Chris Calderon – What Rowling’s Narrative Epigraphs Can Tell Us About the Character of Cormoran Strike.

We are very fortunate that long time stalwart of the Hogwarts Professor – Chris Calderon has submitted a guest post. Now that it is likely Dylan Thomas will be providing the epigraphs to The Running Grave, what can the epigraphs of the Strike series tell us about both the character of the protagonist and the overall narrative arc? To find out follow after the jump!



What Rowling’s Narrative Epigraphs Can Tell Us About the Character of Cormoran Strike.

By Chris Calderon.


I’ve been wondering over something for a while now.  It has to do with J.K. Rowling’s choice of textual borrowings for the chapter epigraphs of her Cormoran Strike Mysteries.  I’ve grown curious as to whether they might tell us something about the over-arching plot or main themes of the author’s latest thriller series?  Robyn Gomillion’s Sonnet Theory essay is what got me asking this question.  Now it seems as if a poet named Dylan Thomas might just provide the answer.  It could be that he’s helped us catch the first glimpse of the ultimate literary goal behind Rowling’s epigraph selections.  I’d like to offer up the idea that the way he does it is by providing a crucial hint that for the first time allows us a sense of the overall direction towards which the series’ main narrative is trending.  I’m not so sure he can tell us who killed Leda Strike.  Though Thomas might just be a thematic pointer to the next stage of character progression that we could be able to expect from the peg-legged offspring of the Quicklime Girl.

I’ll try and keep this simple by listing four literary facts that help support the idea that the Thomas allusion is a hint at the Solve Et Coagula that’s in store for both Strike’s character, and his relation to his own troubled past.  In order, they go as follows. 

(1) It is possible to sort all of Rowling’s epigraph choices back into their proper chronological order, starting from Lucius and Horace in Cuckoo to Thomas in The Running Grave

(2) If this is done the reader then discovers that the author has compiled a veritable history of literature that covers all the major movements in Western history. 

(3) This progression goes from the Classicism of Horace and Catullus, the Elizabethan Medievalism of Edmund Spenser and the Jacobean Revenge Dramatists, the Victorian Romanticism of the Coleridge Clan and Emily Dickinson, the early Modernism of Henrik Ibsen, and it all terminates in what has to be considered the shared, Counterculture aesthetics of Dylan Thomas and Blue Oyster Cult. 

(4) What stands out about this informal bit of history is what might be called its overall sense of development.  All roads lead sooner or later to the renewed sense of social and artistic Romanticism that engulfed the world during the 1960s.

It’s a sense of artistic progression from history itself, that in turn is being mirrored in the way Rowling lays out her epigraphs, one book at a time.  It is only now, however, with the recent addition of proto-Beatnik writer Dylan Thomas that we might be able to speak for the first time of a sense of direction in all this.  What’s notable is the exact nature of the direction in which all the clues point.  The epigraphs, in one way or another, all wind up pointing to the 60s communal background of not just Leda Strike, but also, ultimately, her son.  This doesn’t come as too much of a surprise once you stop and look at the steps of progression (however reluctant) the main character has gone through so far.  In Troubled Blood, the reader is given Strike’s tour of duty as he comes to terms with the Cornish, one might also call it the Classical aspect of his nature.  It’s been labelled as the Nigredo, or Big Black Book of the series.

It’s idea an I’m willing to go along with, yet it also helps to keep this basis of comparison in mind.  Strike has an incredibly easy go or time of it.  Compare this to the total sense of breakdown experienced by his literary precursor, and the contrast becomes outright glaring.  It’s true Strike experiences a more clear-cut sense of dissolution in The Ink Black Heart, and yet the reader is still left with the sense of things not quite finished.  That’s because they aren’t.  There’s still one other aspect of himself that Strike continues to struggle with as of this writing.  This is where the second support for the thesis of this essay comes in, and it can be demonstrated by returning to the series’ epigraphs.  While there is a Classical element in them, the vast majority are weighted towards the Romantic.  I think this is Rowling giving her readers another kind of clue, one with hints toward the other main struggle of the protagonist aside from Whodunit?  It is the writer’s way of hinting at the dual nature of her fictional private eye.

One way to state the issue is to say that there are two aspects to Strike’s life, and hence his nature.  There is the Classical, represented by Cornwall, Uncle Ted, and the Army years.  The second, intriguingly freighted side belongs to what might be called the unacknowledged Romantic in him, as represented by Leda, and possibly Papa Rock Rokeby.  Perhaps a better way to phrase the character’s dilemma is to place it into allegorical terms.  Strike’s nature can be said to be a compound of elements, the Martial and the Mercurial.  These are the two aspects of Cormoran Strike that must find the proper unity opposites in order for him to both move forward, and solve the mystery of his mother’s death.

Here’s what this means for the series going forward.  Expect the Countercultural aspects both of Strike’s past and personality to start coming to the fore.  Characters who will reflect this Hermetic – Romantic aspect of “Bunsen’s” life will become more prominent, with Prudence being the most likely.  More than anything else, expect for Strike to learn that the proper resolution he’s looking for is that of a peaceful harmony and correspondence between Mars and Mercury.  This is the message hidden away inside the chorus of quotations that haunt the alleyways and side lanes of the secondary world of Denmark Street.

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