Beatrice Groves: Dwelling on Dreams in Strike & Harry Potter, Part 2, or, What is So Special about Charing Cross Road? 

Oxford University’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potterconcludes her reflections on the many dreams in Harry Potter and the Cormoran Strike mysteries with the revelation of a stunning link between Rowling’s Harry Potter and Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike mysteries — the centrality of Charing Cross Road and its bookstores to both series. Enjoy! 

From the very beginning, from the time Cuckoo’s Calling was published and especially since the publication of Lethal White, the literary detectives at HogwartsProfessor have picked up on the trail of breadcrumbs Rowling has left linking her two series and it is something which I have been following up since the publication of Troubled Blood (here and here). Yesterday’s ‘Dreams – Part One’ blogpost traced a new parallel in the importance of dreams (and Spenser’s dream-manipulating Archimago) to both. But there is one further connection between Harry Potter and Strike which, perhaps, gestures towards a dream of Rowling’s own: her aspiration to become a writer. 

The location at which readers first enter Strike’s world and the Wizarding World are uncannily close. Strike lives and works on Denmark St, and the narrative regularly observes how near this street is to Charing Cross Road. [They are so close and related that Google Maps presents Denmark Street as ‘A-40,’ the same name assigned Charing Cross Road.] In Cuckoo’s Calling Strike looks ‘out at Charing Cross Road, glittering with car lights and puddles, where Friday-night revellers were striding and lurching past the end of Denmark Street’ (201).

It is a regular feature of the books to mention that Charing Cross Road is audible from Strike’s offices – and, looking out for this idea on opening Troubled Blood, I was pleased to find it mentioned not once, but twice. This is a startlingly intimate link with Harry Potter  – for, when Harry stays in the Leaky Cauldron in Prisoner of Azkaban, the noise of Charing Cross road is likewise audible from Harry’s room, just as it is from the agency’s rooms in Denmark St. In an unexpected link – and despite living in such different worlds – Rowling’s heroes briefly share a soundscape.  

Rowling has not chosen a random busy London road here; it is crucially important that the Leaky Cauldron – the gateway between the mundane and magical worlds – should be located on Charing Cross Road. Rowling chose it, as she has said, because it is ‘famous for its bookshops, both modern and antiquarian… this is why I wanted it to be the place where those in the know go to enter a different world.’ Muggle book shops are mentioned only twice in Harry Potter, and both times are in reference to those on Charing Cross road. As Harry first searches for the Leaky Cauldron the book shops of Charing Cross Road are the first stores he passes, and when he reaches the magical pub itself, it is located with a ‘big book shop on one side’ (Philosopher’s Stone, Chap 5, p.53). These book shops, as Rowling notes, are a metaphor for the way in which reading can open up, for the reader as for the hero, an entrance into a magical world. 

More recently Rowling has spoken of how setting Strike’s offices on Denmark St was not a random choice, any more than was the placing of the Leaky Cauldron in Charing Cross Road. For Rowling, like Robin, once temped in Denmark Street: ‘I was sent to an office in Denmark Street years ago, and I was only there a week, and I loosely based Strike’s offices on that place where I temped.’ This was the first time that Rowling has mentioned her personal connection with this area of London and it makes sense that this might have been the time in her life when she got to know, via perusal in her lunch breaks, the bookshops of Charing Cross Road.

Rowling is a self-confessed bibliophile – her earliest non-fiction publication, for example, speaks of ‘tripping ecstatically off to the book shop to buy a stack of stylish black-covered Penguins.On Twitter she has shown that she remains drawn to second-hand bookshops and she has likewise spoken of the pleasures of ‘trawling foreign bookshops’ on her travels. She has also related her love for the feel and smell of books: ‘I find print books objects of beauty, and I don’t speak as a precious, first-edition-mustn’t-crack-the-spine-type collector, but as somebody who loves a shiny new paperback, and the smell of second-hand books’ And not just books, but the smell of second-hand bookshops and libraries too: ‘I adore that smell! Same in second-hand book shops.’ It seems likely that when temping in next-door Denmark St, she would have used the chance to visit the world-famous second-hand book shops of Charing Cross Road. 

Harry Potter is littered with Rowling’s ‘personal passwords’ – as she has said ‘when I need a date or number, I use something that relates to my personal life. I do not know why I do that, it’s a tic. Harry’s birthday is mine, for example. The numbers and dates that appear in the books relate to me.’  It is a ‘tic’ that remains fully in evidence in her current series – both in this evocative detail of opening her series with sending Robin to temp in Denmark St, and in her startling choice to place a direct link with writing Harry Potter into her detective novels. This link is the duplicated type-writer which forms a crucial clue in Silkworm and which (in a mise en abyme touch) is likewise a duplicate of one in the real world: ‘I gave Owen Quine the exact same type-writer as I wrote Harry Potter on.’ 

But in sending Robin to temp in the office where she herself once temped, Rowling is doing something more than simply using a location which is familiar to her. For Strike’s office is to Robin what the Leaky Cauldron was to Harry: it is her portal of transformation. It will take her from the loveless, conventional life by which she feels stifled, and into her dream career. Matthew shares with the Dursleys both his obsession with the gaze of others, and in the desire to quash anything unconventional, anything of which those others might disapprove, out of the person whose behaviour might reflect badly on him. Matthew’s attempt to keep Robin away from the job for which she longs precisely echoes the Dursleys’ attempt to crush the magic out of Harry. It seems likely that it is no mere coincidence that the place that transports Harry from the Muggle to the magical world should be next-door to the place that transports Robin into the life she has always wanted. 

Wordsworth writes that ‘there are in our existence spots of time,/ That with distinct pre-eminence retain/ A renovating virtue.’ I can’t help wondering whether Rowling has placed the gateways into her heroes’ dreams at precisely this location because she connects that particular ‘spot of time’ in her life, that time when she was temping in London the late 1980s, with the fulfilment of her own dreams. My hunch is that Rowling connects that time, and place, in her life with the crystallising of her own transformative dream to become a writer.  

A dream that was to come true with such spectacular effect that even Inigo Imago might have had difficulty predicting it.  

 

Comments

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Fascinating – thank you!

    Is there any 1974-specific dimension as to which bookshops were where when, where Troubled Blood is concerned?

    And are there any kinds of 84, Charing Cross Road references, lurking in this context, as well? (And, speaking of Marks & Co, do we know if JKR knows Leo Marks’ work, and if so, if there might be any play with Peeping Tom (1960) or Between Silk and Cyanide (1998)?)

  2. Beatrice Groves says

    Thank you David! Really glad you enjoyed it (though I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to your questions!). It would be fun to find out what bookshops were there in in the 1980s. Those such as Quinto/Francis Edwards and Foyles would have been there then – Giles Armstrong, manager of the Foyles foreign languages department clocked up half-century in 2015 – so he himself would have been there in 1974!

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    As far as I recall, the Hellenic Bookservice was in (or off of) Charing Cross Road in the late-1970s and 1980s – I can imagine that would have appealed to JKR, too (I kick myself for not having bought a copy of D.P. Walker’s The Ancient Theology I saw there, back in the day…).

  4. From the Wikis:

    Location and etymology

    A map showing the Charing Cross ward of Westminster Metropolitan Borough as it appeared in 1916

    Charing Cross shown on John Norden’s map of Westminster, 1593. The map is oriented with north to the top right, and Whitehall to the bottom left.
    Erect a rich and stately carved cross,
    Whereon her statue shall with glory shine;
    And henceforth see you call it Charing Cross.

    — George Peele The Famous Chronicle of King Edward the First (1593)
    The name of the area, Charing, is derived from the Old English word cierring, referring to a bend in the River Thames.[4][5][6]

    The addition of the name “Cross” to the hamlet’s name originates from the Eleanor cross erected in 1291–94 by King Edward I as a memorial to his wife, Eleanor of Castile,[7] and placed between the former hamlet of Charing and the entrance to the Royal Mews of the Palace of Whitehall (today the top of Whitehall on the south side of Trafalgar Square). Folk etymology holds that the name derives from chère reine (“dear queen” in French) but the name in fact pre-dates Eleanor’s death by at least a hundred years.[4][8] A variant form found in the late fourteenth century is Cherryngescrouche.[4]

    The stone cross was the work of the medieval sculptor, Alexander of Abingdon.[9] It was destroyed in 1647 on the orders of the purely Parliamentarian phase of the Long Parliament or Oliver Cromwell himself in the Civil War.[10] A 70 ft (21 m)-high stone sculpture in front of Charing Cross railway station, erected in 1865, is a reimagining of the medieval cross, on a larger scale, more ornate, and not on the original site. It was designed by the architect E. M. Barry and carved by Thomas Earp of Lambeth out of Portland stone, Mansfield stone (a fine sandstone) and Aberdeen granite; and it stands a few hundred yards to the north-east of the original cross, on the Strand.[11]

    Since 1675 the site of the cross has been occupied by a statue of King Charles I mounted on a horse. The site is recognised by modern convention as the centre of London for the purpose of indicating distances by road in favour of other measurement points (such as St Paul’s Cathedral which remains as the root of the English and Welsh part of the Great Britain road numbering scheme). Charing Cross is marked on modern maps as a road junction, and was previously a postal address denoting the stretch of road between Great Scotland Yard and Trafalgar Square. Since 1 January 1931 this section of road has been designated part of the Whitehall thoroughfare.[12]

    The cross has given its name to a railway station, a tube station, police station, hospital, a hotel, a theatre, and a music hall (which lay beneath the arches of the railway station). Charing Cross Road the main route from the north (which becomes the east side of Trafalgar Square) was named after the railway station, which was a major destination for traffic, rather than for the original cross.[13]

    from the charring crosses

    The Eleanor crosses were a series of twelve tall and lavishly decorated stone monuments topped with crosses in a line down part of the east of England. King Edward I had them erected between 1291 and about 1295 in memory of his beloved wife Eleanor of Castile, who died in November 1290, marking the nightly resting-places along the route taken when her body was transported to London. The crosses stood at Lincoln, Grantham and Stamford, all in Lincolnshire; Geddington and Hardingstone in Northamptonshire; Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire; Woburn and Dunstable in Bedfordshire; St Albans and Waltham (now Waltham Cross) in Hertfordshire; Cheapside in London; and Charing (now Charing Cross) in Westminster. Three – those at Geddington, Hardingstone and Waltham Cross – survive more or less intact; but the other nine, other than a few fragments, are lost. The largest and most ornate of the twelve was Charing Cross.

    Contents
    1 Background
    1.1 Procession and burials
    1.2 Commemoration
    1.2.1 Tomb monuments
    1.2.2 Crosses
    1.3 Purpose and parallels
    2 Locations
    2.1 Lincoln
    2.2 Grantham
    2.3 Stamford
    2.4 Geddington
    2.5 Hardingstone, Northampton
    2.6 Stony Stratford
    2.7 Woburn
    2.8 Dunstable
    2.9 St Albans
    2.10 Waltham (now Waltham Cross)
    2.11 Westcheap (now Cheapside)
    2.12 Charing Cross
    3 Replicas and imitations
    3.1 Gallery
    4 References
    5 Further reading
    6 External links
    Background
    Procession and burials

    Eleanor of Castile, Queen Consort of England 1272–90
    Eleanor of Castile died on 28 November 1290 at Harby, Nottinghamshire. Edward and Eleanor loved each other and much like his father, Edward was very devoted to his wife and remained faithful to her throughout their married lives. He was deeply affected by her death and displayed his grief by erecting twelve so-called Eleanor crosses, one at each place where her funeral cortège stopped for the night.[1]

    Following her death the body of Queen Eleanor was carried to Lincoln, about 7 miles (11 km) away, where she was embalmed – probably either at the Gilbertine priory of St Catherine in the south of the city, or at the priory of the Dominicans.[2] Her viscera, less her heart, were buried in the Angel Choir of Lincoln Cathedral on 3 December.[3] Eleanor’s other remains were carried to London, a journey of about 180 miles (290 km), that lasted 12 days. Her body was buried in Westminster Abbey, at the feet of her father-in-law King Henry III on 17 December; while her heart was buried in the church of the London Dominicans’ priory at Blackfriars (a house that she and Edward had heavily patronised) on 19 December, along with those of her young son Alphonso, Earl of Chester, who had died in 1284, and of John de Vesci, who had died in 1289.[4]

    Commemoration
    Tomb monuments
    Both the burial of Eleanor’s body at Westminster and her visceral burial at Lincoln were subsequently marked by ornate effigial monuments, both with similar life-sized gilt bronze effigies cast by the goldsmith William Torell.[5][6] Her heart burial at the Blackfriars was marked by another elaborate monument, but probably not with a life-sized effigy.[7][8][9] The Blackfriars monument was lost following the priory’s dissolution in 1538.[7][9] The Lincoln monument was destroyed in the 17th century, but was replaced in 1891 with a reconstruction, not on the site of the original.[10][11][12] The Westminster Abbey monument survives.

    Crosses

    Illumination from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (c. 1412–1416) depicting a cross possibly representing one of the montjoies of Louis IX[13]
    The twelve crosses were erected to mark the places where Eleanor’s funeral procession had stopped overnight. Their construction is documented in the executors’ account rolls, which survive from 1291 to March 1294, but not thereafter.[14] By the end of that period, the crosses at Lincoln, Hardingstone, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St Albans and Waltham were complete or nearly so, and those at Cheapside and Charing in progress; but those at Grantham, Stamford and Geddington apparently not yet begun. It is assumed that these last three were erected in 1294 or 1295, and that they were certainly finished before the financial crisis of 1297 which brought a halt to royal building works.[15] A number of artists worked on the crosses, as the account rolls show, with a distinction generally drawn between the main structures, made locally under the direction of master masons appointed by the King, and the statues of Eleanor, made of Caen stone, and other sculptural details, brought from London. Master masons included Richard of Crundale, Roger of Crundale (probably Richard’s brother), Michael of Canterbury, Richard of Stow, John of Battle and Nicholas Dymenge.[15] Sculptors included Alexander of Abingdon and William of Ireland, both of whom had worked at Westminster Abbey, who were paid £3 6s. 8d. apiece for the statues; and Ralph of Chichester.[16][17][18][19]

    Purpose and parallels
    Eleanor’s crosses appear to have been intended in part as expressions of royal power; and in part as cenotaphs to encourage prayers for her soul from travellers.[20][21][22] On the pedestal of each was inscribed the phrase Orate pro anima (“Pray for [her] soul”).[23]

    It was not unknown for memorial crosses to be constructed in the middle ages, although they were normally isolated instances and relatively simple in design. A cross in the Strand, near London, was said to have been erected by William II in memory of his mother, Queen Matilda (d. 1083). Henry III erected one at Merton, Surrey, for his cousin the Earl of Surrey (d. 1240). Another was erected at Reading for Edward I’s sister Beatrice (d. 1275). Yet another, almost contemporary with the Eleanor crosses, was erected near Windsor for Edward’s mother, Eleanor of Provence (d.1291).[24][25][26]

    The closest precedent for the Eleanor crosses, and almost certainly their model, was the series of nine crosses known as montjoies erected along the funeral route of King Louis IX of France in 1271. These were elaborate structures incorporating sculptural representations of the King, and were erected in part to promote his canonisation (a campaign that in 1297 succeeded). Eleanor’s crosses never aspired to this last purpose, but in design were even larger and more ornate than the montjoies, being of at least three rather than two tiers.[13][27][28][24][29]

  5. Specifically: “Eleanor’s crosses appear to have been intended in part as expressions of royal power; and in part as cenotaphs to encourage prayers for her soul from travellers.[20][21][22] On the pedestal of each was inscribed the phrase Orate pro anima (“Pray for [her] soul”).[23]”

  6. Beatrice Groves says

    Thanks Lancelot. And yes, I too was delighted to discover that Charing Cross is the ‘mapping’ centre of London and that the name of the area is derived from the Old English word ‘cierring’referring to a bend in the River Thames – neither of which I knew before writing this piece. I did know that the name came from an Eleanor Cross (as I am very fond of them). I had thought that Elephant and Castle did too – a corruption of Eleanor of Castile – but sadly this appears to be a false etymology! The name “Elephant and Castle” is derived from a coaching inn (which is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night), but previously the site was occupied by a blacksmith and cutler – the crest of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers features an elephant with a castle (representing a howdah) on its back.

  7. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    My once-sharp Holmesian wits had lost the fact that Cox & Co., the bank where Watson’s papers were kept, was in Charing Cross Road, until reading Richard Lancelyn Green’s excellent pastiche collection, The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Penguin, 1985) just now. Checking the atmospheric opening of Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) in Cox & Co., I see they do not mention that fact.

  8. Beatrice—

    I suppose my question then is what of the other locations? My two driving questions of my further Harry Potter reflections (in world and out) have everything to do with (1) the nature of pilgrimage and (2) the nature of the church calendar.

    Regarding pilgrimage, as John has often said, all of the key backstory moments for Jo involve some trauma done to some woman.

    A pilgrimage burial for a dead lover seems… a bit too perfect.

    So what of the other 11 crosses if the intro to the worlds are always this first one?

  9. Okay yeah, I think there’s something here. Cheapside is the second stop (Diagon Alley / St. Paul’s / the literary street), and St Alban’s soon after (Albus). All of it tying in with the British historical
    motif mixed with the mythological setting, almost recasting it alongside Rome / Troy.

    Also found this gem:

    The area of King’s Cross was previously a village known as Battle Bridge which was an ancient crossing of the River Fleet, originally known as Broad Ford, later Bradford Bridge. The river flowed along what is now the west side of Pancras Road until it was rerouted underground in 1825.[8] The name “Battle Bridge” is linked to tradition that this was the site of a major battle between the Romans and the Celtic British Iceni tribe led by Boudica. According to folklore, King’s Cross is the site of Boudica’s final battle and some sources say she is buried under one of the platforms.[9] Platforms 9 and 10 have been suggested as possible sites.[9][10] Boudica’s ghost is also reported to haunt passages under the station, around platforms 8–10.[11]

    Thoughts?

  10. Beatrice Groves says

    Boudica being buried at King’s Cross somewhere between platforms 9 & 10 is GOLD Lance! Its not a myth I’d heard of before – you’d need to do a bit of digging and find out where this nugget was available prior to 1997 – any chance JKR could have known it?

    Have you written up anything about pilgrimage or the church calendar and Potter? Both sound like interesting topics. John and I did a podcast on one aspect of pilgrimage for Reading, Writing, Rowling a few years back: https://www.mugglenet.com/2018/08/reading-writing-rowling-episode-13-harry-potter-fan-pilgrimages/

  11. I’m thinking more along the lines of British history transitioning from Rome. Coincides with a ton of the Strike stuff and that old Inkling wager of a fully British mythology — not to mention that of the outer people’s (Jack and the giant, etc). Reminds me of Ballad of the White Horse, which I still need to write up for the last book. I’ve just been swamped with the novel and the anthology. Maybe with the new year after I finish Troubled Blood. I’m always behind you guys cause Tara (rightly) demands to read it first, lol.

    Anyways, pilgrimage I have not touched. I mentioned the church calendar to John but he encouraged me away from it. I still believe it I think I just got scared of being too specific (the specific verses and days) and need to be more general (seasonal moves that coincide with the school year: is Hogwarts a school or a parish a la Hogsmeade).

    But yeah, there’s a lot there. I’d totally tag team something with you if you wanted to explore it in an email thread or something and it interests you.

  12. “ Historical evidence

    The Roman historian Tacitus wrote about Boudica fifty years after her death. He said that the British rebels: ‘hastened to murder, hang, burn and crucify… up to 70,000 citizens and loyal Romanized Britons’. He also wrote that Boudica fled from the battlefield. He did not record where she was buried. There are several places in Essex that claim to be the ‘traditional’ place of her burial.
    In 1937 an expert on mythology and Celtic folklore, Lewis Spence, wrote a book called Boadicea, Warrior Queen of the Britons. He used very uncertain evidence, which historians now do not believe. Spence concluded that the battle took place in the valley where King’s Cross and St Pancras stations now stand. He even drew a map showing the positions of the British and Roman troops! However, he never suggested that Boudica was buried on the site.

    Twentieth century stories

    Lots of people read Spence’s book. The belief that the battle took place at King’s Cross became popular with local people. It was featured in the local press.
    Spence never suggested that she was buried at the site, so that is likely to be a post-war version of the story. Perhaps because people misremembered or just assumed that she was buried on the battlefield. Despite the lack of evidence, the story continues to appear in local publications. It has even been seen on a panel of historic information used to decorate the builders’ hoarding around the station during the current redevelopment of King’s Cross Station.
    Department of Early London History and Collections, Museum of London
    (ed. Jane Sarre)
    August 2002”

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