Save Noddy! The Donkeys of Skegness Fall on Hard Times

Strike fans on Twitter have a vicarious front-row seat to the TV filming of Troubled Blood in Skegness, thanks to @CormStrikeFan, who has followed the cast and crew to the coast and is reporting on what he can see of the filming. Check out the Twitter link above to see some amazing pictures, including the actor cast as Steve Douthwaite, the inn cast as the Allerdice, and the car cast as the Ellacott Family Land Rover. To me, the most intriguing bit is that the hotel was decked out with Christmas swag, suggesting a major change in the timeline of the novel. This is in accordance with what happened in both the Career of Evil and Lethal White adaptations.

Skegness is near the top of the list of Strike sites I would most like to visit, ranking right up there with Masham, St. Mawes and the White Horse of Uffington. I was curious about the donkeys Robin remembered from her childhood, and, searching the web, I learned that the century-old tradition was almost a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, then nearly forced out of business by a robbery. Happily, supporters have pitched in to help the business, and a hand-reared foal has become somewhat of a celebrity, and a symbol of the business’s struggle to survive.

I think Robin would be pleased. By my calculations, little Annabel should be about 8 1/2 this summer; prime donkey-riding age. Hopefully, the beasties will make it through the lean winter season and Auntie Robin will get to take her on a weekend outing once warmer weather arrives. And, just maybe there’s an Uncle Cormoran traveling companion by now. In the meantime, they are still taking donations.

Family Ties: Guessing the Ages of the Ellacott Brothers

Timeline mistakes are par for the course in the Cormoran Strike series, but Career of Evil seems to have more than its fair share. Donald Laing alone would make your head spin, but on my latest re-read I realized there is also some minor inconsistency in the lifelines of Robin’s brothers.

We know she has three:  Stephen, the eldest, and Martin and Jonathan, who are younger. The question is, is it possible to deduce anything about their ages, relative (pardon the pun) to Robin?

Stephen is perhaps the easiest.  Robin remembers racing him to choose the preferred donkey in Skegness as a child,  which suggests he isn’t too much older than her;  I would estimate one to three years at the most. The biggest inconsistency in his story that I have found, so far, is his marital status circa 2011. In early April, on Robin’s trip to Masham for a wedding dress fitting, Robin reflects that her parents would be paying for half of Steven’s wedding in “six months time.” Yet, less than three months later, at Robin’s Lethal White wedding reception, Jenny introduces herself as “Stephen’s wife.” If they moved up the wedding, Robin clearly did not go to it. Maybe they caught a glimpse of the bills for Robin’s nuptials, and decided to elope.

What about the younger two? Both are old enough to go out drinking after Mrs. Cunliffe’s funeral in The Silkworm, meaning they are at least 18 in January 2011. In Career of Evil, Martin, the second-to- youngest, is old enough to bet on horses. We are also told that he is the only Ellacott sibling not to attend university and to still live at home, and is considered a bit of an “underachiever” because of this. This suggests he is at least in his early 20’s, so my best guess is that he is somewhere between 1-5 years younger than Robin, who was 26 at that time.

This leaves Jonathan, the youngest. He is enrolled in university in spring 2011, which means, assuming he is in his first year and started right after secondary school, that he is about 19, seven years younger than Robin. He has to be early in his college career at this point, because, by the disastrous Valentine’s Day 2014 of Troubled Blood, he is in his final year. However, most degree programs in the UK are three years in length, meaning, if Jonathan was a freshman in 2010-2011, he should have graduated in 2013. This suggests he is either in a longer-than-typical degree program, that he flunked a semester or two’s worth of classes, or that his own university career was interrupted. It also means he was only about 12 when his older sister was raped; perhaps that is why he was clueless enough to blab about it to his friends.

So, the Ellacott brothers have a timeline that mostly makes sense, but there are still a couple of head-scratchers.

Cormoran Strike and the Itch That Cannot Be Scratched

Before you read this post, please review my earlier one on this topic, JK Rowling and the Phantoms in the Brain. It will explain my hypothesis that “Robert Galbraith” consulted neuroscientist V.S. Ramanchandran’s popular books for information about amputated limbs and phantom pain in her research for the Cormoran Strike books. While she was at it, she incorporated a few of the other conditions described in the Ramachandran’s books, as well.

At the time, I left out what I think is the best Easter Egg in the series, at least for neuroscientists. It seemed a little adult for a site that was still predominantly Harry Potter-themed. But, as more and more of our posts concern Cormoran Strike, our discussions have become more mature, so this seems a good time. After the jump, tune in for a close reading of Strike and Ciara’s encounter in the limo, in Cuckoo’s Calling. Images include some “naughty bits.”


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One more step towards Strike-mania: A Sporcle quiz!

Despite our best efforts, we here at Hogpro have not managed to convince as many people to read the Cormoran Strike Series as read Harry Potter. There have been no midnight release parties, as yet, announced for The Ink Black Heart. However, there is once indicator that the adventures of Strike and Robin are catching on: a new Sporcle quiz challenging readers to name the top 100 Cormoran Strike characters, based on number of mentions.

This, of course, is a counterpart to the Harry Potter Top 200 character quiz. I was proud of my first efforts:  While I can usually get 70-80% of the Harry Potter (though I worked my way up to 90% when studying for the quiz show), I hit 81% on my first try at the Strike quiz, and a whopping 96% on my second, missing only Flick, Derrick Wilson and the two Riccis.

Check it out…  how many can you name?  Two hints:  1) enter last names to get full families at once;  Chiswell is pretty lucrative.  2) Troubled Blood characters have an advantage, given the length of the book.

Hagrid and his Sausages: Another Doctor Dolittle Allusion?

In one of my first Harry Potter talks–before Newt Scamander was more than a textbook author–I called Hagrid “the best fictional naturalist since Doctor Dolittle.” Many years and movies later, I speculated here that Newt Scamander could be inspired by, or even a tribute to, the good Doctor from Puddleby. Later, I made a connection with postal owls and another book in the series, Doctor Dolittle’s Post Office. I recently recalled a bit from the Newbery-winning The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle that reminded me, yet again, of Hagrid.

The scene is 10-year-old narrator Tommy Stubbins’ first encounter with John Dolittle. Stubbins, a poor cobbler’s son, has just delivered a pair of shoes to a very Dursleyish man, Col. Bellows, who loudly berated the lad for coming to the front door of his home instead of the tradesman’s entrance. Tommy, who had recently brought an injured squirrel home, decides to stop by Dolittle’s house, hoping to get help for the animal. Needing to know the time, Tommy has the misfortune to encounter the same Colonel.

It was not a very cold day but he had so many clothes on he looked like a pillow inside a roll of blankets. I asked him if he would please tell me the time. He stopped, grunted and glared down at me—his red face growing redder still; and when he spoke it sounded like the cork coming out of a gingerbeer-bottle.

“Do you imagine for one moment,” he spluttered, “that I am going to get myself all unbuttoned just to tell a little boy like you the time !” And he went stumping down the street, grunting harder than ever.

As I said, Vernon Dursley.

As if in retaliation for the grouchy man’s bluster, an almost supernatural storm suddenly whips up.

I have never seen it rain so hard. It got dark, almost like night. The wind began to blow; the thunder rolled; the lightning flashed, and in a moment the gutters of the road were flowing like a river. There was no place handy to take shelter, so I put my head down against the driving wind and started to run towards home.

Young Tommy literally bumps into the Doctor, and both are knocked down. Doctor Dolittle, showing the compassion he has for all creatures, takes Tommy to his home to get warm and dry. Once they arrive, and a warm fire is lit, the Doctor asked Tommy to fetch his worn medical bag.

“I don’t believe in a lot of baggage. It’s such a nuisance. Life’s too short to fuss with it. And it isn’t really necessary, you know—Where did I put those sausages?” The Doctor was feeling about inside the bag. First he brought out a loaf of new bread. Next came a glass jar with a curious metal top to it. He held this up to the light very carefully before he set it down upon the table; and I could see that there was some strange little water-creature swimming about inside. At last the Doctor brought out a pound of sausages….The sausages were put over the kitchen-fire and a beautiful frying smell went all through the house.

Consider how many elements this scene has in common with Hagrid’s visit to the Hut-on-the-Rock. We have a a cold and shivering 10-year-old boy, recently browbeaten by a fat, cranky, puce-faced man. An unnaturally strong thunderstorm begins.

As night fell, the promised storm blew up around them. Spray from the high waves splattered the walls of the hut and a fierce wind rattled the filthy windows… The storm raged more and more ferociously as the night went on. Harry couldn’t sleep. He shivered and turned over, trying to get comfortable, his stomach rumbling with hunger. Dudley’s snores were drowned by the low rolls of thunder that started near midnight.

Then, once the kind rescuer arrives, he starts a fire, pulls a lot of stuff from his pockets, then finds and cooks sausages.

He bent down over the fireplace; they couldn’t see what he was doing but when he drew back a second later, there was a roaring fire there. It filled the whole damp hut with flickering light and Harry felt the warmth wash over him as though he’d sunk into a hot bath. The giant sat back down on the sofa, which sagged under his weight, and began taking all sorts of things out of the pockets of his coat: a copper kettle, a squashy package of sausages, a poker, a teapot, several chipped mugs, and a bottle of some amber liquid that he took a swig from before starting to make tea. Soon the hut was full of the sound and smell of sizzling sausage.

And, though this doesn’t happen until later, we know Hagrid’s pockets contain living creatures, just as the Doctor’s bag does.

It may all be pure coincidence—  I suppose sausages are a common British food to cook over a fire– but there are enough similarities to make me speculate, once again, that Ms. Rowling enjoyed Doctor Dolittle’s adventures as a child.