The Chessmen in the First Potter Film

What a delight! Thank you to Viktor for sharing this find; I had no idea the chessmen in the film version of Philosopher’s Stone had such a great backstory. Read more about these pieces — their history and where to find a replica set — at the British Museum blog page, ChessEquipments.com’s Lewis Chess Set page, Etsy, or at LewisChessPieces.co.uk!

Does anyone think the film’s chessboard pieces “miles beneath Hogwarts” resemble the Lewis chessmen?

Troubled Blood: Poisoned Chocolates

Happy Valentine’s Day!

This is the second of three Valentine’s Day posts at HogwartsProfessor. The day before yesterday I reviewed the five gifts Cormoran gives to Robin in Troubled Blood and how each is an echo of a previous gift and a metaphor for the status of their relationship. The last, a birthday trip to the Ritz Hotel for champagne, pretty much seals the deal that these two characters named for birds are now ‘love birds’ as well.

That first V-Day post had a relatively obvious romantic message, even though the only person who gives anyone a gift on the actual Valentine’s Day in Troubled Blood is the “smarmy” Saul Morris who brings flowers to Pat. Today’s post on chocolates in Strike5 and poisoned chocolates in particular is not romantic at all, except that two male characters do give Robin Ellacott salted caramel chocolates as tokens of their affection for her. I write this up, as, truth be told, I do the other two posts as well, because Valentine’s Day’s centrality and importance in Troubled Blood means that this is an apt time to highlight aspects of Rowling’s artistry and meaning in her most recent and I think best novel that almost certainly escape the casual reader.

Today, it’s chocolates, Rowling’s bon mots from the literary genre in which she works and her playful hat-tipping to the masters while turning a trope or cliche of detective fiction to her fresh ends. Join me after the jump for that Valentine’s Day discussion! [Read more…]

Troubled Blood: Interpreting the Poetry of Cormoran’s Five Gifts To Robin

Happy Day Before the Day Before Valentine’s Day! Because Valentine’s Day is such a central and important event in Troubled Blood, in the series really, I hope to write three posts this year to celebrate the occasion: one on poisoned chocolates, another on Rowling-Galbraith’s device for psychological ‘externalization’ in the series, and this one on Cormoran’s five gifts to Robin in Strike5.

There are five presents that Strike gives to Robin in Troubled Blood. Each is reminiscent of previous gifts that Robin has received, echoes that are positive and negative. The turn in the quality and nature of Strike’s gifts to his partner comes on Valentine’s Day when Robin tells Strike in the wind and rain outside her flat “And don’t give me any more fucking flowers!”

Join me after the jump for a review of the five gifts, their story echoes, and the meaning of each with respect to Strike’s awareness of his relationship with Robin. [Read more…]

Troubled Blood: The Well Beneath the Archer and Rowling’s Childhood Home

The finale of Troubled Blood turns on the discovery of the bodies of Louise Tucker and Margot Bamborough. As Robin explains to Strike after his interview with Dennis Creed, the girl’s body is almost certainly to be found in the well of the Archer Hotel, now covered by a conservatory in a private residence.

“Brian showed us the map, Strike! Dennis Creed was a regular visitor to the Archer Hotel in Islington in the early seventies, when he was delivering their dry cleaning. There was a well on the property, in the back garden. Boarded up, and now covered over with a conservatory.”…

“OK—right—so he’s got to empty the van before work. He knows his way around the Archer garden, and he knows there’s a back gate. He’s got tools in the back of the van, he could prize those boards up easily. Cormoran, I’m sure she’s in the old Archer well.” (ch 69, p 864)

And, sure enough, the police do find Louise Tucker’s body in the well under the floor boards of a conservatory built on the old Archer Hotel property. What made Rowling-Galbraith think of putting Creed’s last undiscovered victim at the bottom of a well beneath a house where people live?

It’s a good bet that she did so at least in part because she grew up in a house that had an “ancient well” under the living room carpet.

Church Cottage and the surrounding area provided just the sort of life Anne and Pete Rowling had been hoping for when they removed away from London as a young couple and sought out the West Country. Pete had wanted to find an old house and restore it and modify it, keeping the charm of its antiquity but adding some of the comforts of modern living. Church Cottage served as the first school building for St. Luke’s Church in 1848. It had flagstone floors and an ancient covered well underneath the living room. — J. K. Rowling: A Biography, Connie Ann Kirk, p 24

Until moving to Tutshill the Rowlings had lived in modern homes which needed little improvement. Church Cottage, with its flagstone floors, gave Pete the opportunity he was seeking, a chance to blend old features with new ideas. One friend recalls the first time they saw a gas fire with ‘pretend’ flames in the Rowling home. Another visitor was most impressed when Pete rolled back the carpet in the living room to reveal an ancient covered well.  — J. K. Rowling: A Biography — The Genius Behind Harry Potter, Sean Smith, p 34
Three thoughts on this subject after the jump!

[Read more…]

Harry, Krystal, and Kara Did It: Rowling’s Clues to Why Leda Strike Killed Herself

Much of our energies in interpreting Rowling-Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike mysteries this past month has been spent speculating about the enigma of Leda Strike’s death. It was ruled a suicide by heroin overdose by the police who were unable to gather sufficient evidence at the time to convict Jeff Whittaker of having staged the death of his wife as a suicide. For posts about the various suspects besides Whittaker, see Heroin Dark Lord 2.0, Uncle Ted Did It, Dave Polworth, Lucy and Joan Did It, Sir Randolph Whittaker, Nick Herbert, Peter Gillespie, and Charlotte Campbell-Ross. There’s a post, too, about why we can be confident all these best-guesses are wrong.

The only one of these posts in which Leda’s suicide is seriously considered as a suicide is in the argument that Dave Polworth did the dirty deed. My conclusion there is that, unless Leda learned that her husband had sexually molested her daughter, it was hard to imagine her actually committing suicide, at least not in sacrificial love for her older children. I’ve since wondered, because of Louise Freeman’s intriguing post about Old Man Whittaker as possible killer, if she might have killed herself in despair because Whittaker had convinced her that she had killed or forever removed her from baby Switch LaVey Bloom Whittaker.

Then it occurred to me: Rowling has restricted her catalog of work, her oeuvre, to fourteen books, that is, the seven Harry Potter novels, Casual Vacancy, the five Cormoran Strike mysteries, and The Ickabog. Suicide or at least deliberate and sacrificial deaths are almost a rule in all these books except for the Strike novels.

  • The inciting incident of the Hogwarts Saga is the voluntary death of Lily to save her baby son from the Dark Lord; Harry Potter commits suicide in a way, too, by letting Lord Voldemort kill him without making any resistance; Dumbledore in similar fashion dies at Severus Snape’s hand, a death of his own volition and planning.
  • Krystal Weedon, the long-suffering and pathetic heroine of Casual Vacancy, commits suicide by heroin overdose in despair over her part in the accidental death of Robbie, her little brother.
  • There is Rhiannon Winn, whose death by suicide is the Rosmerholm Beata Rosmer equivalent inciting incident of  Lethal White. Not to mention Ellie Fancourt’s ‘topping herself’ in The Silkworm, again, the first death in the deep back-story that drives the subsequent action as the plot’s genesis point…
  • The Ickabog bornding process is a willing self-death to birth Ickaboggles their children — and the Ickabog of the fairy tale Rowling writes has the most deliberate and consequential bornding-death-to-self imaginable.

You’d think that Rowling has a thing about death-to-self being almost a spiritual process, a means of transformation and ego transcendence, something akin to the alchemical solve et coagula maxim tattooed on her writing wrist.

If Leda committed suicide, though, it almost certainly wasn’t the sacrificial death that births a new and better person, here or hereafter, that we see in Half-Blood Prince, Deathly Hallows, and The Ickabog. The obvious parallel is with Krystal Weedon in Casual Vacancy, whose suicide is by heroin overdose exactly as Leda’s supposedly was. Krystal’s despair and self-slaughter is understandable, born as it was in remorse for her neglect of her brother, albeit in pursuit of a mean for him to escape with her their shared nightmare existence.

Is Krystal’s suicide suggestive that Leda killed herself for much the same reason? Rowling said that the moral of Harry Potter and the deaths in Deathly Hallows specifically “all came down to conscience” and remorse, guilt, is the most self-effacing form conscience takes (hence Harry’s asking the Dark Lord to “feel some remorse” as his only hope of recovering from his Horcrux madness). I think we have more reason to wonder what happened to Switch before Leda’s death that might have caused her to despair in remorse for his death or her inability to protect him.

If there is a pointer to Leda’s suicide being murder in the most recent Strike novel, Troubled Blood, the gang-rape and murder of Kara Wolfson by the Ricci mob may be it. Betty Fuller tells Strike that Kara, a prostitute, had been raped by Ricci or one of his gang members and she attempted to have what revenge she could by working for the police to gather evidence against her ’employers.’ She is brutally raped and knifed to death, a murder Nicco Ricci films as a warning to ’employees’ who in the future might be thinking of turning state’s evidence. Betty Fuller’s account and Brian Tucker’s description of Kara allow Robin and Cormoran to solve the mystery of who killed her but her body is never recovered and her murderers will remain unpunished.

If Rowling-Galbraith is as self-referencing in her work as we have demonstrated she is in the Strike novels’ many parallels with her Harry Potter books corresponding numbers, I think we have to consider seriously the possibilities that Leda’s suicide will be revealed in the end to be:

  • heroic and self-sacrificing in some respect, as were Harry’s and Dumbledore’s willingness to die;
  • a function of despair and remorse, perhaps even a consequence of rape, as was Krystal Weedon’s death by heroin overdose;
  • something akin to the Ickabog’s bornding and its Ickaboggles, one born murderous because of its fear and one who is kind because of Daisy’s love; and, perhaps,
  • a death traceable to rape or a desire for revenge and justice gone horribly wrong as was Kara Wolfson’s. 

Do you think it credible that Rowling is re-writing the much-neglected and maligned Casual Vacancy so readers will once again experience the death from despair and remorse of a woman without options in the world? Just as Krystal tried to become pregnant by having sex with Fats to escape the prison of life in The Fields, did Leda succeed tragically in that same effort with Jonny Rokeby and as Sarah Shadlock has with Matt Cunliffe? Did Leda lie to Jeff Whittaker about Rokeby’s child support payments because she realized her young and lazy husband had married her with the same hope?

What clues do you think Rowling-Galbraith has given in her previous work to the mystery of Leda Strike’s seeming suicide? Am I way off-base in thinking suicide, be it sacrificial death or dissolution in remorse, is a theme running through the fourteen works she claims as her own?

Let me know what you think in the comment boxes below!