M. Evan Willis: The Mythic Context and Hermetic Meaning of Cormoran Strike

We’ve been discussing the Greek myth underlying the Cormoran Strike mysteries, namely, Leda and the Swan, since Joanne Gray and I wrote up the many links between the Strike story-line and the mythology of Castor and Pollux (and the White Horses!). M. Evan Willis, who has been reading Cormoran Strike in mythic and hermetic terms as he did Harry Potter, writes today about the revelations of Lethal White and why he thinks they re-set the mythic setting of the stories and make the events of the coming novels predictable; he says to look for a Matthew-Charlotte alliance a la the Leucippides to thwart Robin and Cormoran, the Castor-Pollux stand-ins, the pair who stole their prospective spouses.

Stand by to have your minds blown as he lays out Rowling’s re-telling of the age-old myth and what we can expect in not only novels four to seven but also why there will necessarily be more than seven Strike mysteries! Enjoy!

With Lethal White just published, I have a handful of thoughts concerning the use of myth in the series as revealed by the new book. Familiarity with my earlier guest-post on Hermes will be assumed as background information.

I’ll start with two points on method:

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Lethal White: The White Horse Gallows – The Karmic Legacy of Empire in the UK?

Since the publication Tuesday of Lethal White, the conversation I’ve been leading here has largely been about literary artistry, specifically the structure of Strike4, most notably, its resonances with Cuckoo’s Calling as the series story turn and its correspondences with Goblet of Fire. As fascinating and fruitful as that conversation has been and continues to be, it has largely been in studied neglect of the elephant in the room, an elephant-sized white horse.

If this were a proper academic study, what I write today would be the third in a series of posts about Galbraith’s white horses in Lethal White. Instead of what I offer below, the opening salvo of that series would be a list of all the mentions and references to white horses in Strike4, a list long enough that characters inside the text comment on their ubiquity twice. Next would be a close reading of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm and a list of the multiple white horse allusions made in that play, something Galbraith, in choosing to make every single epigraph a reference to this one play, clearly hopes we will do. Then and only then, the sober academic would write what he thinks is the meaning of the white horse metaphor in Lethal White.

I will write the first two posts of that sober series eventually, I hope. My correspondent and friend of fifteen years, Odd Sverre Hove, has already obliged me by sharing (1) an annotated list of Rosmersholm white horse appearances, a play he is able to read in the original language and in the English translation Rowling uses, as well as (2) a brief survey of the critical literature in Norwegian and German on the play. The hard work already done by Odd, all I have to do — besides reading Rosmersholm myself! –is the requisite grunt work of re-reading Lethal White with my white horse detector glasses on and share a compare-and-contrast paper on the two white horse lists.

I want to jump those steps, however, to jump-start the conversation about what Rowling is after in her predominent white horse symbolism and signalling. She has, after all, been anything but subtle in text and in public about the centrality of this image. We see it in text as the name of Inns, as the Uffington White Horse, as a carving made on gallows and a bathroom prison door by an unhinged man, in the Strike-Ellacott banter about the color of horses and equestrian terminology (and the white/pale horse of Revelation) and in the pseudo-Stubbs painting of a Lethal White Syndrome foal. I suspect the white swans that bracket and haunt Lethal White are related to this image as well because of their connection with British royalty and Greek mythology (completely passing over ‘Leda and the Swan‘).

The white horses of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, if I have understood Odd Sverre Hove’s detailing all the white horse mentions in that play, are images of the ghosts which haunt the characters’ present, a historical legacy of one family which is resolved in the present under the continuing influence and presence of the past. These ghosts, that of the lead character’s wife specifically, to risk spoiling the play for those not familiar with it, cause the double suicide at the finish.

Rowling’s white horses in Letal White have to be read, if only because of the consistent epigraphs from the one work, in the same haunting fashion. I think, though, that Rowling is less concerned or just less focused on one family than on British culture as a whole (as I’m guessing Ibsen is also really about his 19th Century Lutheran culture in eclipse but I know nothing about that other than Odd’s insights from which to make an opinion!).

Evan Willis has suggested that the gallows made under the shadow of and with the impression of the Uffington White Horse carved into them are Rowling’s judgment on the death penalty, a critique in parallel with the Dementor’s Kiss delivered at the end of Goblet of Fire. I’d take this a step further in line with my thoughts about the P. D. James influence on Rowling’s work, i.e., that, like James, Rowling is presenting the historical present of the UK as a pathetic and decadent descendant of its heroic, deeply flawed, and even criminal past. The importance of the Stubbs painting in White hightlights the Jamesian echo (see the James’ manor house mystery, Cover Her Face, with its Stubbs painting).

Lethal White seems a not especially subtle assault, in other words, on the poisonous legacy of British colonialism and imperialism. Which may come as a surprise to you. Galbraith, frankly, seems a much more conservative author than the Rowling public persona; his Strike novels would be dismissed as horribly heteronormative and politically traditional, I think, except for JKR, Inc’s successful branding as profoundly leftist and borderline libertine. The satirical treatment of Marxists and feminists in Lethal White and the dismissive depiction of the sexually unfaithful are anything but kind to the CORE of the Harry Potter Alliance. But with respect to the depth or core meaning of Lethal White,  Strike4 will have to be filed under ‘Postcolonial Critique,’ another novel about the evils of empire. [Read more…]

Scorecard for Lethal White Predictions: Bullseyes, Near Misses, and Air Balls

In the days before Lethal White’s publication, I wrote out my list of those things which had to happen in Strike4 (because they’d happened in the first three novels) and my off-the-wall guesses of what I hoped to see. I posted both lists here before I had the book in hand.

I’ve written some challenging posts here since Tuesday, the day of publication and when I read Lethal White as fast as I could with any comprehension. Today I want to look back and score my predictions from Monday night. Did I totally bomb my crystal ball test with Professor Trelawney? Or am I the obvious candidate to teach Divination at Hogwarts when there is an opening?

Follow me over the jump for a quick review of what I said would happen in Lethal White and what actually did occur — [Read more…]

Lethal White: ‘Cuckoo’s Calling’ Retold?

Yesterday, after a quick reading of Lethal White, I began unpacking the literary freight of this delightfully oversized tome with a quick search of the parallels in support of Strike 4 being a retelling of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I came up with seven suggestive echoes and Louise Freeman in the comment thread shared some wonderful connections I missed. While it is very possible that Rowling only adds these touches to delight her serious reader following, they can be read as supports to the idea that she is writing a seven book series (which won’t end at seven) that is a pastiche of her own previous work and a commentary on it.

The next step in testing that seven book theory is to see if she is writing a ring composition for the set. In the Hogwarts Saga, as Rowling said in 2000, Goblet is “crucial.” It is the story turn and very strongly echoes Philosopher’s Stone and points to the finale in Deathly Hallows (see my discussion of this in Harry Potter For Nerds and Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle). Lethal White, then, if it is the fourth book in a seven book ring a la Goblet and the Potter septology, will echo the first book in the series in relatively obvious ways.

But does it? Join me after the jump for three quick catches I made on my first hurried reading of Lethal White that suggests we do indeed have a story turn and a seven book set in Cormoran Strike. Lethal White is cuckoo with Cuckoo’s Calling ‘reverse echoes’ and parallel plot points. [Read more…]

Does Lethal White Echo Goblet of Fire?

Rowling recently — as in “yesterday” — repeated her declaration that Cormoran Strike is not a closed seven book series.

It’s been widely reported you have seven Cormoran Strike novels planned.  Is this correct?

It’s not, there are actually more than that.  The beauty of writing these types of novels is that they each have their own discrete story, so the series is pretty open ended.  It will run for as long as I have stories to tell.

This is not, if you read it again, a denial that the first seven novels will constitute a distinct set or that they are running in parallel with (and as commentary on?) the corresponding Harry Potter numbers.

Forget what Rowling says for a minute. What does Lethal White tell us? Are there lines and plot points in the fourth Strike novel that any serious reader of the Hogwarts Saga will recognize as echoes of Goblet of Fire?

There are a bunch of them. And there are parallels of the biggest events we might expect to appear in a shadow-novel that are not present.

After the jump I list the seven echoes I heard on my hurried first reading; it’s not a definitive list or even a “most important” catalog. The point is only to start the conversation. I hope that you will share any Lethal-Goblet correspondences that you have found in the comment boxes below. (And, if you don’t want spoilers, don’t make the jump!) [Read more…]