A Cratylic Cormoran Strike Fan Theory: Is Robin Doomed? The Dobby Link

From the mailbag!

Dear John,

My name is Joseph A and I have been reading and enjoying your books thoroughly since I found The Hidden Key to Harry Potter way back in 2003. Your books have certainly given me a new set of eyes to scan J.K. Rowling’s text.

In light of J.K. Rowling’s apology for killing Dobby yesterday I want to share a concern that I have.

I was researching Robin’s surname Ellacott and came across this:

Ellacott is prominent in Devon, Cornwall, and Wiltshire, is of Anglo-Saxon and Cornish origin.This placename is composed of the Olde English pre 7th Century personal name “Ella”, a short form of various compound names with the first element “aelf”, elf, and the Olde English “cot, cote”, a cottage, shelter for animals. Read more. 

Is it reasonable to interpret Robin’s name as Elf House or House Elf?

In the Galbraith books Cornwall is referenced in connection to Cormoran (The Cornish Giant) and Robin through her surname. Cornwall is only is used once in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; Shell Cottage is located on the outskirts of Tinworth, Cornwall and is the final resting place of Dobby. What could this be pointing to?

In fear for Robin’s safety,
Joseph A

Great letter, Joseph! Three quick thoughts to jump start the conversation here:

(1) We’ve been talking about Rowling’s penchant for ‘Dickensian Cryptonyms’ here since the site was a ‘bulletin-board’ in 2003 but only in reading Beatrice Groves’ Literary Allusion in Harry Potter did I learn that the proper name for name play is ‘Cratylic‘ after the Platonic dialogue in which the polyvalency of names is discussed. That said, your researches and break-down are more than reasonable; I’d say your discovery of ‘House-elf’ in the definition of ‘Ellacott’ qualifies of a Grade A find. Great work!

(2) You ask “What could this be pointing to?” with the suggestion that Robin may be facing a Dobby destiny, that is, a sacrificial death to save her beloved Master (perhaps in Cornwall!).  Given Rowling’s recent confession that “I do love me some death,” as well as her writing the deaths of characters throughout the Hogwarts Saga — Mr and Mrs James Potter, Quirrell, Diggory, Black, Dumbledore, Fred Weasley, Snape, Riddle, Jr., Crabbe, Lupin, Tonks, Colin Creevey, CV‘s Robbie and Krystal Weedon — this is not a misplaced concern.

I hesitate as soon as I begin to type, “Galbraith certainly wouldn’t kill Robin; her relationship with Cormoran is the whole point of the series, per the author,” because it’s really not very hard to imagine Robert doing just that. Though we have been promised many more than seven Strike novels, Galbraith is writing on what seems to be a seven story arc. Could the climax of the first seven book cycle be a confrontation with Rokeby or his henchman in which Robin dies? That would make the death of Dobby in Hallows — or even Black, Dumbledore, and the Lupins’ deaths — seem, well, marginal in comparison.

(3) I think, though, that there is a less painful and more likely to interpret the house-elf hiding within Ellacott. As Galbraith told Val McDermid in the intervierw linked above, “Everybody likes Robin,” but she does have a horrific blind-spot, namely, her love for and loyalty to her fink-of-a-fiancee, Matthew Cunliffe (whose surname, tellingly, refers to a woman’s pudenda). She struggles, as does Dobby with his species-being, with her family’s idea of who she is versus her own vocation.

She is ‘Robin’ to Strike’s ‘Batman,’ too, if you will, though she is beginning to make decisions of her own, for better or worse, by the end of Career. Which, I think, means there is plenty of ‘house-elf’ meaning in Robin’s character without there being a necessity or even a likelihood of her sacrificial demise (or execution by bad guys wanting to send a message to Strike).

But it’s a real possibility, one I never would have thought of except for the name exegesis, for which thank you very much!

What do the HogPro All-Pros think? Is Robin the House-elf doomed to an early death? Let me know in the comment boxes below!



  1. I am reminded that Louise Freeman made a Robin-Dobby connection in 2014 on a Silkworm thread here, in which she wrote:

    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.

  2. Joanne Gray says

    Very interesting post from Joseph A. I do think that Mr. Galbraith is very much aware of the etymology of the names he picks for the characters in the Strike series but I feel, in this case, that even though the Ellacott name fits for house-elf, the odds are pretty slim to none that Robin will suffer the same fate as Dobby.

    One reason for my belief is that the very nature of the series–the whole spine on which the series is predicated is to explore the relationship between Cormoran and Robin. (Granted, if Mr. Galbraith wants to forestall anyone else from writing further books in the series (a la Agatha Christie’s permanent end for Poirot in “Curtain”) he can, when he reaches the end, kill off the lead as others (Christie, Doyle, King, etc.) have also done (some more successfully than others).

    The other reason I believe Robin is safe is that by giving her the first name Robin–Mr. Galbraith has taped into the very long folklore history of the robin. One hard and fast aspect of that folklore is that robins are off limits to harm, let alone killing. Here is a link to a great little overview of the English folklore of the robin and why anyone would be very unwise to do anything amiss to the little bird.

    Although, having said all that, there is a more direct danger linked to the first name of the folklore name Cormoran. The folk story of the giant Cormoran always ends with his demise at the hand of the renowned giant killer Jack. In fact, Cormoran is the first notch on Jack’s list of kills. (Meaning the other well-known Beanstalk Giant was probably number two on that list.) Can’t remember if there has been any characters with the name Jack or not.

    I was happy that I finally ran across something that explained something JK Rowling said about the meaning of the name Strike. She had mentioned that the name had to do with measuring corn. I visualized a long stick to tell the height of the growing corn but the word Strike turned out to refer to the stick used to measure the exact amount in a bushel of corn.

    Of course, the word strike also has multiple meanings both good and bad. I was more surprised to find out that the nickname Shanker also has several meanings. (If the actual name for Shanker has ever been mentioned–I didn’t find it.) I knew about the word shank being slang for “a prison made knife” but it is also “the part of the leg between the knee and the ankle in humans” — which is where Cormoran lost part of his leg. The Merriam-Webster dictionary actually has a definition for the word Shanker. The meaning is “one whose work consists of making or fastening on shanks”. Not very helpful since the word shank has many meanings too, although a bit interesting in the psychological connections the author may have made between Shanker’s criminal connections and his “brother’s” missing shank part of his leg and his need of a prosthesis.

    I hope we don’t have to wait too much longer (actually any longer) to hear when book 4 is coming out. It truly seems like a decade has gone by already between Career of Evil’s publication and today.

  3. Hi, may I add that “Robin” means “divine sacrifice” in name meaning …

  4. Kristin Ferguson says

    I don’t understand this phrase from above:
    “Could the climax of the first seven book cycle be a confrontation with Rokeby or his henchman in which Robin dies?”
    What is meant by “Rokeby or his henchmen”? I’ve read every book and nowhere has it been implied that Rokeby is dangerous, nor that he has dangerous henchmen. Can anyone explain?

  5. Welcome to HogwartsProfessor, Kristin Ferguson!

    Search the site for ‘Heroin Dark Lord’ for the theory you’re looking for or just go here: https://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/lethal-white-and-strike-speculation-101-the-trouble-with-jkr-galbraith-dates-heroin-dark-lord-2-0-the-ied-explosion/.

    Have fun!

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