Troubled Blood: The Astrological Clock and Otherworldly Structure of Strike5

Overview: Rowling-Galbraith wrote Troubled Blood not only as a ring composition, her standard narrative structure, but also as an astrological chart or clock-face. The 73 chapters divide neatly into twelve houses or hours, the chapter groups correspond at meaningful points with the values assigned to specific astrological houses, and a St John’s Cross is visible in the four angular houses of the chart. The author has, in other words, taken her structural artistry to an entirely different and higher plane than she ever has before.

Introduction: HogwartsProfessor.com, if it is to be tagged with a critical school category name, is probably best labeled as ‘Formalist.’ I’d give that tag the prefix ‘Estecean’ to avoid confusing what we have chosen to focus on at this website — the structure and style concerns of an intentional and capable writer who as often as not is ‘writing about writing,’ that is, the conscious experience of narrative — from the soulless and social justice excesses of structuralism or deconstruction, but the ‘Formalism’ shoe fits, frankly, with or without the modifier. Search for ‘Ring Composition’ in the site search space in the left column of the web page if you doubt that.

Troubled Blood, as far as ring writing goes, is Rowling-Galbraith’s most involved and intricate piece of writing. As explained in the exposition of each of the first six parts of the novel I wrote during my first read-through, the novel as a whole is a ring composition: the latch is in parts one and seven, the story turn is in Part Four which creates a story axis in connecting with the latch in the first and last parts, and the corresponding Parts to and from that center, two and six as well as three and five, match up for the classic turtleback.

The book corresponds as well with the seven book turtle-back structure of the Harry Potter novels in reflecting the third novel of the series, Career of Evil, and, once again, its corresponding number in the Hogwarts Saga, Order of the Phoenix. For real Ring Wraiths who know that the fifth book in the Potter series ring corresponds closely with the first book in that series, there are also many notes connecting Troubled Blood with Cuckoo’s Calling, the first cold case Robin and Cormoran solve, and with Philosopher’s Stone.

Incredibly, though, there is more. Each of the first six parts of Troubled Blood is written as a ring composition within itself, the first two parts being seven chapter rings in reflection of the book’s seven parts and the first seven books of Strike being a ring, too. Wheels within wheels within wheels. This is structural artistry that, however arcane it may seem to the reader new to Rowling-Galbraith’s formal fetish, is only “more of the same” to those of us who have been charting her novel-rings (and longer twitter threads!) since 2010.

With Troubled Blood, however, Rowling has added another dimension of structure and style that reflects and reinforces the symbolic and thematic meaning of the book. In addition to the ‘Wheels Within Wheels’ Ring artistry, Strike5 is also laid out as an astrological chart, more easily visualized as a clock face, whose twelve sections or ‘houses’ correspond with the twelve houses of Western horoscope natal charts and the three groupings of these houses into St John crosses (the four house astrological bundles called “angular, succedent, and cadent”).

Four Pointers to Embedded Astrological Clock: Rowling signals this in four ways. First, the astrological clock at Hampton Court was the defining image in the book’s marketing. The cover designers have said that this was Rowling’s choice (hat tip to Nick Jeffrey):

The author’s input identified this as an ideal image to use. The shape and construction of a clock face also created an ideal framing device for the design to set the lettering within and draw the viewer into the scene. This also achieved something which was more emblematic rather than just location-based.

If that isn’t enough, the chapter in which we first see the astrological clock includes the revelation that Margot used to leave her husband messages hidden inside an ornate clock in their living room; Roy confesses in the next chapter that his wife left a cry of the heart to him, ‘Talk to me!,’ in just this fashion the week of her disappearance. The idea of a ‘secret message in a clock’ is planted.

Second, there is the astrological chart drawn up by Talbot for the moment of Margot Bamborough’s disappearance, which is simultaneously dismissed by the Dynamic Duo as Looney Tunes and studied endlessly by them. It gives the literal and figurative shape to their supposed-to-be year long investigation — and that Talbot chart corresponds exactly with the Aries to Pisces organization of the standard twelve houses organization of astrological charts.

Third, the story is set as a one year frame, a deadline established by Anna Phipps and Kim Sullivan, that corresponds to the zodiac cycle. The Dynamic Duo work two extra months after failing to meet the deadline, an addendum and addition to the traditional cycle of twelve that Rowling teasingly refers to via the embedded text of Astrology 14 by Stephen Schmidt that adds two constellations to the zodiac (nota bene: this charting won’t be neat, right?).

Fourth and last on my first listing, St John’s crosses are spread through-out Troubled Blood, most notably in Clerkenwell, at the Phipps gazebo, in a brick at Hampton Court, and in the ‘Dig Here’ note of the novel’s Hermes figure, Carl Oakden, in which readers are told that the secret of the book is to be found buried beneath the eight point cross.

Rowling divides the work into seven Parts, however, rather than twelve. How are we to ‘get’ that the book is an astrological chart if it isn’t obviously broken into twelve sections? More important, how do we divide the book into twelve sections? Follow me after the jump for the fascinating details. [Read more…]

J. K. Rowling on The Daily Show (2012)

TheRowlingLibrary strikes again! The good folks at TRL have posted an interview Rowling did with Jon Stewart in 2012 as part of the promotion tour for the then just published Casual Vacancy. Enjoy!

Beatrice Groves: Dwelling on Dreams in Strike & Harry Potter, Part 2, or, What is So Special about Charing Cross Road? 

Oxford University’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potterconcludes her reflections on the many dreams in Harry Potter and the Cormoran Strike mysteries with the revelation of a stunning link between Rowling’s Harry Potter and Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike mysteries — the centrality of Charing Cross Road and its bookstores to both series. Enjoy! 

From the very beginning, from the time Cuckoo’s Calling was published and especially since the publication of Lethal White, the literary detectives at HogwartsProfessor have picked up on the trail of breadcrumbs Rowling has left linking her two series and it is something which I have been following up since the publication of Troubled Blood (here and here). Yesterday’s ‘Dreams – Part One’ blogpost traced a new parallel in the importance of dreams (and Spenser’s dream-manipulating Archimago) to both. But there is one further connection between Harry Potter and Strike which, perhaps, gestures towards a dream of Rowling’s own: her aspiration to become a writer. 

The location at which readers first enter Strike’s world and the Wizarding World are uncannily close. Strike lives and works on Denmark St, and the narrative regularly observes how near this street is to Charing Cross Road. [They are so close and related that Google Maps presents Denmark Street as ‘A-40,’ the same name assigned Charing Cross Road.] In Cuckoo’s Calling Strike looks ‘out at Charing Cross Road, glittering with car lights and puddles, where Friday-night revellers were striding and lurching past the end of Denmark Street’ (201).

It is a regular feature of the books to mention that Charing Cross Road is audible from Strike’s offices – and, looking out for this idea on opening Troubled Blood, I was pleased to find it mentioned not once, but twice. This is a startlingly intimate link with Harry Potter  – for, when Harry stays in the Leaky Cauldron in Prisoner of Azkaban, the noise of Charing Cross road is likewise audible from Harry’s room, just as it is from the agency’s rooms in Denmark St. In an unexpected link – and despite living in such different worlds – Rowling’s heroes briefly share a soundscape.  

Rowling has not chosen a random busy London road here; it is crucially important that the Leaky Cauldron – the gateway between the mundane and magical worlds – should be located on Charing Cross Road. Rowling chose it, as she has said, because it is ‘famous for its bookshops, both modern and antiquarian… this is why I wanted it to be the place where those in the know go to enter a different world.’ Muggle book shops are mentioned only twice in Harry Potter, and both times are in reference to those on Charing Cross road. As Harry first searches for the Leaky Cauldron the book shops of Charing Cross Road are the first stores he passes, and when he reaches the magical pub itself, it is located with a ‘big book shop on one side’ (Philosopher’s Stone, Chap 5, p.53). These book shops, as Rowling notes, are a metaphor for the way in which reading can open up, for the reader as for the hero, an entrance into a magical world.  [Read more…]

Beatrice Groves: Dwelling on Dreams in Strike & Harry Potter (Part 1 )

Oxford University’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, offers her reflections on the many dreams in Harry Potter and the Cormoran Strike mysteries. Enjoy! Part 2, DV, will be up soon, even post-haste

In Troubled Blood one of the many signs that the investigating office Bill Talbot has become unwell is that he asks Janice to keep a dream diary. But it is also a moment which creates a link between the fifth book of the Strike and Harry Potter series. For in Order of the Phoenix oneiromancy (foretelling the future through dreams) is likewise touched upon when Harry and Ron – like Janice – are told to keep dream diaries. 

‘I never remember my dreams,’ said Ron ‘you say one.’ 

‘You must remember one of them,’ said Harry impatiently…. 

‘Well, I dreamed I was playing Quidditch the other night,’ said Ron ‘What d’you reckon that means?’ 

‘Probably that you’re going to be eaten by a giant marshmallow or something,’ said Harry, turning the pages of The Dream Oracle (Phoenix, Chap 12, pp.214-5) 

This joke, incidentally, is particularly pleasing in this context as I suspect it points to a subconscious source for J. K. Rowling herself. It a small, additional, piece of evidence that she had the Monty Python episode “You’re No Fun Anymore” (Season 1, Episode 7) at the back of her mind when writing Harry Potter. John Granger was the first to realise the relevance this episode’s final, long, sketch (and its character ‘Harold Potter’) in his How Harry Cast his Spell.  It seems likely that this ‘being eaten by a giant marshmallow’ joke is based on a subconscious memory of the same sketch – as it ends, bizarrely, with giant blancmanges eating people (and giant marshmallows are a natural modernisation of Python’s giant blancmanges – which bamboozled American viewers even at the time).

The joke works particularly well as Rowling has built on Python’s original inversion (food eating people rather than the other way around) with a further one of her own (a normal dream-event symbolising a surreal real-life event, rather than the other way around). It is a particularly satisfying moment to see a reveal of Rowling’s own mental furniture as Harry, of course, is trying to occlude the contents of his own mind in this class. Harry has no intention of revealing either his nightmares about graveyards, nor his recurring dream about long dark corridors and so his dream diary (like Janice’s?) is a complete fabrication  

Trelawney calls dreams ‘prophetic… night-time visions’ (Phoenix, Chap 15, p.280) and certainly many of the dreams in Harry Potter turn out to come true. The first dream Harry ever has in the novels (about a flying motorbike) the reader already knows to be true, immediately alerting us to take future dreams seriously. Harry’s first dream at Hogwarts is given in some detail and, as we discover when we finish the book, it contains numerous clues about the future:   [Read more…]

Troubled Blood: Galbraith Music

Gotta love that “they,” no? Hat tip to Beatrice Groves!