Liminal Women: Mermaids and Swan Maidens in Galbraith’s Strike Novels

Oxford’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, returns to HogwartsProfessor today — her third post here in a week! — to offer thoughts in the run-up to publication of Troubled Blood on the Mermaids and Swan Maidens in the Cormoran Strike novels. Enjoy!

In Lethal White there is moment when Britain’s sea-faring history briefly surfaces. Robin enters the rose garden of St Nicholas Church, Deptford and notes that its gateposts are ‘topped with the strangest finials she had ever seen. A pair of gigantic, crumbling stone skulls sat on top of carved bones.’ Robin thinks to herself that they would look at home ‘garnishing the front of a pirate’s mansion in some fantasy film’ (48). But, there is a persistent local legend that the indebtedness is the other way around: not that these finials recall the Jolly Roger, but that the Jolly Roger recalls them. The church’s website notes:

The famous flag of piracy sent shivers down the spine of unfortunate mariners whenever they came across it. But where did the flag originate? Legend has it that the flag was based on the skulls which still stand on the gate posts of St Nicholas’ church.

For centuries an economic and maritime war existed over the domination of the trade routes between Europe and the Americas, Africa and the Indian sub-continent. This battle of supremacy was mostly contested by Britain, France, Spain and Holland. Much of the conflict was acted out by privateers – ships in private ownership and outside the Royal Navy – whose activities were not fully investigated by the national authorities.

The British privateers did not necessarily want to broadcast their nationality when approaching say, a Spanish galleon returning from the Caribbean, particularly if they intended to loot her. So they invented a new flag, one intended to strike fear into the hearts of their victims and also to disguise their true nationality.

These ships were pirates, and many of them would have set off from Deptford – so hence it is thought that they borrowed the skull and crossed bones image from their local church.

This is, sadly, probably just a local tale, based on the link between the widespread, and ancient, Christian use of skulls as memento mori and the Jolly Roger (Though I do wonder if these memento mori skulls might have been in Rowling’s mind when she put up the Twitter header of Harmen Steenwyck’s ‘Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life’ as her Twitter header in Dec 2016, noting (when asked about it): ‘It’s hard to find a header that sums up everything I’m working on at the moment, but this painting comes close! It’s by Harmen Steenwyck’ (Jan 5, 2017)

Rowling would have been writing Lethal White at the time, and perhaps the memento mori skull in Steenwyck’s painting alludes to those church gates in Deptford, and the eye-catching local legend that they inspired the Jolly Roger itself.)

For Troubled Blood Strike will (at least briefly) be relocating to the coast, and given Rowling’s deep interest in folk legends and tales, I expect some Cornish sea-faring legends to appear. The most commonly noted Cornish link throughout the series has been Strike’s drink of choice – Doom Bar – and if this location merits a mention once Strike is back in Cornwall (as it surely might) Rowling may allude to ‘The Doom-Bar’ by Alice E. Gillington. We know from the blurb that Robin will be ‘juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention, as well as battling her own feelings about Strike’ in this novel – and I wonder if Gillington’s Victorian poem about a doomed romance may have caught Rowling’s eye. ‘The Doom-Bar’ relates the story of a woman who gives her lover a keepsake as he sails away across the Doom Bar sands. She remains faithfully waiting for him until one year, when the tide is unusually low, she walks out on the Doom Bar and finds her ring nestling inside a scallop shell. This find brings with it the realisation that her sweetheart was faithless, and he tossed her ring out to sea the very day she gave it to him. [Read more…]

Charlotte and Clodia: Clues for Troubled Blood? Beatrice Groves Thinks So

Oxford’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, returns to HogwartsProfessor today to offer thoughts in the run-up to publication of Troubled Blood on the importance of the poet Catullus and his love for Lesbia in understanding Strike’s relationship with Charlotte Campbell-Ross. Enjoy!

After my first post about Strike’s use of the Roman poet Catullus, Joanne Gray pointed out a major Catullan clue I had missed. This post is dedicated to her find!

Joanne Gray’s comment ran:

Another reason I thought the clue JKR was giving to readers with poem #85, was a clue about Cormoran and Charlotte is because she not only had already linked Catullus with Cormoran but she also slipped in a link to Charlotte and Catullus as well.

In The Silkworm, in chapter 42, Charlotte Campbell is linked to Catullus when her email name/address is given as The link is in the name Clodia which is the real life name of Clodia Pulchra, the person behind Catullus’ muse Lesbia, who Catullus is addressing in poem #85.

I think this means that Charlotte will definitely be reappearing in Lethal White.

Since there is so much foreshadowing in the first book about the fierce revenge that Charlotte always exacts on people who wrong her—it looks like she will be bringing some real fury in her return. (I confess I don’t have a clue what that will entail.) Since the real life Roman aristocratic, Clodia Pulchra, was suspected of poisoning her husband, it’s going to be interesting to see if Charlotte is still married or a widow in Lethal White.

This is a great spot, and Joanne certainly hit a bullseye in her guess that we’d be seeing more of Charlotte in Lethal White. On how right she was about Clodia and Charlotte, join me after the jump!

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Beatrice Groves: Striking Epigraphs

Today’s offering for Serious Strikers waiting impatiently for Troubled Blood’s publication on 15 September (and for those who have read the first 9 3/4 chapters available free online already) is a Guest Post from Oxford’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter. Her subject? ‘Literary Allusion in Cormoran Strike,’ as you might expect, and with special emphasis on Rowling-Galbraith’s use of epigraphs in Lethal White and Career of Evil. Enjoy! 

Striking Epigraphs

J.K. Rowling has used epigraphs in every novel she has written since Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; and they are an especial delight of her Strike series (see my previous blogs on Silkworm here and here, Lethal White here, and my hope that Troubled Blood will see her using Spenser’s Faerie Queene for her epigraphs here). Rowling’s epigraphs bring specularity – three-dimensional shading – to her novels. Hunting out the meaning behind her choices makes the reader into a detective, adding an additional depth to her exploration of this genre. This blog post will consider some of the literary effects she achieves, and clues that she drops, with the epigraphs in her two latest Strike novels – Career of Evil and Lethal White – in both of which, I believe, she achieves epigraphical firsts.

Lethal White

Lethal White’s epigraphs are unique because they consist of seventy-one quotations drawn from one single other text – Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm (1886) – making Lethal White more epigraphically indebted than any other novel. By creating this depth of interplay between the two works Rowling embeds many-layered clues in her epigraphs. As I discussed last week, the parallels she creates with Rosmersholm centre on the importance of white horses in both texts, and the resemblance between the unspoken passion in Rebecca and Rosmer’s relationship with that between Robin and Strike.

But there are many other telling epigraphical links. Take, for example, the epigraph to Chapter 49: ‘Rosmers of Rosmersholm clergymen, soldiers, men who have filled high places in the state men of scrupulous honour, every one of them …’.

This is the chapter in Lethal White in which Strike interviews Drummond – and the epigraph fits because Drummond (like Kroll, who speaks this line in the play) is a man of paternalistic traditionalism: [Read more…]

Exciting New Beatrice Grove Articles: Alchemy, Ickabog, Cormoran Strike!

For fans of J. K. Rowling and her literary artistry, podcasts with and online articles by Oxford’s Beatrice Groves are always an event — and we are in the midst of a veritable flood of new material from this sage Potter Pundit. I had to update the author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter‘s Pillar Post page at HogwartsProfessor this morning in the wake of her latest Cormoran Strike detective work — and had to make twelve new entries!

For the literary alchemists in the reading audience, there are links to her podcast on Alchemical Weddings and her three posts inspired by Rowling’s ‘Solve et Coagula’ tattoo.

For Ickabog readers, she wrote two articles about the meanings and allusions in the names of her political fairy tale’s characters.

And for Cormoran Strike fans waiting impatiently for the release of Troubled Blood, there is a podcast about The Faerie Queene as well as articles sharing her reflections on Tom Burke and Aleister Crowley, her discovery of a Walt Whitman poem embedded obliquely in Cuckoo’s Calling, and her exegesis of the Rosmersholm epigraphs in Lethal White for understanding the relationship of Cormoran and Robin.

If that weren’t enough, I have read she is writing up her predictions for Troubled Blood, two posts that should go up 9 and 10 September.

I list below the articles and podcast added to the Groves Pillar Post this morning. Enjoy this feast of new material from a premiere Potter Pundit!


February 2020: Reading, Writing, Rowling: Draco!

April 2020: Reading, Writing, Rowling: Troubled Blood — Spencer, Manson, More!

August 2020: Reading, Writing, Rowling: Alchemical Weddings in Harry Potter and Beyond!

August 2020: Blood Relations and Troubled Blood — A Hint from Tom Burke


Beatrice Groves: Blood Relations and Troubled Blood – A Hint from Tom Burke

A Guest Post from Oxford’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter — Enjoy!

Blood Relations and Troubled Blood: A New Hint?

I was delighted when Holliday Grainger and Tom Burke turned up on my radio, while I was eating breakfast this morning.1 They were there to advertise the TV version of Lethal White (which starts on Sunday, on BBC1 in the UK) and Burke gave one piece of new information about the adaptation. He mentioned the new emotional vulnerability in Strike we see in Lethal White (in particular in the chapter when his nephew is taken to hospital). Burke notes that this episode is cut from the TV show, but he says that he tries to keep this vulnerability in his mind in his performance. (I liked the idea that he was keeping true to this scene in the way he plays his character although it is not in the show – making the novel, not the TV script, the blueprint for his character). [Read the transcript of ‘The Zoe Ball Breakfast Show’ episode with Burke and Holliday at; thanks and a hat tip to Nick Jeffery!]

But what particularly interested me was a hint he gave about Troubled Blood. Burke said: ‘I know a little bit [about Troubled Blood] because there was a particular thing – there was a particular… my grandfather was a novelist, and there was a particular thing he wrote about that comes into the novel in a particular way, so we got chatting about that.’2 Not much to go on – but enough to get me itching to know a little more. So here’s an over-view of the work of Burke’s grandfather (a novelist whom I suspect will be new to most of us) and my best guess as to what that topic might be.

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