeff Whittaker is a rock star wannabe whose favorite album was by the murderer Charles Manson and whose reading materials were largely restricted to Aleister Crowley texts and The Satanic Bible by American organist Anton LaVey. The LaVey connection is a big deal because Whittaker’s son with Leda Strike is named Switch LaVey Bloom Whittaker. We already have a connection with Marilyn Manson in the Charles Manson album (the living Manson’s name is a combination of Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson’s names) but with LaVey we get at the heart of Marilyn Manson’s Satanic beliefs. From the rock star’s wikipedia page:

Manson was a friend of Anton LaVey,[126][127] who even inducted him as a minister in the Church of Satan, although Manson downplayed this. When questioned whether he was a minister in the Church of Satan by Bill O’Reilly, Manson responded with “No, not necessarily. That was something earlier. It was a friend of mine who’s now dead, who was a philosopher that I thought I learned a lot from. And that was a title I was given, so a lot of people made a lot out of it. But it’s not a real job, I didn’t get paid for it.”[128]

As a result, he has been described as “the highest profile Satanist ever” with strong anti-Christian views and social Darwinist leanings.[129]However, Manson himself denies this, and stated the following:

I’m not a misanthrope. I’m not a nihilist. I’m not an atheist. I believe in spirituality, but it really has to come from somewhere else. I learned a long time ago, you can’t try to change the world, you can just try to make something in it. I think that’s my spirituality, it’s putting something into the world. If you take all the basic principles of any religion, it’s usually about creation. There’s also destruction, but creation essentially. I was raised Christian. I went to a Christian school, because my parents wanted me to get a better education. But when I got kicked out I was sent to public school, and got beat up more by the public school kids. But then I’d go to my friend’s Passover and have fun.
— Marilyn Manson[130]

Manson is also familiar with the writings of Aleister Crowley and Friedrich Nietzsche. He quotes Crowley throughout his autobiography, including the Thelemic anthem, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”[131] Crowley’s esoteric subject matter forms an important leitmotif in much of Manson’s early work.

(2) The Tattoos! Rowling recently revealed she has a Solve et Coagula tattoo (or had one temporarily; it’s only been spotted at the Ripple of Hope Award dinner). That was discussed here and its supposed relationship with the Baphomet Satanist idol was dismissed as ridiculous here. Turns out Marilyn Manson also has Solve et Coagula tattoos and one of the Baphomet head as well (see above). From the MansonWiki listing of his many tattoos:

Solve Coagula In January 2014, Manson revealed new tattoos that goes from the back edge of his hands to his wrists. The term originates from Solve et Coagula, an alchemy reference. Roughly translated, it means “Dissolve and join together” or transmutation. The tattoo was done at Will Rise Studio in L.A.
Baphomet On Manson’s 21st birthday, band member and friend Gidget Gein took him to Tattoos By Lou in Miami, Florida to get his first tattoo. At this same session, Gein got a Creepy Crawly Spider tattooed on his wrist. Baphomet became known in the nineteenth century when it was applied to pseudo-historical conspiracy theories elaborating on the suppression of the Templars, and it became associated with a “Sabbatic Goat” image drawn by Eliphas Lévi. The tattoo appears on his upper left arm, under The Lucky Devil.
(3) The Crowley Natal Chart Twitter Header: On 25 January in addition to posting two tweets on her long neglected twitter page (well, neglected since 19 December’s Da Tweet explosion) including one announcing that “Galbraith5” was finished, she changed her twitter page header. It’s an astrological natal chart, one belonging to Anton LaVey, Marilyn Manson, and Jeff Whittaker shared influence, Aleister Crowley.

Mix all that together and I think it’s a good bet that Strike5 will be a nightmare trip into the Satanist rock and roll scene via Jeff Whittaker with a soundtrack provided by the recordings of Marilyn Manson. Serious Striker Joanne Gray has written me to suggest the title of Strike5 could be Manson’s heavy metal 2012 album Born Villain. I suspect we’ll know if that is a bullseye prediction by the end of the month, maybe even this week.

Three quick notes:

  • All of the above, all of it, came to my attention — the roses, the tattoos, the natal chart — through the researches and generosity of Nick Jeffery who sent links to each. A hat tip and a big thank you to Nick!
  • Yes, I think we’re going to learn at last in Strike5 who sent the 50 roses to Strike’s office in Career of Evil. No, I don’t think they were for Robin or from Matt Cunliffe. I wonder if Marilyn Manson opened his card? And of course I get that Born Villain or whatever Strike5 is titled if a Manson themed novel is a lock down parallel with Strike3’s Blue Oyster Cult and one more bit of ring evidence that this is a chiastic seven book series.
  • Is Rowling a Satanist? No, she isn’t. Is she going to enjoy writing about the dangers of the real occult, the madness of popularized rock n’ roll nihilism, as a contrast with the risible supposed dangers of her Hogwarts Saga? Yes, I think she is. [Note to the friend who continues to try and post under a variety of identities on various threads here about Rowling the Satanist: get a new IP address for better luck getting past our filters.]
Let me know what you think!

Beatrice Groves: Rowling and Catullus

Trinity College Portraits by Ian Wallman

A Nativity Guest Post post from Beatrice Groves, Research Fellow and Tutor in English at Oxford’s Trinity College and the author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter as a Christmas gift to you about distinguishing an artist from her artwork and a pointer to a BBC program this week which Serious Strikers will want to attend. Enjoy — and Merry Christmas!

On 9 Jan on Radio 4 (9am and 9.30pm) there will be an ‘In Our Time’ episode on Catullus – which serious Strikers may be  interested in listening in on. Guests include my friend and colleague Dr Gail Trimble, who has written the forthcoming Cambridge University Press edition of Catullus 64 (and what she doesn’t know about Catullus isn’t worth knowing). The write-up of the programme describes how:

Catullus (c84-c54 BC) wrote some of the most sublime poetry in the late Roman Republic, and some of the most obscene. He found a new way to write about love, in poems to the mysterious Lesbia, married and elusive, and he influenced Virgil and Ovid and others, yet his explicit poems were to blight his reputation for a thousand years. Once the one surviving manuscript was discovered in the Middle Ages, though, anecdotally as a plug in a wine butt, he inspired Petrarch and the Elizabethan poets, as he continues to inspire many today. 

One those he continues to inspire, of course, is J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith. She has made Catullus her new hero’s favourite poet – in a way that marks both Strike’s continuity with Harry Potter (in which she delights in using Latin as a magical language) and a gear-change in the way in which she approaches such subjects in her more explicitly adult series. Catullus is a major presence in both the second and fourth Strike novels. In Silkworm Catullus is first mentioned as Strike’s favourite author without giving the reader anything to identify the book by: his favourite book lay in one of the unpacked boxes of possessions on the landing; it was twenty years old and he had not opened it for a long time’ (Silkworm, p.254). Catullus’s poems lies buried in Strike’s subconcious (just as they are literally buried among the books on his landing) and first rise unbidden to his mind on receiving Charlotte’s text ‘Congratulate me. Mrs Jago Ross:’

As he walked with the aid of his stick back to Denmark Street he remembered words from his favourite book, unread for a very long time, buried at the bottom of the box of belongings on his landing.

difficile est longum subito deponere amoren,

difficile est, uerum hoc qua lubet efficias

it is hard to throw off long-established love:

Hard, but this you must manage somehow… (Silkworm, p.373)

It is only in the third and final reference to Catullus in Silkworm that the poet is finally identified. In this passage – which one reviewer called ‘corny but thrilling anyway’1 – Strike performs the ultimate put-down by quoting Catullus at length in Latin:

sicine subrepsti mi, atque intestina pururens

ei misero eripuisti omnia nostra bona?

Eripuisti, eheu, nostrae crudele uenenum

Uitae, eheu nostrae pestis amicitiae.’

He looked unsmilingly upon Fancourt’s astonishment. The writer rallied quickly.

Ovid?’

Catullus,’ said Strike, heaving himself off the low pouffe with the aid of the table. ‘Translates roughly:

So that’s how you crept up on me, an acid eating away

My guts, stole from me everything I most treasure?

Yes, alas, stole: grim poison in my blood

The plague, alas, of the friendship we once had.

 ‘Well, I expect we’ll see each other around,’ said Strike pleasantly.

(Silkworm, p.401)

This is a quotation of almost the whole of Catullus 77 and its relevance to the grotesque murder in Silkworm is clear. But the earlier quotation of Catullus 76 – ‘it is hard to throw off long-established love:/ Hard, but this you must manage somehow’ – appears to have a more wide-ranging relevance for the Strike series.

Rowling has had an all-or-nothing relationship with Twitter in 2019 – her year-long near-silence broken at the very end of the year by a tweet which seems to have been one of the most talked-about tweets of recent times. In the good old days, however, she used Twitter to tell us about Catullus.

On the 16th November 2017 she posted a picture in which I was delighted to spot Peter Green’s bilingual translation of Catullus hiding under the popcorn.

After reading Lethal White I can’t but wonder if this was an intentional set-up – another of her infamous gingerbread trails. For Strike, likewise, strains to read the half-revealed book titles on Jasper Chiswell’s coffee-table and spots an edition of Catullus: ‘Strike could see nothing but a partial title on an old cloth edition – “CATUL”’ (p.292). In this tweet Rowling places her readers in precisely the same position as her detective: straining to find clues from a photograph of a copy of Catullus on the coffee-table of someone who has been quoting that poet. And is she teasing us by leaving precisely the same five letters ‘CATUL’ visible on the book’s spine? Can we come to the same conclusion as Strike from precisely the same evidence?!

Then, on 1 July 2018, Rowling replied to a fan-tweet (can you give us a tease on Lethal White?’) with her first Latin tweet: ‘Odi et amo. Quare id faciam fortasse requiris nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.’ Rowling’s tweet quotes the whole of Catullus 85: ‘I hate and love. Why I do so, perhaps you ask, I know not, but I feel it, and I am in torment.’

By quoting Catullus in Latin, Rowling links herself directly with her detective (who, as noted above, has quoted both Catullus 76 and 77 in Latin from memory). Rowling has commented in interview that these quotations are a hint about Strike’s own personal story arc: ‘it is a clue to what he was studying before he left university… I have backstory there.’2 Rowling, too, studied the classics at university (in her case Greek and Roman Studies at Exeter University – in addition to French) and lines from Catullus clearly rise to her mind as expressing precisely the mot juste, just as they do for Strike. Before the publication of Lethal White I wrote a post for Bathilda’s Notebook on Mugglenet about Rowling’s ‘Odi et amo’ tweet (– which I hope John will post a link to here when Mugglenet is back up!). And, as promised, in Lethal White Catullus did indeed make a return. The copy Strike spots on the villain-victim Chiswell’s coffee table is a pointer to his two important quotations of the poet.

Firstly Chiswell quotes Catullus 16 (apparently with homophobic intent) at Aamir Mallik: ‘Catullus more up your street, I expect. He produced some fine poetry about men of your habits. Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo, Aureli pathice et cinaede Furi, eh? Poem 16, look it up, you’ll enjoy it’ (pp.186-7). (In a nice detective-y detail Strike is able to identify the poet later when discussing this moment with Robin – although she cannot remember the Latin – because Chiswell gives the poem a number not a name: ‘Catullus’s poems are numbered, not titled’ [p.296]).

And then, just as in Rowling’s ‘Odi et amo’ tweet, Chiswell quotes Catullus 85 itself: ‘Odi et amo, quare id faciam fortasse requiris? Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.’ Robin finds it written out in Latin by Chiswell on a crucial note that is one of her biggest under-cover finds. Strike translates it for us – ‘“I hate and I love. Why do I do it, you might ask? I don’t know. I just feel it, and it crucifies me….” that’s Catullus again. A famous one’ (p.449) – and in doing so reveals a little more of his backstory as he parries Robin’s question about how come he can read Latin though he did not (like Rowling) study it at university: ‘in fact the story of his ability to read Latin wasn’t long, merely (to most people) inexplicable. He didn’t feel like telling it in the middle of the night, nor did he want to explain that Charlotte had studied Catullus at Oxford’ (p.453).

In my Mugglenet blog I suggested Peter Green’s translation of Catullus 85 as our best pre-publication guess at how Rowling/Strike would translate it:

I hate and love. You wonder, perhaps, why I’d do that?

I have no idea. I just feel it. I am crucified.3

Rowling hasn’t followed it precisely (as indeed, given copyright, she couldn’t have), but the ‘I just feel it’ and the verb ‘crucify’ suggests that she has used Green as a guide in her translation (Strike’s version, for example, is much closer to Green than to the Loeb: ‘I hate and love. Why I do so, perhaps you ask, I know not, but I feel it, and I am in torment’).

Rowling kept faith with that ‘Odi et amo’ tweet, too, in the sense that Catullus is even more important for the plot in Lethal White than in Silkworm (a pattern we should see repeated in Strike 6 if John is right about the structure, with Lethal White as the ‘pivot’ novel). Strike, musing on why Chiswell has quoted Catullus to Aamir Mallik, notes the obvious point that Chiswell is calling out some form of sexual deviancy – sexually explicit poetry being what Catullus is best-known for: ‘Catullus described plenty of interesting habits: incest, sodomy, child rape… he might’ve missed out bestiality’ (p.296).

He also makes the slightly less obvious connection that Catullus writes about relations with an older woman: ‘the best-known ones are on that very subject,’ said Strike. ‘Catullus was in love with an older woman’ (p.337). An older, married, woman, indeed – although Rowling wants us to work out that clue for ourselves. And Chiswell is indeed, by quoting Catullus 16, expressing his violent anger at sexual deviancy (something very close to incest, in fact) with an older, married woman. Strike has put his finger on the oblique accusation Chiswell is making, he just isn’t ‘addressing’ the person Strike thinks that he is (‘we are never too old to learn, eh, Raff?’ [p.187]).

Catullus – even, perhaps the startlingly adult Catullus 16 – also marks a subtle cross-over between the Strike and Wizarding Worlds. It is difficult not to notice post-Crimes of Grindelwald that Rowling quotes the second line of the Catullus 16 in Lethal White, the line which addresses ‘Aureli:’ the Roman Senator Marcus Aurelius Cotta Maximus Messalinus. This Aurelius is a tempting source for Credence’s new name (revealed to the world two months after the publication of Lethal White) – did she come up with it when re-reading Catullus 16 for Strike research?

More pertinently, I think, Catullus is a name Rowling used in her Wizarding World (posted on Pottermore in 2016 after he had turned up as Strike’s favourite poet in Silkworm in 2014) for ‘the great eighteenth-century researcher of Charms, Professor Catullus Spangle.’ Catullus Spangle is an authority on the Patronus, and in particular, on the way in which this Charm (as we’ve seen in particular with Harry, Snape’s and Tonks’s Patronuses) makes deeply private realities visible: ‘the Patronus, asserted Spangle, represents that which is hidden, unknown but necessary within the personality… the Patronus is the awakened secret self that lies dormant until needed, but which must now be brought to light…’ (Rowling deepens this point by having Spangle, surprisingly, suggest that there is something odd about those whose Patronus takes the form of their favourite animal: ‘Here is a wizard who may not be able to hide their essential self in common life, who may, indeed, parade tendencies that others might prefer to conceal.’4) The Patronus – a bit like more traditional acts of creativity? – negotiates between someone’s private and public natures, their surface and their depths.

Catullus 16, which is only quoted in Lethal White in Latin (and, indeed, was only published in full in English in the late twentieth century), is far from suitable fare for many Pottermore readers. But it is a poem Rowling chooses to quote in her adult work and it is interesting that she gives its author’s name to an academic who writes about the Charm which mediates between the hidden and revealed selves.

The most interesting aspect of Catullus 16 (for this reader, at least) is its explicit (in both senses) discussion of the relation between an author and their art. It is a performance of outrage against those who cannot distinguish between an artist and an art-work. Others claim that Catullus ‘parades tendencies that others might prefer to conceal’ and he replies, in effect, that the poetry is no measure of the man. But he does so, of course, poetically: the poem is a wittily circular, as well as violently memorable, demonstration of its central point.

As we wait for Strike 5 (which Rowling noted last month is pages away from completion) I hope you’ll join me in tuning into the Catullus special on Radio 4 and learning a bit more about Strike’s favourite poet. Who knows? It might provide future clues….

  1. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/jk-rowling-the-most-successful-writer-in-the-world-spins-a-winner/news-story/49666ffcf0ae7d82afdbc379101f584b
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbvJbbgFhrQ
  3. The Poems of Catullus: A Bilingual Edition, trans. Peter Green (London: University of California Press, 2005). p.191.
  4. https://www.wizardingworld.com/writing-by-jk-rowling/patronus-charm