Beatrice Groves – The Warlock’s Ink Black Heart

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: The Warlock’s Ink Black Heart. Join me after the jump for Prof. Groves’ for a look at the heart as metaphor  in Rowling’s writings – past, present and, enticingly, works yet to come.

The Warlock’s Ink Black Heart

One of my favourite guest posts at Hogwarts Professor is David Martin’s 2015 blog about the role of books in the Hogwarts saga, which notes:

When we pay attention to the times books are mentioned in these novels, a pattern quickly emerges: Usually the good guys have and use books and the bad guys don’t.

As he argues, one of the best clues books provide in this regard, is when we see the walls of Snape’s home:

“The walls were completely covered in books, most of them bound in old black or brown leather…” (HBP, page 22) If we had picked up on this clue earlier, we could have known that Snape really was one of the good guys before DH was published.

Guest Post – David Martin Reveals the Role of Books in the Hogwarts Saga

It is satisfying connection between Rowling’s two series that books are still signifying goodness. The reader, of course, doesn’t need any clues about Robin, but nonetheless there is the subtlest of nods to this Half-Blood Prince reveal about Snape when Strike looks around her room, and imagines what clues he could glean from it:

What would he have guessed about the occupant, if he hadn’t known who lived here? She liked reading: the books had partially overflowed the small bookcase he himself had helped put together. (745)

I’ve posted about the links between Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince here but there is one very bookish reason why Ink Black Heart feels (to this reader at least) like the Galbraith novel with the closest links to the Wizarding World so far. This is because is one of the Wizarding World fairy tales – the gothic fantasy of ‘The Warlock’s Hairy Heart’ – feels like the source for the ‘Ink Black Heart’ cartoon.

Edie recalls how she was inspired by a fairy tale:

‘When I was kid, my mum told me a fairy tale about a stone heart… Is that a real thing or have I imagined it?… I’ve got this memory of being told a story of somebody swapping their heart with a stone and I had a mental image of a heart leaving a chest.’

This is quite a surreal moment for Harry Potter readers – for Ron, of course, has similar memories of being read The Tales of Beedle the Bard by his mum as a child which are recounted in Deathly Hallows. And it feels like they could be remembering the same book of fairy tales. In one of Beedle’s tales – ‘The Warlock’s Hairy Heart’ – the protagonist imprisons his beating heart in a crystal casket. This heart grows black over time (‘covered in long black hair’) and there are lots of gory details that could have inspired Edie’s ‘mental image of a heart leaving a chest.’ The Warlock slices open his own chest to replace the estranged heart in its empty cavity, then cuts out both the maiden’s heart and his own – ‘he hacked it from his chest’ – and dies holding a disembodied heart in each of his hands. (‘And I pitied my own heart,/ As if I held it in my hand’ [Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Bertha in the Lane, epigraph to Ink Black Heart, Chapter 26]). (Anyone else reminded of Tom Lehrer’s ‘Masochism Tango’?)

The heart inside/outside the chest is present likewise in the song which Anomie drunkenly inhabits in his on-line chat: ‘Heart in a Cage’ by the Strokes. This song is perfect encapsulation of his alienation: this heart is alive, it is beating within the ribcage, a perfect design which works to keep the fragile organs of heart and lungs safe. But Anomie – like the speaker of this song – experiences embodiment as a cage. This heart is animalistic (something akin to the Warlock’s hairy heart) – viewing life’s most precious connections as imprisonments:

All our friends, they’re laughing at us
All of those you loved, you mistrust
Help me, I’m just not quite myself
Look around, there’s no one else left…

Oh, the heart beats in its cage
Yes, the heart beats in its cage

And the heart beats in its cage

Or – as Mary Elizabeth Coleridge puts it in Ink Black Heart, epigraph 20:

 I have forged me in sevenfold heats
A shield from foes and lovers,
And no one knows the heart that beats

Beneath the shield that covers.

Anomie’s obsession with this song – to me the soundscape of this novel, as Joni Mitchell’s ‘Court and Spark’ was for Troubled Blood – marks how Anomie imagines himself as a life-force caged by others, rather than recognising his cage as something of his own construction.

There is another viscerally imagined externalised heart in Ink Black Heart that comes from a real-world folk tale – the heart of Margaret Read, carved into 15-16 Tuesday Market Place in King’s Lynn. (You can find the story and photos here). There is another ‘fairy tale’ which surrounds this story in the novel – the one Kea tells herself that having told this story to Josh makes her one of the authors of ‘The Ink Black Heart.’ And it seems fitting, given the credence we are meant to give Kea’s grievance here that this is a carving of a heart (not an impression, as the story claims) and it adorns a Georgian building (built decades if not centuries after Read was killed in 1590). Even in its own terms the story is self-evidently false.

The fairy story which has inspired Edie is neither the one Kea tells nor the one Ron has read. Edie is not remembering Beedle, for (apart from the fact Rowling keeps her earlier world sedulously absent from her more recent one) Beedle was published in 2008 when Edie was no longer a child. She is remembering, instead, Wilhelm Hauff’s 1827 German fairy tale ‘Heart of Stone’ (Das kalte Herz). This story takes a much more traditional fairy-tale form than either ‘The Warlock’s Hairy Heart’ or the ‘Ink Black Heart.’ Its hero is a poor charcoal burner who is granted three wishes by a glass-imp because he was born on a Sunday between 11am and 2pm – an imp, I am pleased to find, who must be summoned with a specific poem. Along with the traditional fairy tale trappings of three wishes, fantastical creatures and very specific times of day, ‘Heart of Stone’ is also at heart a conventional story about being content with your lot in life, and not seeking for wealth outside your station. But the moral of both Rowling’s novel The Ink Black Heart and her fairy tale – ‘The Warlock’s Hairy Heart’ – are quite different. They are identical to each other, however, and are best summed up, I think, by the most famous line of John Donne: ‘No man is an Ilandintire of it selfe.

The Warlock’s Hairy Heart

‘The Warlock’s Hairy Heart’ is a cautionary tale about turning into a dehumanised predator if you insulate yourself and your heart from natural affection and connection with others. It is a cautionary tale which – consciously or un – seems to be the blue-print for The Ink Black Heart which, once again, uses a physically deformed titular heart as a metaphor for this emotional and psychological estrangement.

I wrote a blog about ‘The Warlock’s Hairy Heart’ when the combined sleuthing of Patricio Tarantino of The Rowling Library and Nick Jeffery found a highly plausible title for a future Strike instalment: The Last Cries of Men (it was the same fishing expedition, incidentally, that so triumphantly turned up Ink Black Heart as a possible future title). I hope we may yet get Last Cries of Men as Strike 7, 8 or 9 – and, if we do, epigraphs (as well as a title) drawn from the prose and poetry of John Donne. The blog I wrote in June 2021 about parallels between ‘The Warlock’s Hairy Heart’ and Donne’s most famous line has some striking parallels with the importance of the heart, as well as the themes of anomie and disconnection, in Ink Black Heart:

The message of Donne’s most famous passage – ‘No man is an Ilandintire of it selfe’ – is likewise the message of one of Rowling’s stories: ‘The Warlock’s Hairy Heart.’ In interview Rowling has described this story from Beedle the Bard as ‘really, quite gothic, it’s quite dark that one, and Voldemort would’ve done well to know that story before he set out on his campaign of terror.’

The eponymous Warlock, just like Voldemort, considers love to be a weakness and attempts to keep himself ‘untouched’ by any connection with others – either by falling in love or feeling even familial affection. He does not mourn his parents when they die ‘on the contrary, he considered himself blessed by their demise. Now he reigned alone in their castle’ in ‘splendid and untroubled solitude.’ This estrangement from others is given an objective correlative in the heart that he cuts out and locks away – only to discover that it ‘had grown strange during its long exile.’ The heart grows hairy, revealing the inhumanity inherent to attempting to exile oneself from loving relationships.

…Rowling has not invented the idea of the hairy heart. Donne, in one of his sermons, mentions the belief that hearts really could grow hair – referencing both Pliny the Elder and Plutarch as his source for this information…. Donne, however, although he cites these classical sources, reads the idea of a hairy heart quite differently:

 “We finde mention amongst the observers of rarities in Nature, of hairy hearts, hearts of men, that have beene overgrowne with haire; but of petrified hearts, hearts of men growne into stone, we read not; for this petrefaction of the heart, this stupefaction of a man, is the last blow of Gods hand upon the heart of man in this world.[1]”

Beatrice Groves – John Donne the Beast Within and Who Killed Leda Strike

The ‘petrefaction of the heart’ – the heart of stone which Edie remembers from her fairy tale – is the final stage, after the hairy heart, into the depths of stupefaction. A heart that feels nothing:       

Anomie: i killed someone the other
week and i feel no guilt
Anomie: thought I might
Anomie: nothing

Dumbledore’s comments on this fairy tale notes how much Voldemort could have learnt from it, and Anomie likewise should have added Beedle to his reading list.

Heartening Epigraphs

This novel marks Rowling’s most successful interplay between part epigraphs and chapter epigraphs in the antiphonal relationship between the literally dismembered heart of the Gray’s Anatomy ‘Part’ epigraphs (with its macabre pun on ‘parts’ intended I suspect!) and the metaphoric hearts of the chapter epigraphs. Rowling drew attention to the double source of her epigraphs in her recent interview:

They are all female because the – the client in the book is a woman. She is an animator. Yeah, I can’t give too much else away. But I will say that I also used Grey’s Anatomy, which was funny. I ended up reading all about the heart in Grey’s Anatomy. So, I have also taken epigraphs from Grey’s Anatomy and the construction of the heart itself. So, you know, it doesn’t take – you don’t have to be a genius to understand that this is – you know, when you are dissecting a heart and the book is called The Ink Black Heart, you can imagine it worked on many different levels.

Robert Galbraith – The Ink Black Heart Q&A

John has written illuminatingly on the image of the ‘heart’ in the epigraphs here which includes a helpful list of every epigraph – roughly a fifth of the total – in which the word appears. The hearts the poetic epigraphs express an idea of the heart that escapes Anomie – the heart as metonymy for affection.

The heart chapter epigraphs chart, to some extent, the growing self-awareness of our protagonists. The use of the ‘heart’ as a symbol for communing with the infinite (familiar to Harry Potter readers in Harry’s sense of connection to the ‘heart of it all’ in the dawn light of Deathly Hallows) appears in an epigraph by Mary Jane Jewsbury: Come let me talk with thee, allotted part/ Of immortality – my own deep heart!’ (To My Own Heart, epigraph to Chapter 2). This is a perfect choice of epigraph for the chapter which marks Robin’s realisation of the truth of her love for Strike. Likewise the epigraph from Adah Isaacs Menken – ‘But if I can cheat my heart with the old comfort,/ that love can be forgotten,/ is it not better?’ (Myself, epigraph to Chapter 30) – is ideal for the chapter that sees Robin’s attempt to choose to try and fall out of love with him. But there is a nice extra layer here, in that Menken is a fascinatingly protean figure whose fame came from acting but who also had an unusually fluid persona in real life. At different times, for example, it has been claimed that her true name was Marie Rachel Adelaide de Vere Spenser; Adah Bertha Theodore; Adelaide McCord and Dolores Adios Los Fiertes. As her Wikipedia entry drily notes ‘accounts of Menken’s early life and origins vary considerably.’ Menken seems a perfect tutelary figure for the chapter in which Robin decides to enter Drek’s game under someone else’s alias.

Some of you may have pricked up your ears at Menken’s claim that her real name was ‘de Vere Spenser.’ A number of the names she chooses appear chosen to emphasize a Spanish or Jewish heritage, in this case she appears to be forging links with early modern England, the name being an amalgam of Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford and Edmund Spenser. There is another epigraph of Ink Black Heart which brought Spenser to mind, which the epigraph to Chapter 36: ‘And on his shield a bleeding heart he bore…’ (Mary Tighe, Psyche). Tighe’s line echoes the opening description of the Redcrosse Knight in Spenser’s epic – ‘But on his brest a bloudie Crosse he bore’ (Faerie Queene, 1.1.2) – and this is presumably a conscious allusion, given that Tighe’s poem is written in Spenserian stanzas. This appears to be an ironic epigraph, underlining the false knight errantry of Phillip Ormond, who wishes (in this chapter) to paint himself in such glowing, Spenserian colours. He has a knightly name (‘Philip’ means ‘lover of horses’ – as well as being the name of the archetypal Renaissance courtier-poet Philip Sidney) and one of the meanings of ‘Ormond’ (in Gaelic) is ‘red.’ So Philip Ormond appears to slot right into the ruddy heraldry of the epigraph – and the idea of an ideal man fighting for his beloved which it implies. In reality, of course, his belligerence runs entirely counter to the knightly ideal, and he is a violent and coercively controlling boyfriend.

Ink-hearted Inkhearts?

In the Strike and Robin character-arc of the novel our heroes have to learn to privilege the symbolic import of the ‘heart’ centred in the novel’s title, epigraphs and story. And the Inkheart fanworld is a photo-negative of the journey they should be taking. The fan outrage over the idea that Harty might become a person (rather than a heart) points to the more serious emptying out that occurred as ‘The Ink Black Heart’ became Drek’s Game. The emotional heart of the original cartoon has been replaced – literally and metaphorically – as Harty (a human stand-in seeking redemption) is displaced as the centre of the story by Drek (a version of Death) and Anomie (who, as I’ll discuss in my next blog, I think is a version of Satan).

The interplay of literal and metaphorical, bloodily disembodied and symbolically metonymic hearts in the epigraphs echoes a parallel interplay throughout the novel. And the two ideas are explicitly united in its ‘Coda.’ The Prologue to Ink Black Heart opens with an epigraph from Gray: ‘Wounds of the heart are often fatal,/ but not necessarily so’– which is followed by the metaphorical wound to Strike’s heart at the Ritz. The ‘Coda’ ends with the literal wound being transferred out of the epigraph into the plot and becoming explicitly united with the metaphorical trauma: ‘Cormoran Strike had just suffered a blow to the heart that the machete had missed, but this wound, unlike the machete’s, was likely to cause him trouble long after the drains were gone and the drip removed.’ The over-arching epigraph of the novel is ruefully returned to as Strike realises that, free as he has been from the darkness of Anomie’s twisted heart, ‘Two forms of darkness are there. One is Night… / And one is Blindness’ (Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, Doubt). Strike’s wish that he had opened his eyes, that his vision had been true before this final, painful realisation of what and who is important in his life is a version of the heart at the centre of the story: the vivified heart of the cartoon.

Harty appears to be merely a gruesome body-part but symbolically he is a soul striving for salvation from the purgatorial world of ‘Ink Black Heart’ – a game-world where he must remain until his sins are burnt and purged away. The aim is to put right the crimes committed in life and the assumption (never spoken, but implicit in all ghost stories) is that once Harty is purified, he can leave (and the series would end). But Anomie never wants to leave, he does not want the game to end and is appalled when Morehouse seems to have outgrown it. Anomie is a real-world Drek who, like Drek within the game he has created, prevents anyone from leaving his game. In this case murdering them if necessary. Anomie wants everyone else’s hearts, like his own, to stay in their cage.

But Strike’s heart has seen a way out.

[1] Donne’s Prebend Sermons, ed. Janel M. Mueller (Cambridge, MA, 1971,) p.95.


  1. Louise Freeman says

    Bea, you amaze me. Thank you so much for this. Reading the summary of the original fairy tale was quite illuminating, and I love the way you explain the poetic references.

    Harry Potter characters were quite conspicuously absent at Comicon, were they not? Yet, somehow, Emma Watson is a celebrity in Strike’s world (she was on the magazine cover next to Charlotte Campbell’s in The Silkworm). I wonder how she rose to fame?

  2. Ed Shardlow says

    The timeline means that the next book will presumably have a conspicuous absence. Twelve months on from the end of Ink Black Heart, The Cursed Child is due to open at the Palace Theatre, just around the corner from Denmark Street.

  3. Ed Shardlow says

    All this talk of hearts and the spiritual and actual lifeforce they power has me thinking about the parasites of lifeforce…

    I’m sure online trolls and bullies have been referred to as vampires before. Sucking energy and emotion from their innocent victims. I think Anomie might be particularly vampiric. Shuttered away in the dark… There’s a strain of hives called solar urticaria, which is basic an allergy to sunlight.

    We also have a character called Bram. Which naturally I overlooked at first. A Dutch variant of Abraham apparently, but the most famous bearer of that name isn’t Dutch…

    The Robert Galbraith website itself refers to the Highgate Vampire in its description of the cemetery. And then of course there was the way the Potter books teased us with mentions of vampires and the hint that Snape was one…

    It might be worth going back and checking the references to vampires in the game and the cartoon and any mentions of mirrors, garlic and crosses around Gus…

  4. Thank you so much Louise!

    And yes, I’d noticed Emma Watson’s mysterious celebrity likewise – perhaps she became a child star in another franchise? And agreed about Comicon – if she’d had Strike decide to go in a Voldemort mask it would have been the novel equivalent of a multiverse movie – a sort of JKR Spiderman No Way Home! I like the thought Ed, that Strike and Robin may find themselves forced off the pavements by long queues with no idea of what all these people could be queuing for….

  5. Louise Freeman says

    My headcannon (and fan-fiction) has Robin a Potterhead, so she’d be in the queue!

  6. And love it Ed! I have recently written (and podcasted!) about Dracula in HP – and have some ideas about how it plays out in IBH too… a blog on this is in the queue!

  7. Wayne Stauffer says

    Sanguini at Slughorn’s Christmas party in HBP.

  8. Wow, this post offers tremendous insight. I am in awe of how quickly and thoroughly you’ve explored some of the many layers of meaning and how concisely you’ve provided so much inspiration for thought. Thank you!

  9. Thank you Kathleen – that really means a lot! It is lovely to hear that you’ve enjoyed reading it 🙂

    And Wayne – yes! You’re right, it is another HBP parallel….

  10. Bettina Iben Torndahl says

    Buffy the vampire slayer paws

  11. Oh, Bettina I like it! An excellent cratylic name…

  12. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    I have not been keeping up – sort of avoiding spoiler among other things… Is there a lot of attention to ‘Dutch’ elements? E.g., ‘drek’ meaning ‘dung, muck, manure, droppings’ – and some less polite translations. (One also thinks of Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus: The Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdröckh in Three Books – Wikipedia quotes a 1911 discussion glossing Diogenes Teufelsdröckh as ‘God-born Devil’s Dung’.) And there’s the English language use of the Yiddish loanword, ‘dreck’.

  13. I’ve not seen any discussion of this David – we’re definitely due a cratylic names post!

  14. Ed Shardlow says

    Not sure if I’m recalling someone pointing this out before or if I just realised it myself… But Anomie as Batman at ComicCon is another vampire connection.

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