Robin Ellacott and Reverse Alchemy: Transformation Through the First Three Strike Texts

Nearly a decade ago, William Sprague published a guest post here on Hogwartsprofessor, arguing for a type of reverse alchemy in the first three Harry Potter books. Given the parallels between the Cormoran Strike and Harry Potter series, and the evidence that Strike’s nigredo is the principal theme of Troubled Blood, shouldn’t we also expect to see reverse alchemy in the first three books?  I’m going to argue that we do; furthermore, that the subject of the process is not the title character, but the series’ co-lead. Robin Ellacott.

In this model, the reverse-rubedo would would be the first volume, The Cuckoo’s Calling. As a reminder from our Headmaster, in the traditional rubedo

a wedding has to be revealed, contraries have to be resolved, and a death to self must lead to greater life. We should expect to see a philosopher’s stone and a philosophical orphan, as well.

Reverse Rubedo in The Cuckoo’s Calling. The wedding reveal happens literally in the first sentence of the series, so at the start of the rubedo phase, not the end.  Robin, whom we meet before Cormoran, enters the book deliriously happy and focused exclusively on her future nuptials, having been, the previous evening, the recipient of “the most perfect proposal, ever, in the history of matrimony.” As she relives the experience, she revisits the sapphire in her engagement ring, which keeps capturing her attention with its sparkles; Robin expects to “watch that stone glitter all the rest of her life.”  We can therefore think of the oft-mentioned sapphire as a kind of philosopher’s stone, albeit the wrong color,* that opens the book as harbinger of her new identity as the future Mrs. Cunliffe.

*Dammit, Matthew, why couldn’t you pick out a ruby?”

The stone may be blue, but  the rubedo colors of red and gold are present elsewhere in the first meeting of Robin and Strike. The Tube commuters are described as “gilded by the radiance of the ring.” There is also Robin’s red-gold hair, and her face is described as first being colored pink by the chilly weather, and then as blushing bright red both after her near-knock down the stairs, and in response to Strike’s unfortunate “Robin red-breast” allusion. As for the philosophical orphan, we see an inversion of that concept as Robin visualizes telling her and Matthew’s future children the story of the proposal at the faux-Eros statue. This is, best I can recall, the only time Robin is shown thinking about potential motherhood until Strike asks her if she is pregnant in Lethal White; it is not until Troubled Blood, after the marriage is over, that we learn she had envisioned having three children with Matthew. Looking back we can see her reflections as foreshadowing not about a child without parents , but the hypothetical children our quarreling couple will never have. 

Robin will spend the next three books moving toward the fairy-tale wedding that she is so eagerly anticipating in the opening scenes of The Cuckoo’s Calling. However, through her work with Strike–the job she initially believes “did not matter in the slightest”–she undergoes a transformation into the polar opposite of the giddy bride-to-be, as her dream wedding becomes a nightmare and leaves her unable to even muster a smile. Robin does not to “die to herself” to become the Flobberworm’s wife; she evolves into her authentic self, which means pursuing her dream of detective work, even at the cost of her marriage. This transformation takes her through a reverse alchemical process, with the (literally) white and snowy adventures of The Silkworm forming the albedo, and the (figuratively) dark and gory Career of Evil as the nigredo. Let’s continue the rubedo journey with her after the jump. 

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What Happened in Norfolk? Speculations about the “Worst Place” of Strike’s Childhood.

Cormoran Strike no doubt has multiple traumatic memories of his childhood. He recalls the squalor of multiple squats where he lived as a child, including one that was so bad that his gentle Uncle Ted threatened violence to get him out. But, as reader share glimpses of Strike’s memories, one place stands out as the worst place of all: a commune in Norfolk where Strike lived at age 8.
Over two years ago, in my post “Piecing Together Cormoran Strike’s Childhood: Could Jonny Rokeby be the Snape of the Series?” I reviewed the information we had at the time about the Norfolk Commune, speculated that it was an end-times cult of some type, and that accusations of child abuse may have gotten the attention of Ted and Joan, Papa Jonny, or both. We learned a bit more about the commune in Troubled Blood, which opens up some new possibilities. After the jump, I will sum up the total known facts about the notorious Norfolk Commune, and speculate more generally about what we may eventually learn about this phase of Strike’s life.     [Read more…]

Career of Evil and Strike Speculation 100: Untangling the Timeline of Donald Laing

The errors associated with Donald Laing’s history have already been mentioned on this site (see John’s ‘The Trouble with JKR/Galbraith Dates’). So, how are readers to make sense of it all, especially when we are looking to Cormoran Strike’s own past as the key to the “big mystery” of the series: who killed Leda? Since Laing’s army career intersected with Strike’s twice, figuring out his history informs us on Strike’s.

For convenience, I list below 25 passages from Career of Evil that make some sort of actual or implied claim on the timeline of Laing’s life. Remember that Career is set in April-July 2011. Strike is 36, going on 37 in November. 

  1.  “I got him life…Out in ten. He’s been on the loose since 2007.”
  2. “I’m pretty sure he was at an address in Corby in 2008, but he’s moved on.”
  3. “He had not seen Brockbank for eight years, Laing for nine.
  4. “He was before I knew you. King’s Own Royal Borderers. Knew him in Cyprus.”
  5. “He’s the Scot I landed in jail for ten years.
  6. “…who had been only twenty when they had first met.
  7. “…whom he had first met eleven years previously in a boxing ring.
  8. “the younger man perhaps faster on his feet, Strike superior in technique.”
  9. His senior officer had accepted Laing’s plea of mitigating circumstances…he had entered the ring deeply distressed by news of his fiancée’s miscarriage.
  10. Three years later, Strike had arrived in Cyprus to investigate an alleged rape.”
  11. “Donald Laing had been sentenced to sixteen years’ imprisonment for what he had done to his wife.”
  12. “He came back to see his mother a few years back.”
  13. “Och, four or five years ago, that would’ve been.”
  14. “He turned up on her doorstep, forced his way into the bungalow.”
  15. “When Rhona first took up with him—she was fifteen and he was seventeen—
  16. “He wanted tae join the army. Good riddance, I thought. I hoped she’d forget him if he left. Then he came back. He got her pregnant but she lost it… she went and married him on his next leave…Off to Cyprus together.
  17. Six months she lived in fear of him turning up and then one day he did.”
  18. “She and Laing had a baby, didn’t they? The kid must be, what, ten by now?
  19. “Have you got any idea where Laing went after turning up at Rhona’s?” “Yes.  Apparently he went to Gateshead, but I don’t know whether he’s still there.”
  20. “He spent a decade inside and I doubt they managed to rehabilitate him. He’s been out over four years: plenty of time to commit murder.”
  21. “It’s only twelve miles from Corby. We could swing by and see whether the Laing who was shacked up with a woman there in 2008 is our Laing.”
  22. “How long were you together?” “Ten months.
  23. “Unsolved murder in Leeds, 2009. Prostitute, originally from Cardiff. Then, last year, a girl was killed and mutilated in Milton Keynes. Sadie Roach, her name was.
  24. “He thought about Laing, living alone in his grim Wollaston Close flat, claiming his disability benefit, overweight and infirm, looking far older than his real age of thirty-four.”
  25. “Police have charged thirty-four-year-old Donald Laing with the murders of Kelsey Platt, Heather Smart, Martina Rossi and Sadie Roach.”

It is already obvious that not all 25 time references can be accurate.

  • Laing could not be sentenced to both 16 years (11) and life (1).
  • If Laing is 34 at the time of Career (24, 25), and 20 (6) at the time of the boxing match, the match did not happen 11 years ago (7), but 14.
  • If Laing was released in 2007 after serving 10 years (1, 5, 20), he would have been jailed in 1997. This presents multiple problems:
    • It puts Strike 3-4 years off in his estimate of the age of the baby he rescued (18).
    • For the boxing match to occur three years before the arrest (10), it would have happened in 1994, when Strike was 19 (for most of the calendar year, anyway), and therefore not older than 20-year-old Laing (6, 8).
    • This would also have Strike first meeting Laing in the ring a full 17 years ago, not 11 (7). In 1994, Strike would likely not even be in the Army yet, much less promoted to Corporal and boxing in a tournament. 

So, unless Donnie is a time-traveler as well as a sociopath, or the Red Caps boxing team illegally imported some Oxford students, some of the above must be in error. The question is, is there a way to make sense of most of it, given what else we know about Strike’s history?  See my efforts on that front after the jump.

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Troubled Blood and Strike Speculation 102: More Trouble with JKR/Galbraith Dates

Troubled Blood certainly filled in some of the gaps in Cormoran Strike’s history; perhaps most notably telling us, at last, about the two times he met Jonny Rokeby (at age 7 and age 18, as it turns out).  It also cleared up one difficulty with Cormoran Strike’s timeline: namely the fact that Strike believed his conception and birth broke up Rokeby’s marriage, when both happened in a year when Rokeby was unmarried. For once, my guess was right; it was Rokeby’s second marriage (to Carla Astolfi) that broke up, not when baby Corm was born, but in 1979 when the paternity test (an HLA, or blood typing test, *not* a DNA test) showed Rokeby to be his father. We should assume that Carla was dating or engaged to Rokeby at the time of the indiscretion in the New York party, and that she was not able to forgive this infidelity 5 years later. Indeed, it is entirely possible that Rokeby left his first wife, Shirley Mullens, for Carla; we also learned in Troubled Blood that it can take a while for a divorce to be final. Robin initially left Matthew for cheating with Sarah 7 years previously, before their marriage; Carla left Jonny for the same reason.  And unlike Robin, Carla had the good sense not to change her mind.

But Troubled Blood did not fix all the problems with the Strike series timeline, and may have given us a few others to ponder. I’ve spent the last week or so working on pre-series timelines for both Robin and Strike. Almost none of the basics changed from the dates listed in John’s 2018 post, Lethal White and Strike Speculation 101: The Trouble with JKR/Galbraith Dates:  

  • Strike was still born in  November 1974. 
  • Leda still died in late 1994 or, more likely, early 1995. (Most likely the latter. More on that later!). Troubled Blood clarified that this was “mid-way through”  Strike’s second year at Oxford. 
  • The IED explosion still happened mid-year of 2007, probably between May and September.

I hope to soon make both my full timelines available here on Hogpro, so that other serious Strikers can offer additions and corrections. But for now, after the jump. I’ll share some dates that don’t add up, and still are giving us headaches, post- Troubled Blood. In particular, the odds of the 2008 date of the Digger Malley investigation being correct have just fallen precipitously.

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Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic Co-sponsors Breakthrough Research in Motor Neuron Disease.

In January, neuroscientists from the University of Edinburgh announced that they had identified, and more importantly, repaired a defect in cultured motoneurons from an inheritable form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This condition is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease here in the States, and is a sub-class of a larger family of conditions known as motoneuron (or motor neurone to the Brits) disease. What’s the Harry Potter connection?

The study was funded by the Medical Research Council, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Euan MacDonald Centre for MND Research, My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, UK Dementia Research Institute and Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic.

J.K. Rowling founded the clinic in 2013, in honor of her mother, Anne, who died of multiple sclerosis. She made another major gift in 2019. 

The neurons turned out to have defective mitochondria, the “powerhouse” of the cells, which shorted the axon, the all-important long fiber that carries electrical signals from the spinal cord to the muscle. But, when a virus was used to boost mitochondria, the axons were restored to their normal length. This opens the possibility of using drugs already available in clinical trials to treat this condition.

As a neuroscientist whose own dissertation work focused on a motor nucleus of particular interest to both motoneuron disease and sexual differentiation, I am delighted to see this research. Although JK Rowling has received criticism for her position on transgender issues, some of which is, in my opinion, well-deserved, she must be given credit for the great use she has made of her wealth. Research like this doesn’t happen without funding. ALS is currently a death sentence, with most patients dying within two years, and there are few treatments available. The benefits of this work cannot be understated.