Monuments in The Ickabog: Commentary on Today’s Headlines?

The fountain we destroyed tonight told a lie. We wizards have mistreated and abused our fellows for too long, and we are now reaping our reward.

-Albus Dumbledore, Order of the Phoenix, Ch 37.

The US concern with the removal of Confederate monuments has jumped across the pond, with statues of Edward Colston. Robert Baden-Powell, Robert Milligan and even Churchill destroyed, vandalized or targeted for removal in the United Kingdom. As a resident of Charlottesville, VA, a city still reeling over the violence of the Unite the Right rally three years ago, I have a particular interest in the campaigns to remove these statues, most of which were erected as acts of aggression against the Black community during the height of Jim Crow, not as efforts to preserve heritage or teach history. Whether the motivation behind the original erection of the British statues was similarly tainted, I can’t say, but J.K. Rowling is undoubtedly aware of the controversy.

I managed two correct predictions in The Ickabog, first that Bert and Daisy, described as like-siblings early on, would become true step-siblings when their widowed parents marry, and the second, that the statue of the fictional hero Nobby Buttons would be replaced with one of the genuinely heroic Ickabog, who dared to make peace with his enemies.  Rowling made masterful use of both good (the Potter Family Monument, which touched and encouraged Harry in one of his darkest moments) and bad (The Fountain of Magical Brethren, see above) monuments in Harry Potter.

Interestingly, Rowling chose to destroy the Fountain of Magical Brethren, but Nobby’s statue, arguably a worse example– an outright lie that helped deceive the nation of Cornucopia into complying with the unfair tax, and inspired more lies–including a fake girlfriend for the non-existent young hero, was instead relegated to a museum, along with other artifacts of the Dark Age of Spittleworth, so that citizens can remember and learn from their history. Granted, she had particular reasons for the Brethren’s demise: the decapitated wizard saved Harry, (and its head portkeyed him back to Hogwarts) the witch restrained Bellatrix, the centaur took a Killing Curse and the elf and goblin summoned help.  But, in the midst of her other recent Twitter controversies, Rowling found time to tweet out some special praise for young Ali, the artist who created this lovely illustration of the Nobby statue. Could the statue’s relegation to a museum–where the truth can be told, not to honor  person depicted (who, in this case, doesn’t actually exist) , but to explain why the deceptive statue was erected in the first place–be Rowling’s way of commenting about what she thinks should be done with controversial monuments today? If so, I’d like to hear more of that from her on social media, and less of other topics.

Of course, sometimes a little graffiti, whether on the Berlin Wall or a Confederate memorial, can add to the meaning.  I would be remiss, as an MBU prof, not to plug this children’s book written by one of our alums and her daughter, whose dancing at the Lee Monument in Richmond has been on of the iconic images of the current movement.



Louise’s First Look at Troubled Blood Cover and Synopsis.

It’s been a banner week. Not only does The Ickabog wrap up in characteristic JKR style, but Robert Galbraith releases the cover and summary blurb for the next in the Cormoran Strike series, Troubled Blood. We can already see the predicted echoes to Career of Evil. I think we can count on a more gruesome story. I’ll also take a look back at my earlier predictions and see how this new information requires adjusting them.

First the cover:  dark, befitting the book pegged as the nigredo of the series, with the title in blood-red letters.  The dial (which does not seem to have the Roman numeral XX on it, unlike the teaser video on Twitter) presumably refers to the astrological/tarot element promised in the book.  Some have theorized that this represents the Hampton Court Clock Tower.  I love the lamppost, but am a bit disappointed to see figures that look more like the TV Robin and Cormoran than the book.  Where’s Strike’s pube hair? 

Onto the blurb:  

Already we can see some echoes to the third book of the series, which featured a psychopathic serial killer giving lots of unwanted attention, to put it mildly, to the Titian-haired Temp.  Career of Evil was also a look back at the past, with Strike forced to confront two past cases–one successful, one not– as well as his loser stepfather.  Here we, go back even further, to an unsolved disappearance, which, as astute Twitterers have already pointed out, occurred the very year of Cormoran’s birth.  Coincidence?  Will his digging into events in his hometown that occurred the year of his birth lead him to address a few of the questions of his own past?  Including the fact that neither Cormoran’s birth nor a DNA test broke up Jonny Rokeby’s marriage.  This could lead to connections to Order of the Phoenix, where Harry has to confront the meaning of a prophecy referring to his own birth. 

Other intriguing elements.  I am tickled pink that the mystery starts in Cornwall when Cormoran is visiting family– I have wanted to meet Uncle Ted and Aunt Joan for some time now. The missing woman, on the other hand, has a surname that suggests she is from the north–  specifically, Bamburgh, a tiny village on the coast of Northumberland (about 2 hours north of Robin’s home town of Masham) and home to a famous castle and mysterious sword.  Is this site destined to join the White Horse of Uffington as a stop on the Strike fan pilgrimage tour? 

Cornwall, in addition to being home to Ted and Joan, was also the home and burial place of Pamela “Pixie” Coleman Smith, illustrator of the world’s best known tarot deck, and the subject of a recent biography. It is also the site of the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, which apparently includes a tarot reading machine, pictured above. Expect Cormoran to visit there—  I hope he brings Robin with him!

It’s hard to believe Cormoran and Robin will spend too much time on the road, though, with all they have goingon in London. It looks like the agency is thriving but The Flobberworm is being his difficult self regarding the divorce. I am still pulling for Robs to get her half of their flat proceeds sale. And who, pray tell, is the “unwanted male” paying her attention? The only one who has expressed interest in her so far is Spanner, and he seems nice enough to take a hint.  Could the belligerent and hard-drinking Tom Turvey be trying to avenge himself on Matthew by pursuing Robin? 

I don’t see how some of my other predictions:  the return of Whittaker, the emergence of Strike’s baby brother Switch (unless he is part of the family reunion in Cornwall–could he be seeking out his mother’s relatives after all these years, with Strike persuaded to go meet him?), an educational setting, and the death of either Shanker or Vanessa are going to work their way in, yet.  But, at 944 pages, a third longer than Lethal White and twice as long as the first three books in the series, there is plenty of room for sub-plots. 

One final note:  the missing woman is named Margot, a variation of Margaret.  So is Daisy, heroine of The Ickabog.  Any particular reason JKR would be particularly fond of that name? 

Counting down to September 15th. 

Of Barred Owls, Poetry Projects, Postal Birds and Ickabogs: Pandemic Writing.

It’s been an eventful couple of months, to put it mildly. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted by semester, my summer travel plans (including my work with the Global Autism Project, now postponed to 2021) and may yet lead to other major changes in my life. But, as with every crisis, there are always silver linings. One, of course, is the online publication of J.K.Rowling’s fairy tale, The Ickabog. But, she’s not the only one using writing to make the pandemic a bit easier to bear. 

My university hosts an annual Doenges Scholar, who, this year, was Poet Laureate Emeritus Juan Felipe Herrera. Sadly, the pandemic cost the students the opportunity to work with Sr. Herrera in person, but, with the help of a Spanish and an English professor, the university held an online seminar during our three-week May Term. The major creative product of the class was a community poetry project, centered around what the class called CoVIDA, or “the life that emerges out of this COVID-19 moment.” The students did not limit the project to their own writing, but solicited poetry from the wider community, asking for writing about the themes of community, celebration, conocimiento (ancestral knowledge), resilience, and healing.  

I certainly encourage you to check out the full project at the link above.  However, since my contribution had a Harry Potter connection, I thought I would share it here. 

Who Cooks for You?
That wintry morning, the call we were expecting came. A barred owl stopped at my brother’s window, to ask Who cooks for you—and remind him of our father’s laughter, long silenced, now freed, to a place we couldn’t hear. So the owl passed the message along.   My father’s stories were of Reddy Fox and William Green Hill Jenny Wren and Polynesia, the birds of wisdom. The owls’ names were their calls: Too-too and Hooty. He never knew Hedwig, but he’d have liked her, Even though Mr. Lofting wrote of postal birds first. If he sent his son an owl, his daughter would understand, Oh, Sweet Bird.   Who cooks for you—a gift, as if someone is watching. Laughter and intellect, memory and magic linger in the woods, And continue in the stories.

More about the poem, and story connections, after the jump.

[Read more…]

Salazar’s Pit Viper: Another species named after our shared text.

The trend of naming new species after Harry Potter characters continues.  The latest addition to the Slug Club (which, to my knowledge, has no actual slugs in it yet….  hey, slug researchers, why don’t you find a horned one and name it “Horace?”) is Trimeresurus salazar, a new, bright green pit viper recently discovered in India. Zeeshan Mirza led a team of five self-described Potter fans on an expedition that discovered the magical creature in the Pakke Tiger Reserve in July 2019.  According to the report in The Indian Express:

They almost named the species ‘Nagini’, after Lord Voldemort’s snake but then later decided to “save it for when, and if, they discover a new cobra species since Nagini was a cobra.”

“Childhood experiences largely stay with you,” said Mirza, “When I was growing up, JK Rowling was a big part of my childhood, and perhaps everyone else who has read the book. Now what better way to honour and thank her than naming the species after one of her characters?”

Eriovixia gryffindori

Interestingly, the discoverer’s hat tip to Mr. Slytherin extends to the fantastic beast’s common name, which they hope will be Salazar’s pit viper, not to be confused with the Basilisk, Salazar’s pet viper. This also brings some balance to the Hogwarts’ founders, since Godric Gryffindor had a Sorting Hat-shaped spider named for him in 2016.  I’m waiting for Helga Hufflepuff and Rowena Ravenclaw to get their turn.

The snake joins a dinosaur, an extinct lizard, two wasps, two stink bugs, four spiders–the three others are named after Aragog–and an elusive crab in species with Wizarding World-inspired names.  You can read about five of these in my earlier posts: here and here.  If you want to know about the six others I’ve added to my list since 2017, follow the jump.  

[Read more…]

Queen City Mischief and Magic Readalong continues: Louise reads Chapter 13 of CoS.

The Queen City Mischief and Magic Festival is continuing its Harry Potter readalong, and I was asked to do a chapter of Chamber of Secrets.  Click to tune in, or go the the QCMM Facebook page to see the whole series.

They are also taking volunteers to read from Prisoner of Azkaban, so if you’ve been dying to read “Cat, Rat, Dog” to the world , now’s your chance.  I’d be especially glad to see academics who have contributed to QCMM in the past (I mean you, Lana and John) do a reading.  Costumes and props optional.

We have LOVED the different ways you have all been presenting chapters of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and are currently scheduling readers for “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” If you are interested, please message us [on Facebook] or on Instagram and let us know if you have a chapter or date preference. Other than making sure you include that we have permission from Scholastic and JK Rowling, you may present your chapter in any way you’d like! We can’t wait to experience this continued creativity coming from our fans.