Troubled Blood: Cormoran Strike’s Journey with Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner

Elizabeth Baird-Hardy and Beatrice Groves have been writing about the Spenserian epigraphs adorning each of Troubled Blood’s seven Parts and all of its seventy three chapters, and, for those few, too-happy few Rowling readers well versed in Faerie Queen this has no doubt been a challenging and rewarding effort in literary exegesis. It is an unstated but key premise to everything we write here, I realized this morning, that Rowling writes and speaks to two audiences simultaneously — to those who read her work for entertainment and inspiration and to those who read her work (to include longer twitter threads as well as her novels and series!) for the text beneath the surface of the text, the narrative undergirding the plot narrative revealing the meaning of narratives in our lives. The Faerie Queen posts are, no doubt, examples of the hidden text within what the Russian Formalists called ‘literariness’ and we owe a real debt to Profs Baird-Hardy and Groves for the slow-mining they do per Ruskin to bring this gold to the light of day.

The problem with this work is that I do not think the overlap portion of a Venn diagram of ‘Readers of Troubled Blood,’ ‘Readers of Harry Potter,’ and ‘Readers of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen‘ constitutes even a very small shared sub-set of serious readers. More to the point, perhaps, in an area proportional Venn diagram in which the three sets of readers are represented in size relative to the number of their living members, the Faerie Queen set, alas, is the smallest of the three — and has virtually no overlap, with the important exception of Profs. Baird Hardy and Groves, with the other sets.

No doubt Rowling labors here to foster interest in Spenser’s epic poem among her faithful as well as her Straussian readers of her public and hidden texts, of her surface and hidden meanings, just as she did with Silkworm’s Jacobean Revenge Drama epigraphs and Lethal White’s chapter heading glosses from Ibsen’s Rosmersholm. But Faerie Queen is by far the biggest ‘ask’ in this regard, one with rewards proportionate to the time and effort necessary to enter Spenser’s realm, and the prompting I have to think that will be the least likely to be taken, even with the encouraging glosses written by Serious Strikers.

What I wish to offer today for your consideration is a much less obvious parallel text within Troubled Blood, one that many more if by no means most Troubled Blood readers have already read and which all could read with understanding in less than an hour. This work, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’ when read in parallel with Troubled Blood, highlights essential artistry and meanings of Rowling’s latest, of Rowling’s oeuvre taken as a whole, and even of the references to Agatha Christie and William Shakespeare in Strike 5. Join me after the jump for a deep dive into the parallels between Mariner and the fifth Strike novel, an Estecean interpretive journey through Troubled Blood! [Read more…]

Looking for Your Next Celebrity Storytime? Try These!

While we may all get a little tired of being told that we must use these odd times for self-improvement and intense personal growth, there is no denying that many people have taken both comfort from and interest in reading. Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile: Houston, Gloria, Lamb, Susan ...Libraries are realizing that the rural Bookmobile concept is actually pretty amazing, something I knew as a child when the magical delivery service visited my aunt’s house. It was like a traveling Scholastic Book Fair. Amazon is, of course, doing a rip-roaring business, but they aren’t delivering only books, as people are shipping everything including a kitchen sink (if Amazon doesn’t have one that suits the shut-in home-improver, I’m sure Home Depot or Lowe’s will). Local bookstores, many of which are only doing online or appointment sales, are a nice choice, and a good idea if you’d like that bookstore to be there this time next year.

One of the most popular ways to enjoy a good book, though, is to hear it read aloud. There is something magical about the read-aloud. It conveys safety and connection for many of us, reminding us of our childhood and of family reading timeHarry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - Wikipedia.  I may have complained mightily about reading any chapter in which I had to do my extravagant voices for Voldemort, Bellatrix, Dobby, and/or Snape, but I wouldn’t trade those sore throats for anything, as reading the Harry Potter books aloud to my children remains one of the most precious experiences we have shared (and I do still do the voices sometimes for laughs, although my daughter has truly made Luna her own. My grandchildren will have a ball with that one).

Celebrities are, of course, taking up the task of bringing storytime comfort, and the Wizarding World has been featuring appropriate readers for Philosopher’s Stone. Daniel Radcliffe, the Boy who Lived to most filmgoers, has read us the first chapter. Noma Dumezweni of Cursed Child took on “The Vanishing Glass.” Newt Scamander himself, the delightful Eddie Redmayne, reads chapter 3, and has an Aunt Petunia voice I truly envy. Artwork from contributors adds to the reading, but Spotify also has all–auditory versions. Many other famous voices are lined up to read aloud each chapter over the coming weeks.Chapter Three: 'The Letters from No One' | Wizarding World

While we wait for the next chapters to be read by the next celebrity readers, you may be in need of another reading companion.  Thankfully, there are some wonderful choices available. Here are a few I like and which you might want to try, but also hope you’ll comment below with suggestions if you have found some that you have discovered and enjoyed. [Read more…]

Puns, Prophecy, and Pizza

On Puns, Considered in Shakespeare According to Hermetic Principles

“Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man,” a line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, is, in my opinion, the epitome of everything a good pun should be (and yes, there is such a thing as a good pun).  And in the spirit of good analysis and not-so-great humor, I will now explain precisely how this joke works and why.

The context is important here. The speaker, Mercutio, lies dying, having been mortally wounded by Tybalt. Mercutio is precisely the sort of character who takes very little seriously. Here, even as he is about to die, he makes a pun. Whatever he is, he is not “grave” in the sense of being serious. However, he is about to die and thus will find himself in a “grave”, namely the place where one buries dead bodies. That said, the only time he could ever be “grave” (sense 1) is if he is in a grave (sense 2). Thus the full sense of “you shall find me a grave man” is “you’ll take away my sense of humor over my dead body, which it presently will be”, which we may label “grave” (sense 3).

[Read more…]

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.

The Duchess of Malfi (1972)

The Duchess of Malfi, a play by John Webster, makes up much of the backdrop to Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm and its literary antecedents, namely, Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder and P. D. James’ The Skull Beneath the Skin (see my discussion of this influence here). You had a wonderful education indeed if you read this play or saw it performed as a young person in the United States, where, in my experience at least, ‘Early Modern Drama’ means ten generous helpings of Shakespeare at least to any condiment-sized presentations or discussion of Jonson, Kyd, or Webster.

I was delighted to find, consequently, a British production pf Duchess of Malfi in period costume available free online. I reproduce its first four parts below and provide a link to the rest of the show at the end for your easy access. Free online texts if you choose to read before viewing or while watching can be found at Gutenberg.com as plain text, at LarryAvisBrown.com with notes, and at FullBooks.com as poetry per the Arden edition.

For the remaining nine parts of this production, see the full collection on YouTube. Enjoy — and let me know what you think in the comment boxes below!