Guest Post: Ickabog Notes & Predictions

Written by David Martin on Sunday, July 5th, 2020, five days before the end of The Ickabog will be published.

A few comments about the Ickabog story so far:

When contemplating the venality and cruelty of the Cornucopian government, it may be well to remember that Rowling worked as a translator in the London office of Amnesty International for a while. She spoke of the nightmares that work gave her in her Very Good Lives address at Harvard.

Cornucopia seems to have the same level of technology as England in about 1800. The clock Bert watches while waiting for his mother to return has a minute hand. Cooking is done on stoves rather than in fireplaces. There is (or was at the start of the story) regular postal service in the kingdom. On the other hand, they are still using quills and all lighting is by candles and flaming torches. They don’t even have gas lights yet. Only Basher John has keys at the orphanage. Apparently Ma Gunther does not have duplicates. (Basher John, like Hagrid, is a “keeper of the keys.”) This suggests that metal working was not yet advanced enough to make duplicate keys common for locks.

The absence of newspapers strikes me as odd. There is also no mention of a town crier. How do people get the news?

One of JKR’s tricks is to not mention something, such as the name of Barty Crouch’s son. We are not told why Lady Eslanda is living in the castle. What is her backstory?

As in Harry Potter, the good guys read books (especially Lady Eslanda) and write letters. The bad guys seem to avoid reading and writing. Lord Spittleworth has a library, but it is dusty. Further, Lord Spittleworth seems to be in several ways at war with letters. He reads (censors) all the King’s mail and blocks the mail from outside Chouxville. Spittleworth and Flapoon rely a lot on messengers and face-to-face conversations, just as the Death Eaters did.

A lot of this story revolves around food. The towns are described in terms of what food they create. The names of the towns seem to link to food:

  • Chouxville: “Choux” is the French word for cabbage. (It is also used in the phrase “mon petit choux” as a term of endearment.)
  • Kurdsburg: Curds are the “soft, white substance formed when milk sours, used as the basis for cheese.” (Wikipedia)
  • Baronstown. I have no idea about what Baron has to do with meat. Any ideas?
  • Jeroboam. A “jeroboam” refers to either a 3-liter bottle of Champagne or Burgundy or a 4.5-liter bottle of Bordeaux. Biblically, Jeroboam was the first king of the northern Kingdom of Israel who ruled somewhere around 920 to 901 B.C. (Taken from https://www.winespectator.com/articles/how-did-jeroboam-wine-bottle-get-its-name-56204)
  • And of course, the name of the country itself – Cornucopia – suggests an abundance of food.

Ma Gunther’s orphanage is terrible in part because of the food. The children are half-starved when rescued by the Ickabog. Maybe expressing wealth and poverty as having or lacking food is just a way of making those two conditions more understandable to young children.

On the other hand, the name of the river – Fluma – is very close to the Portuguese word “fleuma” which means phlegm. Recalling chapter five of Prince, this would not be the first time Rowling has played with that word.

Thinking about possible fictional antecedents for the Ickabog’s situation of guarding its many offspring, two creatures come to mind:

Now some rash predictions or guesses about how the story will end:

  1. There will be a final battle in which Captain Goodfellow slays Lord Spittleworth.
  2. Lord Flapoon will not be killed. He, the Dark Footers, and Ma Gunther will be sent to the dungeons where they will have to live on cabbage soup.
  3. The money stolen by Lord Spittleworth and Lord Flapoon will be recovered and used to rebuild the country.
  4. King Fred will be dethroned.
  5. Lady Eslanda will discover something important in the library – something old. Her discovery may show that King Fred is not the rightful king and/or that Cornucopia should have a different relationship with the Ickabog. Perhaps there was an ancient treaty?
  6. Several couples will live happily ever after:
  • Lady Eslanda and Captain Goodfellow.
  • Bertha Beamish and Dan Dovetail.
  • Daisy Dovetail and Bert Beamish.
  • Martha (whose last name we’ve never been told) and Roderick Roach. (Maybe)
  1. The Ickabog will be given the right to live in peace in the Marshlands, to collect or cultivate mushrooms.

I look forward to seeing in just a few days how Rowling will, in all likelihood, surprise all of us again with an unforeseen revelation at the end of the story.

  • David Martin of Hufflepuff

Please Share Your Predictions for the Coming Week in the Comment Boxes!

Guest Post — Of Time, Terra, and Narnia: The Forgotten Ideas Behind C.S. Lewis and Vladimir Nabokov (Chris Calderon)

Of Time, Terra, and Narnia: The Forgotten Ideas Behind C.S. Lewis and Vladimir Nabokov

By Chris Calderon

Popular culture is often unkind. Once you reach its level, you soon discover all that counts is how well a complex subject can fit into this or that pigeonhole. In that sense a good working definition of pop culture is a place to put things so that you can forget them because its better that way, safer. Even beloved literary icons aren’t immune to this problem. C.S. Lewis’s reputation has become like that. He’s a name on the tip of the tongue who wrote a few kiddie books a while back and was something of a fundamentalist; that is all. The same thing happened to Vladimir Nabokov. All anyone can remember him for was writing a perverted book, and for some reason Stan Kubrick thought it would make a good film. Then there’s Jo Rowling, just another welfare queen who got lucky with another set of kiddie lit; “Life is very long”. That’s about as far a popular understanding can go, and it never deals with any of these subjects at all.

It can’t help readers understand that, thanks to the efforts of critics like Michael Ward, we now know that Lewis was a closet Berkeleyan Idealist, and that the good Bishop was perhaps his second “Other Master” after George Macdonald. Nor that few except a handful of close readers where able to say the same about the author Lolita. The thought and writings of George Berkeley form one of the most interesting thematic links between two writers who are never considered in the same aesthetic space together. There’s a story to be told about that link, and it has to do with a solitary dreamer. His name was John William “J.W.” Dunne, and he’s almost like a figure in a story, even if he was real.

Dunne was an aeronautics engineer. He was the very model of a modern day respectable. It would almost be true to say he represented the ideal picture of the norm for modernist Britain. Then somehow the table was upended. Dunne may have lost the respect of his neighbors and cohorts, though it remains for you to decide just what he gained in the end. Respectability came to an end for Dunne with a series of peculiar dreams. The first involved a stopped watch that didn’t malfunction until at least a day after Dunne dreamed that it did. The second was more dire. In his sleep, Dunne saw himself standing on an unstable strip of ground that was beginning to crack. Light was emerging from those tears in the earth, and he knew to go near any of it meant incineration. He could make nothing of this dream until the eruption of Mt. Pelee became the Pompei of the 20th century.

The same experience kept repeating itself. Dunne would see an event in his sleep, and later that event would sometimes repeat itself in real life. JWD was not a mystic. By training he had a degree in physics, and liked to keep track of the work of scientists like Einstein and Arthur Eddington. In addition, while he was practical, it was this same critical thinking streak that, paradoxically, made him an intellectually convinced Anglican. What he had on his hands amounted to little else except a repeating phenomenon with no other word to describe it except miraculous. Dunne was the sort of methodical thinker who couldn’t leave it at that, however. Like Lewis, he devoted a meticulous study to the subject as it occurred, and brought all his scientific acumen to bear on it. The result was An Experiment with Time, a text with an influence on both VVN and CSL. [Read more…]

Guest Post: Keats Epigraphs in Strike5?

Why John Keats “May” Provide Epigraphs (and other materials) for Strike Five

By ChrisC

A recent theory on this site is that Marilyn Manson’s lyrics will form the epigraphs for the next Cormoran Strike Mystery. I have an alternate take on that subject, however. What if the poetry of John Keats is what readers have to look forward to, at least in terms of thematic chapter-header quotes in Book 5?

My reasons for bringing this up center around one of the author’s clues and the literary subject matter attached to it. The clue was Ms. Rowling’s brochure for the Chelsea Physic Garden. It was founded by the Society of Apothecaries in 1837, and Keats was an intern there as part of his early medical studies. His notebooks demonstrate a remarkable knowledge of pharmacology, and both Hermione De Almeida and Jennifer M. Wunder have shown that Keats’ medical studies intertwined with his neo-Platonic-hermetic poetical interests. In addition to this, Keats was not the only Rowling linked artist to be related to the Chelsea Garden. There is one other author who, along with Keats, may form a major part of the fifth book’s creative compost. To find out more about this, and how Agatha Christie may have a part to play, join me after the jump. [Read more…]

Beatrice Groves: Rowling and Catullus

Trinity College Portraits by Ian Wallman

A Nativity Guest Post post from Beatrice Groves, Research Fellow and Tutor in English at Oxford’s Trinity College and the author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter as a Christmas gift to you about distinguishing an artist from her artwork and a pointer to a BBC program this week which Serious Strikers will want to attend. Enjoy — and Merry Christmas!

On 9 Jan on Radio 4 (9am and 9.30pm) there will be an ‘In Our Time’ episode on Catullus – which serious Strikers may be  interested in listening in on. Guests include my friend and colleague Dr Gail Trimble, who has written the forthcoming Cambridge University Press edition of Catullus 64 (and what she doesn’t know about Catullus isn’t worth knowing). The write-up of the programme describes how:

Catullus (c84-c54 BC) wrote some of the most sublime poetry in the late Roman Republic, and some of the most obscene. He found a new way to write about love, in poems to the mysterious Lesbia, married and elusive, and he influenced Virgil and Ovid and others, yet his explicit poems were to blight his reputation for a thousand years. Once the one surviving manuscript was discovered in the Middle Ages, though, anecdotally as a plug in a wine butt, he inspired Petrarch and the Elizabethan poets, as he continues to inspire many today. 

One those he continues to inspire, of course, is J.K. Rowling/Robert Galbraith. She has made Catullus her new hero’s favourite poet – in a way that marks both Strike’s continuity with Harry Potter (in which she delights in using Latin as a magical language) and a gear-change in the way in which she approaches such subjects in her more explicitly adult series. Catullus is a major presence in both the second and fourth Strike novels. In Silkworm Catullus is first mentioned as Strike’s favourite author without giving the reader anything to identify the book by: his favourite book lay in one of the unpacked boxes of possessions on the landing; it was twenty years old and he had not opened it for a long time’ (Silkworm, p.254). Catullus’s poems lies buried in Strike’s subconcious (just as they are literally buried among the books on his landing) and first rise unbidden to his mind on receiving Charlotte’s text ‘Congratulate me. Mrs Jago Ross:’

As he walked with the aid of his stick back to Denmark Street he remembered words from his favourite book, unread for a very long time, buried at the bottom of the box of belongings on his landing.

difficile est longum subito deponere amoren,

difficile est, uerum hoc qua lubet efficias

it is hard to throw off long-established love:

Hard, but this you must manage somehow… (Silkworm, p.373)

It is only in the third and final reference to Catullus in Silkworm that the poet is finally identified. In this passage – which one reviewer called ‘corny but thrilling anyway’1 – Strike performs the ultimate put-down by quoting Catullus at length in Latin:

sicine subrepsti mi, atque intestina pururens

ei misero eripuisti omnia nostra bona?

Eripuisti, eheu, nostrae crudele uenenum

Uitae, eheu nostrae pestis amicitiae.’

He looked unsmilingly upon Fancourt’s astonishment. The writer rallied quickly.

Ovid?’

Catullus,’ said Strike, heaving himself off the low pouffe with the aid of the table. ‘Translates roughly:

So that’s how you crept up on me, an acid eating away

My guts, stole from me everything I most treasure?

Yes, alas, stole: grim poison in my blood

The plague, alas, of the friendship we once had.

 ‘Well, I expect we’ll see each other around,’ said Strike pleasantly.

(Silkworm, p.401)

This is a quotation of almost the whole of Catullus 77 and its relevance to the grotesque murder in Silkworm is clear. But the earlier quotation of Catullus 76 – ‘it is hard to throw off long-established love:/ Hard, but this you must manage somehow’ – appears to have a more wide-ranging relevance for the Strike series.

Rowling has had an all-or-nothing relationship with Twitter in 2019 – her year-long near-silence broken at the very end of the year by a tweet which seems to have been one of the most talked-about tweets of recent times. In the good old days, however, she used Twitter to tell us about Catullus.

On the 16th November 2017 she posted a picture in which I was delighted to spot Peter Green’s bilingual translation of Catullus hiding under the popcorn.

After reading Lethal White I can’t but wonder if this was an intentional set-up – another of her infamous gingerbread trails. For Strike, likewise, strains to read the half-revealed book titles on Jasper Chiswell’s coffee-table and spots an edition of Catullus: ‘Strike could see nothing but a partial title on an old cloth edition – “CATUL”’ (p.292). In this tweet Rowling places her readers in precisely the same position as her detective: straining to find clues from a photograph of a copy of Catullus on the coffee-table of someone who has been quoting that poet. And is she teasing us by leaving precisely the same five letters ‘CATUL’ visible on the book’s spine? Can we come to the same conclusion as Strike from precisely the same evidence?!

Then, on 1 July 2018, Rowling replied to a fan-tweet (can you give us a tease on Lethal White?’) with her first Latin tweet: ‘Odi et amo. Quare id faciam fortasse requiris nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.’ Rowling’s tweet quotes the whole of Catullus 85: ‘I hate and love. Why I do so, perhaps you ask, I know not, but I feel it, and I am in torment.’

By quoting Catullus in Latin, Rowling links herself directly with her detective (who, as noted above, has quoted both Catullus 76 and 77 in Latin from memory). Rowling has commented in interview that these quotations are a hint about Strike’s own personal story arc: ‘it is a clue to what he was studying before he left university… I have backstory there.’2 Rowling, too, studied the classics at university (in her case Greek and Roman Studies at Exeter University – in addition to French) and lines from Catullus clearly rise to her mind as expressing precisely the mot juste, just as they do for Strike. Before the publication of Lethal White I wrote a post for Bathilda’s Notebook on Mugglenet about Rowling’s ‘Odi et amo’ tweet (– which I hope John will post a link to here when Mugglenet is back up!). And, as promised, in Lethal White Catullus did indeed make a return. The copy Strike spots on the villain-victim Chiswell’s coffee table is a pointer to his two important quotations of the poet.

Firstly Chiswell quotes Catullus 16 (apparently with homophobic intent) at Aamir Mallik: ‘Catullus more up your street, I expect. He produced some fine poetry about men of your habits. Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo, Aureli pathice et cinaede Furi, eh? Poem 16, look it up, you’ll enjoy it’ (pp.186-7). (In a nice detective-y detail Strike is able to identify the poet later when discussing this moment with Robin – although she cannot remember the Latin – because Chiswell gives the poem a number not a name: ‘Catullus’s poems are numbered, not titled’ [p.296]).

And then, just as in Rowling’s ‘Odi et amo’ tweet, Chiswell quotes Catullus 85 itself: ‘Odi et amo, quare id faciam fortasse requiris? Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.’ Robin finds it written out in Latin by Chiswell on a crucial note that is one of her biggest under-cover finds. Strike translates it for us – ‘“I hate and I love. Why do I do it, you might ask? I don’t know. I just feel it, and it crucifies me….” that’s Catullus again. A famous one’ (p.449) – and in doing so reveals a little more of his backstory as he parries Robin’s question about how come he can read Latin though he did not (like Rowling) study it at university: ‘in fact the story of his ability to read Latin wasn’t long, merely (to most people) inexplicable. He didn’t feel like telling it in the middle of the night, nor did he want to explain that Charlotte had studied Catullus at Oxford’ (p.453).

In my Mugglenet blog I suggested Peter Green’s translation of Catullus 85 as our best pre-publication guess at how Rowling/Strike would translate it:

I hate and love. You wonder, perhaps, why I’d do that?

I have no idea. I just feel it. I am crucified.3

Rowling hasn’t followed it precisely (as indeed, given copyright, she couldn’t have), but the ‘I just feel it’ and the verb ‘crucify’ suggests that she has used Green as a guide in her translation (Strike’s version, for example, is much closer to Green than to the Loeb: ‘I hate and love. Why I do so, perhaps you ask, I know not, but I feel it, and I am in torment’).

Rowling kept faith with that ‘Odi et amo’ tweet, too, in the sense that Catullus is even more important for the plot in Lethal White than in Silkworm (a pattern we should see repeated in Strike 6 if John is right about the structure, with Lethal White as the ‘pivot’ novel). Strike, musing on why Chiswell has quoted Catullus to Aamir Mallik, notes the obvious point that Chiswell is calling out some form of sexual deviancy – sexually explicit poetry being what Catullus is best-known for: ‘Catullus described plenty of interesting habits: incest, sodomy, child rape… he might’ve missed out bestiality’ (p.296).

He also makes the slightly less obvious connection that Catullus writes about relations with an older woman: ‘the best-known ones are on that very subject,’ said Strike. ‘Catullus was in love with an older woman’ (p.337). An older, married, woman, indeed – although Rowling wants us to work out that clue for ourselves. And Chiswell is indeed, by quoting Catullus 16, expressing his violent anger at sexual deviancy (something very close to incest, in fact) with an older, married woman. Strike has put his finger on the oblique accusation Chiswell is making, he just isn’t ‘addressing’ the person Strike thinks that he is (‘we are never too old to learn, eh, Raff?’ [p.187]).

Catullus – even, perhaps the startlingly adult Catullus 16 – also marks a subtle cross-over between the Strike and Wizarding Worlds. It is difficult not to notice post-Crimes of Grindelwald that Rowling quotes the second line of the Catullus 16 in Lethal White, the line which addresses ‘Aureli:’ the Roman Senator Marcus Aurelius Cotta Maximus Messalinus. This Aurelius is a tempting source for Credence’s new name (revealed to the world two months after the publication of Lethal White) – did she come up with it when re-reading Catullus 16 for Strike research?

More pertinently, I think, Catullus is a name Rowling used in her Wizarding World (posted on Pottermore in 2016 after he had turned up as Strike’s favourite poet in Silkworm in 2014) for ‘the great eighteenth-century researcher of Charms, Professor Catullus Spangle.’ Catullus Spangle is an authority on the Patronus, and in particular, on the way in which this Charm (as we’ve seen in particular with Harry, Snape’s and Tonks’s Patronuses) makes deeply private realities visible: ‘the Patronus, asserted Spangle, represents that which is hidden, unknown but necessary within the personality… the Patronus is the awakened secret self that lies dormant until needed, but which must now be brought to light…’ (Rowling deepens this point by having Spangle, surprisingly, suggest that there is something odd about those whose Patronus takes the form of their favourite animal: ‘Here is a wizard who may not be able to hide their essential self in common life, who may, indeed, parade tendencies that others might prefer to conceal.’4) The Patronus – a bit like more traditional acts of creativity? – negotiates between someone’s private and public natures, their surface and their depths.

Catullus 16, which is only quoted in Lethal White in Latin (and, indeed, was only published in full in English in the late twentieth century), is far from suitable fare for many Pottermore readers. But it is a poem Rowling chooses to quote in her adult work and it is interesting that she gives its author’s name to an academic who writes about the Charm which mediates between the hidden and revealed selves.

The most interesting aspect of Catullus 16 (for this reader, at least) is its explicit (in both senses) discussion of the relation between an author and their art. It is a performance of outrage against those who cannot distinguish between an artist and an art-work. Others claim that Catullus ‘parades tendencies that others might prefer to conceal’ and he replies, in effect, that the poetry is no measure of the man. But he does so, of course, poetically: the poem is a wittily circular, as well as violently memorable, demonstration of its central point.

As we wait for Strike 5 (which Rowling noted last month is pages away from completion) I hope you’ll join me in tuning into the Catullus special on Radio 4 and learning a bit more about Strike’s favourite poet. Who knows? It might provide future clues….

  1. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/jk-rowling-the-most-successful-writer-in-the-world-spins-a-winner/news-story/49666ffcf0ae7d82afdbc379101f584b
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbvJbbgFhrQ
  3. The Poems of Catullus: A Bilingual Edition, trans. Peter Green (London: University of California Press, 2005). p.191.
  4. https://www.wizardingworld.com/writing-by-jk-rowling/patronus-charm

Guest Post: The Real Tycho Dodonus?

The Predictions of Tycho Dodonus play an outsize role in the understory beneath the confusing surface action of the Fantastic Beasts film franchise. In a nutshell, the wizards of the age seem to believe that the poetic predictions made by Tycho point to the identity of Credence as something of a deliverer. What we haven’t been told is who this Tycho was (is?) and why his cryptic utterances carry such weight with witches and wizards between the two great World Wars. Tyler Brown has found a real-world model that may be an important clue in grasping what the Tycho prophetic sub-plot means in Beasts. Enjoy!

The Predictions of Tyconius the Donatist?

In The Crimes of Grindelwald, we are newly introduced to a prophecy that has taken the wizarding world by storm, the Predictions of Tycho Dodonus. We first hear of Tycho Dodonus when Yusuf Kama mentions the Predictions to Tina outside the Parisian Café, where she dismisses them as mere poetry. Prediction 20 itself first appears in the extended cut’s next scene, the ballroom scene featuring Leta, where rumors are that Credence Barebone is actually Leta’s brother Corvus Lestrange returned beyond hope. Travers begins to quote Prediction 20 to Dumbledore in the DADA classroom scene, who cuts him off with, “Yes, I know it.” Yusuf recites the full text later in the Lestrange Mausoleum: “A son cruelly banished / Despair of the daughter / Return, great avenger / With wings from the water.” Yet, the Corvus Lestrange interpretation is invalidated, of course, by Leta’s admission of the Credence-Corvus baby-swap.

Interestingly, the Predictions of Tycho Dodonus are a unique prophecy in the Potterverse, being, apparently, public knowledge. Rowling has departed from her usual procedure with the prophecies of Tycho Dodonus, since, as we know from the Potter series, prophecies are typically collected by the Department of Mysteries to be placed under guard in the Hall of Prophecies. That the Tycho Dodonus prophecies are not handled this way suggests their importance. Therefore, we can probably expect the continuing influence of Tycho Dodonus’ prophecy in Beasts.

Being aware of this, I was surprised the other day to come across a real-world name very similar to Tycho Dodonus: Tyconius the Donatist (try saying them aloud!). It turns out that Tyconius the Donatist wrote a Book of Rules which is intended to guide readers through, wait for it, “the vast forest of prophecy” of the Scriptures.i This discovery was enough to hook me in, so I started doing some digging to see if there were any parallels between Tyconius the Donatist and Tycho Dodonus, and I was not disappointed. So, could Tyconius the Donatist be a real-world inspiration for the prophet of Fantastic Beasts? My reasons for believing so follow. [Read more…]