Christie’s Miss Marple Short Stories: Another Treasury of Rowling Sources?

Agatha Christie wrote a small library of one hundred and sixty five short stories in addition to her seventy-two novels. They appeared in newspapers, popular magazines, and journals in England and America because they were a great way for Christie to make money without having to give back 90% of her earnings in taxes to the government; all the money she made in the US at the time was not subject to UK proletariat-despotism. According to the Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories collection I purchased in my pursuit of Rowling’s roots in Christie-dom, only twenty of the short stories featured the humble spinstress, the Sherlock Holmes of St Mary Mead, Jane Marple.

But there are some jewels in the set for Potter-philes, trust me. Take this passage from ‘Ingots of Gold,’ in which a novelist reviews his meeting with a deep sea treasure hunter in Cornwall:

It occurred to me as I listened to him how often things happen that way. A rich man such as Newman succeeds almost without effort, and yet in all probability the actual money in value of his find would mean little to him. I must say that his ardour infected me. I saw galleons drifting up the coast, flying before the storm, beaten and broken on the black rocks. The mere word galleon has a romantic sound. The phrase ‘Spanish Gold’ thrills the schoolboy — and the grown-up man also. Moreover, I was working at the time upon a novel, some scenes of which were laid in the sixteenth century, and I saw the prospect of getting valuable local colour from my host.

Forgive me for thinking this as likely a source as any for Rowling’s decision to make the principal unit of money in the Wizarding World a galleon.

How about this from the last page of ‘The Four Suspects,’ a short story whose twist turns on a knowledge of flower symbolism?

“I was, I think, well educated for the standard of my day. My sister and I had a German governess — a Fraulein. A very sentimental creature. She taught us the language of flowers — a forgotten study nowadays, but most charming. A yellow tulip, for instance, means ‘Hopeless Love,’ while a China aster means ‘I Die of Jealousy at Your Feet.’ That letter was signed Georgina, which I seem to remember as dahlia in German.”…

“A man used to send me purple orchids every night to the theater,” said Jane [Helier, the Elizabeth Taylor sort of beauty and star of stage and screen] dreamily.

” ‘I Await Your Favours’ — that’s what that means,” said Miss Marple brightly.

Sir Henry gave a peculiar sort of cough and turned away.

Besides the adverbs at the end of each sentence and the humor, this passage from Christie seems a probable source for Rowling’s discovery of Culpeper’s Complete Herbal and the language of flowers. If you’re not familiar with Rowling’s literary herbology beyond ‘Lily’ and ‘Petunia,’ check out Beatrice Grove’s ‘We Can Talk If There’s Anyone Worth Talking To: The Language of Flowers’ in her series on Plant Lore in the Hogwarts Saga.

There are more, of course. We meet an Emma Gaunt in ‘Motive v. Opportunity,’ the title of which will cause a Cormoran Strike reader to smile (I much prefer the Vanity Fair origins of the Gaunt family name, but it’s in Christie, too). In ‘Tape Measure Murder’ we’re given an aside about ‘Crippen’ which leads to the Rattenbury-esque moment when you see the parallels between that story’s death and the notorious Hawley Harvey Crippen.

The point? Rowling has read all of Christie closely, at least as closely as she did Austen, Nabokov, and Colette, and she took notes for future reference. Lots of notes.

Let me know what you think in the comment boxes below!


  1. Steve Morrison says

    She might also possibly have learned about the language of flowers from E. Nesbit’s The Wonderful Garden.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Wondering about the history of republication of ‘The language of flowers’ books, I turned to the Internet Archive – and got 1924 results with that as search term (of course, appearing to include many duplicates – different scans of the same books and editions, but still – wow)!

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