Chris Calderon – The Beatles and Strike 7

With J. K. Rowling confirming that the epigraphs for The Running Grave are from the I Ching and the title seemingly derived from a Dylan Thomas poem, what can this tell us of the contents of Strike 7?

This is the question veteran Hogwarts Professor stalwart Chris Calderon explores, with some surprising help from the Fab Four!.

Unearthing the Background of The Running Grave: What the Beatles “Might” Tell Us about Strike 7, and it’s Sources.

By Chris Calderon.

Ever since J.K. Rowling unveiled the I Ching as the source of epigraphs for the next Cormoran Strike Mystery, she’s had her fans and close readers scratching their heads, trying to figure out what she’s up to.  Nor is this all too surprising.  The writer is setting a series of jigsaw pieces in front of anyone who is willing to pay attention and play her guessing games.  So far, her clues amount to: (1) a title inspired the poetry of Dylan Thomas; (2) the aforementioned Book of Changes; (3) various locale in and around the general area of Norfolk.  Taken in isolation, its easy to sympathize with anyone who complains that the author is being too cryptic for her own good.  Take all that in context, however, and I wonder if it isn’t just possible to get an overall picture of at least the general background meaning of Strike 7.  I hope you’ll join me after the jump if you want a suggestion of what the new book’s context might be.  And yes, I promise to explain how the Beatles fit into all this.  I swear.

The Book and Decade of Changes.

For me, the whole solution to what Rowling is hinting at with her latest round of clues might have to be described as, just: the 60s.  My reason for saying this is because of another clue she gave her readers a while back that has so far been ignored in all the guess work.  In a recent twitter exchange, Rowling shared an important Book 7 plot detail with none other than, Kurt Schreyer.  Prof. Schreyer was telling her about “the level of dread I have at the prospect of hearing more about CS’s experiences at the Norfolk commune, which is kind of incredible considering we’ve been told practically nothing about it”.  To which, “Mr. Galbraith” replied, “You are right to dread it”.

Now I’m convinced this is the author giving us the vital hint that brings all of her other source clues together.  She does it by highlighting what is sure to be a key plot point for her next story, and then giving us all the clues that are meant to tie into it.  Norfolk is where the Commune was (is?) located, for instance.  That explains the setting, yet what about her two other cited sources?  How do Dylan Thomas and the I Ching fit together?  I’d argue the first part of the answer comes in what I’ve hinted at elsewhere.  Everything I’ve read up on and by Dylan Thomas tells me that he stands as one of the major architects for the social – artistic movement that became the 60s, from its music, its verse, and its various types of art.  It was Thomas who first acted as an inspiration for the Beat Writers, and they in turn went on to create the Counterculture.  And it was during there heyday that the Flower Children discovered the classic Chinese divination text. 

This is where both the Beatles, and a previous textual unpacking by Prof. Beatrice Groves comes into play.  In her essay on Rowling’s use of the Book of Changes, the Professor makes use of Richard Smith’s The I Ching: A Biography to make her point.  Turning back to it again provides the missing link everyone has been searching for.  For it’s in his study that the biographer shows us how the artistic heirs of Dylan Thomas made use of the next source for Strike chapter header quotations:

“Soon references to the Changes began to appear everywhere in Western popular culture.  As early as November 27, 1965, Bob Dylan gave an interview published in the Chicago Daily News in which he described the Yijing as “The only thing that is amazingly true, period.”  He added: “besides being a great book to believe in, it’s also very fantastic poetry.”  In 1966 Allen Ginsberg, founding father of the Beat generation of the 1950s and a major countercultural figure of the 1960s, wrote a widely distributed poem titled “Consulting I Ching Smoking Pot Listening to the Fugs Sing Blake.”  John Lennon sang of the Changes in God (1970), and the New York Sessions version of Dylan’s acclaimed “Idiot Wind,” recorded in the mid-1970s, contains the following line: “I threw the I Ching yesterday, it said there might be some thunder at the well.” (Either Dylan has his trigrams and hexagram mixed up here, or he has produced a very sophisticated reading of the relationship between the Zhen hexagram, number 51, and the Jing, number 48) …(The) poetry of Ginsberg and the lyrics of Dylan and others…both reflected the cultural importance of the Changes at the time and contributed substantially to it (199-200)”.

To repeat, I’d argue that it Smith’s observations here that help tie up the loose ends.  His historical digging has unearthed the history that ties all the elements of The Running Grave together.  It links up with the 60s Counterculture in and of itself, and two literary sources that acted as guides for the movement.  One of them was a Mythopoeic Welsh versifier, the other was a Chinese divination study.  When you assemble all of these puzzle pieces together in their proper order, the picture begins to come into clearer focus.  It hints at the idea that the next case Strike and Robin tackle will tie in directly to Leda’s “attempted” Flower Child background, and how somehow a very wrong turn was made along the way.  It just raises one final question in my mind.  Assuming that Strike’s Communal background forms the centre of the plot, then what else is there that Rowling can tell us about anything to do with it?

Is there any source of information out there that can give readers an insight into “Robert Galbraith’s” thoughts about, say, the meaning of the Counterculture?  Well, as it turns out, there might be just such a resource lying around as yet untapped for insights.  And it all revolved around “The Act You’ve Known for All These Years”…

Conclusion: J.K. Rowling, the Beatles, the 60s, and The Running Grave

Back around 1999, or 2000, a girl named Joanne Murray allowed the ABC Television Network to interview her in relation to a very specific topic.  It was in celebration of the Fab Four’s arrival on American shores, and “Mr. Galbraith” had some interesting thought about what appears to be her favorite band.  I bring this up for the surprising mount of relevance and parallels it has not just to TRG, but also for Rowling herself, both as person, artist, and phenomenon.  For instance, she seems to share in the notion that it was women who first propelled the Beatles to artistic prominence.  She also makes the interesting choice to offer commentary on a religious controversy that the band got embroiled in.  As well, the documentary in itself is willing to explore the less than rosy side of the 60s as a whole.  At the heart of these moments lies the very important question of how do you keep a good idea from begin abused?  It’s a perennial conundrum, and the makers of this TV special are wise to admit to not having all the answers.  What’s also interesting is how the model for Jonny Rokeby got involved in all of it.  In addition, there are interviews with the likes of Salman Rushdie, Catholic filmmaker Martin Scorsese, and last but not least is just some local prankster and published author by the name of Ken Kesey.

Beyond all this, however, I’d argue that a documentary like The Beatles Revolution does Rowling and Strike fans a double service.  In the first place, it gives readers a very useful background context to a lot of the thought that goes into her writing.  Noting the influence that a decade like the 60s, and a band such as the Beatles have on her thinking can help to further place the author within a clearer frame of reference.  She emerges, in the terminology of Dorothy L. Sayers, as a Poetical Searcher who managed to find a Poetry of Statement.  Her seeking didn’t end with the Beatles or the 60s, and yet it’s clear enough that they are an important, formative way station in the development of the artist’s mind.  Something she can still draw inspiration from, even for Mythopoeic purposes. 

There is a sense in which she could be said to follow the model of other seekers, such as Thomas Merton, or even the Fab Four themselves.  And here, I’d urge the curious to seek out a copy of Steve Turner’s The Gospel According to the Beatles, as it’s probably the best resource the band’s actual spirituality.  Turner explores the life of the band from a Christian perspective (the book is even published by  Westminster John Knox Press, and is available at Christian Booksellers) and his analysis of the band and their own spirt centric development is sympathetic, knowing, and distinctive by turns.

As for the purposes that all of this could find in terms of either the next Mystery of the Week, or the series as a whole?  The best place for all of this to be realized on an artistic level would have to be with the main character of Strike himself.  The one aspect of Galbraith’s detective that has yet to be explored is that he is just as much a child, or ultimate product of the 60s, as he is a military man.  As I’ve said elsewhere, these two components of his background mean there is a Martial and Mercurial aspect to Strike’s character, and a lot of his own struggles going forward, particularly in this next book, will be to see just capable he is of integrating the more free-wheeling, hermetic aspects of his life into both his work, outlook, and in particular his relationship with Robin.  And I won’t be surprised if both the I Ching and the poetry of Dylan Thomas will play a very large hand in the shaping of Strike’s character.

So, to end off as we started, I think that anyone looking for the connecting thread between Thomas’s verse writings and the divination of the Book of Changes must go to the one point at which each of them met in history, during the heydays of the Counterculture, and the artistic Renaissance that Thomas, in part, helped to birth.  It’s with all of this thought in mind that I’ll be looking forward to seeing how much of this is both confirmed and denied within the pages of The Running Grave.  At the very least, I hope I have offered some useful food for further reflection in the run up to the release of the next book.



  1. Kelly Loomis says

    In my current re-read of the Strike series, I am again cognizant of the recurrent themes and subjects in Rowling’s work. In Strike’s character she embodies some of these themes. These beliefs and tendencies parallel what you are describing above. Much of her social commentary in HP was lost on us Americans as the school and social class distinctions in the UK aren’t quite the same that we experience here in the U.S. These negative themes of class and traditional English culture come out much more clearly in her Strike novels. And this derision for class divisions come out through her characters. I see this in Strike who embodies an interesting mix between Leda’s disdain for convention and her counter cultural forays and the discipline of the army and his uncle Ted’s values. Strike disdains the expected and conventional life everyone else seems to want for him. Yet, the wayward Leda and her chaotic lifestyle at the same time cause him to like order. His relationship with Charlotte, her world and all that stood for was antithesis to what he really wanted. But of course she liked to show disdain for these people too all while not wanting to really live counter to the niceties it enabled when push came to shove. Many of the people Strike “can’t stand” the most are those who embody the upper class, monied and titled lives and those places in life. So while having scars from his past with Leda as a mother, he also pushes against the norms. His worst memories are those from the commune. I am really hoping we get answers about that at last in The Running Grave. Lucy’s reaction to their childhood and her desire for normalcy is something Strike definitely does not want for himself. The counter culture of the 60’s and the music it spawned was what enabled the culture that Leda was drawn to. Taken to extremes however it lead to such scary things as Charles Manson (mentioned in Career of Evil) and communes such as those Strike was forced to live in when Leda took them there. I could see Rowling’s appreciation for the counter culture of the 60’s while also recognizing some of its drawbacks as themes in this series.

  2. Kelly,

    Thanks for all of these insights. I think we’ve been a bit so caught up with the idea of Strike as this “four-square” personality that we tend to overlook all of those little moments when he seems willing to buck against the system. I think it might be worthwhile keeping your comment in mind, going forward. In fact, I’m willing to argue it’s possible to take things further from here. For instance, the documentary above brings up a lot of interesting food for thought in terms of the one relationship that stands at the heart of the series. That being the relationship (or lack thereof) between Strike and Mick Jagger…

    …I mean Jonny Rokeby, sorry. The point here isn’t to give an answer, though maybe to provoke a search for one. Bearing in mind that Jagger is the model for Rokeby, and that Rowling herself is more of Beatles fan, how do you suppose such a personal dynamic will play out in terms of the author’s secondary world, and the resolution to its plot? Bear something else in mind, the documentary linked with the article makes an interesting comparison between the Fabs and the Stones. Whereas Mick and Keith put out an almost pro-anarchy anthem known as “Street Fighting Man”, the Beatles respond with the more diplomatic, and commonsensical “Revolution”, which contains lyrics such as “We all want to change the world. But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao. You ain’t going to make it with anyone, anyhow”. It’s a sentiment that is interesting for the light it might help shed on some of the more radical characters that Rowling has introduced throughout the course of the series.

    For instance, what would a song like that tell us in relation to characters such as Jimmy Knight, Yasmin Weatherhead, or Nils De Jong and the North Grove Art Collective?

    Here’s the best I can offer on that score, and it requires a bit of context. That Beatles documentary is enough to give viewers an indirect, yet surprisingly as complete a picture as we’re likely to get about the thinking and outlook of Rowling as both an artist and person. Look at it this way. A site such as HogPro gives us glimpses of her spiritual outlook, while the ABC TV special (ironically enough) comes as close as we’ll ever get to what the rest of her mind is like. Leaving us with these two component parts that go together to form the major influences on a writer’s thought. Call it an area or aspect of the Lake that no one has noticed as of yet.

    So, what do we get if you put the two together, and what does it tell us about Rowling’s handling of radicals in her own work? For me, the best picture I’m able to get out of it is this image of JKR as a Boomer Liberal who is a lot more old-fashioned than even her harshest critics realize. It’s like she’s this Woodstock Era-Jesus Freak-Flower Power Girl taking a series of aimed barbs at people like the Manson Cult, or the Weather
    Underground and the Symbionese Liberation Army. She’s a liberal, not an anarchist, in other words.

    And my guess is her portrayal of a lot of the wilder, satiric characters populating her imaginary London, are all, in several ways, reflections of that outlook. For what it’s worth, this might also explain her handling of real life figures, such as Julius Evola. She’s the kind of Beatle-maniac, in other words, who is willing to buck the current ruling convention if it is merited, and it meets the criteria of being (in the never to be forgotten words of J.D. Salinger) “phony”. Yet there’s always the sense that, like the Fabs, she’d rather do it responsibly, instead of making a pure fool of herself, even if that’s what others think she is.

    Like I say, there is a lot of interesting food for thought here. Also, I think I’ve just realized where “Galbraith’s” use of the music of Joni Mitchell stems from. At least, in part, anyway.

    Okay, now I just have to ask. How would someone such as Hermione, or the rest of the Hogwarts Trio appear if they lived through and with the Haight Ashbury years? What kind of Counterculture gear would they use, in other words? Sorry, couldn’t help but wonder. Luna would probably feel so much at home that she’s blend in, and no one would think there’s anything out of the ordinary about her.

  3. Kelly Loomis says

    Chris C, I think your characterization of Rowling as liberal rather than radical is spot on especially when you look at her recent Twitter wars with the trans community. She is coming off as someone who is for women’s rights and gay and lesbian rights in the true liberal sense rather than as someone who will take it even further into the now SJW/politically correct nastiness that is common today especially if it results in the denigration of women’s rights. I grew up as someone who was one of the early beneficiaries of the Title 9 sports rulings in the U.S and see how the promotion of trans rights is affecting girls and women’s sorts right now so I think I underhand where she is coming from.

    Also, as has been discussed by HogPro authors, the Christian imagery found throughout the HP series and the fact that she had her child baptized (which is not an automatic practice these days in the UK) show she has a traditional mindset and she was really taken aback by all the attacks she received from the Christian community after publishing HP.

    I am terrible at predicting plot points and am as keen as anyone else to see where the Rokeby/Jagger and Strike relationship goes so I will leave off predicting anything in that direction.

    Your final question as to the Hogwarts trio’s possible 60’s setting is intriguing. Hermione would have been a classic liberal gung-ho for the rights of anyone but not one who bought into the counter culture as she was more interested in following rules and authority (at least in the initial few books). Ron would have been bewildered by it all and Harry would have thought it all a bother.

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