Beatrice Groves – Ink Black Heart: Hits and Misses

Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of  Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, has written a Hogwarts Professor Guest Post: Ink Black Heart: Hits and Misses.

Prof. Groves has posted three prediction posts on the run up to publication:

Ink Bottles, Anodos and Anomie

Ink Black Corvids: Magpies, Alchemy and Ink Black Heart

Ink Black Heart Predictions

And a post publication look at the parallels with Half Blood Prince in the Rowling Library Magazine:

The Ink Black Prince

Join me after the jump to read Prof. Groves round up of her prediction hits, misses and expectations yet to come!

Ink Black Heart: Hits and misses

Just before Ink Black Heart was published, I posted four predictions here at Hogwarts Professor: 

Prediction 1: Strike will take up vaping.

Prediction 2: Gender-fluidity will be both an important topic and a vital clue.

Prediction 3: Strike will make a joke which is right on the money

Prediction 4: The death of Rokeby.

My predictions for Ink Black Heart were based, to a large extent, on the twin shibboleths of Strike criticism here at Hogwarts Professor: the chiastic form of both Rowling’s series, and that Strike (in this and other ways) is structured after Harry Potter. Put simply, we were expecting that Ink Black Heart would echo Half-Blood Prince – and, if not perfectly, it did  (Back in November 2021, indeed, Louise Freeman used the parallel to predict that we’d see ‘less of a twist’ – a bullseye!). It was pleasing, therefore, to find out in Galbraith’s Q&A session (aired 22 September) that one of the central links between Ink Black Heart and Half-Blood Prince (and of each with Chamber of Secrets and Silkworm) – the text-within-the-text – was even closer in the planning stage:

The other thing is I was originally planning to make ‘The Ink Black Heart’ a comic strip. But I had done the world of publishing in the second Strike, The Silkworm. So, an animation felt like something new and different.

Rowling Q&A

So how did my specific predictions pan out? The final prediction about Rokeby was a complete no-show – but (though aware I’m marking my own homework here) I’m awarding myself three out of four. Prediction 1 (vaping) was an unequivocal hit – even though by page 700 or so, I was beginning to lose heart. But then – hurrah! – ‘after taking out the familiar gold packet he stood for a few seconds looking at it, then replaced it in his pocket and re-entered Superdrug’ (p.723). Prediction 3 (Strike will make a joke which is right on the money) was never going to be same kind of clear-cut victory (or, indeed, failure) as the first and last guesses, but I think it was close enough to count as a victory. Strike makes a wry reference to an Ealing Comedy classic – The Ladykillers – which works to make Gus seems comically improbable, even as it is acknowledges how plausible he is as a suspect:

‘How d’you fancy a musical prodigy for Anomie?’ asked Strike as they turned the corner at the end of the road.

‘Are you serious?’

‘He ticks quite a few boxes on our profile. Not working. Supported by his family. Plenty of time on his hands.’

‘You don’t get that good at the cello by sitting around on the computer all day.’

‘True, but he’s not being watched by a supervisor nine to five, is he? I get the feeling that’s a family where individual members are happiest staying well away from each other. Ever see that old film The Ladykillers?’

‘No. Why?’

‘Gang of crooks rent a room in an old lady’s house, pretending to be a musical quintet. They play classical records while planning their heist and only pick up their instruments whenever she knocks on the door to offer them tea.’   

 

This is comedy as narrative misdirection. (And the film has some fun links with both Harry Potter – see this on the importance of its Kings Cross location – and Ink Black Heart – Mrs Wilberforce is a version of Kea’s parrot-obsessed mother.) Not only has Strike made a joke which points to the killer, it seems likely that it reveals precisely what Gus is doing (sometimes playing recorded music when claiming to be practising). In addition to moderating the game and being on-line on his Twitter account and mod channels, as the detectives expect, Gus is actually running multiple additional Twitter accounts and an extra moderator persona – so he will need to find even more on-line time than they are looking for.

Strike’s joke is indeed right on the money – and there is another important clue-as-joke pointing towards Gus too, when Ryan Murphy comments:

‘Well, we might have cast our net a bit too widely asking the public whether they’d noticed any unusual activity in or around Highgate Cemetery. We’ve heard about two stolen pushbikes in the vicinity of the cemetery and an out-of-control Alsatian on Hampstead Heath.’

That Alsatian is, in fact, an important clue to why the murderer behaves erratically in the aftermath of the attack (and we are told that ‘Gus is frightened of dogs because one bit him when he was four’). Even on the look-out for jokes hiding clues, though, I didn’t spot how these two jokes fingered Gus…

            My final prediction (that gender-fluidity would be both an important topic and a vital clue) also came good – and this time it did help me guess the murderer (or, at least, one of his alter-egos). One of the aspects that links the twin topics of ‘Anomie and Anonymity’ (which Rowling has marked up as the themes of the novel) is how easy it is to present a false persona online. This idea is central to the novel’s central concern with disconnection – one of the morals of the story is that if connectedness only takes place between fictitious avatars, then no true bulwarks against anomie can be formed. As Rowling said in the Q&A:

And then there’s anomie which in itself is a kind of malaise, a kind of societal sickness where people feel very disconnected, isolated and don’t feel connected to social norms or ethical norms… in the virtual world you do see the consequences of people feeling alienated and isolated. And finding less healthy ways of dealing with that.

The reveal of Fiendy1’s true sex reveals the ‘sexless’ aspect of internet chat – and it also functions as a clue about the true identity of Paperwhite. The sex of Anomie is kept indeterminate throughout the novel (the taser murder helps with this) which helps keep the pool of suspects as wide as possible, and  a number of characters assume that he is female due to gendered stereotyping. Robin thinks Anomie is female because if male they ‘should’ be more flirtatious on-line, and Rachel assumes Anomie is a girl because of the hero-worship-gone-sour aspect which she identifies as a feminine trait.

            The moment we were presented with the simultaneous moderator chats I knew that this was a clue that one person was operating two of the moderator accounts and that the reader could work out who they were by finding out which of the moderators were never typing at the same time. I did not manage this till a long way into the novel, but I was suspicious of Paperwhite from the moment she ‘accidentally’ sent a photo to Anomie and was certain that she and Anomie were one when she was chatting with Morehouse as he was about to be murdered. The knee-jerk sensation that scene imparted of ‘Paperwhite can’t be the murderer’ made me realise (s)he must be – and it gave a brilliant horror-twist to the cliché of shouting ‘don’t answer the door!’ at a character. I knew that Morehouse was answering the door to his murderer as they cheerily chatted on-line, as (s)he typed into a mobile device outside it….

This was the only case in which one of my predictions helped me identify the murderer (or, at least, one of their alter-egos) but a number of my other predictive posts held up pretty well, I think. Disused London Underground stations, John Donne and Shakespeare sonnets were all conspicuous by their absence (though I remain sanguine we’ll see the first two in time, and my Donne blog came true in other ways – I’ll be posting about that later!). But otherwise, plenty of things we’d discussed on Hogwarts Professor in the lead up the novel, turned up trumps. I wrote a piece about the possible importance of birds in Ink Black Heart and birds turned out to be such a major theme that Rowling answers a question about them in her Q&A. She said:

‘there is a lot of bird symbolism in this book. Which was – which was conscious, obviously… I love the idea of – of bird messengers. They are also creatures of omen, you know, across most cultures you have an idea of something ominous. And that – that would apply to this book…. yeah, there are a lot of birds in this book, I know that… it wasn’t an accident.’

In particular I predicted that a magpie would be important – and the appearance of a character called Magspie within the cartoon, the stress on corvid research about the ability of magpies to speak (see this viral video from 2015) and the fact that the character who voiced Magspie was a major suspect and played an important role (as the first person we’ve ever seen Robin enjoying sexual touch with?) – made corvids a prediction hit beyond my expectations.

Then there was the Leda and the Swan mural in the Rivoli Bar at the Ritz – a fantastic spot by @zsenyasq back in July 2021- which meant that we were expecting the first chapter of Ink Black Heart to take place in the Rivoli Bar. A palpable hit! I wrote up @zsenyasq’s find last year saying that ‘It would be impossible for Strike to sit beneath this image of Leda and the Swan without thinking of his mother and the circumstances of his own conception’ and the Leda mural was noticed in precisely this context, as Strike muses on his half-sibling Prudence:

‘I dunno… I quite liked her from her texts, but…’

Trying to find the right words, Strike’s eyes found the bronze panel on the wall behind Robin’s head, which showed a naked Leda being impregnated by Zeus in the form of a swan.

‘… well, she said she hasn’t had an easy time of it either, having him as

a father.’

I discussed another of the novel’s probable locations back in June – Highgate Cemetery, a location that turned out to be even more central than predicted (although the grave of Mary Emden did not turn out to be relevant and the much-trailed lion tomb did not play much of a role beyond the satisfaction of knowing what the mods were talking about when they said ‘We’ve got a log jam at Wombwell again’!). I did, however, note in the comments that Christina Rosetti is buried here and suggested she might be making a reappearance in the epigraphs (as she did). Amy replied drawing out a possible link with Elizabeth Siddal – Christina’s sister-in-law, who is buried in the same grave in Highgate and Siddal played a huge role in the novel. Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s most famous portrait of her (Beata Beatrix) is the inspiration for Nils’s portrait of Edie, and the famous story of Rosetti’s burying his poems with Siddal, and then digging them up again (which is recounted by Pez) is a major clue. In both cases the clue is circumstantial (neither Nils nor Pez know that one of the letters buried with Edie might help identify her murderer) but they mean that Siddal forms an important symbolic backdrop. (It is also noticeable, given the general attitude of women’s rights in this novel, that both Nils and Pez refer to Siddal as Rosetti’s mistress (which she was) rather than his wife (which she likewise was). As Siddal had married to Rosetti before the events to which these men refer – the painting of Beata Beatrix, the burying of the poems – they are robbing her of a status which we can assume would have been important to her. It is a piece of casual sexism which I hope Robin Ellacott would have picked them up on (though her alter-ego Jessica, of course, does not).)

Eighteen of Ink Black Heart’s epigraphs are taken from the poems of Christina Rossetti (whose poetry has already appeared in Strike as the epigraph to Cuckoo’s Calling). Originally Kurt Schreyer and I had hoped that Shakespeare’s sonnets might be making an appearance (and I still think they’d make great epigraphs….). However, although we’ve known for weeks that this guess was wrong, Rowling did build her chapter epigraphs round the word ‘heart’ (and her Part epigraphs around a more literal text about the dissection of the heart) and this included using some sonnets, the poetic form of the heart: Rossetti’a Later Life: A Double Sonnet of Sonnets and Mary Tighe’s Sonnet.

In my second prediction post about the epigraphs – written after Rowling had revealed Mary Elizabeth Coleridge as the author of the epigraph to Chapter 1 – I fared a little better. I suggested that “all the epigraphs will be taken from female writers who wrote under pseudonyms; or maybe female writers who are related to more famous men….We might expect Ink Black Heart to echo Silkworm in having multiple examples from a similar genre of text (all Victorian women poets, for example).” These guesses weren’t far wrong – the poets were mainly Victorian, and they were all female (the rogue Augustus Webster for Chapter 51’s epigraph being a misprint for Augusta), and many did indeed write under male pseudonyms. (I was hoping that the most celebrated poetic example of this, ‘Michael Field,’ might turn up, which he did – more on him anon!). I called Mary Elizabeth Coleridge’s poetry ‘Highgate Cemetery made poetic flesh’ so it was particularly pleasing to find Rowling linking the epigraphs and Highgate so closely in her Q&A:

Well, the epigraphs in this book are all female poets of the Victorian era. So, as we may guess from where we are sitting to do this, Highgate Cemetery is a massively important location in this book. And it’s high Victorian. You know, it’s that very gothic – almost celebration of death. So, it’s a place of mourning but it’s a place of beauty and the epigraphs very much reflect a certain time.

In my post I hoped we’d be seeing more of Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, and guessed at some of the other Coleridge poems Rowling might choose – and was delighted when some of these did indeed appear. Ink Black Heart has eleven epigraphs from Coleridge, using nine different poems – one of the largest number of any of the epigraph poets – and I guessed five epigraphs, and four poems, correctly: ‘The Contents of an Ink-Bottle’ (epigraph for chapters 18), ‘The Shield’ (epigraph for chapter 20) and ‘The Other Side of a Mirror’ (epigraph for chapters 49 and 91) and ‘Mortal Combat’ (epigraph for chapter 94). In the case of the first two – ‘The Contents of an Ink-Bottle’ and ‘The Shield’ – I guessed the whole epigraph correctly (the first verse of the first, the whole of the second poem), so those were particularly satisfying to read!

So, let the predictions for Strike 7 commence!

Rowling tells us in the Q&A that:

I am currently quite deep into book seven, which again is a very different plot. And I have plotted books eight and nine. So, I know – I do know exactly where we are going. It’s – and the reason I have done that actually is not so much for the investigations – although I have plotted the investigations – but it is for the relationship. I need to know certain key things happen. And that just gives it that nice sort of emotional rhythm.

From the beginning of my Strike predictions, I thought the relationship would make crucial progress in Strike 6 but that Strike and Robin would not be together at its end (another Half-Blood Prince parallel that did indeed come good). And, likewise, I’ve said from the beginning that they would get together in Strike 7. We have a bit of a wait to find out about that….

What were your predictions (successful and non) for Ink Black Heart and what do you think that ‘very different plot’ and ‘emotional rhythm’ will look like in Strike 7?

 

Comments

  1. Thanks for elaborating the Elizabeth Siddal connection. (Speaking of, I have to imagine JKR is familiar with the other portrait I referenced as well. While it’s not explicitly mentioned, that black heart signature would be quite a coincidence.)

    Just to add – Pez and Nils’ description of Siddal as a mistress not only discounts her marital status, it also posits her identity there, ignoring that she was a published poet/artist in her own right. This dismissive ‘casual sexism’ is part of a spectrum in IBH, with the chat’s toxic misogyny at the extreme – Edie is fatally reduced there, her creative role disparaged and negated, Josh’s aggrandized. (And I agree – with Robin’s arc of striving to be more than a corollary to her husband or biz partner, her not somehow picking that bit up did feel like a missed opportunity.)

  2. Thanks Amy – and yes, I think you shared a smile with her when she was researching Siddal and both Rossettis and found that black heart! It would have been nice to have a Siddal epigraph too.

  3. As well as Kea’s mother, Yasmin’s parents and the Ledwells were all also somewhat in the Mrs Wilberforce role. The scenes of them interrupting had subtle echoes of that Ladykillers dynamic, except they’re interrupting the detectives rather than the crooks.

  4. Good spot Ed – there were indeed lots more interrupting adults than usual!

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