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.

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Roger Scruton: On Harry Potter

A friend in Dallas sent me a url to this video in 2017 inviting my response. I had only just learned of the remarkable Roger Scruton through conversation with a brilliant University of Oklahoma Honors College student and was intrigued to learn that the English philosopher had condescended to discuss the Hogwarts Saga. My comments below to the friend in Dallas at the time (and my decision not to post it here then?) reflected my disappointment about Scruton’s conclusion that Rowling is an advocate of a “soft socialism.”

I hadn’t seen this video. Thank you for sending! My first thoughts while listening to it was his theory, that reading the Hogwarts Saga induces “Potterism” or childish and magical thinking (“soft socialism”) alongside his contrasting “magic” with “prayer” and the will-to-power of alchemy with the love of knowledge of scientists, untainted by ambition or any fallen human motivation, reflects a profound ignorance of children’s literature, the history of science, and Harry Potter.

I did think his BBC English and soft reading of his piece were very effective rhetorically, even if I winced each time he mispronounced Rowling’s name.

The real shame is that he is more right than wrong about Rowling’s politics and her Twitter pronouncements, which are, alas, of the same value as our President’s [Trump] in the end. Scruton was right at the start in wanting to separate Rowling’s literary accomplishment from her liberal ideology; he failed in the end by arguing incredibly that her stories induce irresponsibility and a penchant for the sentimental socialism of the author.

An English friend last month sent me the link to this same video and asked what I thought. How things have changed since 2017, no? Certainly my thoughts on this video have.

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Troubled Blood Wins Nibbie!

Guest Post: Rokeby Redux – Is Strike’s Father More Snape than Lord Voldemort?

Rokeby Redux by Kurt Schreyer

I’ve long admired this site, but I’ve never commented before. I’d like to propose an alternative theory to your account of Jonny Rokeby as the arch villain of the Strike series (‘Heroin Dark Lord, 2.0‘). As Beatrice Groves succinctly summarized when I ran it by her: “Rokeby is the Snape and not the Voldemort” of this story. All citations below are from the Kindle edition.

Our initial impression in Cuckoo’s Calling is that while Peter Gillespie is a jerk, Rokeby may be the real villain. “Got you working weekends now, has he?” Strike asks the first time we meet the lawyer over the phone (p. 346). Before hanging up, Strike rebuffs the demand for repayment of what is often and clearly called a “loan” in this novel (p. 347). Before this conversation, Lucy tells her brother that she finds it “outrageous” that Rokeby is using Gillespie as a cat’s paw. She says that he’s never given her brother a single penny and that “he ought to have made it a gift” ( p. 130). At the end of the first novel, there’s a hint that in fact Rokeby wishes to make a gift of the money. When Gillespie calls this final time, Robin replies to an offer we aren’t privy to: “Mr. Strike would rather pay.” (p. 549). Did Rokeby tell Gillespie that he wanted Strike to keep the money? The reader is left to decide whether this is a sincere offer or a cynical ploy to share the limelight with the now-famous detective.

But in Troubled Blood, these matters are presented rather differently. We learn that Rokeby’s money was not a loan until Strike made it one: “My mother got a letter…reminding her I could use the money that had been accumulating in the bank account” and Rokeby repeated this offer when he learned that Strike was out of hospital and trying to start a detective agency ( p. 723). Robin replies in disbelief, “That money was yours all along? … Gillespie acted as though—” (p. 724). But Strike interrupts her and we’re given a crucial piece of information from Strike himself: [Read more…]

Seven Guesses of What ‘The Last Cries of Men’ Could Mean as a Title for Strike6

Yesterday Nick Jeffery discovered a potential title for the sixth Cormoran Strike novel, hereafter ‘Strike6,’ by following the trail of trademarks made by an agent of Rowling, Inc. Patricio Tarantino had found the agent’s name when he searched for the trademarking of The Christmas Pig and Nick traced all the agent’s trademarks, two of which were the Christmas Pig and The Ickabog. The most likely of the remaining trademarks for a Strike book title was The Last Cries of Men. See ‘Is Strike6’s Title ‘The Last Cries of Men’?‘ for the details of the discovery.

Nick explains there, too, that the line and possible title is from the 17th Century divine John Donne and his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. Friend of this weblog Beatrice Groves, Research Fellow at Oxford University, is hard at work writing up what we need to know about Donne the Metaphysical Poet — please let her be discussing the alchemy — as well as this specific book, most famous today, alas, because it provided an epigraph for For Whom the Bell Tolls. While we wait for the proper and rigorous treatment, though, join me after the jump for a hasty grabbing at some low hanging fruit. [Read more…]