In Gambon Eulogy Tweet, Rowling Reveals She Read Lear for A-Levels

I am in the midst of writing up a Substack post on Running Grave, Part One, but wanted to note this maybe-landmark moment in Rowling Studies.

It has been known that Rowling went to see King Lear performed in London while she was a Comprehensive student, but, and I welcome correction from those who know her biography much better than I ever will, that this trip was part of her A-Levels study was not. Again, as far as I know, nothing of her A-Levels reading list has ever been revealed and it has not been for lack of digging.

[This is an error; see ‘Shepherd and Biddle: Rowling’s Favorite A-Level Teachers’ for two books Rowling has said were on her English Literature A-Level list: “Tender is the Night [Fitzgerald], Decline and Fall [Waugh].” Whether these were the only books on her A Level list or whether King Lear was also on it — or if she just traveled to see Lear with her A Levels class, as she says — I do not know. Apologies for the unforced error. John ]

I hope very much that the two Rowling Readers and Serious Strikers whom I know have searched in heroic fashion for that list for several years will one day write up their inquiries and its numerous dead-ends. The A-Levels reading course for the young Presence, despite these efforts, has remained something of a Holy Grail for those of who want to know which books were the principal focus of her secondary school capstone exam.

And why would Lear be that important, even among Shakespeare plays? 

Because the hot interpretation of King Lear in 1982 was Charles Nicholl’s The Chemical Theatre, published to significant popular and academic review in 1980. No less a figure in hermetic studies than Dame Frances Yates discussed it in The New York Review of Books in 1981. I have speculated in the past (and at some length in my thesis) that, because of Rowling’s London field trip to see the play, her first exposure to literary alchemy was almost certainly via Nicholl and his hermetic interpretation of Lear as an alchemical transformation in stage-story.

Rowling’s revelation today makes that speculation that much more credible. I doubt anything else on her reading list could prove as important with respect to her future story telling tool kit, but I look forward to the day when she will agree to an interview with, say, Oxford’s Beatrice Groves or any other informed reader who will ask her about her A-Levels studies.

Back to Running Grave!

Beatrice Groves – Valentine’s Alchemy

A very happy St Valentine’s Day from all at Hogwarts Professor to you dear close readers!

Robins are red,
Strike’s name is Blue,
Beatrice Groves –
Has written for you:

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: Valentine’s Alchemy. To find out more about love, both sacred and profane, in Ink Black Heart, join Prof Groves after the jump:

[Read more…]

Chris Calderon – What Rowling’s Narrative Epigraphs Can Tell Us About the Character of Cormoran Strike.

We are very fortunate that long time stalwart of the Hogwarts Professor – Chris Calderon has submitted a guest post. Now that it is likely Dylan Thomas will be providing the epigraphs to The Running Grave, what can the epigraphs of the Strike series tell us about both the character of the protagonist and the overall narrative arc? To find out follow after the jump!



[Read more…]

Chris Calderon – The Hermetic Mystery Cycle of Dorothy L. Sayers


Chris Calderon, long time stalwart of Hogwarts Professor has submitted a guest post that argues that three of Dorothy L. Sayers  Wimsey novels (Strong Poison, Have His Carcase and Gaudy Night), that feature Harriet Vane, form an alchemical sequence. Chris makes a compelling argument, check it out after the break:

[Read more…]

Flips, Pentagrams and Expanded Playlists: Why did the tone we expected in Book 5 wind up in Book 6?

We have a lot of hypotheses about why we got such a nigredo-laden book in Strike 6.  They are:

  • 5-6 flip: which supposes that Troubled Blood was originally planned as Book 6, and The Ink Black Heart as Book 5.
  • The Pentagram model: which has the first five books completing the alchemical cycle and the start of a new one in Book 6.
  • The Extended Playlist model: Proposed recently by Kathleen, it suggests Galbraith is splitting the last 2, or possibly 3,  books of the 7-part series into two parts. Under this model, The Ink Black Heart would be either part 6a or 5b.

I’m going to outline some of the evidence I see for 5-6 Flip based on one audiobook listen of IBH. As a refresher, recall that this model predicts 1) Career of Evil parallels, instead of or alongside parallels to The Silkworm 2) Order of the Phoenix parallels, instead or alongside those to Half-Blood Prince and 3) nigredo elements, instead or alongside albedo. Interestingly, though, one of the strongest pieces of evidence is none of these, but rather timeline- and calendar-based.

One thing has always puzzled me.  Lethal White ended in mid-September 2012.  Troubled Blood began in August 2013, almost a full year later. This was the second year-long time jump in the series. There were two good reasons for the year-long jump in the middle of LW:  1) Book 4 absolutely had to be set in the 2012 Olympics and 2) no one wanted to read about a full year of Robin trying to make herself love the Flobberworm, develop panic attacks and feel emotionally distant from Strike.

But why jump a full year between LW and TB? It would have been awesome to see Robin’s early days with Max (and Wolfgang! Sniff!), the curry nights with Nick and Ilsa, Robin’s friendship with them developing (and the dirt they dished on Charlotte), the start of the match-making attempts and the series of incompetent temps that culminated in the the decision to hire Pat. OK, we’d have to see the Flobberworm be a jerk for a year, but the rest would be worth that. Instead, that is all explained after the fact. Obviously, the historical floods of 2014 were important to the story, but as has been stated multiple times, you expect lots of rain in albedo, not nigredo books. Why not tell the nigredo story in that missing year and save the floods for albedo?
That may well have been the original plan. The Ink Black Heart started in October (2014) and finished in June (2015).  Roll the dates back 2 years (Oct 2012-June 2013) and you have a story that fits quite neatly into that missing year.  This, I think, is good evidence that the IBH story was originally meant to be told in that time period.
Second, I can definitely see the Ink Black Heart cartoon as a “text-within-a-text” as stated in Beatrice Grove’s excellent prediction post. But, to me, it doesn’t fit as well as Talbot’s True Book as an analog to either Bombyx Mori, or the Prince’s doctored text. First, those were all actual books. Second, our heroes didn’t wind up actually reading scripts or viewing the cartoon in search of clues to the killer; they instead had to search Twitter and chat rooms for what the fans were saying about the show. That gave it a very different feel to me, and had them examining many different people’s words and the social interactions embedded within the conversations, not the solo narrative of the text. The only person to seriously watch the cartoon was Robin, when she was studying for her moderator’s test, and she didn’t even get to take that.
So, if The Ink Black Heart fits into that missing year, and the main mystery element is a less satisfactory match to the books of The Silkworm and the Half-Blood Prince, are there the decaying skeletons of Career, Order and nigredo buried in the text?  More after the jump! [Read more…]