Cormoran’s Song: “Twenty Thousand Cornish Men Will Know the Reason Why”

On the thread to the post inviting reader discoveries of links between Troubled Blood and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Evan Willis wrote:

The song Strike sings at 808/813, an unofficial anthem of Cornwall, has two names: “Song of the Western Men” and “Trelawny”(!). The connection to Phoenix is great here: the central Prophecy via Cornish Nationalism. My favorite performance of the song is here:

That’s a pretty version, sure enough, but not the way the sung is usually sung, that is, by drunk rugby revellers and pub crawlers. Note in this version that the men sing without reference to notes and invite the crowd to join in the chorus — everyone in Cornwall is taught this song, in English and Cornish, as part of their primary school education:

After the jump, Rowling’s previous mention of the song, the full lyrics, and its importance to grasping Cormoran’s transformation at last into the Cornish giant for whom he was named —

Beatrice Groves wrote about the possible appearance of ‘Song of the Western Men’ in her 9 September discussion of potential links between Order of the Phoenix and Troubled Blood:

The connection between tarot and fortune telling is particularly interesting given the putative link between the fifth Strike (Troubled Blood) and the fifth Harry Potter (Order of the Phoenix). The fifth Harry Potter centers on a prophecy made about the hero’s birth; and the importance of prophecy (or at least tarot) and the year of the hero’s birth in Troubled Blood form a tempting correspondence. But particularly interesting is that the person who makes this prophecy in Phoenix is both the only person in Harry Potter who has any interest in tarot and the only person in Harry Potter with a Cornish name.

Rowling has written about Professor Trelawney:

I love Cornish surnames, and had never used one until the third book in the series, so that is how Professor Trelawney got her family name. I did not want to call her anything comical, or which suggested chicanery, but something impressive and attractive. ‘Trelawney’ is a very old name, suggestive of Sybill’s over-reliance on her ancestry when seeking to impress. There is a beautiful old Cornish song featuring the name (‘The Song of the Western Men’).

“The Song of the Western Men” was written by Robert Stephen Hawker in the early 19th century, but it is believed to be rooted in an earlier folk song. It has become an unofficial anthem of Cornwall and is regularly sung at Cornish rugby union matches. (Given Rowling’s love of rugby, it is possible that both Trelawney’s surname and Cormoran’s “Oggy” nickname derive initially from songs she heard sung at rugby games.)

Here are the full lyrics, with the passages Cormoran sings to Robin highlighted in red:

A good sword and a trusty hand!
A merry heart and true!
King James’s men shall understand
What Cornish lads can do!
And have they fixed the where and when?
And shall Trelawny die?
Here’s twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!

And shall Trelawny live?
Or shall Trelawny die?
Here’s twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!

Out spake their Captain brave and bold:
A merry wight was he:
Though London Tower were Michael’s hold,
We’ll set Trelawny free!
We’ll cross the Tamar, land to land:
The Severn is no stay:
With “one and all,” and hand in hand;
And who shall bid us nay?

And shall Trelawny live?
Or shall Trelawny die?
Here’s twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!

And when we come to London Wall,
A pleasant sight to view,
Come forth! come forth! ye cowards all:
Here’s men as good as you.
Trelawny he’s in keep and hold;
Trelawny he may die:
Here’s twenty thousand Cornish bold
Will know the reason why

And shall Trelawny live?
Or shall Trelawny die?
Here’s twenty thousand Cornish men
Will know the reason why!

If you’re asking yourself, “So What?” that’s great. Here’s my first entry in this conversation for your comment and correction.

Strike5, as we long expected, is the alchemical nigredo of the Cormoran Strike series, a dissolution of self towards re-invention and reintegration. In the beginning chapter, he is disdainful of Dave Polworth’s Cornish nationalism and his harsh pragmatism (via Anna Karenina!) with respect to why a man should marry. At book’s end, he is singing the Cornish national anthem with gusto and thinking fondly of the Tolstoy characters Polworth quoted at the start. What has happened?

In brief, Strike has been broken down to his constituent beliefs over the course of Troubled Blood, his ‘prime matter’ in alchemical language, out of which broken pile’s clarified and essential elements, the new person will assemble himself. There is “water everywhere” throughout the book, beyond the flooding and rain a phrase Rowling-Galbraith uses twice explicitly as a pointer to Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, which would make the alchemical neophyte think it must be the second stage of the alchemical work, the cleansing albedo.

The water, here, though, is the universal solvent, not a cleanser; Strike experiences the solve of solve et coagula in its pages through the experiences of his Aunt Joan’s death, the demise at last of his emotional captivity to Charlotte Campbell (he apologizes to Robin!), and his realization of and reflections on how differently he understands and encounters the world than his biological mother, Leda, the anti-Nancarrow of his life. He realizes he must break from the thoughtless user and abuser of women he has been, for one thing, most clearly represented by his inability to give a proper gift (!). He notes, too, that he has a home country, Cornwall, which is an identity that sets him apart and perhaps above men who lack such a grounding (or who are English…).

The singing of this song is, as Prof Groves predicted and Evan Willis notes, the equivalent of The Prophecy Harry Potter learns in the Order of the Phoenix Dumbledore denouement, not only because of the delightful Trelawney link, but because ‘The Song of the Western Men’ is a symbol of the nigredo’s end. Strike has been broken down and found his personal logos or defining essence, prima materia, in his roots as a Nancarrow. His desire to hear again his Aunt Joan say she is proud of him, as she did on her death bed, and the singing of ‘Trelawny’ are markers that at last the Cornish giant has realized who and what he is.

So, now we know the song that Serious Strikers will sing at our first convention at The Victory in St Mawes! I hope you’ll be there to raise a glass and sing along with us. Let me know what you think in the comment boxes below.

[An aside, I will be writing up my notes and Ten Take-Aways for Parts Six and Seven of Troubled Blood. Thank you for your patience! Just having to track the importance of the Death figure and Naked woman on the last pages of The True Book to the Dice Players in Ancient Mariner is taking some time, not to mention the tarot spreads and ring charting!]


  1. Beatrice Groves says

    Very interesting John! Certainly one of the references of the title was Strike discovering that blood isn’t thicker than water (although we all think, don’t we?, that he’s going to find out that Rokeby isn’t a blood relation after all…).

    I love the thought of us all at The Victory 🙂

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    How far, if at all, may Hawker as author of other poems enter the picture? – I think of ‘The Quest of the Sangraal’ and ‘Aishah Schechina’ first, because those are the ones I know best, but a closer browse through his Poetical Works might be worth someone’s while (is his ‘Ichabod’ relevant to another recent work…?). There are lots of scans in the Internet Archive.

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