Happy 24th Birthday, Harry Potter!

Hat tip to Patricio Tarantino at TheRowlingLibrary.com and to Beatrice Groves for sending me a reminder that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published on this date in 1997. Much more than Harry’s fictional birthday of 31 July, one he shares with The Presence, the date of his first adventure’s publication marks his true entry into the real world.

Many thanks to the midwives at Bloomsbury that made the birth and the subsequent births so eventful — and congratulations to Harry’s real mum, the author, for all she overcame to carry the Boy Who Lived to term and to his final victory over the Dark Lord!

Troubled Blood: Steel Dagger Interview

Troubled Blood is up for another prestigious award, the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. This annual prize is for the ‘Best Thriller’ and is given out by the British Crime Writers Association as one their Dagger prizes, the most prestigious of which is the Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement. The Steel Dagger differs from the Diamond Dagger in focus and in being a relative newcomer to the Crime Writers Association.

Its focus is the thriller, which is an inclusive genre, no doubt about it:

[The Steel Dagger] award is for the best thriller novel first published in the UK. The broadest definition of the thriller novel is used for eligible books; these can be set in any period and include, but are not limited to, spy fiction, action/adventure stories and psychological thrillers. Ian Fleming said there was one essential criterion for a good thriller – that ‘one simply has to turn the page’; this is one of the main characteristics that the judges look for. Sponsored by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.

Unlike the Diamond Dagger, which has been an annual event since 1986, the Steel Dagger has only been awarded since 1982. The names on the Diamond list, as you’d expect for a lifetime achievement award, are relatively well-known; Eric Amber, P. D. James, and John Le Carre, for example, won the first three, and authors we have discussed here at HogwartsProfessor — Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, and Martin Edwards, for starters — are past winners. In contrast, I have read only one Steel Dagger recipient, though I have read everything that winner has written.

It’s a big enough deal that Rowling-Galbraith submitted answers to interview questions sent to all the nominees in hopes that she can add a Steel Dagger to Troubled Blood‘s trophy case, next to her Nibbie Crime and Thriller statuette. The interview is short but relatively revealing.

Join me after the jump for a walk through The Presence’s answers and two other thoughts about this award — [Read more…]

J. J. Marsh’s ‘Behind Closed Doors:’ Did Cormoran Strike Begin as a Bet that Rowling Made with Two Old Friends?

Rowling tweeted last month that “one of my best friends, who lives in Spain,” had sent her a video of an accomplished guitarist.

I asked Nick Jeffery who this “best friend” of Rowling might be and he, as always, had a good guess:

My guess (and it is a guess) is Aine Kiely, one of the Godmothers of Swing from the Prisoner of Azkaban dedication. She fits the bill as ‘one of her oldest friends’ and is currently working and living in Spain. The other Godmother of Swing, Jill Prewett, writes detective fiction under the name J J Marsh and lives in Switzerland. Both have holidayed with JKR in recent years.

I was struck by Nick’s aside that one of Rowling’s oldest and dearest friends writes detective fiction. I had read Prewett-Marsh’s 2013 interview with Rowling, one of the best, but hadn’t known the journalist here was a writer, too. I see now that Rowling mentions Ngaio Marsh twice in that very bookish discussion, the most frequently cited interview, I think, in our list of Rowling references to books and authors she likes.

I ordered, consequently, an omnibus or Box Set edition of J. J. Marsh’s first three Beatrice Stubbs novels: Behind Closed Doors, Raw Material, and Tread Softly. My thought was to check if these books, written by Jill Prewett and published at the same time as Rowling-Galbraith was planning and writing the Strike series, had any obvious over-laps with the more famous Cuckoo’s Calling and subsequent four books.

I read the first Stubbs book, Behind Closed Doors, last weekend and think there may indeed be a connection, a fun one.

Three notes before I connect those dots, all after the jump: [Read more…]

Beatrice Groves: John Donne, The Beast Within, and Who Killed Leda Strike

Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of  Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, has written a HogwartsProfessor Guest Post to mark the publication of Rowling-Galbraith’s Troubled Blood as a paperback. In it she discusses what Nick Jeffery’s discovery of a possible future Strike novel title and ‘The Beast Within’ theme of Rowling’s recent work tells us about who is the most likely suspect in the “Who Killed Leda Strike?” sweepstakes. Enjoy!

When thou hast done, thou hast not done:’ Rowling and John Donne?

I first entered the Harry Potter on-line fan world in 2017 (invited here by the generous welcome of the Hogwarts Professor, John Granger, upon the publication of my Literary Allusion in Harry Potter). That meant that I was a decade late to the party of predicting how Harry Potter might end. So, for me, Strike and Fantastic Beasts have been the first time I’ve experienced the pleasure of sleuthing together. And it has been an absolute ball. By following Rowling’s tempting line of breadcrumbs, and building on the insights of many Potter fans and pundits, we’ve hit the odd bullseye – my favourites being guessing the murder location in Lethal White and the Spenserian epigraphs in Troubled Blood.

While following the clues Rowling leaves about future Strike novels may be a rather minority sport compared to following her Harry Potter breadcrumbs, in some ways these clues are likely to tell us more. For Rowling has taken a new turn in the Strike novels. In these novels the titles, and the epigraphs, have a much more complex relation to the plots of the novels than they did in Harry Potter (which did not, of course, have epigraphs at all until the final novel). This means that with Strike such guesswork might not just tell us what the title is but also something about the novel. When Rowling laid on a game of Twitter hangman to guess the title Lethal White, for example, the equine hint of the title (first pointed out by Louise Freeman) – just like the other clues that pointed towards the White Horse at Uffington – turned out to play a central role in the plot.

This blogpost is written to mark the paperback publication of Troubled Blood (coming out 22nd /24th June) – a novel which demonstrated Hogwarts Professor’s most successful title-sleuthing to date. When the title Troubled Blood was released on 20 February 2020, Nick Jeffery accurately guessed that Rowling had drawn the phrase from Edmund Spenser’s epic sixteenth-century poem The Faerie Queene.

 Now, to be honest, when Nick first suggested this, I was sceptical. Not because Rowling choosing an early modern text was inherently unlikely – it was of a piece with the epigraphs to Silkworm – but because The Faerie Queene is one of my favourite poems. So, it simply seemed too good to be true. But this does mean that now that Nick has once again suggested another early modern writer as the source for the title of Strike 6, and I am once again thinking this seems too good to be true, the déjà vu makes me feel hopeful….

The combined sleuthing of Patricio Tarantino of The Rowling Library and Nick Jeffery have turned up what sounds like a highly plausible title for Strike 6: The Last Cries of Men. John Granger has written up Nick’s suggestion that this title points us towards Donne’s Devotion Upon Emergent Occasions – the source of Donne’s most famous quotation, as well as the phrase ‘the last cries of men.’ 

There are lots of caveats here – The Last Cries of Men may be something else entirely, after all – but if it is a Rowling novel, it certainly sounds like a Strike novel. The phrase (found in Meditation VI from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions [1624]) is Donne’s evocation of the most heart-rending noise of the battlefield: ‘the sound of drums and trumpets and shot and those which they seek to drown, the last cries of men.’ Donne makes a bitter observation about the pragmatic reason that armies make such a clamour with the noisy pomp of drums and trumpets. It is in order obscure their real business: the business of killing.

There are a number of reasons that this sounds like a Strike title. [Read more…]

Michael Ward on CSL’s ‘Abolition of Man’

Fr Michael Ward’s book Planet Narnia, a book which explores the astrological artistry of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, has been the subject of several HogwartsProfessor posts and the inspiration of many more. He has written a new book, this one an ancillary text to Lewis’ Abolition of Man, Ward’s book being titled After Humanity.

I confess that I have not yet read it. I have no doubt, nonetheless, that Fr Michael’s gloss on one of if not the most important of Lewis’s books is an invaluable guide to that work’s historical context, its meaning, and its continuing relevance today.

Chris Calderon sent me these helpful links to sites and online events that Lewis and Ward fans will enjoy: