Troubled Blood: The Astrological Clock and Otherworldly Structure of Strike5

Overview: Rowling-Galbraith wrote Troubled Blood not only as a ring composition, her standard narrative structure, but also as an astrological chart or clock-face. The 73 chapters divide neatly into twelve houses or hours, the chapter groups correspond at meaningful points with the values assigned to specific astrological houses, and a St John’s Cross is visible in the four angular houses of the chart. The author has, in other words, taken her structural artistry to an entirely different and higher plane than she ever has before.

Introduction:, if it is to be tagged with a critical school category name, is probably best labeled as ‘Formalist.’ I’d give that tag the prefix ‘Estecean’ to avoid confusing what we have chosen to focus on at this website — the structure and style concerns of an intentional and capable writer who as often as not is ‘writing about writing,’ that is, the conscious experience of narrative — from the soulless and social justice excesses of structuralism or deconstruction, but the ‘Formalism’ shoe fits, frankly, with or without the modifier. Search for ‘Ring Composition’ in the site search space in the left column of the web page if you doubt that.

Troubled Blood, as far as ring writing goes, is Rowling-Galbraith’s most involved and intricate piece of writing. As explained in the exposition of each of the first six parts of the novel I wrote during my first read-through, the novel as a whole is a ring composition: the latch is in parts one and seven, the story turn is in Part Four which creates a story axis in connecting with the latch in the first and last parts, and the corresponding Parts to and from that center, two and six as well as three and five, match up for the classic turtleback.

The book corresponds as well with the seven book turtle-back structure of the Harry Potter novels in reflecting the third novel of the series, Career of Evil, and, once again, its corresponding number in the Hogwarts Saga, Order of the Phoenix. For real Ring Wraiths who know that the fifth book in the Potter series ring corresponds closely with the first book in that series, there are also many notes connecting Troubled Blood with Cuckoo’s Calling, the first cold case Robin and Cormoran solve, and with Philosopher’s Stone.

Incredibly, though, there is more. Each of the first six parts of Troubled Blood is written as a ring composition within itself, the first two parts being seven chapter rings in reflection of the book’s seven parts and the first seven books of Strike being a ring, too. Wheels within wheels within wheels. This is structural artistry that, however arcane it may seem to the reader new to Rowling-Galbraith’s formal fetish, is only “more of the same” to those of us who have been charting her novel-rings (and longer twitter threads!) since 2010.

With Troubled Blood, however, Rowling has added another dimension of structure and style that reflects and reinforces the symbolic and thematic meaning of the book. In addition to the ‘Wheels Within Wheels’ Ring artistry, Strike5 is also laid out as an astrological chart, more easily visualized as a clock face, whose twelve sections or ‘houses’ correspond with the twelve houses of Western horoscope natal charts and the three groupings of these houses into St John crosses (the four house astrological bundles called “angular, succedent, and cadent”).

Four Pointers to Embedded Astrological Clock: Rowling signals this in four ways. First, the astrological clock at Hampton Court was the defining image in the book’s marketing. The cover designers have said that this was Rowling’s choice (hat tip to Nick Jeffrey):

The author’s input identified this as an ideal image to use. The shape and construction of a clock face also created an ideal framing device for the design to set the lettering within and draw the viewer into the scene. This also achieved something which was more emblematic rather than just location-based.

If that isn’t enough, the chapter in which we first see the astrological clock includes the revelation that Margot used to leave her husband messages hidden inside an ornate clock in their living room; Roy confesses in the next chapter that his wife left a cry of the heart to him, ‘Talk to me!,’ in just this fashion the week of her disappearance. The idea of a ‘secret message in a clock’ is planted.

Second, there is the astrological chart drawn up by Talbot for the moment of Margot Bamborough’s disappearance, which is simultaneously dismissed by the Dynamic Duo as Looney Tunes and studied endlessly by them. It gives the literal and figurative shape to their supposed-to-be year long investigation — and that Talbot chart corresponds exactly with the Aries to Pisces organization of the standard twelve houses organization of astrological charts.

Third, the story is set as a one year frame, a deadline established by Anna Phipps and Kim Sullivan, that corresponds to the zodiac cycle. The Dynamic Duo work two extra months after failing to meet the deadline, an addendum and addition to the traditional cycle of twelve that Rowling teasingly refers to via the embedded text of Astrology 14 by Stephen Schmidt that adds two constellations to the zodiac (nota bene: this charting won’t be neat, right?).

Fourth and last on my first listing, St John’s crosses are spread through-out Troubled Blood, most notably in Clerkenwell, at the Phipps gazebo, in a brick at Hampton Court, and in the ‘Dig Here’ note of the novel’s Hermes figure, Carl Oakden, in which readers are told that the secret of the book is to be found buried beneath the eight point cross.

Rowling divides the work into seven Parts, however, rather than twelve. How are we to ‘get’ that the book is an astrological chart if it isn’t obviously broken into twelve sections? More important, how do we divide the book into twelve sections? Follow me after the jump for the fascinating details. [Read more…]

Alohamora Podcast: Ring Composition 2

This time last year Kat Miller and the Alohamora gang at MuggleNet invited me on their super-powered podcast to speak to their global audience about Ring Composition. That first show — which you can listen to here — went over so well that they invited me back to talk in much greater detail about one pair of books, Chamber of Secrets and Half-Blood Prince, and the many correspondences between them. It was a lot of fun, even “geeky glee,” which you’d expect with readers who know the Hogwarts Saga as well as the Alohamora crowd do. Click on the link below in Kat’s announcement of the episode, have a listen, and then let me know what you think!


Wipe off the floor under where you’re sitting and get ready for another jaw dropping Ring Composition episode. Part Deux is here!

Live at Queen City Mischief and Magic!

I’ll be speaking today and tomorrow at the Queen City Mischief and Magic Festival (QCMM) in beautiful Staunton, Virginia, nestled in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley.

My four, count ’em, four talks will be:

  • ‘Why We Love Harry Potter’ Saturday morning at 10:30 on the Festival’s main stage,
  • ‘Harry Potter and the Ring Composition’ at 2:00 this afternoon at Mary Baldwin University’s venue,
  • Sunday at 1:00 PM I will be talking at The Wharf about the Christian content of the Hogwarts Saga, and
  • I may be speaking again on the main stage Sunday morning as well. If I do, I think I’ll try out something knew: ‘Everything I Needed to Know about Shakespeare I Learned from Harry Potter.’

And there is a panel discussion at 5:00 today at which Prof Louise Freeman and I will answer questions from all-comers from the main stage.

If you can make it to Staunton this weekend, please be sure to introduce yourself as a HogwartsProfessor reader. There will be thousands of people, I know, but I really look forward at these live events to meeting my virtual friends with whom I spend so much time during the year. I hope to see you there, especially if you’re going to see Antony and Cleopatra as I did last night at the American Shakespeare Center’s magnificent Blackfriar’s Theater.

Rowling’s Outline of Order of the Phoenix: What Does It Really Tell Us?

Whenever I give a talk to a larger group about the ring composition structure of Rowling’s various works, inevitably someone asks about the piece of notebook paper Rowling has made public, a one-sheet snapshot of her chapter by chapter breakdown of what happens when in the various plot threads in Order of the Phoenix. If you haven’t seen it, it looks like this:

That’s pretty hard to read, right? Fortunately the mavens at The Harry Potter Lexicon have created a transcription that is crystal clear legible on a page devoted to this outlineThey include the helpful information that the picture of this piece of paper was posted at Rowling’s original website with the explanatory note, ““Part of the umpteenth revision of the plan of ‘Order of the Phoenix’… Some of the Chapter Names changed and there are a few ideas that didn’t make the final draft.”

C. S. Plocher of The and has taken this transcription-to-legibility process one step further. Check out her fascinating ‘How Rowling Revised Order of the Phoenix post in which she not only shares her transcription of the page Rowling had put up but her color coded guide to what of this plan survived, what changed, and what never made it to Phoenix.

Wild! That is some invaluable grunt work and follow-through for which every serious reader of Harry Potter should be grateful. I certainly am.

But what does it tell us about Rowling as a ring writer? Three things (at least).

(1) It’s obviously true that she works from a plan. This is not the work of a ‘pantser’ that lets her characters tell their story as she writes.

(2) There are no chapter correspondences noted on the page, i.e., it is not a confirmation of Rowling as ring writer. The chapters included on this one sheet, 16 to 29, include the story center (19), and the parallel chapters fore and aft (16-17 with 22-23, 18 and 21, and 19 to 20; see Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cyclepp 79-82, 142-143), so, if this was Rowling’s principal concern as a writer, you’d expect there to be some lines or notes making these connections.

(3) That being said, I think the chiastic phrase “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” is appropriate here. There are no notes about the alchemical structure of the work here, of the Christian content, or of literary allusion and her intratextuality, that is, references to correspondences with Philosopher’s Stone and with Prisoner of Azkaban. But all those things are embedded and make up the less-visible structure and scaffolding both of the book itself and the series of which it is a part.

My conclusion? It’s a fun chart and Rowling historians in future years, especially if they gain access to more of her drafts and outlines, will no doubt make a lot of it, even more than C. S. Plocher has. But the plot outline and sequencing, a kind of check-list preliminary for the story to make sure everything proceeds without a major glitch (as happened in the writing of Goblet) tells us very little about the writer’s formalist and iconological artistry which are under-the-hood, beneath the story-line.

That is Rowling’s greater achievement and to suggest that her tweeking and editing this graph paper is what makes her great is, I think, no little error, however important editing and time-line organization certainly are.

Your thoughts?

Lethal White: Missing Page Mystery (2)

Way back in October, 2018, soon after the release of Lethal White, I noticed an oddity in the structure of the fourth Cormoran Strike novel (see Lethal White: The Missing Page Mystery‘). There is a page marking the beginning of the second part of the book when the investigation of the dead government minister begins. It reads, ‘Part Two.’ The mysterious bit is that there is no page at the start of the book that reads ‘Part One.’ My thought was and remains that this ‘Part Two’ — and the beginning of ‘Part Two’ being a near exact parallel with the meeting of Cormoran Strike with John Bristow in Cuckoo’s Calling — is a marker of the second half of the series, a seven book series having its natural turn half-way through book four (as Goblet of Fire does in ‘The Hungarian Horntail’ chapter).

Beatrice Groves commented at the time:

I like it John! I think we’ll have to see if the paperback comes out with the Part 1 page (I’m sure that either this is a mistake or you’re right: no-one deliberately leaves off ‘part 1’ pages) before speculating further (do you know when that paperback is due?).

The paperback Lethal White came out in the UK on 18 April 2019, a good month before its publication in the US, and I asked friends in the UK to check to see if ‘Part One’ was included in the new edition. Beatrice Groves reports:

So I went to check for you and 

*drum roll*

there is still no part 1 page!

I didn’t do an extensive search, but did note that it still misattributes the 1900 Ibsen translation (by Robert Farquharson Sharp) to Robert Farquharson – so it doesn’t look like there has been much proof reading between hard and paper back.

So what? Well, I think we can assume that the Part One page was intentionally left out, that ‘Part Two’ refers simultaneously to the second part of the book and of the series, which suggests as we have suspected for some time but especially after all the echoes of Goblet of Fire and of Cuckoo’s Calling in Lethal White that we are looking at a second seven book series from Rowling (and one that parallels the first).

Thank you, Professor Groves, for the help here. It’s a small thing compared to the inter- and intratextual evidence we’ve done but this marker is an important piece of evidence in itself, a confirmation of sorts for the greater findings.