Evan Willis: Running Grave Review

I received my digital copies (Kindle and audiobook) of The Running Grave on Tuesday morning, and started reading through as fast as I could, eager to get to the story. I finished reading late on Thursday. Except perhaps out of a care to avoid recency bias, I would say that it is my favorite Strike book yet. It is brilliantly complex in plotting, its structural and motivic ties to the other books are well constructed and deeply fun to find, and Rowling has surpassed herself in the depth of depiction of her characters. I was also interested in seeing how various theories of mine were stacking up to our large new data-set. I will begin with my favorite new piece of parallel series connection, the degree to which Rowling made sure that there was a parallel to the “Tale of the Three Brothers” as centerpiece of The Running Grave. Back in July, I proposed a theory that the series was structured as a Pythagorean Tetractys (the number 10 represented in triangular form) in parallel with the ten books of the Potter novels, IckabogCasual Vacancy, and Christmas Pig. I think the main structure of my theory holds up, but half of the justification for it needed to be rejected. I conclude with a few miscellaneous notes. Spoilers for the entire book follow.

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Evan Willis- Strike Series Ranking

Continuing our series of Hogwarts Professor staff posts ranking the Strike books, I’ll be adding my thoughts to the mix. (After which, I will be interestedly reading through everybody else’s posts, eager to hear what they thought and how they evaluated the texts!)

My method here will be informed by my general tendencies when reading. I struggle with texts if they are considered by themselves alone, independent of other texts. The more I can practice what Mortimer Adler called Syntopical reading, reading texts together in each other’s light, the better I will enjoy and gain from any given book. I will, therefore, tend to rank texts higher when they play a pivotal role narratively in a series, or when the motifs or structure of a text is well illumined by or illuminating of other texts, or most generally when they reward Syntopical reading. The degree to which a book is fundamentally about how one reads, as in the common text-within-a-text of Rowling’s writing, also act favorably in my evaluation. This is not the only standard applied, of course, but in evaluating these books this aspect came up most frequently. In no small part, what follows is just the degree of enjoyment I had while reading each of them, such that the justifications below might not be as airtight as they could be. Ranking follows after the jump, starting from last place and continuing to first.

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Mercury Markers, History and Theory

In my last post I went over the story of my read-through of Ink Black Heart. I focused on my claim that each of theStrike books has had its primary villain secretly indicated by a hidden reference to various Hermes-related figures, what may alliteratively be called “Mercury Markers”. This, aside from its predictive value, seems to be, on the face of it, a very strange thing to expect an author to do. I wish to make the claim that a move of this type is common for any author like Rowling who writes within Hermetic or Alchemical traditions. The central motif of the Hermetic tradition is this: a hidden word or sign, that will make itself readily apparent only to the “initiated” who have been informed to expect the word or sign, brightly highlights a Deeply Important Something that is going on “behind the scenes.” Below, I plan to track the main places I see similar effects being used and provide a more detailed account of where I see this being used in the Strike novels.

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Ink Black Heart: Does Rowling Tip Her Hand About the Killer with a Hermes Reference and ‘Prince’ Parallels?

Evan Willis is a HogwartsProfessor faculty member with a special expertise in Rowling’s hermetic artistry. He was in communication with me throughout his first-reading of Ink Black Heart so I can testify that the journey he describes below is not something he made up after the fact. His long-awaited write-up of his thoughts on Strike6 exceeds even my very high expectations and it establishes I think his theory that Mercury markers are keys to Identifying Rowling murder mystery killers; enjoy! — John

Hours after it came out, I started on Ink Black Heart. I wanted to read it slowly so that I had adequate opportunity to test, theorize, and predict, and so only got to the end of it early this week. I sent off a couple comments and e-mails as I read indicating where my line of reasoning had gone so that I might document my testing, while trying my best to avoid spoilers (this site, along with Twitter, became very dangerous to go anywhere near).

My conclusions? That our parallel series idea still has deep predictive and explanatory power (Half-Blood Prince parallels are extraordinarily strong here), that the important Half-Blood Prince references are where it connected back to Philosopher’s Stone (pointing to a 1-6 connectivity in both series), and that Rowling has subtly indicated the identity of the killer in each of these novels very early on by inclusion of a passing reference to a mythological character with direct ties to the figure of Hermes in the near vicinity of their first appearance.

Join me after the jump for discussion of how I arrived at all three of these conclusions — and how I just missed identifying the killer before Strike and Robin did.

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“For the Straightforward Path Was Lost”: A Few Starting Notes on The Christmas Pig

To get discussion started on The Christmas Pig, I thought I would post some thoughts, aligned with a few of our keys to interpretation, that I was left with after my first read through. Or, rather, first listen through. The audiobook proved really quite wonderful, with excellent cast and sound design. On any of these points below, consequently, much more can be said. These points are also not in any particular order as they are something of a collection of first impressions. The discussion below will not be spoiler free.
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