Beatrice Groves: Easter Eggs on J.K. Rowling’s New Website – Part 2

Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of  Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, has written a Hogwarts Professor Guest Post follow up looking at the one of J. K. Rowling’s favourite authors – E. Nesbit. Join me after the break for the a more in-depth look at the writer highlighted as an Easter Egg in the J. K. Rowling’s Stories website …

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Beatrice Groves: Easter Eggs on J.K. Rowling’s New Website – Part 1

Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of  Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, has written a Hogwarts Professor Guest Post looking at the Easter Eggs on the new J. K. Rowling Stories website and what they tell us about the author and her influences. Join me after the break for the first of two posts, and enjoy…

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Guest Post: Rokeby Redux – Is Strike’s Father More Snape than Lord Voldemort?

Rokeby Redux by Kurt Schreyer

I’ve long admired this site, but I’ve never commented before. I’d like to propose an alternative theory to your account of Jonny Rokeby as the arch villain of the Strike series (‘Heroin Dark Lord, 2.0‘). As Beatrice Groves succinctly summarized when I ran it by her: “Rokeby is the Snape and not the Voldemort” of this story. All citations below are from the Kindle edition.

Our initial impression in Cuckoo’s Calling is that while Peter Gillespie is a jerk, Rokeby may be the real villain. “Got you working weekends now, has he?” Strike asks the first time we meet the lawyer over the phone (p. 346). Before hanging up, Strike rebuffs the demand for repayment of what is often and clearly called a “loan” in this novel (p. 347). Before this conversation, Lucy tells her brother that she finds it “outrageous” that Rokeby is using Gillespie as a cat’s paw. She says that he’s never given her brother a single penny and that “he ought to have made it a gift” ( p. 130). At the end of the first novel, there’s a hint that in fact Rokeby wishes to make a gift of the money. When Gillespie calls this final time, Robin replies to an offer we aren’t privy to: “Mr. Strike would rather pay.” (p. 549). Did Rokeby tell Gillespie that he wanted Strike to keep the money? The reader is left to decide whether this is a sincere offer or a cynical ploy to share the limelight with the now-famous detective.

But in Troubled Blood, these matters are presented rather differently. We learn that Rokeby’s money was not a loan until Strike made it one: “My mother got a letter…reminding her I could use the money that had been accumulating in the bank account” and Rokeby repeated this offer when he learned that Strike was out of hospital and trying to start a detective agency ( p. 723). Robin replies in disbelief, “That money was yours all along? … Gillespie acted as though—” (p. 724). But Strike interrupts her and we’re given a crucial piece of information from Strike himself: [Read more…]

Nick Jeffery: Beginning at the Beginning A History of ‘Ickabog’ and Christmas Pig

Rowling’s interview comments through the years about her work on a new children’s story just did not add up. She was working on it, finished it, wore it as a dress, had it hidden in the attic, working on it “the last six years,” and then the Covid Cinderella story about bringing it down from the attic… Cynical me, my response was a Cormoranian “Bullocks.” The Ickabog and it’s “all for charity” rollout were the perfect cure, from my view, of Rowling, Inc.’s nightmare of negative publicity consequent to her feminist resistance to transgender over reach.

Nick Jeffery, though, in private correspondence last year suggested to me that the seeming contradictions in Rowling’s Ickabog comments through the years all made sense if there was another children’s story in the works. I dismissed that possibility as stretching charity to fantasy. It turns out, of course, that ‘The Christmas Pig’ may be the story that Nick thought the evidence of Rowling’s testimony suggested had to be out there. In my post Tuesday about ‘The Christmas Pig’ I asked if he would write up his notes on the subject as a Guest Post and he has obliged me with this Guest Post review of the evidence. Enjoy!

Beginning at the Beginning

Origin stories are important. Hardly a newspaper article appeared about Harry Potter in the early years without mention of the penniless single mother writing in cafes. Once adopted, this hook so beloved of copywriters evolved beyond the reality and into writing on napkins and penniless morphed into homelessness.

The genesis of Harry, or at least proto-Harry has also passed into folklore with the boy wizard popping ‘fully formed’ into her head on a train between Manchester and London.

Casual Vacancy didn’t have a wonderful tale behind it. The idea for a vacancy on a parish council happened on an aircraft during a Harry Potter tour, but although the idea of rural local government gives the stories inside shape and purpose it can hardly be called the defining theme of the book. To my mind the vivid characters and charged situations point to personal experience long before Potter.

Robert Galbraith’s origin wrote itself, with anonymous submissions and secret meetings with editors and lawyers sworn to (unsuccessful) secrecy. The unmasking of Rowling by journalistic sleuthing, linguistic analysis and indiscreet lawyers only added to the drama.

In May 2020 J.K Rowling posted on her website an introduction to her new work “The Ickabog”. We don’t know when this introduction was written but it was posted on 26th May 2020. It gave a timeline of when the Ickabog was conceived, and when and how she finally decided to publish. This is the JKR official Ickabog origin story:

  • Read to own children when they were little.
  • Most of first draft completed between Potter Books, intending to publish after Deathly Hallows.
  • Break from publishing after Deathly Hallows.
  • Wrote Casual Vacancy and Cuckoo’s Calling. (5 years 2007 – 2012)
  • Dithering and Ickabog Trademarked, decided not to publish.
  • First Draft moved to attic for nearly a decade.
  • A few weeks ago (March – April 2020?) tentative idea to publish mooted to family.

The earliest mention I could find of the “Political Fairy Tale” is at 44:48 in the “A Year in the Life ” documentary filmed 2006-07 where it is described as currently being written and probably the next thing to publish.

But Beatrice Groves (see ‘The Names of the Ickabog’) and Patricio Tarantino at The Rowling Library both found this earlier reference in the January 2006 issue of the Tattler:

A new children’s book is also complete. It is about a monster and is what Rowling calls a ‘political fairy story’. It is aimed at children younger than those who read Harry Potter: ‘I haven’t even told my publisher about this.’”

Not long after this, during the US Deathly Hallows tour she said she had the first idea for Casual Vacancy.

What is known, then, or be safely assumed about The Ickabog’s origins?

  • If she read the Ickabog to her own children (and it is suitable to 7-9 year olds) then she read it to them from 2010 to 2014.
  • The story appeared on the “Lost Manuscript Dress” at her 50th birthday party in 2015.
  • 19th March 2016 Tweets “I didn’t like it enough to publish it. It’s in a drawer!” 
  • 10th July 2017 CNN interview, the Political Fairy-tale is now on a dress, she doesn’t know if she will publish.
  • 26th January 2020 Troubled Blood completed.
  • 13th May 2020 Tweets she is editing two things with two different editors. 
  • 22nd May 2020 first posts the “Dusty Box” as her twitter header.
  • 26th May 2020 announces Ickabog.

So far this (more or less) fits a coherent narrative.

  • 2007 Story narrative and structure complete
  • 2007 – 2012 first draft completed and committed to paper (perhaps minus the ending) read to own children.
  • 2012 in wake of Vacancy, Strike and Lumos pushed to back burner (the attic).
  • 2015 Pulled down from attic to make design for party dress.
  • 2017 Interviewer finally asks about the Fairy-tale, admits to dress.
  • 2020 COVID!

It was then, only last year, that we were presented with another wonderful story origin for the Ickabog – A tale told to her own children as they were growing up. A decision not to publish, but keep it only for her family, made into a dress and then stored in the attic. After suffering herself from COVID, and seeing families struggle with lockdown and home schooling, she decides to finish the tale, and serialise on-line for free.

The pages are retrieved from the attic, and lovingly illustrated by children from around the world. Another beautiful story to fit with the others.

The one piece that doesn’t fit this is a Q&A post from 30th May 2018 on her website:

I’ve just finished the fourth Galbraith novel, Lethal White, and I’m now writing the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts 3. After that I’ll be writing another book for children. I’ve been playing with the (non-Harry Potter/wizarding world) story for about six years, so it’s about time I get it down on paper.”

This story has been in development from 2012 – 2018, the very period when Rowling was abandoning the Ickabog. She has not (as of 2018) got this story on to paper, but we know in 2015 there was at least enough of the Ickabog to create a dress.

The Q&A post is still live on her website, and if wrong is an unforced error i.e. not in answer to an interviewer. 

If the above refers to the Ickabog then it calls into question, not just the timeline, but also calls into question her motives for releasing it when she did. 

My tentative conclusion last year was that this referred to another story, since delayed or abandoned due to difficulties in the Fantastic Beasts 3 script and Troubled Blood taking creative priority.

On the 13th April 2021 she finally announced ‘The Christmas Pig.’ We don’t know (yet) if this was the book she was developing between 2012-2018, but if it was then the origin story of ‘The Ickabog’ stands a little more secure.

 

Guest Post: Leda Strike Was a ‘Fixer’ — The Dark Side of the Quicklime Girl

Serious Striker Chris Calderon speculates from the lyrics of the Blue Oyster Cult song ‘Mistress of the Salmon Salt’ and the band’s interpretation of the song that Leda Strike was much, much more than a “super-groupie.” She may have been, if the lyrics tattooed above her pudenda mean what the Cult band members say they mean, a repeated and practiced accessory to murder or “fixer,” a possibility that explains her erratic behaviors as a mother. Enjoy!

The Misadventures of Quicklime Girl: The Curious Absences of Leda Strike

A topic of interest was brought up not too long ago in ‘Leda Strike: Mistress of the Salmon Salt,’ a recent post by John Granger on this site. It all centered around the nature and meaning of the tattoo worn by the mother of Detective Cormoran Strike. Katya Slonenko started it all with a theory that the skin engraving meant that it was pointer to Leda Nancarrow being a cold-blooded killer. That really got a bit of conversation going, and the idea proved enough to spark more than a few theories around the topic.

I had the idea to go and see if Blue Oyster Cult, the band responsible for Leda’s lyric, had anything to say that would shed light on the nature of her choice of personal statement. According to Martin Popoff’s book-length band bio, Agents of Fortune, the group’s fellow Cult members did have one or two insights to offer about their 1973 hit single, Mistress of the Salmon Salt.

Bolle figures the ‘Mistress’ lyric is about, “Love. I guess it’s a groupie song, sex.” “Super dark,” adds Buck. “We were going for a Rolling Stones kind of evil on that one.” Albert (Bouchard, sic) offers a few words on this characteristically weird tune. “Well, that was actually a song I’d written called ‘Checkout Girl’ (laughs) and it wasn’t much of a song. Sandy said ‘I re-wrote the lyrics for ‘Checkout Girl’ and he gave me this ‘Quicklime Girl’. Of course I was like, ‘Okay this we can use, but we’re going to have to make it more scary (laughs). These lyrics are really bizarre, you know, the famous story of the person that kills people, or actually I don’t think she kills people, but she performs a service. She would bury the murdered dead, and use them as fertilizer for her plants” (40-41). Join me after the jump to see if we can unpack the meaning of this statement, and what it might tell us about the curious past of Leda Strike. [Read more…]