Rowling: “This Witch Doesn’t Burn”

While reading Troubled Blood last week and doing all I could to avoid being ‘spoiled,’ I was unable to avoid learning that the new book by Rowling-Galbraith had been tried and found guilty of transphobia — and that some transgender activists who had been Harry Potter fans had chosen to burn their books to demonstrate their displeasure with J. K. Rowling.

I spoke with Louise Freeman this morning at the Queen City Mischief and Magic Festival about Harry Potter and Cormoran Strike. She closed our conversation with a brief discussion of whether the Strike series as a whole and Troubled Blood specifically was transphobic. Prof Freeman offered several links to reviews in UK papers that discussed and dismissed this charge as unfortunate and unfounded; she explained how someone might have imagined this in the character of Dennis Creed, but that it was an unjustified overreach to classify the book or the series in any way, not to mention “transphobic,” based on an aside about this year’s psychopath.

I offered the historical parallel of the Harry Haters during the Potter Panic of twenty years ago who believed earnestly and zealously that the Hogwarts Saga was the ‘Gateway to the Occult’ because they read the book through the Never Blinking Eye of the culture war. Harry Potter, as readers of my books and this weblog know, turned out to be a profoundly challenging and transformative work of Christian story-telling.

Today’s transgender activists, secular fundamentalists and puritanical ideologues akin to the religious Harry Haters, are now reading Cormoran Strike in search of transgressions against their dogmas and creedal cultic touchstones. Like those who burned the Potter novels for being hurtful to the soft souls of children, so today’s book burners do so in the name of oppressed and maligned transgender women. Sadly, they miss Rowling-Galbraith’s message of personal narrative and identity in the Strike books, themes of transformation as up front as her Christian symbolism was, frankly, in her first seven book series.

The reaction to Rowling’s ‘This Witch Doesn’t Burn’ tweet followed the usual lines, which is to say, “Hurrah for the Queen!” and “Burn in hell, TERF!” Both missed, I think, Rowling’s point in posting this image and message when she has.

In brief, it is a response to the book-burning and equally fiery criticism of her as a “transphobe.” Harry Potter fan sites and transgender Twitter Ustachi have done their best to “cancel” her as something of a caste Untouchable or eta. Rowling in her tweet simultaneously says she cannot be cancelled (“Doesn’t Burn”) and equates the online mob with the superstitious, violent, and dogmatic witch-burners of the legendary ‘Middle Ages.’ In one stroke, she captures what she feels is the violence, ignorance, and misogyny of those criticizing Troubled Blood, a book few have read and re-read, for a fault it does not have.

If those critics want to know how Rowling thinks and feels about their leftist laments, I think they should read chapter 42 of Troubled Blood and Strike’s reflections on the idealist college-student dinner guests at Robin and Max’s house. They reminded him of his biological mother’s greatest failings. Her political activism, he recalls, like those of the students he’d met and despised the night before, “had mostly taken the form of enthusiastic exhibitionism.” “The basis of her life’s philosophy, if such a word could be used for the loose collection of whims and knee-jerk reactions she called beliefs, was that everything of which the bourgeoisie disapproved must be good and right” (500).

The responses to Rowling’s tweet confirmed those who now despise her are of that very camp, alas, of “enthusiastic exhibitionists” and that Rowling indeed cannot be burned like a witch or cancelled. Troubled Blood now tops the best-seller lists in the UK and US. About which, “Hurrah!”

To hear my conversation with Professor Freeman at the Queen City Mischief and Magic Festival, check out their FaceBook page on which the talk will be posted.


Cormoran’s Song: “Twenty Thousand Cornish Men Will Know the Reason Why”

On the thread to the post inviting reader discoveries of links between Troubled Blood and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Evan Willis wrote:

The song Strike sings at 808/813, an unofficial anthem of Cornwall, has two names: “Song of the Western Men” and “Trelawny”(!). The connection to Phoenix is great here: the central Prophecy via Cornish Nationalism. My favorite performance of the song is here:

That’s a pretty version, sure enough, but not the way the sung is usually sung, that is, by drunk rugby revellers and pub crawlers. Note in this version that the men sing without reference to notes and invite the crowd to join in the chorus — everyone in Cornwall is taught this song, in English and Cornish, as part of their primary school education:

After the jump, Rowling’s previous mention of the song, the full lyrics, and its importance to grasping Cormoran’s transformation at last into the Cornish giant for whom he was named — [Read more…]

Rowling Interview: Tracks of My Years

We learned pre-publication that Troubled Blood would feature Joni Mitchell’s 1974 ‘Court and Spark’ album. The source of that revelation was publicity for an interview Rowling had recorded for a BBC radio program, ‘The Tracks of My Years’ (read all about that here). The has posted a transcript of the interview; hat-tip to Nick Jeffery for the find! Here are the two pieces of that conversation I thought most interesting: [Read more…]

Troubled Blood, Part Five: Top Ten Take-Aways from Chapters 49 to 59

As explained Tuesday, I will be reading and writing about one of the seven Parts of the just published Troubled Blood every day this week. For Part One’s seven chapters, go here. Part Two’s seven chapters and my Top Ten Take-Aways can be found here. Part Three’s epic post? It’s right here. And here is Part Four, the longest part of Troubled Blood and the longest HogwartsProfessor post ever. Thank you in advance for not posting in the comment thread about Parts not yet discussed in this series; feel free, of course, to join in the discussion if you have read no further than Part Five, Chapter Fifty Nine!

What a break that was! Yesterday I gave a talk to the Oklahoma Christian Fiction Writers about Ring Composition — and I think they may be the Perfect Audience for everything I want to say on that subject. They were not Harry Potter or Comoran Strike uber fans, but, as serious readers and writers as well as Christian believers, they were most interested in parallelism (chiasmus!) and receptive to ideas and possibilities that most others would not be. It was a great break from the Troubled Blood marathon-analysis and the narrative slow intake experience I’ve been on.

I came home to chart Part Five, the eleven chapters I’d read early Saturday morning. It was an even better experience the second time, though just checking out the various ring elements and re-reading the ‘happy ending’ of the Oakden interview at the Stafford, leaves me dreading all that comes next. Part Six, especially if in parallel with Career of Evil and Order of the Phoenix, must be a nightmare.

Before we go there, though, here are my Top Ten Take-Aways of Part Five, the beginning of the return trip to the epic story’s latch. Join me after the jump for looks at Part Five as a ring, what I expected, what surprised me, and what I had to look up, and my thoughts heading into the Longest-Rowling-Book-Ever’s wild finish!

[Read more…]

Troubled Blood, Part Four: Top Ten Take-Aways from the Center, Chapters 31- 48

As explained Tuesday, I will be reading and writing about one of the seven Parts of the just published Troubled Blood every day this week. For Part One’s seven chapters, go here. Part Two’s seven chapters and my Top Ten Take-Aways can be found here. Part Three’s epic post? It’s right here. Thank you in advance for not posting in the comment thread about Parts not yet discussed in this series; feel free, of course, to join in the discussion if you have read no further than Part Four, Chapter Forty Eight!

True confession: today’s post about Part Four is the reason I have been doing the in-depth look at Troubled Blood one Part at a time, in sequence, before even reading to the end of the book. It’s a test of a theory I’ve played with while reading every Strike novel since The Silkworm. I stopped at the half-way point of Strike 2 to make a blog post predicting who the murderer of Owen Quine was based on the character who had appeared near the start and at the middle of that book. I did this because the Bad Guy of Cuckoo’s Calling had been in the first, middle, and last chapters so I suspected this was structural tick of the author. Long story short, I was right in my guess. Career of Evil and Lethal White baddies have also hidden themselves in the central chapters of those books a la an Alfred Hitchcock cameo.

I’m hopeful that a very careful reading of the first half of Troubled Blood with an especially close look at its central Part, the fourth of seven, will reveal the solution to the mystery ‘What Happened to Margot Bamborough?’ that Rowling-Galbraith will spell out at the end of Part Six and in Part Seven. I’ll share my best guesses on that subject in my ten take-aways on chapters thirty-one to forty-eight. Frankly, I’m excited about the credible solution the text and the embedded texts reveal, not to mention what can be deduced from the echoes of other Strike and Potter novels.

Right or wrong about such guesswork, of course, I lose. If I’m right, I will be unable to prove to any credible standard that I didn’t read the ending before writing what I have. If I’m wrong, well, I’ll seem a first-class idiot then, won’t I? At least my error will make believable my claim not to have peeked at the published finish.

The effort won’t have been pointless, however, whether I am right or wrong in my guess at the half-way mark. I’ve had to read most chapters three times to properly chart each Part, which effort involved reading the Part straight through, then charting it, and then returning to the text to write up these posts. For a book this long, I doubt very much I would have done for several months if ever what I’ve managed thus far in a few days; charting is a laborious task and once the finish is known a detailed ‘hard look’ is anything but inviting. As it stands, I have charted the first four parts, discovered each is a ring, and had time to look relatively closely at the embedded texts an all-night-and-day straight-through reading does not allow.

Am I the only person in the world who has taken a week off work to read Troubled Blood? I have to doubt there are more than a few of us. That being said, I rush to add that the work deserves all the time and attention anyone gives it. It is by far the most complex, crowded, and challenging novel to date from J. K. Rowling. The structure, symbolism, and narrative control are singly and taken together mind-boggling. Which is not to mention the number of characters in play in this year’s mystery, the office’s various cases, and the suddenly brilliantly vibrant back story with Charlotte, Rokeby, and the Masham and Cornwall crews all taking turns at center stage.

I was charting Part Four’s eighteen chapters, the longest Part of the book, and realized it has one more chapter than Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Charting Stone, believe me, was a lot more straight-on than this single portion!

After the jump, the Ten Take-Aways for Part Four: three ring points, four wild and crazy ideas (Robin the Gypsy, Long Itchington’s “accent light,” Talbot’s Celtic Cross, and the Embedded Text of Astrology 14), and three more ‘larger wheels’ structural points, as in what the end of Troubled Blood suggested in Part Four says about the death of Leda Strike. See you on the far side! [Read more…]