Christmas Pig 6: The Ring Composition

Evan Willis in his ‘For the Straightforward Past Was Lost: A Few Starting Notes on The Christmas Pig‘ wrote about the story’s ring structure:

While a more detailed analysis will need to be done with greater precision, I think we have all the signs of a well-crafted ring narrative. On first read, here are the parallels that stood out to me. We have parts 1+9 centered on the real world, echoed in the middle in part 5 where Jack finds out from Bullyboss what pain had led to Holly’s throwing DP out the car window. Other echoes across the center include Recycling in parts 1 and 8, the Earrings in Mislaid and the City of the Missed, the centrality of the problem of power and politics in parts 4 and 6 on opposite sides of the center. Again, there is much more to do here.

Evan’s first thoughts, as I described in Part 2 of my series of posts on The Christmas Pig, remain an important touchstone for anyone trying to understand Rowling’s artistry and meaning in this story. In this sixth Perennialist reading I pick up the challenge he implicitly made to do a closer examination of The Christmas Pig’s nine part structure.

The post will have three sections: (1) an introduction to traditional ‘turtle-back’ ring composition story structure, (2) a look at Christmas Pig as a nine piece ring with the latch of beginning and end, the story-turn and key ‘meaning in the middle’ of Part Five, The Wastes of the Unlamented, and the correspondences between Parts 2 and 8, 3 and 7, and 4 and 6, and (3) a Perennialist explanation of why this structure simultaneously parallels and advances the subliminal work of transforming the reader.

Join me after the jump for a look ‘under the hood’ at the mechanisms that give Christmas Pig much of the  moral and message it has as something of a spiritual journey and bizarro compass. [Read more…]

“For the Straightforward Path Was Lost”: A Few Starting Notes on The Christmas Pig

To get discussion started on The Christmas Pig, I thought I would post some thoughts, aligned with a few of our keys to interpretation, that I was left with after my first read through. Or, rather, first listen through. The audiobook proved really quite wonderful, with excellent cast and sound design. On any of these points below, consequently, much more can be said. These points are also not in any particular order as they are something of a collection of first impressions. The discussion below will not be spoiler free.
[Read more…]

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.