Troubled Blood: Cormoran Strike’s Journey with Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner

Elizabeth Baird-Hardy and Beatrice Groves have been writing about the Spenserian epigraphs adorning each of Troubled Blood’s seven Parts and all of its seventy three chapters, and, for those few, too-happy few Rowling readers well versed in Faerie Queen this has no doubt been a challenging and rewarding effort in literary exegesis. It is an unstated but key premise to everything we write here, I realized this morning, that Rowling writes and speaks to two audiences simultaneously — to those who read her work for entertainment and inspiration and to those who read her work (to include longer twitter threads as well as her novels and series!) for the text beneath the surface of the text, the narrative undergirding the plot narrative revealing the meaning of narratives in our lives. The Faerie Queen posts are, no doubt, examples of the hidden text within what the Russian Formalists called ‘literariness’ and we owe a real debt to Profs Baird-Hardy and Groves for the slow-mining they do per Ruskin to bring this gold to the light of day.

The problem with this work is that I do not think the overlap portion of a Venn diagram of ‘Readers of Troubled Blood,’ ‘Readers of Harry Potter,’ and ‘Readers of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen‘ constitutes even a very small shared sub-set of serious readers. More to the point, perhaps, in an area proportional Venn diagram in which the three sets of readers are represented in size relative to the number of their living members, the Faerie Queen set, alas, is the smallest of the three — and has virtually no overlap, with the important exception of Profs. Baird Hardy and Groves, with the other sets.

No doubt Rowling labors here to foster interest in Spenser’s epic poem among her faithful as well as her Straussian readers of her public and hidden texts, of her surface and hidden meanings, just as she did with Silkworm’s Jacobean Revenge Drama epigraphs and Lethal White’s chapter heading glosses from Ibsen’s Rosmersholm. But Faerie Queen is by far the biggest ‘ask’ in this regard, one with rewards proportionate to the time and effort necessary to enter Spenser’s realm, and the prompting I have to think that will be the least likely to be taken, even with the encouraging glosses written by Serious Strikers.

What I wish to offer today for your consideration is a much less obvious parallel text within Troubled Blood, one that many more if by no means most Troubled Blood readers have already read and which all could read with understanding in less than an hour. This work, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’ when read in parallel with Troubled Blood, highlights essential artistry and meanings of Rowling’s latest, of Rowling’s oeuvre taken as a whole, and even of the references to Agatha Christie and William Shakespeare in Strike 5. Join me after the jump for a deep dive into the parallels between Mariner and the fifth Strike novel, an Estecean interpretive journey through Troubled Blood! [Read more…]

Agatha Christie Pillar Post

Agatha Christie, though Rowling doesn’t like to talk about her as an influence, is perhaps the author with whom she has the most in common. Certainly Christie’s signature ‘big twists’ at the finale are much more akin to Rowling’s Harry Potter and Cormoran Strike novels’ endings than the conclusion of Austen’s Emma which The Presence claims is the target at which she aims in her writing.

Christie famously described herself and her writing as “lowbrow” and Rowling, sadly, would find that label an insult, I think, as she would association with the most popular novelist and writer who ever lived (only Shakespeare’s plays have outsold her detective novels and short stories, and, forgive me, except for the Bard’s plays being required reading in schools — in which Christie’s novels are almost never read — this would not be the case). Take the time to read the posts below, however, and I think it fairly obvious that Rowling has read Christie, studied her even, and kept her names notebook open as she did so.

This post will be filed (and updated as new entries appear) under the ‘Authors Not J. K. Rowling’ Pillar Post.

Agatha Christie: Ginny-Ginevra Source?

Christie’s ‘Appointment With Death:’ Reading Beyond the Ginny-Ginevra Find

Name that Not Quite Legible Book Title! The Mysteries on Rowling’s Book Shelf

Agatha Christie’s Eleven Missing Days

Lethal White: The Moving Finger

Agatha Christie and ‘The Pale Horse:’ Rowling Borrowings from the Master

Christie’s ‘Murder at the Vicarage’ Bellatrix Lestrange’s Debut in Fiction?

Agatha Christie: Murder at the Manor

Agatha Christie’s Last Marple Mystery: ‘Sleeping Murder’ and ‘Duchess of Malfi’

The Duchess of Malfi (1972)

Agatha Christie’s ‘Dead Man’s Folly:’ Moaning Myrtle and The Silkworm

Agatha Christie’s ‘The Clocks’ or ‘Arabella Figg Meets Hercule Poirot’

Christie’s Miss Marple Short Stories: Another Treasury of Rowling Sources?

Rowling, Inc., to Follow Christie Estate Lead and Commission Harry Potter Fan Fiction Under Its Own Trademark Brand?

BBC1 ‘Strike’ News Releases, Reviews Rowling Talks about Mystery Genre

Whodunit? Harry Potter — In the Great Hall — With a Wand!

No Romance in Mystery? What Sayers Wrote

Agatha Christie’s ‘The Clocks’ or ‘Arabella Figg Meets Hercule Poirot’

I have speed reading various Agatha Christie mysteries of late — the mysteries on my shelf, those Rowling has mentioned as favorites, those visible on her bookshelf, and one whose title suggested a connection with Galbraith’s Lethal White. It’s been a delightful exercise and rewarding; Christie is fun to read both because of her sense of humor and masterfully disarming plot twists and almost every one of her books seems to include a name or plot point that we find in Harry Potter’s adventures or Cormoran Strike’s murder investigations.

There is, for example, the Ginny/Ginevra red headed girl in Appointment with Death, the Mrs Lestrange in Murder at the Vicarage, and the anything-but-attractive-or-likeable Myrtle who dies as a teen girl in Dead Man’s Folly. In Rowling’s favorite ChristieThe Moving Finger, we meet the heroic disabled veteran who, while he re-learns how to walk, tries to figure out a murder that the police believe to have been a suicide. 

Crooked House, Christie’s favorite Christie, includes quite a few pieces from Cuckoo’s Calling, i.e., a bat-shit insane child-of-rich-parents murderer, a child murdered  by being thrown over a quarry’s edge, and the bizarre attempt by the murderer to write a murder mystery story to deceive the investigators, a story which if left unwritten would mean the killer-author’s never being suspected.

And then there are the passages in Miss Marple short stories that give us the Wizarding World’s currency, the Galleon, and the language of flowers Rowling employs so deftly in Harry Potter.

While I await the arrival of titles recently identified on Rowling’s 2000 bookshelf as Christie novels, I pulled down the last Dame Agatha adventure on my shelf that I hadn’t yet read, the Hercule Poirot murder mystery, The Clocks. It had three decent ‘finds’ I will share with you after the jump!

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Agatha Christie’s ‘Dead Man’s Folly:’ Moaning Myrtle and The Silkworm

Dolores Gordon-Smith spotted three Agatha Christie mysteries on J. K. Rowling’s bookshelf in the photo taken for the back cover of the Bloomsbury adult edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Mrs. Gordon-Smith is a mystery writer herself (check out her brilliant Jack Haldean novels if you haven’t already!), a Potter pundit, and a great fan and close reader of Dame Agatha. She noted that Rowling had almost certainly decided to name the Hogwarts Saga’s Weasley daughter Ginny with the proper name Ginevra after the red headed teen girl in Christie’s Appointment with Death who is also a spirited Ginny/Ginevra.

Appointment with Death, however, was only one of the three Christie’s on Rowling’s shelf that Mrs Gordon-Smith spotted. With it are Dead Man’s Folly and Murder in Three Acts. David Llewellyn Dodds has found four more Christie paperbacks on a different part of the bookshelf in the same picture. Based on the Ginny/Ginevra find in Appointment, I have read and posted about other links with Harry and Cormoran in that book, in another Christie mystery with obvious correspondences to a Rowling title (cf., The Pale Horse with Lethal White), those Christie mysteries which Rowling has said she enjoyed (The Moving Finger, Murder at the Vicarage) or just collections I have read at random (The Complete Miss Marple Short Stories, Murder at the Manor).

Today I read Dead Man’s Folly, a Hercule Poirot classic first published in 1956. It is a delight both with respect to the great twist at the finale set-up by the Queen of Crime and the wonderful resonance with Rowling’s writing that her serious readers will revel in. And maybe, just maybe, we have Moaning Myrtle’s mother and a template for the novel-within-the-novel of Galbraith’s The Silkworm. Join me after the jump for all that!

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Christie’s Miss Marple Short Stories: Another Treasury of Rowling Sources?

Agatha Christie wrote a small library of one hundred and sixty five short stories in addition to her seventy-two novels. They appeared in newspapers, popular magazines, and journals in England and America because they were a great way for Christie to make money without having to give back 90% of her earnings in taxes to the government; all the money she made in the US at the time was not subject to UK proletariat-despotism. According to the Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories collection I purchased in my pursuit of Rowling’s roots in Christie-dom, only twenty of the short stories featured the humble spinstress, the Sherlock Holmes of St Mary Mead, Jane Marple.

But there are some jewels in the set for Potter-philes, trust me. Take this passage from ‘Ingots of Gold,’ in which a novelist reviews his meeting with a deep sea treasure hunter in Cornwall:

It occurred to me as I listened to him how often things happen that way. A rich man such as Newman succeeds almost without effort, and yet in all probability the actual money in value of his find would mean little to him. I must say that his ardour infected me. I saw galleons drifting up the coast, flying before the storm, beaten and broken on the black rocks. The mere word galleon has a romantic sound. The phrase ‘Spanish Gold’ thrills the schoolboy — and the grown-up man also. Moreover, I was working at the time upon a novel, some scenes of which were laid in the sixteenth century, and I saw the prospect of getting valuable local colour from my host.

Forgive me for thinking this as likely a source as any for Rowling’s decision to make the principal unit of money in the Wizarding World a galleon.

How about this from the last page of ‘The Four Suspects,’ a short story whose twist turns on a knowledge of flower symbolism?

“I was, I think, well educated for the standard of my day. My sister and I had a German governess — a Fraulein. A very sentimental creature. She taught us the language of flowers — a forgotten study nowadays, but most charming. A yellow tulip, for instance, means ‘Hopeless Love,’ while a China aster means ‘I Die of Jealousy at Your Feet.’ That letter was signed Georgina, which I seem to remember as dahlia in German.”…

“A man used to send me purple orchids every night to the theater,” said Jane [Helier, the Elizabeth Taylor sort of beauty and star of stage and screen] dreamily.

” ‘I Await Your Favours’ — that’s what that means,” said Miss Marple brightly.

Sir Henry gave a peculiar sort of cough and turned away.

Besides the adverbs at the end of each sentence and the humor, this passage from Christie seems a probable source for Rowling’s discovery of Culpeper’s Complete Herbal and the language of flowers. If you’re not familiar with Rowling’s literary herbology beyond ‘Lily’ and ‘Petunia,’ check out Beatrice Grove’s ‘We Can Talk If There’s Anyone Worth Talking To: The Language of Flowers’ in her series on Plant Lore in the Hogwarts Saga.

There are more, of course. We meet an Emma Gaunt in ‘Motive v. Opportunity,’ the title of which will cause a Cormoran Strike reader to smile (I much prefer the Vanity Fair origins of the Gaunt family name, but it’s in Christie, too). In ‘Tape Measure Murder’ we’re given an aside about ‘Crippen’ which leads to the Rattenbury-esque moment when you see the parallels between that story’s death and the notorious Hawley Harvey Crippen.

The point? Rowling has read all of Christie closely, at least as closely as she did Austen, Nabokov, and Colette, and she took notes for future reference. Lots of notes.

Let me know what you think in the comment boxes below!