BBC1 ‘Strike’ and the Canon Question

In my conversation last week with Oxford’s Beatrice Groves at the Potter Pundits Summer School live webinar, we were able to answer all the questions the global audience in attendance asked as well as many of the ones I was sent beforehand by those who couldn’t be present in the virtual classroom. You can watch the replay here on YouTube.
Only one Cormoran Strike point came up in a conversation focused on the Hogwarts Saga, one about canon. The question was about whether the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ films should be considered Harry Potter canon. Prof Groves said, no, only the books are canon (she restricts it to literary canon and the books are fixed no matter what the author says or writes later about it). She allowed, however, that ‘fandom canon’ included everything an author writes so, as Rowling wrote the screenplay for ‘Beasts,’ it might be considered canon in a way.
Enter ‘Strike,’ the BBC1 adaptation of the Peg-legged Private Eye’s mysteries.

‘Fantastic Beasts,’ though clearly a Rowling story, is as clearly the product of collaboration and substantial changes to Rowling’s shooting script, alterations and cuts (fifteen scenes that we know of) significant enough as to make any citation of any aspect of it as ‘Rowling’s and thus ‘fan canon’ speculative, at best.
‘Strike,’ in contrast to the Warner Brothers blockbuster productions, is being made by Bronte Film and TV, a company that Rowling owns. The principal actors and actresses have said interviews that, though the screenplay adaptations were written by others, Rowling is on set making line changes to these shooting scripts and advising them about the characters being played.
Rowling is in charge of teevee land adaptation, in other words, rather than a high-profile contributor to a film making process over which, ultimately, she has no control. Will this make ‘Strike’ a gloss, then, of sorts, on the mysteries as written and published?

I think, potentially, yes. While still startled that they have chosen a relatively short, handsome, and svelte man to play a huge, ugly, overweight one (!), Rowling’s greater involvement and literal ownership of the adaptation makes this interpretation meaningful, in a way.

Though not literary canon. 

Your thoughts?


  1. It’s sort of funny in a way. Raising this particular topic is not so much a loaded die question. However, I think it does with a lot of freight that requires a certain amount of heavy lifting. I’m talking now about the kind of background knowledge that most people will never know about, and even if they did, it’s still an open question of whether they would treat all the necessary info needed to judge the question of Canon as important.

    I’ve been noticing certain trends in Geek Culture lately, and they are somewhat alarming, inasmuch as it all suggests that most readers aren’t as interested in Canon as a necessity. The reason for this is because it’s difficult for them to see why not just Canon, but the ability to attain a high level of reading comprehension might mean the difference between sinking or swimming in even an economic sense. If that sounds dire and ridiculous, all I can say is its true. Educators like E.D. Hirsch have pointed out that a higher level of reading comprehension actually can help you succeed in the job market.

    There’s at least one practical reason for incentive. Beyond that, however, there is still the question of how valuable the population at large considers such things as reading, or the novel. My own experience leads me to believe that people value books to the extent that they believe their own life has any meaning.

    Maybe it sounds like I’m over-analyzing, however they way you look at Canon is reflective of the way life is seen in general, whether it be meaningful, or meaningless.

    Here’s a real interesting question, though. What if a book comes along that has some promising ideas, and then along comes a director who is able to give the source material an actual narrative and thematic richness it didn’t have before?

    For instance, the more I’ve read of J.M. Barrie and the creation of Peter Pan, the more I think that while there was a definite Idea of Inspiration, Barrie either couldn’t or wouldn’t engage that idea on a truly imaginative level. Roger Lancelyn Green has come the closest to anyone as to why, I believe, the original “Pan” play and children’s book are both sort of a wash.

    In “Fifty Years of Peter Pan”, Green writes: “While it is not safe to read too much into the character of Tommy Sandys, it represents at least a side of Barrie’s personality, perhaps the most important side, and certainly the side from which the idea of Peter Pan developed. Tommy is the boy who cannot grow up, and it is a mistake to regard his adventures as “escapism” or his whole story as anything but the most poignant tragedy…where…the man fails to attain emotional or intellectual maturity: “He was so fond of being a boy that he could not grow up. In a younger world, where there were only boys and girls, he might have been a gallant figure” – instead, he..ruins his own life…(10 – 11)”.

    In other words, Barrie was a stunted adolescent. He had what is now known as “Peter Pan Syndrome”. These personal issues give a shallow, slapdash quality to the story as he originally wrote it. As Humphrey Carpenter says in his flawed, yet useful book, “Secret Gardens”: And it is this, surely, which accounts for the terrible whimsy which overlays Peter Pan and almost everything else that Barrie wrote. does not believe in his own creations. How could he do so, given his extraordinary detachment of mind from himself, from other people, and from everything they say and do? His whole self is not engaged in the creation of his stories, there is always a part which stands back and mocks them. And so comes the whimsy: it is partly satirical, a deliberate exaggeration and mockery of such things as parental affection and a delight in fairy stories, and it seems also to be a kind of mockery of his audience, a deliberate giving-them-what-they-want, a tongue and cheek pandering to the popular taste…(186)”. Nevertheless, I’d maintain, contra Carpenter, that while Barrie’s personal hang-ups ruined the play and novel, there was still a genuine element of inspiration in his idea. Barrie did have a genuine Archetype on his hands. The problem was he ran away from an engagement with Real Art in the same way he kept running away from real life. This gives an ironic ring to some comments made later by Walt Disney, when he observed: “I don’t believe that what James M. Barrie actually intended ever came out on the stage. If you read the play carefully, following the author’s suggestion on interpretation and staging, I think you’ll agree. It’s almost a perfect vehicle for cartooning. In fact, one might think that Barrie wrote the play with cartoons in mind. I don’t think he was ever happy with the stage version (“The Annotated Peter Pan, 326)”.

    In all this, I’m less concerned with mediums of narrative transmission. I’m concerned with Artistic Inspiration, and what happens when an author is caught shirking his duties as an artist. For better or worse, a close reading has led me to conclude that, while Barri might have had the initial Inspiration, it took both Disney and Steven Spielberg to actually complete the narrative proper.

    I know I’ve just upset a lot of people, while somehow making others a bit more happy. Still, the outline I’ve just provided above does raise a very important question. What happens if an adaptation (regardless of medium, which is NOT THE MESSAGE) is able to put down as much of the Archetypal Inspiration, so that it is possible to say that it is a True Story? What does this mean for writing, and questions of Canon?

    For my part, I think it means that Canonical stories exist, and that they should be respected, however, that takes imagination, first and foremost.

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