Beatrice Groves: Dwelling on Dreams in Strike & Harry Potter, Part 2, or, What is So Special about Charing Cross Road? 

Oxford University’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potterconcludes her reflections on the many dreams in Harry Potter and the Cormoran Strike mysteries with the revelation of a stunning link between Rowling’s Harry Potter and Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike mysteries — the centrality of Charing Cross Road and its bookstores to both series. Enjoy! 

From the very beginning, from the time Cuckoo’s Calling was published and especially since the publication of Lethal White, the literary detectives at HogwartsProfessor have picked up on the trail of breadcrumbs Rowling has left linking her two series and it is something which I have been following up since the publication of Troubled Blood (here and here). Yesterday’s ‘Dreams – Part One’ blogpost traced a new parallel in the importance of dreams (and Spenser’s dream-manipulating Archimago) to both. But there is one further connection between Harry Potter and Strike which, perhaps, gestures towards a dream of Rowling’s own: her aspiration to become a writer. 

The location at which readers first enter Strike’s world and the Wizarding World are uncannily close. Strike lives and works on Denmark St, and the narrative regularly observes how near this street is to Charing Cross Road. [They are so close and related that Google Maps presents Denmark Street as ‘A-40,’ the same name assigned Charing Cross Road.] In Cuckoo’s Calling Strike looks ‘out at Charing Cross Road, glittering with car lights and puddles, where Friday-night revellers were striding and lurching past the end of Denmark Street’ (201).

It is a regular feature of the books to mention that Charing Cross Road is audible from Strike’s offices – and, looking out for this idea on opening Troubled Blood, I was pleased to find it mentioned not once, but twice. This is a startlingly intimate link with Harry Potter  – for, when Harry stays in the Leaky Cauldron in Prisoner of Azkaban, the noise of Charing Cross road is likewise audible from Harry’s room, just as it is from the agency’s rooms in Denmark St. In an unexpected link – and despite living in such different worlds – Rowling’s heroes briefly share a soundscape.  

Rowling has not chosen a random busy London road here; it is crucially important that the Leaky Cauldron – the gateway between the mundane and magical worlds – should be located on Charing Cross Road. Rowling chose it, as she has said, because it is ‘famous for its bookshops, both modern and antiquarian… this is why I wanted it to be the place where those in the know go to enter a different world.’ Muggle book shops are mentioned only twice in Harry Potter, and both times are in reference to those on Charing Cross road. As Harry first searches for the Leaky Cauldron the book shops of Charing Cross Road are the first stores he passes, and when he reaches the magical pub itself, it is located with a ‘big book shop on one side’ (Philosopher’s Stone, Chap 5, p.53). These book shops, as Rowling notes, are a metaphor for the way in which reading can open up, for the reader as for the hero, an entrance into a magical world.  [Read more…]

Beatrice Groves: Dwelling on Dreams in Strike & Harry Potter (Part 1 )

Oxford University’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, offers her reflections on the many dreams in Harry Potter and the Cormoran Strike mysteries. Enjoy! Part 2, DV, will be up soon, even post-haste

In Troubled Blood one of the many signs that the investigating office Bill Talbot has become unwell is that he asks Janice to keep a dream diary. But it is also a moment which creates a link between the fifth book of the Strike and Harry Potter series. For in Order of the Phoenix oneiromancy (foretelling the future through dreams) is likewise touched upon when Harry and Ron – like Janice – are told to keep dream diaries. 

‘I never remember my dreams,’ said Ron ‘you say one.’ 

‘You must remember one of them,’ said Harry impatiently…. 

‘Well, I dreamed I was playing Quidditch the other night,’ said Ron ‘What d’you reckon that means?’ 

‘Probably that you’re going to be eaten by a giant marshmallow or something,’ said Harry, turning the pages of The Dream Oracle (Phoenix, Chap 12, pp.214-5) 

This joke, incidentally, is particularly pleasing in this context as I suspect it points to a subconscious source for J. K. Rowling herself. It a small, additional, piece of evidence that she had the Monty Python episode “You’re No Fun Anymore” (Season 1, Episode 7) at the back of her mind when writing Harry Potter. John Granger was the first to realise the relevance this episode’s final, long, sketch (and its character ‘Harold Potter’) in his How Harry Cast his Spell.  It seems likely that this ‘being eaten by a giant marshmallow’ joke is based on a subconscious memory of the same sketch – as it ends, bizarrely, with giant blancmanges eating people (and giant marshmallows are a natural modernisation of Python’s giant blancmanges – which bamboozled American viewers even at the time).

The joke works particularly well as Rowling has built on Python’s original inversion (food eating people rather than the other way around) with a further one of her own (a normal dream-event symbolising a surreal real-life event, rather than the other way around). It is a particularly satisfying moment to see a reveal of Rowling’s own mental furniture as Harry, of course, is trying to occlude the contents of his own mind in this class. Harry has no intention of revealing either his nightmares about graveyards, nor his recurring dream about long dark corridors and so his dream diary (like Janice’s?) is a complete fabrication  

Trelawney calls dreams ‘prophetic… night-time visions’ (Phoenix, Chap 15, p.280) and certainly many of the dreams in Harry Potter turn out to come true. The first dream Harry ever has in the novels (about a flying motorbike) the reader already knows to be true, immediately alerting us to take future dreams seriously. Harry’s first dream at Hogwarts is given in some detail and, as we discover when we finish the book, it contains numerous clues about the future:   [Read more…]

Groves: The Rowling-Norton Interview

Oxford University’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, listened to the J. K. Rowling-Graham Norton interview today (you can listen to it here, courtesy of The Rowling Library). She sent this report for our ‘Day Of Event’ understanding of what The Presence revealed about The Ickabog and about herself. Enjoy!

J.K. Rowling was interviewed by Graham Norton again on BBC Radio 2 this morning (14 Nov 2020) to mark the release of The Ickabog.This is the first time she’s been on Norton’s show since her 2018 Lethal White interview (for my write-up see Beatrice Groves on Galbraith Meets Norton) as she marked the publication of Troubled Blood with a different Radio 2 event – Tracks of My Years  rather than an interview.

This interview was in two halves – with the first half being about The Ickabog and the second a session of ‘True or False’ about her life. We didn’t learn much new about The Ickabog although she did define what she means by a ‘fairy tale’ and what its difference from a fantasy tale might be:

I think a fairy tale takes place out of time… it’s a timeless story that probably takes place in an entirely imaginary kingdom, and I think we pleasurably leave reality. I think we all understand ‘Once upon a time’ – you’re going to a different space and the themes I think are often very timeless, and I certainly feel that about the Ickabog.

I was likewise pleased to hear that her collection of Jane Austen first editions is coming on apace, missing just Northanger Abbey and Emma. These first editions have been mentioned in passing by a previous interviewer, but this is the first time Rowling has spoken of them. Austen’s first editions reach eye-watering prices partly because of her passionate fanbase and Rowling’s collection is one mark of her deep love of Austen’s writing (something I wrote a chapter on in Literary Allusion in Harry Potter).

But the real discovery from this interview was about her ‘Solve et Coagula’ tattoo. This tattoo was spotted and deciphered by Nick Jeffery on 13 Dec 2019 (well done Nick!) and John Granger – the father of the study of Rowling’s alchemical artistry – immediately wrote up Nick Jeffery’s find:Solve et Coagula: What It Means.’ So we’ve known about this tattoo for a long time, but this is first time Rowling has spoken of it (other than to confirm that she did get a tattoo). Norton merely asked her if it is true or false that she has a tattoo on her right wrist, and what it might say, but Rowling chose to answer in some detail:

It says ‘Solve et Coagula’ and it’s in my own handwriting. I always wanted this and then I thought ‘no, you’re ridiculously too old to go and get a tattoo’ and then last year my sister said to me ‘what am I going to get you for Christmas? You’re so hard to buy for!’ (which I think is a fair point) and I said to her ‘get me a tattoo’ so we both went to a tattoo parlour and she paid for me to have my tattoo!… and it means ‘dissolve and coagulate’ and it’s really a link between my first and thirteenth books because it was the maxim of the alchemists, and the phrase actually appears in Troubled Blood and it has a couple of other more personal associations for me.

Earlier this year I wrote up this tattoo in three posts about Solve et Coagula (here, here, and here). These posts argue that Rowling’s choice to inscribe this alchemical motto on her writing wrist, in her own handwriting, shows how she links the idea of ‘Solve et Coagula’ with her own creativity. I was delighted, therefore, that she provided some further evidence of this idea today. Firstly, in the revelation that this tattoo was not a spur of the moment decision, nor the immediate result of research for Troubled Blood, but rather something she has ‘always wanted.’ Secondly in her statement that ‘it’s really a link between my first and thirteenth books.’ I love this loop – partly because it is a link between a Strike and a Harry Potter book, and partly for her sense of a circle in her writing that centres on alchemy.

It is noticeable that she calls Troubled Blood her thirteenth book. She used the same numbering when she spoke as a launch event for The Ickabog on 10th Nov (hat tip to The Rowling Library for putting this on youtube!) of that as her ‘fourteenth book’. It is clear, therefore, she uses ‘book’ in her own mind to mean ‘novel.’ Her fourteen books by this reckoning are the seven Harry Potter and five Strike novels, The Casual Vacancy and The Ickabog. In her own mind she is not including her three smaller Harry Potter spin-off works (Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and The Tales of Beedle the Bard) nor her two Fantastic Beast screenplays, nor the book-version of her speech (Very Good Lives) nor the co-authored script Cursed Child. One of the things that this means is that she thinks of Troubled Blood as her thirteenth book – which makes it a fitting choice for her most occult work.

In terms of the ‘personal associations’ Rowling mentions for ‘Solve et Coagula’ Norton, politely, does not delve. But it has an interesting link with what Rowling has said about suffering and healing in her own life and in the lives of her current heroes, Strike and Robin:

My honest answer is I think they’re both quite damaged people. Robin’s damage is very obvious. It’s been explicit since I think the third book. She’s been through something very traumatic. His trauma is also very obvious – he’s lost a leg – but he’s damaged emotionally, and you see in this book what his childhood was. It was a very odd and disrupted one. So my feeling is that they need to do a degree of healing before they – or he – is able to have a relationship of the kind I know a lot of readers would like them to have. [from the Billingham-Galbraith interview transcript and commentary at HogwartsProfessor]

Rowling is interested in ‘Solve et Coagula’ in personal terms, as well creative ones, and John has made a brilliant link between this alchemical idea and Strike’s life, and the healing that he undergoes in Troubled Blood.

‘Solve et Coagula’ appears for the first time in Rowling’s writing on one of the occult pages of Bill Talbot’s ‘True Book’ on which he has written ‘Solve et Coagula No resolution without BREAKING DOWN’ (Troubled Blood, 537). As with the alchemical original of the Snitch (which John mentions here and I wrote about here) the appearance of ‘Solve et Coagula’ in Troubled Blood is a nod to the alchemical context in which Rowling has always written [Listen to the Reading, Writing, Rowling’ podcast on Alchemical Weddings for a review of that]. I think that Rowling’s choice to make her alchemical interests explicit – in her tattoo, on Pottermore, in Troubled Blood and in this interview – is a sign of the way in which she wishes her readers to notice the alchemical grounding of her creativity.

Beatrice Groves: Two New Strike Posts!

Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter and a Research Fellow and Lecturer at Trinity College, Oxford University, is a Serious Striker and Potter Pundit of Renown. She writes for Leaky-Cauldron.org, MuggleNet.com, as well as for HogwartsProfessor — links to all her brilliant posts and podcasts have been collected on this Pillar Post page if you want to binge! — and I know that our readers here look forward as I do to everything new she has written.

This week she has posted two pieces at Leaky-Cauldron.org, her first articles I think since that website chose to ‘cancel’ J. K. Rowling and cast her out of Harry Potter fandom discussion; they did this for the thought-crime of transgressing acceptable opinions about transgender overreach and excesses in the United Kingdom. Professor Groves is the only writer at Leaky-Cauldron and MuggleNet that mentions She Who Must Not Be Named at those fan sites and Rowling-Galbraith’s new works, the Cormoran Strike mysteries.

The two pieces that went up this week, consequently, have something of the flavor of evangelical material; each introduces and explains the brave new world of Cormoran and Robin’s adventures to Harry Potter readers at Leaky-Cauldron who may not yet be aware of  the five books in print, which explanation and example of the fun to be had by Rowling Readers serves as an excellent invitation to the Galbraith series. And that’s an important effort, even if current evidence shows such outreach may be pearls before swine.

For Serious Strikers here at HogwartsProfessor, the two new posts are both an excellent review of much of what Prof Groves has written about the Peg-Legged PI previously and a delightful helping of bon mots of Troubled Blood interpretation that we have not yet seen. Enjoy!

**Harry Potter and the Mysteries of Cormoran Strike: Part 1 (Introductory Ideas)

**Harry Potter and the Mysteries of Cormoran Strike: Part 2 (Cratylic Names)

Beatrice Groves: Trouble in Faerie Land3 T’was Duessa Who Did the Dirty Deed!

Oxford University’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, has written the finale of her three posts about Edmund Spencer and Troubled Blood, posts that are all now up at her MuggleNet page, ‘Bathilda’s Notebook.’ Check out Trouble in Faerie Land – Part 3: Searching for Duessa in “Troubled Blood”.

In her capstone post on the subject, Prof Groves does a deep dive into the parallels between the Bad Girl of Spenser’s Faerie Queen, Duessa, and the doppelganger murderer of Margot Bamborough in Troubled Blood. She offers along the way fascinating and brilliant catches on the meaning of Cratylic Names in Strike 5 as well as several Spenser and Elizabethan era fun facts that throw light in the dark corner of the Faerie Queen epigraphs.

Part Three: Searching for Duessa in “Troubled Blood” is both more accessible and rewarding, I think, to the serious reader unfamiliar with Faerie Queen than Prof Groves’ first two posts on the subject,Trouble in Faerie Land (Part One): Spenserian Clues in the Epigraphs of Troubled BloodandTroubles in Faerie Land (Part Two): Shipping Robin and Strike in the Epigraphs of Troubled Blood.’

You do need to read all three, of course, as well as Elizabeth Baird-Hardy’s seven part discussion of the Faerie Queen epigraph bonanza here at HogwartsProfessor, to appreciate the fullness of Rowling’s use of Faerie Queen as mirroring text both above and within Troubled Blood (i.e., the work is never mentioned in Strike5 but it introduces every Part and chapter as well as the work as a whole).

And all this literary detective work has been done within a month of Troubled Blood’s publication! My first post on the relationship of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm and Rowling-Galbraith’s Lethal White, in contrast, was four months out from Strike 4’s publication and Prof Groves did not write about it for almost two years (cf., ‘The Epigraphs of Lethal White: Shipping Strike and Robin’).

It goes without saying that there is a lot of heavy lifting to be done still to get at the artistry and meaning of Troubled Blood, but the Serious Strikers of the world, those who read the novels repeatedly rather than ‘once and done,’ owe a great debt to Profs Groves and Baird-Hardy. Both the speed with which they have written and the quality of the work each has done in bringing to light how Rowling-Galbraith uses Faerie Queen as a support and illuminating backdrop to Troubled Blood will inform all consequent exegesis of the work.

Three cheers!