Updated: Ring Composition Pillar Post

I was unable, believe it or not, to discuss at any length Rowling’s signature structure, which is to say ring composition or chiasmus, in my PhD dissertation. I alluded in its conclusion both to the published notes of a talk I gave on the subject in 2010 and to a HogwartsProfessor Pillar Post on the subject in which links were collected to what I have written here as well as other Rowling Readers.

The problem was that I hadn’t finished that Pillar Post. Would I be able to complete anything like a complete collection of HogwartsProfessor posts and podcasts on the subject before the thesis readers looked for it?

I won’t know the answer to that question until my viva voce examinations at the end of the month. The good news, though, is that I have updated the page and it’s a decent compendium and introduction to the subject, if I say so myself. I explain, for instance, the connection between ring composition and Rowling’s psychomachia and literary alchemy.

The Ring Composition Pillar Post awaits your comments, corrections, and suggestions of pages here and elsewhere I have neglected.

Parallel Series Idea

In my second post about The Silkworm post-publication in 2014, I launched the idea that Rowling-Galbraith was writing her Cormoran Strike series in parallel with the seven Harry Potter novels. I wrote:

Reading The Silkworm, consequently, it’s only natural that we serious readers of the Hogwarts Saga be sensitive to what we hear or experience in this detective novel that seem to be echoes from the Boy Who Lived’s magical adventures.  I want to make three observations for your comment and correction here, thoughts that will not include a list of fun correspondences (did you flinch when you read that you can “hear the rumbling of the traffic on Charing Cross Road’ from Strike’s flat? Me, too), but all of which, I think, put the Cormoran Strike novels in a new light.

First, as noted in my ‘first thoughts’ post that I put up after reaching the half-way point of Silkworm, there are several rather jarring correspondences between this mystery and the second novel of the Harry Potter series, Chamber of Secrets. The key to the case, as Strike observes more than the once, is the book within the book, namely Bombyx Mori, and its transparent depictions in story of the suspects in the murder of the book’s author.

Along the way to discovering whodunnit, we are given a short course in the difficulties and inevitable mistakes to be made in drawing dot-to-dot correspondences that seem obvious and are not. Readers of Chamber of Secrets, perhaps the best stand-alone Potter novel, will recall a similar book-within-a-book experience there with Riddle’s diary and how we are to understand what we learn from reading or entering into it. Hagrid is sent to Azkaban because of what is misunderstood about the events depicted — and the woman whose “purity of desire” makes Strike sure she is not guilty, an echo of Harry’s surety about the Gameskeeper, is also jailed unjustly and then liberated.

My first idea for your consideration is this: Ms Rowling is writing this seven book series in parallel with her previous seven book series. {emphasis in original}

My second and third points in that post were that she was doing this so “this parallel series can act as the key to a right understanding of the first series, the Hogwarts adventures” and, that in doing this, she “invites her readers to understand her fiction as a psychological distillation of her experiences, which is to say, we are to read them through the filter of her biography if we are to get at the heart of their meaning.” The second point, like the first, has been confirmed by each new book, and the third, which seemed a stretch even to me at the time, has been supported by the author in her remarkable contribution of “inspiration” to the Museum of Curiosity in 2019.

The idea of a Parallel Series has become something of a touchstone or premise here at HogwartsProfessor. Louise Freeman predicted years before Strike4 was published, for instance, that Lethal White would take place against the background of the 2012 London Olympics just as Goblet of Fire used the TriWizard Tournament even though this seemed unlikely given the time spacings between the books, Cuckoo to Career. Beatrice Groves, similarly, guessed that the ‘Trelawney’ song would be sung in Troubled Blood because of the important place of Professor Trelawney’s prophecy in Order of the Phoenix. The Parallel Series idea (hereafter ‘PSI’), in other words, not only has interpretative value but can be and has been used to predict future book plot points.

The links below are to HogwartsProfessor posts detailing the parallels or echoes to be found between the Strike novels and the corresponding number in the Potter series. This is an ongoing discussion, so please share your thoughts in the comment threads beneath each post!




Pillar Post Place Holder for Sidebar Listing

Cormoran Strike: Troubled Blood

This is a tentative listing by category of the posts at HogwartsProfessor about Troubled Blood. It will be updated continually as the Pillar Post for the book. Please add the posts I have missed in the comment box and forgive the several posts-in-progress that are listed without links. There’s much more work to do on this wonderful work!

1. Chiastic Structure

Rowling’s fixation on planning in general and with structural patterns specifically in all of her work continues in Troubled Blood. From the first reading, it became apparent that in Strike5 Rowling-Galbraith had taken her game to a new level of sophistication. She continued, as she had in her four previous Strike mysteries, to write a story in parallel with the Harry Potter septology; there are many echoes of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth and equivalent number in the Hogwarts Saga, in Troubled Blood. Just as Phoenix was in important ways a re-telling of Philosopher’s Stone, so Troubled Blood also echoes Cuckoo’s Calling — with a few Stone notes thrown in as well. The new heights of Rowling’s structural artistry, though, extend beyond her patented intratextuality; they are in each of Strike5’s first six parts being ring compositions themselves, the astrological chart embedded in the story chapters, and the six part and two chapters correspondence in structure between Troubled Blood and Spenser’s Faerie Queen.

2. Literary Alchemy

Per Nabokov, literary artistry and accomplishment are known and experienced through a work’s “structure and style.” Rowling’s signature structures are evident in Troubled Blood (see above) and her characteristic hermetic artistry, literary alchemy, is as well. Strike5 is the series nigredo and Strike and Robin experience great losses and their reduction to their respective and shared prima materia in the dissolving rain and flood waters of the story.

3. Psychology/Mythology

Rowling told Val McDermid that if she had not succeeded as a writer than she would have studied to become a psychologist:

V: If it hadn’t worked out the way it has. If you’d sat there and written the book in the café and nobody ever published it, what would you have done with your life, what would you have liked to have been?

JK: There are two answers. If I could have done anything, I would have been really interested in doing, I would have been a psychologist. Because that’s the only thing that’s ever really pulled me in any way from all this. But at the time I was teaching, and I was very broke, and I had a daughter and I think I would have kept teaching until we were stable enough that we were stable enough that I could change. 

Because of her lifelong study and pre-occupation with mythology, it is fitting that in Strike5 readers are confronted with a host of references to psychologist Carl Jung and to a specific Greek myth which Jungian psychologists consider essential in understanding feminine psychology. All of which leads in the end to the Strike series’ equivalent of the Hogwarts Saga’s soul triptych exteriorization in Harry, Hermione and Ron as Body, Mind, and Spirit, with Robin and Strike as Handless Maiden and Fisher King, the mythological images of anima and animus neglected and working towards integration.

4. Valentine’s Day

The story turn of Troubled Blood takes place on Valentine’s Day and the actions, events, and repercussions of this holiday of Cupid and Heart-shaped candies, not to mention chocolates, shape the Robin and Strike relationship drama irrevocably. Chocolates play an outsized portion of that work symbolically, believe it or not; the word ‘chocolate’ occurs 34 times in the first four Strike novels combined but 82 times in Troubled Blood. I explore the importance of this confection in two posts before beginning to explain the importance and appropriateness of Valentine’s Day being the heart of the story, one that is in large part a re-telling of the Cupid and Psyche myth.

5. Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen

Troubled Blood features several embedded texts, the most important of which is never mentioned in the book: Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen. Serious Strikers enjoyed the luxury of not one but two scholars of Edmund Spenser who checked in on the relevance and meaning of Rowling’s choice of the greatest English epic poem for her epigraphs, not to mention the host of correspondences between Strike 5 and Queen. Elizabeth Baird-Hardy did a part by part exegesis of the Troubled Blood-Faerie Queen conjunctions and Beatrice Groves shared her first thoughts on the connections as well. Just as Lethal White’s meaning and artistry is relatively unappreciated without a close reading of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, so with Strike 5 and Faerie Queen.

Elizabeth Baird-Hardy

Beatrice Groves

John Granger:

6. The Ghosts

Rowling’s core belief is in the immortality of the soul and her favorite writer of the 20th Century is Vladimir Nabokov, whose work is subtly permeated by the otherworldly. No surprise, then, that Troubled Blood is haunted by a host of ghosts, most importantly the shade of Margot Bamborough but to include the women murdered by Dennis Creed and Nicolo Ricci. Their influence is so obvious and so important that it has spurred discussion of the spectres that haunt the first four Strike novels whose presence had not been discussed prior to the revelations of Strike 5. 

7. The Names

The Cryptonyms or Cratylic Names of Troubled Blood are as rich and meaningful, even funny, as those found in Lethal WhiteFrom Paul Satchwell’s “little package” to Roy Phipps as the Spanish King Phillip, from the nigredo black elements of Bill Talbot and Saul Morris to the Spenserian echoes of Oonaugh Kennedy and Janice Beattie, and the Rokeby-Oakden coincidences, Strike5 is full of name play. Did I mention that the detectives solve the mystery largely through their exploration of names? Douthwaite and Oakden only pop-up after Strike has revelations consequent to serious reflection on their names and pseudonyms. Rowling-Galbraith really wants her real-world readers to be reflecting on the Dickensian names of all her characters.

  • The Cratylic Names of Troubled Blood: A Top Twenty Round Up

8. The Flints and Gaffes

Rowling commented in one of her interview tableaus for Troubled Blood that she had worked extra hard to get the dates right in this most complicated of novels and that her proof reader and continuity editor found a big mistake. Serious Strikers, though, were left crying “Alas!” and laughing aloud at the number of bone-headed gaffes in The Presence’s longest work to date. It remains her best as well as her longest book to date, but, really, get the woman the help she needs to comb the book for errors pre-publication. Can you say, “Isla”?

9. The Astrology

The principal embedded text in Troubled Blood, the one Robin and Cormoran read repeatedly, create keys for, and discuss throughout the book, is Bill Talbot’s ‘True Book.’ It features an astrological chart for the exact time and place of Margot Bamborough’s disappearance in 1974, which map Talbot used to try and solve the case. Strike is profoundly disgusted by this approach but spends, as does Robin, much of his time trying to figure out the chart or at least what Talbot made of it. Troubled Blood, consequently, turns into something of an exploration of astrology and its relevance to understanding ourselves and the world. Unpacking what Rowling means by it, not to mention what the natal charts of Robin and Cormoran tell us about these charactes, their relationship, and Rowling-Galbraith’s intentionally hermetic artistry, is a large part of the exegetical work to be done on Troubled Blood.

10. The Tarot Card Spreads

We know that Rowling has significant skills when it comes to astrology. What is less well appreciated is that almost from childhood she has played with tarot card reading which knowledge has informed her work. This is comic in Trelawney, say, but comes to the fore in Troubled Blood‘s card spreads: the Celtic Cross in Talbot’s ‘True Book,’ his embedded three card spreads in the illustrations of that tome, and Robin’s two readings, one in Laemington Spa and the other in her flat at story’s end.

  • Part Three, Note Six
  • Part Four, Note Five
  • Part Five, Note Five
  • Part Six, Notes Five, Six, Eight
  • Bill Talbot’s Tarot: The Embedded Occult Heart of Troubled Blood
  • Robin Ellacott’s Tarot: The Missed Meanings of Her Twin Three Card Spreads in Troubled Blood

11. Who Killed Leda Strike?

To Rowling-Galbraith’s credit, credible arguments in dedicated posts have been made that every person in the list below was the one who murdered Leda Strike. Who do you think did it?

12. Embedded Texts

All of Rowling’s novels feature books and texts, written work as well as metanarratives, with which her characters struggle to figure out in reflective parallel to what her readers are trying to do with the novel in hand. Troubled Blood is exceptionally laden with these embedded texts. Beyond Talbot’s True Book and Spenser’s Faerie Queen noted above, we are treated to selections from The Demon of Paradise Park, Whatever Happened to Margot Bamborough?, Astrology 14, and The Magus.

13. The Murderers: Creed and Beattie

A demon-possessed psychopath and the brain-damaged lonely woman… Each is described as “a genius of misdirection” and being without remorse or empathy. The actual murderers in Troubled Blood are distinct, certainly, but paired as well, as one of the many mirrored pairs in this story.

14. Feminism

Troubled Blood, Rowling has said, is a commentary of sorts on changes in the history of feminism. It is an unvarnished, even brutal exploration of the heroic age of the feminist movement, its front and back, largely through the personalities, circumstances, choices, and experiences of two pairs of women, Margot Bamborough and her plucky Irish side-kick Oonaugh Kennedy and the paired through time couple of Irene Bull-Hickson and Janice Beattie.

15. Rokeby 3.0

Jonny Rokeby makes his first appearance, albeit only by phone call, in Troubled Blood and yet it has reset thinking about Strike and his biological father considerably. Kurt Schreyer thinks the head Deadbeat is more Snape than Voldemort — and, if this is the case, we need to re-read the series to see how much Strike’s emotional injuries from childhood neglect have misshaped his understanding of his dad so he lives in upside-down land.

The ‘Why’ and ‘How to’ of Pillar Posts

Pillar Posts’ are round-ups and explanations of key ideas and texts that have been and continue to be discussed at HogwartsProfessor. With more than two thousand posts in our archives spread out over twelve years of blogging, we need an easily accessible file where serious readers can find — without hours of hunting — the articles they want to read on subjects they are researching. These Pillar Posts have a home on the left sidebar of the HogwartsProfessor homepage and I’ll update them regularly. There are eight main categories with many sub-categories beneath each subject heading.

Why bother with this?

One of the things I dislike about the Kindle Reader is I don’t know how to organize the novels, plays, and works of non-fiction on the device so I don’t have to scroll through every eBook I ‘own’ to find the one I want. No doubt there is a way to catalog or sort the books into virtual shelves or folders but I don’t know it (and cannot find an illustration of how to do it easily, say, via a John-proof YouTube video). I rarely use the Kindle, consequently, even when I travel and it would be a great convenience.

A WordPress weblog like HogwartsProfessor presents something of a similar challenge. It is a miraculous means of communicating thoughts to a large audience at a cost of close to nothing. But. Once a site has more than a few posts on it, even with a search device readily available to foster hunts for specific topics, it is no small thing for even the most serious reader to find all the relevant posts in a site’s archives, not to mention being able to tell which are the most important, except by sorting and reading for hours.

Which just doesn’t happen. The average first time guest at this site is here only for seconds. Requiring attention for hours for that reader to find the relevant posts he or she wants to find and read means quite simply that they will not be found and may as well, frankly, not have been written and posted. There are nigh on 2,000 posts on HogwartsProfessor. Without an easily accessed file system on the home page, a system cued to essential subjects, only 1 in 10,000 visitors will be able to find the posts they want for academic research into what has already been published or for personal benefit.

Last week I began the process of sorting and filing HogwartsProfessor articles into what Yaro Starak calls ‘Pillar Posts’ with a collection of urls to the things I and other Potter Pundits have written about literary alchemy in the ten years we’ve been online. What spurred me to this was a kind note from a Potter Pundit.

I was invited out of the blue last week, as something of an afterthought it seems, by the editor of a book soon to be published on the subject of the literary alchemy in Harry Potter to make a contribution of some kind. It turns out the well-meaning editor had not read anything I’d written on the subject other than the chapters in Unlocking Harry Potter, written and published in late 2006, early 2007 before Deathly Hallows was in hand.

This struck me as bizarre, frankly. I’ve written several books with chapters on literary alchemy since 2007, most notably Deathly Hallows Lectures, How Harry Cast His SpellHarry Potter’s Bookshelfand Spotlight: The Artistry and Meaning of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga (don’t sniff at that last, please, especially if you’re serious about hermetic writing in popular culture). Not to mention all I have written here on the subject in addition to the important alchemical Guest Posts we’ve published. 

This seemingly inexplicable ignorance on the part of a very smart person reminded me that I had been advised two years ago to create ‘Pillar Posts’ for the sidebar of HogwartsProfessor. The purpose of these posts on a weblog is to create easy access in one spot to the material on a specific topic of special interest that is otherwise just spread throughout the archives of a long-lived site in no particular order. If I am obliged to note, Gilderoy mask in place, that the editor of the upcoming book on alchemy and the Hogwarts Saga is at fault in not doing such work herself, I must take some part of the blame because I have too long neglected the duties of HogwartsProfessor weblog archivist.

I hope eventually to write a proper ‘Pillar Post’ for literary alchemy or at least an annotated version of the sorted link list that is there now. I will be working in 2019, though, to put together similar Round-Ups for Ring Composition, Cormoran Strike, the Fantastic Beasts screenplays, Hunger Games, and other books we have discussed here at some length. Please let me know if there is a subject for which you would appreciate a one-click access to a cataloge of HogwartsProfessor posts made about it through the years and I will do my best to oblige you.

Thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts, corrections and questions by clicking on ‘Leave a Comment’ up by the post header.