Beatrice Groves – Silkworm and Ink Black Heart

As the first flush of excitement after the publication of Ink Black Heart has passed, many serious readers are now on to our first (or more!) re-reads. We are fortunate to have some enticing revelations from J. K. Rowling delivered during both her scripted and unscripted Q&A sessions.  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: Silkworm and Ink Black Heart.


Silkworm and Ink Black Heart

On the 15th October Robert Galbraith took part in his first, but I very much hope not last, truly interactive fan event. I (sadly – though it was much enjoyed!) had a prior booking with Cursed Child during this brilliant Q&A session (hosted by JKR’s Barmy Book Army) so Nick, wonderfully, posed Robert some of my questions and elicited a response to my Silkworm question:


Beyond the text-within-a-text parallel how do you see the links with Silkworm playing out in IBH? Were the choice of genre/time based epigraphs part of this?

Rowling replied:

It’s a reverse image of Silkworm in some ways. This time, the killer isn’t a creator, though we surmise they’d like to be.

Congratulations to Nick! This – along with the epigraph answers – was my favourite answer of the event, as the relationship with Silkworm goes to the heart of something we’ve long thought here at Hogwarts Professor – that Rowling planned the novels in a chiastic form, as she did with Harry Potter. This idea meant that, for example, I predicted that Troubled Blood would centre on violence against women as it forms the pair to Career of Evil (a prediction that came true in – bloodied – spades) and that Ink Black Heart would centre on a text-within-the-text (which likewise was even more inkily true than expected). I was delighted, therefore, with Rowling’s confirmatory answer; and I loved her phrase ‘reverse image’ – just the way chiasmus works!

It was likewise pleasing that in another of Rowling’s Q&A sessions (the pre-recorded one aired on 22 September) she revealed that one of the central links between Ink Black Heart 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. 

We might also note that while the milieu of the novel was thus shifted from publishing to fandom, Rowling thereby created another link between the two novels. Every detective novel tends to be set in some kind of ‘closed’ community, something that curtails the number of suspects and so far in Strike we’ve had the fashion world (Cuckoo’s Calling), publishing (Silkworm), insanely violent abusive men who have a personal grudge against Strike (Career of Evil), the houses of parliament (Lethal White), a medical practice (Troubled Blood) and a fictional fandom (Ink Black Heart). Of all these communities only two are Rowling’s own world – she has spent much of her adult life both publishing and at the heart of one of the world’s largest fandoms. The personal parallel between the worlds of Strike 2 and 6, therefore, marks another connection between them. And in both cases, they are worlds Rowling knows intimately but to which, as author (not publisher or fan), she stands somewhat adjacent. She is not precisely ‘of’ either of these worlds but her work is meat and drink to both.

A number of times something relatively minor in Silkworm grew greatly in importance in Ink Black Heart (which mirrors the way the chiastic progression likewise works in Harry Potter). For example, Strike’s disastrous and humiliating fall while in pursuit of a suspect in Silkworm was replayed with far higher stakes in Ink Black Heart. In another example, in both novels the detectives (and readers) try to work out the real-life identities of characters who exist as pseudonyms within the text-within-the-text of the novel. In both cases all the murder suspects are present in that text-within-the-text but in Ink Black Heart it is as if Bombyx Mori has come to life, and the murder suspects choose their own pseudonyms. In both cases, their in-world names and identities are crucial clues to the murderer: why, for example, is it only Paperwhite who has been allowed to take the unadulterated name of a character in ‘Ink Black Heart’? Likewise, while there are parallels in the question of the unstable voice within Bombyx Mori and Drek’s Game, the issue has multiplied in complexity. The one impersonated voice of Bombyx Mori becomes the multiple plural identities (at the very least Buffypaws, Paperwhite and Anomie) within Drek’s Game.

Likewise, the idea of the internet as the real-world version of Polyjuice potion – the place where you can hide your real identity and explore another – is touched on in Silkworm but becomes the centre of Ink Black Heart. Silkworm is the first (and only) previous time that Strike and Robin have tried to pair on-line identities with real life suspects and it is only fleetingly. Ink Black Heart takes this new genre of detection pretty much to its limits.

In another intensification between Strike 2 and 6 – the tragedy which was in Silkworm to some extent inadvertent becomes orchestrated in Ink Black Heart. The unintentional sequel of Liz Tassel’s brutal parody – Ellie Fancourt’s suicide – becomes coordinated evil as Ultima Thule writes parodies (fabricated e-mails and tweets) intended to hound women to suicide. The suicide of Gigi Cazenove is a close parallel to that of Fancourt’s wife – a swiftly passed over, apparently unrelated suicide that provides a major clue for the main plot. A more positive example of this raising of the stakes is the way in which in both these novels a half-sibling relationship has begun, but I think it is clear that is the half-sibling we meet in Ink Black Heart will be more important. It is the relationship with Prudence, rather than Al, which will bear fruit: this is going to be the formative Rokeby-sibling relationship in Cormoran’s life.

There is an excellent thread of the many parallels readers have noted at Hogwarts Professor here  – among my favourites is Louise Freeman’s note of the inversion where ‘Strike visits a recuperating Robin at the end of SW, Robin visits a recuperating Strike at the end of IBH. Both bring the patient a card from the “child” who hid the evidence.’ One parallel which followed the full 2-4-6 chiasmus was particularly pleasing given that it is a central aspect of Strike’s literary identity – his deep love for Catullus. Cormoran’s ability to quote Catullus from memory forms a pleasing literary put-down in Silkworm but only becomes plot relevant in Lethal White. It is only finally in Ink Black Heart, however, that this loop is closed and the tantalising question of how Cormoran came by this knowledge is revealed!

Ink Black Heart’s main Silkworm parallel, however – along with the text-within-the-text – is the epigraphs. Given the parallels we were expecting between the two novels I suggested previous to publication that the former might borrow from the latter’s use of generic epigraphs: ‘Ink Black Heart [may] echo Silkworm in having multiple examples from a similar genre of text (all Victorian women poets, for example)’. This prediction was borne out and it creates a close structural connection between Silkworm and Ink Black Heart, as these are the only two Strike novels whose chapter epigraphs are gathered from a large number of generically related texts in this way. And in both cases, the choice of genre forms an important context for the murder plot. In Silkworm the epigraphs created a ‘revenge tragedy’ ambience which reflected the text-within-the-text and likewise created a crucial clue by underlining the importance of those Oxford revenge tragedy tutorials which Liz Tassel took with Michael Fancourt all those years ago. The epigraphs of Ink Black Heart echo this creation of the novel’s ambience – pointing up, as Rowling has said, some parallel aspects between the on-line life of the novel and the thought-world of its epigraphs:

this brought me back to the Victorian romanticisation of sickness and death, which in a very strange way connected to some of what I saw on Tumblr. I saw definite parallels between Victorian attitudes and modern ones’ 

But the epigraphs of Ink Black Heart strike me as doing something much more ambitious than those of Silkworm. This time they act as a powerful, real-world counterpoint to the destruction of female creativity embodied by the novel’s villain. 

It is clear from Josh Blay’s account and from the importance given to the information on Edie’s phone (and also to how stoned Blay has been for the previous few years) that the creativity of ‘Ink Black Heart’ is almost entirely Edie’s. But the fans (except for the lone female voices of Zoe and Rachel Ledwell) only praise Josh for what he has created, meanwhile excoriating Edie, seemingly blind to the fact that she is the creator of everything they love. This is encouraged by the pathological incel that is Anomie and likewise stoked by Tim Ashcroft as grist to his mill of preying on underage girls. Behind this torrent of fictionalised misogyny lies centuries of real-world undervaluing of female creativity – and Rowling, brilliantly, has created in her own novel a bulwark against this. Its fictional message about a single, undervalued woman is enacted in reality by its epigraphs. Contextualising Edie’s story with the work of over-looked and undervalued female writers, brings them to an entirely new audience. There are some famous names here but the majority of the authors are completely unknown to those of us who do not specialise in Victorian poetry. And I, for one, have been enjoying finding out about the lives of some extraordinary women of whom I knew little. (Although, as it happens, I have been aware of the work of one of them – Felicia Hemans, the author of five epigraphs – for a number of decades as I have an unusual connection with her. When I was an undergraduate a friend of mine – Peter Cochran, the world’s most passionate Byronist – was giving a talk about the letters of Byron and Hemans and asked me to come and provide Hemans’s voice. So, I have actually performed the role of Hemans – and seeing her again was a nice reminder of an old friend.) Hemans wrote some of the most famous opening lines of this period – ‘The boy stood on the burning deck’ and ‘The stately homes of England’ – but how many people know they are by her? In garnering fame these phrases have been shorn of their female authorship. Ink Black Heart takes its own implicit and powerful stand against Anomie’s action in bringing real world female creativity into the spotlight. Meaning that once again, the epigraphs are an example of an echo of Silkworm in which Ink Black Heart goes above and beyond its predecessor.


I’ve laid out here some of the evidence of Silkworm/ Ink Black Heart parallels within the novels which, as I noted at the beginning, Rowling has now corroborated. But there is something odd about Rowling’s tweet on the connections between the two novels: ‘This time, the killer isn’t a creator, though we surmise they’d like to be.’ This strikes me, instead, as one of the closest parallels between the novels. In Ink Black Heart, as with Silkworm, there are two texts-within-the-text and, as with Silkworm, there is some struggle over the authorship of these texts: the true author (Quine, Ledwell) is killed by the person who has also created a parasitic version of their text (Tassel, Anomie). In both cases the killer is the creator of the text-within-the-text which exists as parody of the text of the author-creator they destroy.

It seems reasonable, given this astonishingly close parallel, to wonder why Rowling sees them so differently – Tassel as creative in spite of it all, but Anomie as ‘n[o]t a creator.’ I have my own theory about this – to be revealed later – but meanwhile, I’d be interested to hear your theories – and, of course, any other Silkworm/Ink Black Heart parallels you’ve noticed!


All of Dr Groves’ on line Rowling scholarship can be found in the Beatrice Groves Pillar Post.

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