Troubled Blood: Robin’s Two Perfumes The Meaning of Philosychos and Narciso

Robin Ellacott-Cunliffe’s perfume of choice until the dissolution of her marriage was Philosychos by Diptyque. Strike and Matthew both liked it, perhaps their only point of agreement beyond loving Robin herself. As much as perfumes play an outsized role in Troubled Blood, the name of the perfume is worth a moment’s reflection because its meaning is suggestive of Robin’s role in the allegorical drama that the Cormoran Strike mysteries are. 

The various perfumes mentioned in Troubled Blood have been catalogued at the always helpful StrikeFans website. The anonymous compilier notes on that page without further elucidation that “Perfumes appear to be an important and recurring theme in Troubled Blood, emphasizing identity and how we want to be seen versus how other people see us.”

What is left unnoted, beyond the connection to be made between the perfumes mentioned and the identity of the person who wears it, is the importance of the perfume names. Strike, it must be recalled, balks at buying Robin a perfume for Christmas, not only because his flu bug prevents him from being able to smell anything (or think clearly), but also because the names of scents recommended to him mean “In Your Arms” and “Ravishing Musk.” Strike tells Robin in the last chapter trip to Liberty’s perfume counter that these names sounded to him like “Shaggable You,” which idea makes Robin laugh out loud.

The names of Robin’s baseline perfume, Philosychos, and the one she and Strike choose at story’s end, Narciso, both point less to the bedroom than to Robin’s allegorical, psychological, and mythological role in the series. More after the jump! [Read more…]

HBO Max: ‘The Harry Potter Quiz Show’

I was contacted last week by a Casting Associate for a business that finds candidates for reality television programming. The show in question is HBO Max’ ‘Harry Potter Quiz Show’ and I received a message via the Contact page here at HogwartsProfessor because of my unofficial status as ‘Dean of Harry Potter Scholars.’ In a nutshell, they wanted me to name names of the Best and Brightest in Hogwarts Saga fandom who would be great on a five episode trivia contest game show.

Which was fun! After I’d given him my Top Ten choices, I asked for permission to post here about the Quiz Show and the website at which anyone and everyone can apply. Permission was granted — which shouldn’t have surprised me because, as is not unusual in this sort of thing, the programing and application site have been public knowledge for several weeks., for example, announced the project and encouraged everyone to explain why they are the world’s greatest Harry Potter fan in an article titled, Celebrating 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter film: A quiz show and retrospective TV special to launch later this year.

We know you love a Harry Potter quiz – so get ready for something really special. Later this year, an epic quiz competition series will be launching in the US from Warner Bros, challenging wizarding world fans to prove their knowledge. You’ll be able to tune in and join in with the upcoming quiz competition series across HBO Max, Cartoon Network and TBS, with international viewing plans to be announced at a later date.

The as-of-yet untitled quiz will feature four one-hour quiz challenges across four consecutive days and will finish with a retrospective special, all celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone’s film this year. So, get ready for a host of magic and challenges, and a celebration of that first film that introduced us to the wizarding world for the first time.

The quiz series itself will be celebrate the incredible fandom and their love of the Harry Potter films and stories – and will be open to contestants who are 14 years old and over, with fans of all ages able to join in from home. So, many generations of wizarding world fan can get involved!

The link embedded in that last paragraph takes the Willie Wonka Wanna-Be, the Charlie/Charlotte Bucket Brigade, to ‘,’ a site at which he or she makes their elevator pitch to the casting mavens about “why I would be a great contestant on this show.” Questions include:

  • What is your favorite Harry Potter film and why?
  • Who is your favorite Harry Potter character and why?
  • Why are YOU Harry Potter‘s biggest fan?
  • Do you have any Harry Potter hobbies, traditions, memorabilia, or collections?
  • Which Hogwarts house do you belong to? 

They also ask for pictures and a video clip, and, my favorite, a space for applicants to “List all past TV shows in which you have appeared (Name, Network, Year, Role, # of Episodes).”

Hollywood Reporter jumped all over this with an article that opens with the prediction, “The era of the Harry Potter TV series is officially beginning.”

The untitled competition quiz show, which is now casting via, will feature super fans competing to answer trivia questions with special guests set to also be featured in the four-episode series. The show will lead into a retrospective special. An online play-along component will also be part of the game show.

The game show and retrospective are the first official TV offshoots of J.K. Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter franchise and come after WarnerMedia tapped Warner Bros. Global Kids, Young Adults and Classics president Tom Ascheim to oversee the Harry Potter franchise for the studio. Both the series and special are exec produced by Warner Bros. Unscripted TV and Warner Horizon. Robin Ashbrook and Yasmin Shackleton will exec produce the hourlong quiz show, while Casey Patterson (A West Wing Special, VAX Live) will oversee the retrospective. Sources say that while Rowling is not directly involved in either production, Warners collaborated with her team on the content….

The decision to expand the franchise for television comes as NBCUniversal in 2016 inked a rich seven-year rights deal with Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution that included U.S. broadcast, cable and streaming rights to the Wizarding World franchise. That deal, which ends in April 2025, included digital initiatives as well as theme park content and events. The pact also meant Warners execs had to make a side deal that allowed all of the Harry Potter features to briefly stream on HBO Max when the service launched last year. The films left HBO Max after three months and recently returned to NBCUniversal streamer Peacock.

The decision to launch the quiz show and retrospective across HBO Max, Cartoon Network and TBS arrives as WarnerMedia continues to look for synergy across its portfolio in a bid to expose programming to a larger audience.

The Quiz-Show-Not-Yet-But-Soon-To-Be-Named, in brief, is the “first official off-shoot” into the television medium, an opening shot in the long term battle plan to create more excitement in younger fans about the Potter franchise and to revive enthusiasm in the Old Guard. This last challenge is especially significant in light of the Tweet Heard Round the World and Rowling’s subsequent cancellation by the Twitterati.

The good news? This is all in the hands of Rowling, Inc., so it will be done professionally and without sly sarcastic digs at The Presence and her feminism.

The better news? While no great fan of the medium and the sub-genre of programing here, a show of this kind will generate fresh interest in Rowling’s first series of novels, and (he writes hopefully), via trickle-down effect, more interest in her more recent writing, the Cormoran Strike novels.

The most exciting possibility? That one of my recommendations for Quiz Show Contestant or, best of all, a Serious Reader is chosen and wins! Please take the fifteen minutes the application takes to fill out, young and old, to win a chance at stepping up to the Big Stage!

Memorial Day: Cormoran’s Memories

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, a day set aside for grateful recollection of those soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen, and Marines who have died fighting our nation’s battles.

There is no mention of Armistice Day in the five Cormoran Strike novels, oddly enough, 11 November being the UK’s equivalent of our Memorial Day. I say “oddly” because Strike revisits the scene of sergeant Gary Topley’s death and Strike’s loss of limb in almost every one of his investigations. It is never very far out of mind.

Strike first thinks of Topley in Cuckoo’s Calling. He’s on his way to the morgue:

This would not be the first morgue Strike had visited, and far from the first corpse he had viewed. He had become almost immune to the despoliation of gunshot wounds; bodies ripped, torn and shattered, innards revealed like the contents of a butcher’s shop, shining and bloody. Strike had never been squeamish; even the most mutilated corpses, cold and white in their freezer drawers, became sanitised and standardised to a man with his job. It was the bodies he had seen in the raw, unprocessed and unprotected by officialdom and procedure, that rose again and crawled through his dreams. His mother in the funeral parlour, in her favourite floor-length bell-sleeved dress, gaunt yet young, with no needle marks on view. Sergeant Gary Topley lying in the blood-spattered dust of that Afghanistan road, his face unscathed, but with no body below the upper ribs. As Strike had lain in the hot dirt, he had tried not to look at Gary’s empty face, afraid to glance down and see how much of his own body was missing… but he had slid so swiftly into the maw of oblivion that he did not find out until he woke up in the field hospital… (Cuckoo’s Calling, ch 10)

The only two ghosts that haunt Strike, it seems, whose dead bodies remain vivid memories to him, are his mother and Sgt Topley.

In The Silkworm we learned that Strike kept track of Topley’s family, if he was not of their mind with respect to the war in Afghanistan:

They marched against the war in which Strike had lost his leg the next day, thousands snaking their way through the heart of chilly London bearing placards, military families to the fore. Strike had heard through mutual army friends that the parents of Gary Topley – dead in the explosion that had cost Strike a limb – would be among the demonstrators, but it did not occur to Strike to join them. His feelings about the war could not be encapsulated in black on a square white placard. Do the job and do it well had been his creed then and now, and to march would be to imply regrets he did not have. And so he strapped on his prosthesis, dressed in his best Italian suit and headed off to Bond Street. (Silkworm, ch 14)

Strike thinks of Topley three times in Troubled Blood, appropriate in a book in which the dead play a living, dynamic role. The first is when one woman who had survived Creed’s attempts to murder her hesitated when a man interviewing her described her escape as “lucky:”

Strike had turned off the documentary at that point, frustrated by the banality of the questioning. He, too, had once been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and bore the lifelong consequences, so he perfectly understood Helen Wardrop’s hesitation. In the immediate aftermath of the explosion that had taken Strike’s foot and shin, not to mention the lower half of Sergeant Gary Topley’s body and a chunk of Richard Anstis’s face, Strike had felt a variety of emotions which included guilt, gratitude, confusion, fear, rage, resentment and loneliness, but he couldn’t remember feeling lucky. “Lucky” would have been the bomb not detonating. “Lucky” would have meant still having both his legs. “Lucky” was what people who couldn’t bear to contemplate horrors needed to hear maimed and terrorized survivors call themselves. He recalled his aunt’s tearful assertion that he wasn’t in pain as he lay in his hospital bed, groggy with morphine, her words standing in stark contrast to the first Polworth had spoken to him, when he visited Strike in Selly Oak Hospital.

“Bit of a fucker, this, Diddy.” (ch 11, Troubled Blood)

The next time is during a conversation with Robin about her interview with Paul Satchwell. She said he described the suffocation of his handicapped sister Blance had been a “mercy killing.” Robin thinks of Brian Tucker and the bit of Creed’s violence porn in which he described his torture of Margot Bamborough. Strike thinks of Topley, the subject of his “recurrent nightmares.”

“Some deaths are a mercy,” said Strike.

And with these words, in both of their mind’s eyes rose an image of horror. Strike was remembering the corpse of Sergeant Gary Topley, lying on the dusty road in Afghanistan, eyes wide open, his body missing from the waist down. The vision had recurred in Strike’s nightmares ever since he’d seen it, and occasionally, in these dreams, Gary talked to him, lying in the dust. It was always a comfort to remember, on waking, that Gary’s consciousness had been snuffed out instantly, that his wide-open eyes and puzzled expression showed that death had claimed him before his brain could register agony or terror. (ch 52, Troubled Blood)

In the penultimate chapter, Strike thinks of laughing in a German hospital with Anstis about Topley’s loss of legs:

“Well, that’s not very good for our egos, Roy,” said Strike, stroking the purring cat. “Implying that anyone could have done what we did.”

Roy and Anna both laughed harder than the comment deserved, but Strike understood the need for the release of jokes, after a profound shock. Mere days after he’d been airlifted out of the bloody crater where he’d lain after his leg had been blown off, fading in and out of consciousness with Gary Topley’s torso beside him, he seemed to remember Richard Anstis, the other survivor, whose face had been mangled in the explosion, making a stupid joke about the savings Gary could have made on trousers, had he lived. Strike could still remember laughing at the idiotic, tasteless joke, and enjoying a few seconds’ relief from shock, grief and agony. (ch 72, Troubled Blood)

Even in celebration of his Agency’s greatest triumph and his reunion with Robin after several weeks, Strike cannot help but think of Gary Topley. He is haunted by the memory of the fallen, a man he might have saved instead of Anstis, a man whose fate Strike escaped for reasons unknown to him, perhaps reasons unknowable.

His PTSD is a live issue. Strike struggles with it every time he gets into a car not driven by Robin. He understands Robin’s panic attacks consequent to her having been raped as an undergraduate and knifed while following a suspect. He’s had them himself; he shares her struggle for self-awareness, transformation, and transcendence of the nightmares.

I thought of Strike today when a Marine Corps friend wrote me about this veteran, an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Staff NCO, and the PTSD he struggles with, the ghosts of his fallen comrades who visit him when he drinks. Read it and weep.

If you have the time on the day set aside for such remembrance, read this article about a Marine veteran who took his own life years after his combat experiences, a victim of never recovering from his PTSD: ‘This Has Got To Stop.’

Strike never mentions Armistice Day or ritual observances of those who died in war and peace in service to their country. He does, however, note, in Lethal White a war memorial with “poppy wreaths at its base.”

The White Horse turned out to be an ugly prefabricated building, which stood on a busy junction facing a large park. A white war memorial with neatly ranged poppy wreaths at its base rose like an eternal reproach to the outside drinking area opposite, where old cigarette butts lay thickly on cracked concrete riven with weeds. Drinkers were milling around the front of the pub, all smoking. Strike spotted Jimmy, Flick and several others standing in a group in front of a window that was decorated with an enormous West Ham banner. The tall young Asian man was nowhere to be seen, but the plainclothes policeman loitered alone on the periphery of their group. (Ch 9, Lethal White)

If you wondered about Strike’s feelings as an Army veteran who is haunted recurrently by nightmares of Sergeant Gary Topley about how he experiences his survival in lieu of their sacrifice and about the fallen and how they look on him, my best guess is that “eternal reproach” may come close. He lives on, largely in their memory, doing what he can to make them, as was Aunt Joan, “proud of him.”

To those who died and those who live with their memories of the fallen as a haunting conscience and reproof, many thanks. ‘Memory Eternal!’

Cormoran Strike: Troubled Blood

This is a tentative listing by category of the posts at HogwartsProfessor about Troubled Blood. It will be updated continually as the Pillar Post for the book. Please add the posts I have missed in the comment box and forgive the several posts-in-progress that are listed without links. There’s much more work to do on this wonderful work!

1. Chiastic Structure

Rowling’s fixation on planning in general and with structural patterns specifically in all of her work continues in Troubled Blood. From the first reading, it became apparent that in Strike5 Rowling-Galbraith had taken her game to a new level of sophistication. She continued, as she had in her four previous Strike mysteries, to write a story in parallel with the Harry Potter septology; there are many echoes of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth and equivalent number in the Hogwarts Saga, in Troubled Blood. Just as Phoenix was in important ways a re-telling of Philosopher’s Stone, so Troubled Blood also echoes Cuckoo’s Calling — with a few Stone notes thrown in as well. The new heights of Rowling’s structural artistry, though, extend beyond her patented intratextuality; they are in each of Strike5’s first six parts being ring compositions themselves, the astrological chart embedded in the story chapters, and the six part and two chapters correspondence in structure between Troubled Blood and Spenser’s Faerie Queen.

2. Literary Alchemy

Per Nabokov, literary artistry and accomplishment are known and experienced through a work’s “structure and style.” Rowling’s signature structures are evident in Troubled Blood (see above) and her characteristic hermetic artistry, literary alchemy, is as well. Strike5 is the series nigredo and Strike and Robin experience great losses and their reduction to their respective and shared prima materia in the dissolving rain and flood waters of the story.

3. Psychology/Mythology

Rowling told Val McDermid that if she had not succeeded as a writer than she would have studied to become a psychologist:

V: If it hadn’t worked out the way it has. If you’d sat there and written the book in the café and nobody ever published it, what would you have done with your life, what would you have liked to have been?

JK: There are two answers. If I could have done anything, I would have been really interested in doing, I would have been a psychologist. Because that’s the only thing that’s ever really pulled me in any way from all this. But at the time I was teaching, and I was very broke, and I had a daughter and I think I would have kept teaching until we were stable enough that we were stable enough that I could change. 

Because of her lifelong study and pre-occupation with mythology, it is fitting that in Strike5 readers are confronted with a host of references to psychologist Carl Jung and to a specific Greek myth which Jungian psychologists consider essential in understanding feminine psychology. All of which leads in the end to the Strike series’ equivalent of the Hogwarts Saga’s soul triptych exteriorization in Harry, Hermione and Ron as Body, Mind, and Spirit, with Robin and Strike as Handless Maiden and Fisher King, the mythological images of anima and animus neglected and working towards integration.

4. Valentine’s Day

The story turn of Troubled Blood takes place on Valentine’s Day and the actions, events, and repercussions of this holiday of Cupid and Heart-shaped candies, not to mention chocolates, shape the Robin and Strike relationship drama irrevocably. Chocolates play an outsized portion of that work symbolically, believe it or not; the word ‘chocolate’ occurs 34 times in the first four Strike novels combined but 82 times in Troubled Blood. I explore the importance of this confection in two posts before beginning to explain the importance and appropriateness of Valentine’s Day being the heart of the story, one that is in large part a re-telling of the Cupid and Psyche myth.

5. Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen

Troubled Blood features several embedded texts, the most important of which is never mentioned in the book: Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen. Serious Strikers enjoyed the luxury of not one but two scholars of Edmund Spenser who checked in on the relevance and meaning of Rowling’s choice of the greatest English epic poem for her epigraphs, not to mention the host of correspondences between Strike 5 and Queen. Elizabeth Baird-Hardy did a part by part exegesis of the Troubled Blood-Faerie Queen conjunctions and Beatrice Groves shared her first thoughts on the connections as well. Just as Lethal White’s meaning and artistry is relatively unappreciated without a close reading of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, so with Strike 5 and Faerie Queen.

Elizabeth Baird-Hardy

Beatrice Groves

John Granger:

6. The Ghosts

Rowling’s core belief is in the immortality of the soul and her favorite writer of the 20th Century is Vladimir Nabokov, whose work is subtly permeated by the otherworldly. No surprise, then, that Troubled Blood is haunted by a host of ghosts, most importantly the shade of Margot Bamborough but to include the women murdered by Dennis Creed and Nicolo Ricci. Their influence is so obvious and so important that it has spurred discussion of the spectres that haunt the first four Strike novels whose presence had not been discussed prior to the revelations of Strike 5. 

7. The Names

The Cryptonyms or Cratylic Names of Troubled Blood are as rich and meaningful, even funny, as those found in Lethal WhiteFrom Paul Satchwell’s “little package” to Roy Phipps as the Spanish King Phillip, from the nigredo black elements of Bill Talbot and Saul Morris to the Spenserian echoes of Oonaugh Kennedy and Janice Beattie, and the Rokeby-Oakden coincidences, Strike5 is full of name play. Did I mention that the detectives solve the mystery largely through their exploration of names? Douthwaite and Oakden only pop-up after Strike has revelations consequent to serious reflection on their names and pseudonyms. Rowling-Galbraith really wants her real-world readers to be reflecting on the Dickensian names of all her characters.

  • The Cratylic Names of Troubled Blood: A Top Twenty Round Up

8. The Flints and Gaffes

Rowling commented in one of her interview tableaus for Troubled Blood that she had worked extra hard to get the dates right in this most complicated of novels and that her proof reader and continuity editor found a big mistake. Serious Strikers, though, were left crying “Alas!” and laughing aloud at the number of bone-headed gaffes in The Presence’s longest work to date. It remains her best as well as her longest book to date, but, really, get the woman the help she needs to comb the book for errors pre-publication. Can you say, “Isla”?

9. The Astrology

The principal embedded text in Troubled Blood, the one Robin and Cormoran read repeatedly, create keys for, and discuss throughout the book, is Bill Talbot’s ‘True Book.’ It features an astrological chart for the exact time and place of Margot Bamborough’s disappearance in 1974, which map Talbot used to try and solve the case. Strike is profoundly disgusted by this approach but spends, as does Robin, much of his time trying to figure out the chart or at least what Talbot made of it. Troubled Blood, consequently, turns into something of an exploration of astrology and its relevance to understanding ourselves and the world. Unpacking what Rowling means by it, not to mention what the natal charts of Robin and Cormoran tell us about these charactes, their relationship, and Rowling-Galbraith’s intentionally hermetic artistry, is a large part of the exegetical work to be done on Troubled Blood.

10. The Tarot Card Spreads

We know that Rowling has significant skills when it comes to astrology. What is less well appreciated is that almost from childhood she has played with tarot card reading which knowledge has informed her work. This is comic in Trelawney, say, but comes to the fore in Troubled Blood‘s card spreads: the Celtic Cross in Talbot’s ‘True Book,’ his embedded three card spreads in the illustrations of that tome, and Robin’s two readings, one in Laemington Spa and the other in her flat at story’s end.

  • Part Three, Note Six
  • Part Four, Note Five
  • Part Five, Note Five
  • Part Six, Notes Five, Six, Eight
  • Bill Talbot’s Tarot: The Embedded Occult Heart of Troubled Blood
  • Robin Ellacott’s Tarot: The Missed Meanings of Her Twin Three Card Spreads in Troubled Blood

11. Who Killed Leda Strike?

To Rowling-Galbraith’s credit, credible arguments in dedicated posts have been made that every person in the list below was the one who murdered Leda Strike. Who do you think did it?

12. Embedded Texts

All of Rowling’s novels feature books and texts, written work as well as metanarratives, with which her characters struggle to figure out in reflective parallel to what her readers are trying to do with the novel in hand. Troubled Blood is exceptionally laden with these embedded texts. Beyond Talbot’s True Book and Spenser’s Faerie Queen noted above, we are treated to selections from The Demon of Paradise Park, Whatever Happened to Margot Bamborough?, Astrology 14, and The Magus.

13. The Murderers: Creed and Beattie

A demon-possessed psychopath and the brain-damaged lonely woman… Each is described as “a genius of misdirection” and being without remorse or empathy. The actual murderers in Troubled Blood are distinct, certainly, but paired as well, as one of the many mirrored pairs in this story.

14. Feminism

Troubled Blood, Rowling has said, is a commentary of sorts on changes in the history of feminism. It is an unvarnished, even brutal exploration of the heroic age of the feminist movement, its front and back, largely through the personalities, circumstances, choices, and experiences of two pairs of women, Margot Bamborough and her plucky Irish side-kick Oonaugh Kennedy and the paired through time couple of Irene Bull-Hickson and Janice Beattie.

15. Rokeby 3.0

Jonny Rokeby makes his first appearance, albeit only by phone call, in Troubled Blood and yet it has reset thinking about Strike and his biological father considerably. Kurt Schreyer thinks the head Deadbeat is more Snape than Voldemort — and, if this is the case, we need to re-read the series to see how much Strike’s emotional injuries from childhood neglect have misshaped his understanding of his dad so he lives in upside-down land.

The Ghosts Haunting Troubled Blood

In January I wrote and posted a reading of Troubled Blood as an allegorical drama, a Medieval Morality Play, of the temptations and pitfalls that are met along the way of the Seeking Soul’s journey to its true home in God. The argument that this allegorical reading is a legitimate interpretative exercise rests on (1) the Faerie Queen epigraphs before every chapter and Part, (2) the character Cratylic names or cryptonyms that point to each being an allegorical figure (especially the Oonaugh/Una and Janus/Duessa ‘lifts’ straight from Spenser’s epic poem), and (3) the first act of the play’s ending with God’s appearance as ‘Theo’ and judgment of the fallen Pure Soul, the Pearl.

Today, I hope to offer an exegesis of the Morality Play’s second act, in which the Pearl, Margot Bamborough, is repentant in her after-life as a ghost and communicates as she can in dreams or nightmares, occult openings, and in the thoughts of those receptive to her messages. She guides, if this reading is correct, the cold-case investigation of her disappearance in 2014 from beginning to end and her trail in the years 1974 to 2014 is visible in the testimony of witnesses during this successful inquiry. To understand most of what follows, you will be best served by a quick review of Troubled Blood as Allegory,Part 1 and Troubled Blood: The Dead Among Us in which post I first reviewed the “ghostly images” throughout Strike5.

You’ll also, of course, have to suspend your disbelief in ghosts.

We Postmoderns as such do not believe in ghosts. It’s a function of skepticism about anything supernatural or spiritual, the inherent materialism and naturalism of our historical period, and the belief that, however compromised and undependable it may be in knowing reality as it truly is, reasoning based on sense perception and deductive logic is the highest human faculty and the surest way to knowledge (Science!).

Rowling-Galbraith, perhaps to shake us free of that delusionary baggage, stuffs her stories with ghosts.

There are the visible gang at Hogwarts, good for laughs and a melodramatic Gothic flavoring, and we learn via the Resurrection Stone that the dead are at hand, 24/7, to be called up for conversation and advice (cf., Harry’s walk into the Forest with James, Lily, Remus, and Sirius as companions). ‘The Ghost of Barry Fairbrother’ haunts Casual Vacancy, and, though his messages are written by living people in his name rather than by him, per se, his influence as other-worldly playwright on these writers seems obvious. Strike notes the presence of his mother’s ghost at the beginning of Troubled Blood: “the wraith of Leda seemed to drift on his cigarette smoke around him” (34). He has similar feelings about his Aunt Joan immediately after her funeral and at the beach in Skegnes.

Rowling’s post Potter spirits are not visible as the riders in her Headless Hunt. As with the ‘King’s Cross’ after-life conversation with Dumbledore and Harry at the otherworldly King’s Cross, she is careful to write the story so the moral is clear without being “moralizing,” a big no-no in her thoughts about what makes writing good or bad. Therefore, a reader doesn’t have to believe Harry has really gone to a Logos Land or Limbo at a mystical King’s Cross where Voldemort’s self-butchered soul is in a heap on the floor and enlightened Albus teaches Harry; if an after-life is an anathema idea to any reader, that Harry doesn’t learn anything he couldn’t possibly have figured out on his own, the meeting at King’s Cross might indeed just be “in his head,” real in some sense but only psychologically. 

Having noted Rowling’s care not to be preachy about the soul’s survival of bodily death, I think it is obvious that the ghost of Margot Bamborough is everywhere in Troubled Blood. This woman, whom Oonaugh, Cynthia, and Satchwell all testify would “never have left her daughter,” is in the thoughts, dreams, occult invitations, and ideas or inspiration of ten different characters. Margot, the Pearl, as with the pearl-maiden shade ‘over the river’ in the Medieval allegory Pearl, is an otherworldly guide to those seeking her; unlike the poem spirit, though, Bamborough is not at peace and haunts this world to protect those she loves, reveal those who killed her, and help those who are open to her guidance. Every instance that I provide as an example, however, can be read, certainly is read by the great mass of readers as just normal human thinking, dreaming, imagining, and game-playing with tarot cards sans ghostly influence.

That having been noted, reading Troubled Blood as a Spenserian allegory all but requires that the fallen but repentant soul of the good-hearted but wrong-headed atheist Margot be allowed to do what she can in her after-life to correct her mistakes and punish the truly evil before her coming to God’s final judgment. We have not only to believe in ghosts, but also to look for their traces in the psychic realm of our souls and minds in order to see them. Fortunately, Margot’s ghost trail isn’t that hard to see.

Join me after the jump for the Ghosts of Troubled Blood, both Margot and the other murder victims, the Nabokov connection, and what this all means for Serious Strikers re-reading the series.

[Read more…]