The “5-6 Flip” Idea, Part 2. Predictive Power for The Ink Black Heart?

I am a scientist by training and profession, whether I am teaching behavioral neuroscience, designing treatment plans for special needs children, or collecting correlational data on reading habits and empathic tendency. I look at scientific theories, and their capacity to both explain and predict, on every day of my professional life. As I try to teach my students, “just a” is not a phrase that should ever precede “theory.” Theories are not “ideas” or “guesses.”  They are models that have been empirically shown to  both explain a variety of observed phenomena and predict future events. Well-supported theories: like germ theory, cell theory, the theory of gravity and the theory of evolution are not just intermediate guessing games in the scientific progress; they are the ultimate product of science.

Literary theories work much the same way. Two theories, brainchildren of our headmaster John Granger, clearly have great explanatory power when in comes to the writing of J.K. Rowling.  Those are, as regular readers know: ring composition and literary alchemy. For the Cormoran Strike series, another theory is equally important: the Parallel Series Idea, or the theory–I am comfortable calling it a theory now, for reasons I’ll explain later–that each book of the Cormoran Strike Series has thematic parallels to its counterpart Harry Potter series.

For the most part, these literary theories serve to explain. When Hermione yells, “Are you a wizard or what?” at Ron in Deathly Hallows, we explain it as a ring composition inversion of his “Are you a witch or what?” in Philosopher’s Stone. We see hot, dry conditions in Order of the Phoenix (and the Hunger Games!) and a rain, fog and snowstorms in Half-Blood Prince (and Catching Fire!), so we explain them as the nigredo and albedo phases of an alchemical cycle. But what makes the theories truly convincing is when they generate a testable prediction, and the prediction comes true. When a “black” character (Sirius) died in Order of the Phoenix and a “white” character (Albus) died in Half-Blood Prince, John used literary alchemy theory to predict that a red-named character would die in Deathly Hallows. This had a lot of us worrying for poor Rubeus Hagrid, and breathing sighs of relief thinking that the prediction just might have been fulfilled with the death of the entirely expendable Rufus Scrimgeour. When Fred Weasley died instead, it was still support for the theory, even if in not quite the way most expected.

Parallel Series Idea, in my opinion, graduated from idea to theory status with the publication of Lethal White. PSI had been previously used to explain why SW centered on a book, and why a bad guy had to be allowed to escape to protect an innocent in CoE. Prior to LW’s publication, Serious Strikers predicted there would be connections to Goblet of Fire, and there were so many, and so obvious–starting with the government minister murdered by the unloved son that he got out of jail– that a lot of us on Hogpro moved from “I think this might be true” to “I am confident this is definitely true.”  The idea became much more widely accepted and discussed, as seen in the Strike and Ellacott Files podcast.

There are a few dangers to using predictions to confirm theories. First, you can make so many predictions that some are liable to come true purely by chance. Second, predictions can be overly broad, and therefore fulfillable by almost anything. Third, — and this a particular danger in the interpretation of literary works, which can be pretty subjective— sometimes people simply see what they want, or expect, to see, and go too far in twisting the reality of the text to match their expectations.

The earlier, and more specific a prediction is, the better support for the theory it provides.  In 2014, after The Silkworm was published, I used the PSI to predict that Strike Four would be set during the London Olympics. When that one came true, in spades, I knew John had come up with a model generates testable, specific and accurate predictions, the hallmarks of a good theory.

With that somewhat lengthy preamble, let me now turn to my main point. My latest 5-6 flip idea—  and it’s only an idea for now, is that Troubled Blood was originally planned as the sixth Strike book.  See link for the rationale.  This idea would explain why I was able to highlight so many Troubled Blood parallels to The Silkworm and Half-Blood Prince, and why there were so many albedo elements in the book we would expect to be the nigredo. As meticulous as JKR is about planning her series, I don’t think she could simply skip an entire novel, with out omitting plotlines necessary in her overall vision. If Troubled Blood was moved to position five, I think at least some elements from the original Book 5 will have to turn up elsewhere, and a logical place for them is in The Ink Black Heart. After the jump, I will first evaluate this idea based on the limited amount we know about the upcoming Strike 6 book, then make some predictions on where IBH might go if this idea is correct. [Read more…]

The “5-6 Flip” Idea, Part 1: Was Troubled Blood Originally Meant as the Sixth Book of the Strike series?

I am typically a lot less interested in Rowling’s tweets than some of my Hogpro colleagues are, with the notable exception of when she drops hints (title reveals, header photo clues, etc.) about upcoming books.  Thus, I paid relatively little attention to the January 2020 tweet from Marilyn Manson thanking Rowling for a gift of roses.  It was only when speculation of what the floral gift might mean for the plot of Book Five of the series began that I took note. Would Marilyn Manson lyrics take the place of the Blue Oyster Cult epigraphs in Career of Evil, as ring structure would predict?  When Manson did not appear in Troubled Blood, I speculated that the roses might have been an apology for Rowling’s change of plans–namely, backing off from using Manson’s music for the series because of the allegations of sexual misconduct filed against him in 2018.

The thing is, Marilyn Manson doesn’t seem to fit into the existing plot of Troubled Blood; he’s too recent to have been a favorite of Margot’s and there aren’t any characters who seem to be the right age or temperament to be fans of his. The logical choice to be a Manson fan is Jeff Whitaker, who was all but absent from TB, despite the fact that, per ring composition, a character who was prominent in Book 3 is a good candidate to appear in Book 5.

This led me to think—  what if there was, originally, a very different Book 5 planned?   There is certainly room for one, with a year-long gap between the end of Lethal White and the start of Troubled Blood. This theoretical missing book could have had much more explicit parallels to Career of Evil. Marilyn Manson epigraphs would lead nicely to Jeff Whittaker and his fondness for Anton LeVay and Satanic rock music, which could, in turn, usher in some of the elements I originally predicted for Book Five:  a Whittaker-Strike rematch, the arrival of young Switch LeVay Bloom Whittaker (who is important enough to the series that the TV production shoe-horned in a mention of him) and possibly the murder of Stephanie, as foretold by Robin’s CoE nightmare. According to this mode;, which I am calling the 5-6 Flip Idea, the original Book 5 plans were shelved or delayed, possibly because of the allegations against Manson. Troubled Blood then took its place as the 5th book and was redeveloped to be the nigredo, rather than albedo, of the series.

Serious Strikers were expecting Book 5 to have parallels to both Career of Evil and Order of the Phoenix, and of course, we found plenty. But, if Troubled Blood was originally intended as Book Six, there should be hints of the original plan left. Just as Strike detected the ghost of a good detective peeking through the scrambled writings of Bill Talbot’s notebook, Serious Strikers ought to be able to discern the remnants of Book Six elements: parallels to The Silkworm and Half-Blood Prince, and albedo features, in the Book Five version of Troubled Blood. I invite HogPro readers to join me in that thought experiment after the jump. [Read more…]

The “Giggling Granny” Serial-Poisoner: A Real-Life Inspiration for Janice Beattie?

One of my favorite parts being a Serious Striker, along with sleuthing out ring structure and parallels to Harry Potter, is to see the way real-life events are referenced or inspire story elements of the series.  So far we have seen genuine royal engagements and weddings,  the severe winter of  2010, the Cornish floods of 2014 and of course, my favorite, the London Olympics turn up as major plot events in the Strike series. As for “inspired by true events” stoylines and characters, it turns out, at least one British gallows exporter actually did have his business ruined by that pesky EU human rights legislation, the Chiswell terrier was a clue that the minister’s murder was a re-telling of the Francis Rattenbury story, and Dennis Creed appears to be modeled on at least three serial killers: Jerry Brudos*, Russell Williams, and Angus Sinclair; though, as I hope to argue in a later post, there are also similarities to  Ted Bundy and Gary Heidnik.

But what of the actual killer of Margot Bamborough, nurse Janice Beattie?  There are certainly plenty killer nurses out there, (here’s a list of 18) but a surprisingly high number are male and, of the women, most seem to “specialize” in either infant or geriatric patients, rather than kill non-patients and family members, as Janice did.

However, I came across one female serial killer who seems to be a good match for Troubled Blood’s Janice. Meet Nannie Doss, AKA the “Giggling Granny.”  Born in Alabama in 1906, she would eventually confess to killing four of her five husbands via arsenic poisoning, reportedly laughing merrily to the police as she described her crimes. In addition, she is thought to have been responsible for the sudden deaths of multiple family members, including two of her daughters, two grandchildren, a sister, a mother and a mother-in-law. Convicted in Oklahoma, she was originally sentenced to death, but later spared the death penalty after being judged insane.  She died of natural causes, in jail, in 1965.

Unlike Janice, Nannie did not have medical training, nor did she use the many varied toxins that Janice employed to make the deaths look natural, instead sticking to arsenic. However, she certainly physically resembles the description of Janice:

The naturally upturned corners of the nurse’s mouth and the dimples in her full cheeks gave her a cheerful look even when she wasn’t smiling.

In addition, there are multiple other similarities:

  • Both were raised by abusive fathers, but reportedly had kind mothers.
  • Both suffered head injuries as children, which left them with recurrent headaches. Both attributed their later actions to the early brain damage.
  • Janice collected and saved newspaper clippings and obituaries; Nannie was obsessed with romance magazines and lonely hearts columns.
  • Both preyed on family members, killing or attempting to kill spouse (or equivalents), children and grandchildren.
  • Nannie’s first husband left her after two daughters died of “food poisoning,” and he was warned, anonymously,  not to eat anything she cooked. He was the only husband to survive. This is not unlike Margot warning Steve Douthwaite away from food Janice offered him. Like Mr. Beattie, Nannie’s claimed to fear for his life, but inexplicably left one of his children behind with her.
  • Both used primarily poison, but occasionally killed through different means. Janice drowned Julie Wilkes; Nannie is believed to have stabbed one newborn grandchild with a hatpin, and smothered another.
  • Both, when finally caught,  were reportedly happy at the thought of going to jail.
  • Both wound up with “Granny” in their criminal nicknames:  “Giggling Granny” and “Poisoner Granny.”

Fact is often stranger than fiction. A final picture of Nannie Doss smiling her way through the police interview.

*AKA “that guy in America who made his wife call him on an intercom before he’d let her into the garage”

Harry Potter Hogwarts Tournament of Houses: Prizes for Audience Members

I had actually forgotten I was supposed to get a prize for being an audience member in Game #2 of the Hogwarts Tournament of Houses, where my fellow Ravenclaws defeated Slytherin, with the help of the studio audience play-along with our handy little signal devices. After several enthusiastic emails from the company charged with sending these out, the prizes finally arrived this week.  I was rather hoping for some unique-to-the-show, available-nowhere-else item, but what we were sent was a Ravenclaw shaker bottle, available for purchase on Amazon. I had recently made a resolution to try to stay better hydrated, so I will certainly enjoy this. Still, I was a bit disappointed to get the erroneous cinematic raven emblem; especially since there is a slightly cheaper but more book-authentic version with the bronze color and the eagle available..  I wasn’t the only one disappointed, as seen here in a video posted by a fellow audience member. 

The ToH stickers on the box were pretty cool, though, and since I was lucky enough to attend with my husband we have two of them. I’m going to try to peel it off the box and recycle it for use somewhere else. Stay tuned to find out if my Ravenclaw ingenuity makes this a successful endeavor.

I am still enjoying the Covid-19 mask and the t-shirt they let me keep, though, both of which are eagle- and bronze-bedecked.

And, of course I still treasure the memories of the fun I had of seeing, and playing the game.  And I met many awesome people I met in the process, some of which have become online pals. Best of all was the joy of cheering Hogpro’s own David Martin onto victory! Look for me to be toting a my nice new water bottle around next year’s Queen City Mischief and Magic Festival, which will be back, in person, in 2022.

Tracing the Logic of the Wizarding World: Fun, if Pointless.

In his recent post on “The Birthday Misconception,” our Headmaster commented on the seemingly endless efforts we readers do to make the Harry Potter world logically consistent:

What we are doing, then, in hunting for a logic and a system where, as likely as not, there is none is simply paying tribute to the author’s achievement in making us believe her imaginative world is that much like the profane, Muggle existence in which we live.

I believe that one of the first comments I made on this site, back before I was offered the faculty position, was a comment trying to make sense of the Fidelius Charm, so I’ve been in the game a long time  A fun, if somewhat pointless exercises

The thoughts on how long it takes to notify Muggleborn parents of the existence of Hogwarts, and persuade them to send their child off to Hogwarts made me think of another means the Ministry might have of monitoring Muggleborns prior to the arrival of their letter  This is “The Trace,” one of the more inconsistently applied charms of the series. 

Has it ever  been explicitly stated that this form of surveillance is started on the first summer home after Hogwarts?  Or is it on all magical kids from birth to age 17?  We know its use is limited; it does not detect the child doing magic, but only spells cast in the vicinity of underaged wizards; hence Harry being blamed for Dobby’s Hovercharm. Therefore, only Muggleborn and other kids like Harry who are in non-magical homes can be caught and disciplined for underage magic. A good wizarding lawyer ought to be able to win a case-action suit for discrimination. But, this limitation would also make it a convenient tool for monitoring pre-Hogwarts Muggleborns, if employed from birth.

It also apparently does not pick up Apparation and Disapparation, or it would have been easy to tell that someone magical had visited Privet Drive before the spell was cast, and left immediately after.

If all Muggleborn kids are monitored with the Trace from birth, I could see a special ministry division employed to detect displays of accidental magic that might threaten the Statue of Secrecy. Small things like Harry shrinking Dudley’s revolting sweater would not get attention, but what if a tantrumming Muggleborn toddler pulled an Aunt Marge?  Surely that would result in the Ministry swooping in to fix the situation and modify memories. This could certainly give the ministry some hint of how powerful the child is, and when that chat with the parents might need to happen a bit sooner.

Additionally, we know the Ministry had other surveillance around Harry, since they knew when he was sleeping in the cupboard, and when he was moved to Dudley’s second bedroom: non-magical acts not subject to the Trace.  Which leads to the question, why didn’t someone intervene earlier? If they knew where he slept, surely they also could tell things like when he was locked in the cupboard for days at a time. It’s almost as if a Star Trek style Prime Directive is in place; look, but don’t interfere, at least until it’s time to send the letter.

Is this surveillance also in place for other Muggleborns?  If so, why didn’t someone go get poor Tom out of that orphanage; he had no special protection there.  Why didn’t his aggressive magic, like the attack in the sea cave, get picked up by the Trace?  I guess this would be an argument for the Trace not being employed until the kid starts Hogwarts.

So how many Muggleborns under 10 are going to be blowing up tyrannical parents in the meantime?

Or maybe this is a newer technology, not available when Riddle was a lad?

The Trace was introduced fairly late in the series, so it is perhaps not surprising it creates a few corner-painting moments  This is true of a lot of elements we learn about in the last couple of books:

  • Horcruxes:  If you really want it safe, why not make one  from a nondescript pebble and toss it in the ocean?
  • The Taboo: If you really want magically concealment charms to stop working, wouldn’t Taboo-ing something like “the” or “and” work better than “Voldemort?”
  • And my perennial favorite: the Fidelius Charm:  What would actually happen if someone other than the Secret-Keeper tried to disclose protected information?  Would the speaker be struck dumb? The hearer struck deaf? Or could someone die, a la the Unbreakable Vow? If Harry wanted to tell Neville where the Order of the Phoenix is headquartered, could he say “It’s not at #10 Grimmauld Place in London; and it’s not at #11.  And it is definitely not at #13,” and hope Neville gets the hint?

I think out Headmaster’s last paragraph, above, is the best and most generic explanation of all.