Cormoran Strike: Unanswered Questions

Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott are such thoughtful, insightful, and self-aware people whose penetrating intelligence is their shared defining characteristic — they mull over and detect as their vocation what other people (and the Metropolitan Police) miss in the minutia of daily living — that we are lulled into the conviction that they are ‘picking up on’ or ‘getting’ the important clues in their own lives about the mysteries they live within. As a rule, though, Robin the wannabe psychologist and Sherlock Strike are clueless about their own lives; self-reflective as each is, they ignore or otherwise neglect the strong signals and suggestive events that surround them.

We trusted the teen Harry Potter, our de facto narrative lens in the Hogwarts Saga, to catch the key clue he sees but which he does not understand and this inevitable but misplaced trust in the good guy-orphan was the means by which Rowling created the narrative misdirection the fooled us every year in that series, her signature ‘big twist’ at the story climax and denouement. In the Strike mysteries, as Oonaugh Kennedy observes about book-smart people being the most naive about their sex lives (Blood 270), the Amazing Memory Man and the Jungian Jungfrau are in the dark as often as not and oblivious to clues Rowling-Galbraith is giving the reader by putting them in the pair’s individual and shared blind-spots.

Strike explained to Robin when she observed that Cynthia Phipps’ joke about Anne Boleyn’s decapitation was rather tasteless given that Creed may very well have cut off, boiled down, and powdered Margot Bamborough’s head that this was a function of self-blindness. “She’s lived with it for forty years,” said Strike. “People who live with something that massive stop being able to see it. It’s the backdrop to their lives. It’s only glaringly obvious to everyone else” (Blood, 411). Our problem is that, though the author is being more than fair in presenting the back-drops to the lives of Strike and Ellacott, the mysteries are not “glaringly obvious” to us because we put such trust in our brilliant narrators that we neglect the unanswered questions in their lives.

I thought, as we begin the run-up to the publication of Ink Black Heart, that it would be a useful exercise to create a catalog of these mysteries hidden in plain sight, especially those highlighted in the massive and still opaque Troubled Blood. I’ve collected two batches of these off the top of my head, one for the series as a whole, the other just from Troubled Blood,  that I think we may learn more about in Strike6 and I hope you’ll contribute those you see that I have missed. The first batch today, then, after the jump, to be followed tomorrow with those specific to Troubled Blood.

(1) Leda’s Leaving St Mawes

The foundation mystery of the Cormoran Strike series is the death of his mother, Leda Nancarrow Strike. It was ruled a suicide by heroin overdose after her second husband, Jeff Whittaker, was found not guilty of murdering her. The suspect murderers whose means, motive, and opportunity we have explored at this weblog include Dave Polworth, Ted Nancarrow, Lucy Fantoni, Nick Herbert, and Sir Randolph Whittaker KCMB DSO. Leda, of course, may have committed suicide. Her death, however, is too big an unanswered question for this list, even if it is a riddle to which her oldest son has assumed he knows the answer; he and Shanker believe Jeff Whittaker was guilty.

The question that heads my list of mysteries that Strike and Robin have not explored is why Leda Nancorrow ran away from home in the first place. The only reason we’ve been given is that she found St. Mawes boring:

While [Strike] walked, traffic rumbling past him, he remembered Sundays in Cornwall in his childhood, when everything closed down except the church and the beach. Sunday had had a particular flavour in those days; an echoing, whispering quiet, the gentle chink of china and the smell of gravy, the TV as dull as the empty high street, and the relentless rush of the waves on the beach when he and Lucy had run down on to the shingle, forced back on to primitive resources.

His mother had once said to him: ‘If Joan’s right, and I end up in hell, it’ll be eternal Sunday in bloody St Mawes.’

That’s a pretty thin answer. We’re told only the barest details, too, about her actual escape with her first husband:

His mind drifted. He thought about families, and names, and about the ways in which his and John Bristow’s childhoods, outwardly so different, had been similar. There were ghostly figures in Strike’s family history, too: his mother’s first husband, for instance, of whom she had rarely spoken, except to say that she had hated being married from the first. Aunt Joan, whose memory had always been sharpest where Leda’s had been most vague, said that the eighteen-year-old Leda had run out on her husband after only two weeks; that her sole motivation in marrying Strike Snr (who, according to Aunt Joan, had arrived in St Mawes with the fair) had been a new dress, and a change of name. Certainly, Leda had remained more faithful to her unusual married moniker than to any man. She had passed it to her son, who had never met its original owner, long gone before his unconnected birth.

Joan tried as a rule not to say unkind things about Lucy and Cormoran’s biological mother but this seems an exception, perhaps post mortem matris. My tentative answer to this question is incest, something I explored in Who Killed Leda Strike?

We learn something essential in Troubled Blood about Uncle Ted’s history which ties into the Rosmersholm backdrop of Lethal White. We learn in Strike5that Ted Nancarrow left his Cornwall home for the Red Caps after a fight with his father (ch 31, p 354).

The Rosmersholm connection [via Lethal White’s source of epigraphs] tells us that father-daughter incest will be a revelation in Strike7 and a probable cause for Leda’s suicide or murder. If we assume Leda’s father molested her as a child or young woman and she ran away with the first man who would have her to escape her nightmare existence in St Mawes, several mysterious behaviors in the books become transparently clear.

Ted’s fight with his father and departure from home, for example, would be natural on learning that his old man had been forcing sex on his daughter, Ted’s only sister; his choice would have been the common-sensical one of leaving home and fighting crime rather than attempt to prosecute his father and bring shame on his whole family in provincial Cornwall. I assume he returned only after his father has died.

Ted and Joan’s refusal to send the authorities to take away Leda’s children makes sense, too, if they know she was sexually molested at home as a young women by her father. They are simultaneously at her mercy lest she tell everyone in St Mawes the Nancarrow family dirty secret and necessarily nothing but profoundly sympathetic and understanding about the unhinged, anti-bourgeois exhibitionist Leda has become in light of her nightmare childhood of rape and violation. Ted and Joan, childless as they are, take on Lucy and Cormoran as Leda dictated, rescuing them at times when Leda goes too far, but never calling in Child Protective Services to have her ruled unfit as a mother. The incest explains that.

That hypothesis, though, hardly answers the question and it remains a great curiosity that Strike has never asked his Aunt and Uncle in St Mawes about his mother’s life as a child or about his grandparents. That Creed was the offspring of incestuous rape highlights that Rowling considers this a singularly repugnant crime and one that has potential to cause destructive madness across generations and populations. But it’s only as likely as Joan’s theory of “a new dress and new name.”

(2) Polworth’s Contradictory Behaviors

Polworth shares with Strike in the opening chapter of Troubled Blood the great influence Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina had on his life. Though dismissing the novel as “shit” (11), he learned from it that marriage was the key to human happiness for a man, the answer to “the male predicament,” namely, how to get sex regularly and dependably so that “you get the use of your hands back” (10). Strike reflects on how he has learned this lesson himself at novel’s end, Blood’s last page and last sentence (927); he must give up his Sagittarian indifference to relationships in acknowledgment that he will never be happy without Robin “strapped to his back,” lest he suffer the fates of Mazankov and Krupov. Joan has told him the same thing in her last conversation of any length with him just after Christmas (“Pretending you don’t need things… it’s just silly” 356), but it’s bizarre that Strike is cued to his “predicament” by Polworth.

Polworth, after all, is the chief misogynist in Strike’s life. Women, as the detective tells Robin, tend not to like him. He’s also the kind of “blood and soil” Celtic nationalist that Strike (and Rowling-Galbraith) thinks of as both boorish and ignorant. Throughout Troubled Blood, though, the “flame of pure, practical kindness that burned in” this diminutive friend stands alongside his prejudice against those not Cornish and his neglect bordering on disdain for his wife and daughters. He is the super-hero that makes Strike and Lucy’s trip through rain and flood to get to the dying Joan possible. Polworth is the man who brings the Nancarrows provisions, fixes their telly, and takes Ted out for a pint to keep him from going stir-crazy.

In a nut-shell, the mystery is how can a man be such an ass with respect to his utilitarian views of women as little more than “gash” and his ultra-nationalist politics and simultaneously be sacrificially thoughtful and selfless in his service to this one family, the Nancarrows? “Why Dave Polworth, pocket don of the class, had decided to befriend the new boy had never been satisfactorily explained, even to Strike.” Why hasn’t Strike who always needs to know asked him? I’ve discussed this before and speculated that it is because Ted and Joan are “Little Dave’s” father and mother as they are to Lucy and Cormoran, but it remains an enigma, one that I’m guessing we’ll learn more about on the Polworth family trip to London in the first chapters of Ink Black Heart.

(3) The Norfolk Commune

I’m hesitant to include this on my list of unanswered questions because, as with the death of Leda Strike, it both a big subject and something Louise Freeman and I have explored at length in various posts here. See Prof Freeman’s discussion of the Strike-Fantoni childhood timeline and of the Norfolk commune itself for the best overviews of the subject. I wrote about it here when Rowling’s twitter featured a shot of Norfolk.

I include it on this list because Strike refers to it in his inward ruminations repeatedly as the “worst nightmare” of his childhood and offers no details about it. He has never mentioned it aloud to his Aunt and Uncle, to Dave Polworth, to his sister Lucy, or to Robin. I speculated here that it it is at the foundation of his antipathy to anything religious, spiritual, or immaterial:

Strike’s story arc, akin to Harry’s crisis of doubt vs faith in Dumbledore-God in Deathly Hallows, is about his movement from reflex repugnance to anything spiritual which to his mind means “irrational” to an appreciation of realities that are immaterial, qualitative, and evidence of the soul’s survival of physical death. Norfolk will go a long way to explaining his resistance, I think, to the spiritual aspect of human life, i.e., his aversion to religion….

I hope I’m wrong [that this won’t be answered until Strike7], frankly, because I think the Norfolk commune holds the hidden key to Strike’s discomfort with other-worldly, immaterial, conscious reality, the principal hurdle to his soul’s perfection in the Spirit, allegorically represented as his relationship with Robin. 

Again, that is just a well-informed guess or working hypothesis given Strike’s character arc. We’re meant to be asking about the Norfolk commune and about why Strike is so closed-mouth about it. Too bad Robin didn’t ask him for his most traumatic life event other than the IED explosion during their late night talk after the blow delivered in the American Bar.

(4) How did Strike Get Into Oxford?

In fact, the story of his ability to read Latin wasn’t long, merely (to most people) inexplicable. He didn’t feel like telling it in the middle of the night, nor did he want to explain that Charlotte had studied Catullus at Oxford.

Strike’s itinerant childhood and his mother’s intentional poverty meant simultaneously that his schooling was not consistently top-notch (the only school that was ‘preparatory’ for higher education was Blakeyfield Prep, a primary school he attended for less than a year) and he wouldn’t have had the funds for the “revising” at a “college” to prepare for his A and O levels and the Oxbridge examinations and interviews. In a word, it is not credible that Strike got into Oxford without extraordinary help, either a spectacularly generous tutor thus far unnamed (or even the subject of allusion) or a person who put his or her heavy finger on the admissions office scales. Jonny Rokeby is the most likely candidate there, of course, but Strike believes his father never did anything for him so that hasn’t been mentioned as a possibility.

So, yes, it’s a mystery. Surely Robin has asked herself about Strike’s education; Oxford and Cambridge are the Harvard and Yale on steroids ambitions of students in the UK with St Andrews being the Princeton or Stanford ‘back-up.’ But the Strike Agency partners have never talked about their experiences as young people beyond donkeys in Skegness. I look forward to reading the short “story of his ability to read Latin” and memorize long passages of poetry in this language and others.

(5) Shanker and Whittaker

When Strike asks for Shanker’s help in tracking down his step-father, Jeff Whittaker, in Career of Evil, the criminal shadow of the detective’s life, his adopted brother, responds, “Gonna finish it, are you?”

The change in Shanker’s tone would have alarmed anyone who had forgotten who Shanker was, what he was. To Shanker and his associates, there was no proper end to a grudge other than killing and, in consequence, he had spent half his adult life behind bars. Strike was surprised Shanker had survived into his midthirties. (Career 52)

Shanker is “incurably criminal” (Career 127) and we’re reminded in Blood how dangerous a life the man leads when he warns Strike repeatedly not to mess with Nico Ricci or his sons. Strike and Robin believe that, if Shanker is scared of someone, then that person is truly outside the realm of rational behavior and accepted limits.

Shanker’s life had been an endless series of injuries received and inflicted, and of needing to get places to deliver cash, drugs, threats or beatings. Periods of imprisonment had done nothing but temporarily change the environment in which he conducted business. Half the boys with whom he had associated in his teens were dead, most killed by knives or overdoses. One cousin had died in a police car chase, and another had been shot through the back of the head, his killer never caught. (Blood 309)

Shanker loved Leda Strike as the mother he had never known.

Leda treated Shanker from the first as though he were a long-lost nephew, and in return he had worshipped her in the way that only a broken boy clinging to the memory of a loving mother could. Once healed, he availed himself of her sincere invitation to drop round whenever he felt like it. Shanker talked to Leda as he could talk to no other human being and was perhaps the only person who could see no flaw in her. To Strike, he extended the respect he felt for his mother. The two boys, who in almost every other regard were as different as it was possible to be, were further bonded by a silent but powerful hatred of Whittaker, who had been insanely jealous of the new element in Leda’s life but wary of treating him with the disdain he showed Strike….

Like Strike, Shanker had been convinced from the first that Whittaker had killed her, and such was the violence of his grief and his desire for instant retribution that Whittaker might well have been glad he was taken into custody before Shanker could get his hands on him. Inadvisably allowed into the witness box to describe a maternal woman who had never touched heroin in her life, Shanker had screamed “That fucker done it!,” attempted to clamber over the barrier towards Whittaker and been bundled unceremoniously out of court. (Career 130-131)

So why hasn’t Shanker killed Whittaker? He has little trouble finding him in Career, he obviously thinks Strike is long overdue in finishing his step-father off for murdering their mother, but the lawless one has done exactly nothing to exact street justice for the death of Leda Strike. Here’s hoping that Shanker and Polworth will meet in Ink Black Heart as Strike has suggested they will (520) and we’ll get some answers in that convivial confrontation.

(6) The Mystic Bob Decision

Detective Inspector Richard Anstis of the Metropolitan Police likes to call Strike ‘Mystic Bob’ because of the mystery of how Strike knew their Viking troop carrier in Afghanistan was about to hit an IED. We heard about this first in Cuckoo’s Calling:

But the photographers ran alongside the vehicle, flashes erupting on either side; and Strike’s whole body was bathed in sweat: he was suddenly back on a yellow dirt road in the juddering Viking, with a sound like firecrackers popping in the Afghanistan air; he had glimpsed a youth running away from the road ahead, dragging a small boy. Without conscious thought he had bellowed ‘Brake!’ lunged forwards and seized Anstis, a new father of two days’ standing, who was sitting right behind the driver; the last thing he remembered was Anstis’s shouted protest, and the low metallic boom of him hitting the back doors, before the Viking disintegrated with an ear-splitting bang, and the world became a hazy blur of pain and terror.

He recalls it again in Silkworm as the pieces of whodunnit begin to come together at last:

Much as he had disliked the Mystic Bob tag with which Anstis had saddled him, Strike had a sense of approaching danger now, almost as strongly as when he had known, without question, that the Viking was about to blow up around him. Intuition, they called it, but Strike knew it to be the reading of subtle signs, the subconscious joining of dots. A clear picture of the killer was emerging out of the mass of disconnected evidence, and the image was stark and terrifying: a case of obsession, of violent rage, of a calculating, brilliant but profoundly disturbed mind.

As formative (destructive?) as the Norfolk Commune experience may have been on Strike’s psychological and spiritual lives, the IED explosion has had a much more visible effect on his day to day life which includes his self-understanding. Strike is a lame Fisher King figure which his half-a-leg makes concrete rather than metaphorical.

So why hasn’t he connected the dots, the “subtle signs,” he saw just before the Viking hit the IED? My Heroin Dark Lord conjectures (I was going to write “theory,” but I don’t want to trigger Prof Freeman unnecessarily) were all offered as explanations of why Strike had been targeted in Afghanistan and why he chose Anstis, speculation that Troubled Blood made less credible at least with respect to Rokeby’s involvement. Why, though, didn’t Strike explore this mystery after being fitted with a prosthesis, or, if he did, why weren’t we told about it when Anstis was introduced?

Because it is a key mystery, both with respect to its importance in Strike’s life and it’s being such a big fact of his life that he doesn’t see it anymore though it is obvious to everyone else. He uses those terms to describe Cynthia Phipps but they apply to him as well.

(7) Charlotte’s ‘Pregnancy’

I’ll close off my official list of series-long mysteries with the enigma of Charlotte Campbell and the “bombshell” that led to the explosion of her engagement to Strike in Cuckoo’s Calling‘s opening pages.

Jago Ross. She must have been in touch with him, seeing him, while they were still living together. Even Charlotte, with all her mesmeric power over men, her astonishing sure-handed skill, could not have moved from reacquaintance to engagement in three weeks. She had been meeting Ross on the sly, while swearing undying love to Strike.

This put a very different light on the bombshell she had dropped on him a month before the end, and the refusal to show him proof, and the shifting dates, and the sudden conclusion of it all.

Strike shares with Robin what this bombshell was during his drunken binge after learning of her engagement to Ross:

Shall we go and get something to eat, then?’

‘Yeah, we c’do,’ he said, with his eyes still shut. ‘She tol’ me she was pregnant.’

‘Oh,’ said Robin, sadly.

‘She left ’im for me, an’ now she’s left ’im… no, she’s lef’ me fr’im…’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘… lef’ me fr’im. Don’ be sorry. Y’re a nice person.’

He refuses to listen to her attempts to explain this during their brief meeting in Lethal White and does not return her first call to his office in Troubled Blood, a mystery I’ll discuss tomorrow. Again, Robin is spot on in telling Strike in Blood that “you’d never choose not to know,” but as with the other mysteries on this list, he has chosen not to know about Charlotte’s pregnancy or to investigate it to learn the truth. Serious Strikers, though, are obliged to ask themselves about it and to wonder why the super-smart Strike and Ellacott don’t ask themselves these questions.

(*) And the Ellacott-Strike relationship

Robin wonders when she learns from her mother that Matt and Sarah had come to Masham for Christmas why she hadn’t figured out that they would be together. Her refusal to put pieces together after Tom Turvey’s rude call and anticipate Matt and Sarah appearing in her hometown, though, is nothing compared to her (and Strike’s) difficulty in seeing what everyone around them sees — Lucy, Joan, Polworth, Ilsa, others — that the Libra-Sagittarius coupling is a natural and inevitable one. They both think about it, try not to think about it, and do everything possible to avoid speaking with each other or with friends and family about this central relationship of their lives.

It is, consequently, like the mystery of Leda Strike’s death, too big a mystery for my unanswered questions list! Tomorrow, I’ll share another seven mysteries that were raised in Troubled Blood, Rowling-Galbraith’s longest and most involved novel or screenplay to date. Until then, please share your comments in the boxes below about the mysteries related above and other series-wide blind-spots in the narrative thus far!



  1. Thanks for this John – it came at an opportune moment as I am just at the ‘Out all day. What about Tom?’ text from Matt in Lethal White (in my pre-Ink Black Heart Strike reread). It seems near-unbelievable that Robin appears to barely note that this – along with M being unusually reasonable about her spending the day away and Tom being astonishingly aggressive towards him at the dinner party – is basically cast-iron evidence of adultery. It is true though that specialists often overlook what is going on in their own families.

    I like your central point about the splitting of the single limited-omniscient viewpoint we’d grown used to in HP, which – as you say – was crucial to Rowling’s Austen-like narrative misdirection. Now we have a dual perspective – wider in many senses, but still limited – and maybe that very wideness is in itself a red herring. I’d add that we as readers have a slightly occluded access to it too – unlike in HP. For the first time – and fittingly for the detective genre (it reminds me a lot of PD James) – the protagonist knows things that we don’t when Strike knows whodunnit but the narrative voice doesn’t pass the info along to the reader.

    When Strike knows something and teases Robin with working it out for herself we are being kept out of one consciousness, but identify fully with the other!

  2. Hi, great read. I really enjoyed these questions you raised and I sincerely hope we get some answers, because until your article I didn’t know I needed it. Ha! The planning JKR masterfully weaves through her series makes me appreciate these stories so much, this must be why we can all read these several times without tiring. It’s so much more than a “who done it or will they/won’t they.”

    I would love if you did another podcast with your thoughts on what we might see in The Ink Black Heart and more on Troubled Blood! Anyway thanks for what you do, I love being a part of this fandom.

  3. Louise Freeman says

    I think we have been trained to be on the lookout for “that awful boy” moments, one of Rowling’s best pieces of misdirection, where the referenced boy Harry (and the rest of us) assumed to be his father was, in fact, Snape.

    That’s why phrases like “Strike had never known how Uncle Ted found out where they were living” jump out at us.

    Four small moments I wonder about:

    The Silkworm tells us Strike has two godsons that he hadn’t especially wanted. We met little Timothy Cormoran— is there a story behind the second?

    Troubled Blood also told us Strike was twice enrolled in elite, expensive prep schools: we’ve been told about Blakeley Prep, where he knew Charlie Bristow. Again— will the second ever be significant?

    The other mystery I wonder about is his medal ( Most casual acquaintances assume it was awarded for the explosion that cost Strike his leg, and Strike seldom bothers to correct them. The one exception is Robin; he told her he did not get the medal for being blown up, but for something that happened earlier, but declined to say exactly what that was.

    The last is the “Silver Minnow” memory…..

  4. Those are all mysteries I want resolved! Thank you for listing them 🙂

    I would add some more:

    1) Why does Strike keep mentioning the ashtray that he nicked in Germany? We know that Germany is where all the Brockbank debacle took place, but would he have kept an ashtray to remind him of this and mention it kind of fondly?

    2) Who were the roses from and what did the card say in CoE? Were they really from Matt to Robin or was it something else?

    3) One thing that keeps worrying me since Silkworm: did Strike give the “monkey” back to that crook who wanted him to beat up that kid? Or would this money be an excuse for them to be mixed up with this gangster? I know that 4 years have passed and nothing nefarious with this gangster has happened, but it worries me.

    4) When, where and why did he got his medal?

    5) Maybe this is a minor thing and not important, but I would like to know what was Robin’s uni.

    Also, I think that Cormoran is quite the unreliable narrator when it comes to things about his own life. Since he usually is spot on in his detective life, we may be lulled to believe everything he says, but I don’t think we can trust him when it comes to his own private life.

    Let’s see what new information about this we’ll get in IBH!

  5. And I just came up with another one while listening to LW: what about the threats of prosecuting Robin made by Mr. Winn?

  6. Louise Freeman says

    In addition to Brockbank, he also met Barclay for the first time in Germany. It would be a hoot if Barclay recognized the ashtray sometime.

    As for Winn, my guess is those were empty threats. If he filed charges against Robin, all the information about his charity theft and possible allegations of sexual misconduct would come to light and he does not want that.

  7. MissdeVine says

    With respect, I think you may have misunderstood the English education system in general and the Oxbridge entry process in particular. The vast majority of schools Strike could have attended would have prepared him for national examinations (GCSEs – he is too young for ‘O’ levels – and ‘A’ levels), and that includes the ‘rough’ comprehensive in Hackney where he first met Nick (As you point out, ‘Preparatory’ schools are private primary schools. As such they have little influence on the years of secondary education which actually prepare pupils for exams.)

    Although private school pupils are very much over-represented at Oxford and Cambridge, the unique system of interviews and assessments (combined in the 1990s with a general system of grants and loans and free tuition) enable gifted pupils from any background the opportunity to gain entry without tutoring or the intervention of influential parents. In fact, the suggestion of a rock star to an Oxford admissions tutor that they accept his son would probably have greatly hindered his chances of entry rather than helped so I am afraid that supposition is highly implausible. I am confident that even with an unorthodox education, Strike would have entered Oxford on his own merits and efforts, although an encouraging teacher may have given him some interview practice.

    As to his subject, he tells Robin in Lethal White (he may of course be lying) that he did not study Latin at Oxford; however JKR seems to say that his subject was at least connected to Latin in an interview from 2014: “I did do Classics at university, and in the Strike books, it [Latin] is a clue as to what he was studying before he left university‘’. It is a little difficult to see how these two statements can be reconciled given that probably the only subject in which one can become proficient at Latin at Oxford is Literae Humaniores (Classics) and there is generally no system of majors or minors at British universities. I look forward to finding out what he did indeed study.

    Briefly, on another subject, I do not find Polworth’s behaviour contradictory at all. Like many people he holds views with which I disagree, and in fact find repugnant; he is, at the same time, a kind and generous man who is loyal to his friends. I find him an example of JKR’s subtle and realistic characterisation, and reject the idea that those who hold opinions with which I disagree must be nasty people.

  8. Louise Freeman says


    Thank you for your insights to the UK’s University system. There have been recent scandals in the US with well-known celebrities greasing the palms of officials to get their kids admitted (often by setting them up to receive athletic scholarships for sports they did not play) so I’m afraid that colors our thinking. Good for the Brits if they manage to prevent that kind of stuff.

    I am curious about whether we will ever know the exact university Robin attended. It obviously was not Oxford or Cambridge. Matthew went to Uni in Bath, and it sounds like Robin’s was of higher prestige than his, given what she threw in his face during her farewell address about her scoring higher on her A-levels and getting into her top choice. (Proof to me, that Robin would be a Ravenclaw if Sorted). Any guesses as to what university it might have been? Ms Rowling’s alma mater, perhaps?

  9. Karol Jay says

    Instead of trying to create a backstory for why Dave Polworth is a nice, helpful guy, maybe we should be looking at the contrast between him and his opposite, Charlotte, and think about what it says about Cormoran’s journey in TB. Dave might be a boor, but he is also a giver, while Charlotte, who outwardly has it all, can never take enough to be satisfied. Cormoran experiences the kindnesses of Dave, Robin, his work associates (even Pat), and the nurse. On the other end of the give-take spectrum are Cormoran’s interactions with Charlotte, who may have given birth, but who sucks the life out of everyone around her.

    Cormoran hadn’t wanted to be a giver or a taker, his goal had been to be left alone, untouched by expectations and feelings, and annoyed by the people who wanted anything of him. So how did he go from being the walled-off, insensitive man at the beginning to the guy willing to go to a whole lot of trouble to make a friend feel appreciated at the end? I think Dave and Charlotte provide the contrasts and tensions in his life, the same as his Cornwall-London backstory, and Joan’s illness makes him question why he has been so determined to keep at a distance a woman (and others) who loved him. Who does he want to be? I don’t think it matters very much whether we get a Polworth story. What we get in TB is Cormoran coming to the realization that cutting himself off from family, friends, and new relationships doesn’t make him stronger or untouched by life’s cares, it just leaves him alone and makes him a selfish twat. Rowling presents us with two very different people and views of life and Cormoran makes a choice about what he wants to be. A big part of Harry Potter involved Harry’s acceptance of who he was and not running from the world. Perhaps Rowling is doing something similar with Cormoran.

    Btw, I think this is the burden he takes on at the end of TB, being engaged with the world, not hauling Robin around on his back so he can get on with the rest of life, even if they are undoubtedly related. Rowling has a way of misleading us, like expectations for a closer relationship at the end of Lethal White. Instead of being closer, they ended up pushing back against expectations. It will be interesting to find out if Rowling has done the same thing with the Mazankov and Krupov reference at the end of TB.

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