Dylan Thomas and Cormoran Strike: Three Thoughts on the Congruence

Like you, I hope, I watched the 2014 video ‘Dylan Thomas: A Poet’s Guide’ yesterday, one I posted with Chris Calderon’s thoughts. I was struck by three things during its run in light of the idea that Strike7 will be somehow the finale of the series’ first set of novels, all in correspondence with their analog numbers in the Harry Potter series. If Rowling, per this hypothesis, has written the series to climax in some fashion at the seventh instalment, why would she choose the poetry of Dylan Thomas as her epigraph source? 

Join me after the jump for three thoughts inspired by the introductory critical-biography-video, thoughts about the congruence of pube-haired Thomas’ life and the themes of his poetry with Rowling’s life and work.

(1) The Lake and the Shed

Rowling in 2019 shared that the metaphor of her creative process that she had taken as her own years before was that that of ‘the Lake and the Shed.’ The Lake was her symbolic representation of what she explained in 2019 was her “unconscious” mind, elsewhere and earlier as her “Muse,” a super-conscious source for her inspiration. The Shed was her depiction of an alocal place or space to which she retreated to work on this glass-like inspired blob of story-substance to work her artistry magic to turn it into a proper book.

She said nothing then about the origin of this metaphor, as essential as it is to her self-understanding as artisan and craftsman. It was hard to miss, though, in the Owen Shears video, the Lake and the Shed moment in Dylan Thomas’ life, the writing shed of his Boathouse home in Laugharne, Wales, with its view over the estuary of the River Taf. The video below is cued to that section of the documentary.

This is, of course, as likely as not only a coincidence, though the credible possibility of the young Jo Rowling, as a comprehensive student or Exeter undergraduate visiting Wales and West England’s most famous writer’s haunts makes it a fascinating “coincidence.” That Rowling may have begun the Strike series with the seventh book as her “end in mind,” as the ring evidence strongly suggests she did, and that she may have had Dylan Thomas as her target epigraph source for this novel, makes the Lake and Shed congruence that much more interesting. (See ‘My Grandfather Dylan‘ for more views of the River Taf estuary  from Thomas’ Shed.)

Have the epigraphs of Dylan Thomas been guiding the writing of the Strike series as Rowling claimed the Aeschylus and Penn epigraphs she chose for Deathly Hallows after writing Chamber of Secrets did the Harry Potter series?

(2) “Mortality and Morality”

To both Ian Parker and Charlie Rose in 2012 Rowling explained in answer to questions about Casual Vacancy that she was obsessed with “mortality and morality.” Watching the Owen Shears critical review of selected poems from Dylan Thomas, it was hard not to be struck by the depth and consistent focus of the Welsh poet’s musing about death. While Strike fandom has been meditating on ‘When, Like a Running Grave‘ for obvious reasons, it seems more than likely that we will be reading epigraph selections taken from ‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion,’ ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,’ and ‘A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London.’

There are few modern poems known by casual readers of poetry as well as these, with their signature lines of ‘Though lovers be lost, love shall not/ And death shall have no dominion,’ ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’ and ‘After the first death, there is no other.’ Rowling once admitted in an interview that she was not a great reader of poetry, someone who retreated to her garden for meditation on a collection of sonnets. I suspect, given the “bombshell” that went off in her life at her mother’s demise and her consequent “obsession” with death, that she may, despite her preference for prose, have spent some time by her inner Lake with the poems of Dylan Thomas.

(3) The White Horse Tavern

Kurt Schreyer noted on twitter last month that Dylan Thomas died in New York City after an epic binge at the White Horse Tavern, one of the few Thomas pilgrimage sites that Owen Shears neglected in his documentary critical biography. The Wikipedia page for the White Horse includes this bon mot about the poet’s demise:

The whiskey was a good start. I got the idea from Dylan Thomas. He’s this poet who drank twenty-one straight whiskeys at the White Horse Tavern in New York and then died on the spot from alcohol poisoning. I’ve always wanted to hear the bartender’s side of the story. What was it like watching this guy drink himself out of here? How did it feel handing him number twenty-one and watching his face crumple up before the fall of the stool? And did he already have number twenty-two poured, waiting for this big fat tip, and then have to drink it himself after whoever came took the body away? (Michael Thomas Ford, Suicide Notes

I’m obliged to note that the inebriated Thomas only claimed to have had 18 shots, almost certainly an exaggeration, and that he didn’t die “on the spot.” Still, The White Horse Tavern is an excellent place to commit suicide by fluid, as Cormoran Strike readers know, because of the white horses in Ibsen’s Rosmersholm that appear at the death of those who throw themselves into the mill-race. This play is the epigraphical backdrop to the fourth and pivotal Strike novelLethal White, one that, if the 1-4-7 ring axis completes the way the 1-4 books link up (see here, here, and here), means that we will see white horses again, perhaps in connection with the resolution of the Leda Strike suicide mystery. (For the white horses of Lethal White, see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here; this is not something I’m blowing up into a big deal just because of the possible Dylan Thomas connection. There is even a post about ‘White Horse Taverns’ here because of the two in Lethal White.)

Serious Strikers, too, when reading of Thomas’ death by drink as likely as not recall the two times that our heroes tried to drown their sorrows with alcohol, occasions in which the other arrives as a guardian angel to see them home safely. In Cuckoo’s Calling, it is Strike who attempts to drink himself into oblivion after learning that Charlotte Campbell was engaged to marry Jago Ross only weeks after their break-up. Robin appears ex machina to steer him to a ka-bob shop and then home to Denmark Street. Cormoran returns the favor in Career of Evil by finding the drunk Robin, broken after the discovery of her husband’s infidelity, and seeing her safely to a local B&B for the night. He ups her ‘save’ in Cuckoo by preventing her murder by the Shacklewell Ripper who was trailing her that night.

Are these lovers-suicide-in-grief-by-drink adumbrations for scenes to come in Running Grave? If the epigraphs of Strike7 are all from Dylan Thomas in addition to the title, his death, supposedly from alcohol poisoning consequent to his shot-record at The White Horse Tavern, that may well be. Especially as, unlike the binges of our heroes in Strikes 1 and 3, there is a great deal of mystery that surrounds Dylan Thomas’ death, which is to say, few of those who have read his autopsy and are aware of his various health challenges believe the drink was what did him in.


Two quick notes before I wrap this up —

First, was anyone else struck in Chris Calderon’s post by the use of Thomas’ initials? ‘DT’ is more often used as a shorthand for delerium tremens, a side effect of drinking too much alcohol. If you’re thinking, “So what?” please read this Guardian piece on Thomas’ death and how the misdiagnosis of delerium tremens is a more likely cause of his death than alcohol poisoning.

Second, I confess to being struck by another coincidence in my relation to Rowling’s work, a personal thing. When I’m asked how I saw the literary alchemy, esoteric Christian content, and chiastic rings of Rowling’s work before anyone else, I cannot claim any special genius or discovery consequent to intense study. I recognized these things because, like Rowling, I was aware of them due to my interest in those subjects. The ghosts find was consequent to reading Nabokov critical literature and recognizing the Psyche and Cupid mythological backdrop to reading Jungian analysis of folk tales, but the big finds were happy accidents or coincidences of my background interests and life experience with Rowling’s.

The Dylan Thomas piece, though, is just weird. I knew nothing about Thomas or his poetry until I was accepted as a PhD candidate by Swansea University in 2016 and traveled there to meet my thesis advisers. Swansea was Dylan Thomas’ birthplace and longtime residence; the town is filled with blue markers on buildings with associations to him and the University has expert faculty dedicated to study of his work. One of them, John Goodby, who acted as the lead consultant on Shears’ film and appears several times in it, was my first ‘thesis secondary adviser.’ I want to think his retirement soon after was not due to my first year’s work, but I cannot rule that out.

I look forward, consequently, to learning more about Dylan Thomas in the run-up to the publication of Running Grave. Should DV my thesis pass muster, I will be attending the Swansea University convocation this spring or summer to pick up a diploma. If the stars align and my thesis readers give my last chance effort a thumbs up, I hope Nick Jeffrey and I can make a side trip to Laugharne, Wales, to take a look into Thomas’ Shed and out onto his ‘Lake.’



  1. Mr. Granger,

    Now this is all kinds of interesting levels of serendipity. I’ll confess it’s difficult to know whether to scratch one’s head in puzzlement, or else just say congratulations! Hope the thesis evaluation works out.

    As it stands, what I am convinced of is the idea that Rowling got her Shed/Lake image as metaphor for the artistic process quite possibly from a visit to Thomas’s own writing place. Beyond that it’s difficult to know quite what to say. The level of correspondences you list between Rowling, Thomas, and then your own exploits and experiences come off as all kinds of Jungian-Nabokovian levels of coincidence. What makes it all the more “curiouser and curiouser” is that you’ve wound up meeting individuals with either direct or important connections with one of “Galbraith’s” own epigraph choices. It’s one of those things where, if someone else hadn’t brought it up, it would be of no consequence whatever. Now on the other hand? Who can say. And perhaps human limitations mean its best not to speculate too much.

    One other thing I can bring up, however, is something else I learned in the course of studying Thomas’s life and poetry. It revolves around what you describe as the “mystery” surrounding DT’s death. Would you believe it if I said that the poet has his very own Carl Oakden to thank for the kind of reputation or notoriety he enjoys today? His name was John Malcolm Brennen, and Thomas wasn’t long beyond the veil before Brennen wrote up and published “Dylan Thomas in America”. The picture it paints of its subject is the kind of caricature of the poet that most American readers probably still carry around in their heads. That is, at least, when they can ever arrive at any notion of Thomas at all. Very few do, sadly. I’m guessing that list includes most everybody here, until “Strike 7” arrived on the scene, anyway.

    This is all something I found about while combing through whatever Thomas resources I could find within easy reach online. Specifically, it was a BBC Arena documentary: “Dylan Thomas: From Grave to Cradle (2003)” which first alerted me to what might now be termed “The White Horse Myth”. You’ve written above about wanting to know what the barman at the pub thought about Thomas’s last night as a patron? Well, I believe the link below will help provide anyone else curious about all that with as much of the closest thing to an honest answer as any of us are likely to get from here on in:


    I bring this topic up because of the way it “might” (with any luck?) shed some light on certain aspects of what we’ve seen so far in the Denmark Mysteries. For instance, it is possible to see how Brennen’s “Paradise Park” text could have inspired both Oakden, his paparazzi fanfic, and how it all obscures the life of one of the writer’s most famous fictional victims, Margot Bamborough. I’d even go so far as to wonder if John Brennen’s little mythological embellishment of Thomas’s life might even help play into the central mystery at the heart of Rowling’s latest series, the life and death of Leda Strike. This is all just some further food for thought that “might” be of relevance later on (unless of course, it’s not).

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Here I thought everybody knew something about Dylan Thomas! Isn’t he generally anthologized (these days)? I think we had ‘Fern Hill’ in high school (rather than just me choosing to write about it for an assignment). It has some memorable horses, and twice-repeated use of the colour-adjective “white”, though not ‘white horses’ so described:

    And nightly under the simple stars
    As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
    All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
    Flying with the ricks, and the horses
    Flashing into the dark.

    And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
    With the dew, come back […]
    So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
    In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
    Out of the whinnying green stable
    On to the fields of praise.

  3. D.L. Dodds,

    Sad to say, I don’t recall being taught anything about Thomas in high school at all. In fact, until recently, he was just a name in passing, and I think all I knew of him was the “Good Night” poem. Even then, it wasn’t the whole verses in itself that I was familiar with. Just the most famous quotes. Something tells me this is the way of things for the majority of the audience. The worst part is that’s probably how it will stay until “The Running Grave” reaches its release date, and then it’s a matter of hoping the quality of that book will be enough to get people interested in the Welsh writer as an artist in his own right.

    The only explanation I’ve ever had for such a state of affairs is C.S. Lewis’s distinction between how all readers fit into one of two categories: the Many and the Few. The real kick in the teeth is that even Lewis was under no illusion that the Few were always outnumbered by the Many. The best phrase I can think of to describe such a state of affairs would be pathetic. Yet it’s also a bit remarkable, considering it has always been the Few throughout history who have kept good literature alive.

    On another topic, Mr. Granger…

    I’m pretty sure it’s going to be difficult to believe what I’ve just dug up while trying to find an answer to one of Prof. Dodds other Thomas related questions. Long story short, while looking for one thing, I turned up another. It’s a book called “Who Killed Dylan Thomas”, by David Thomas (no relation). Its synopsis goes as follows: “Who and what killed Dylan Thomas? The death of this iconic writer, in New York in November 1953, remains shrouded in mystery fifty-five years later. What might have been a triumphant new departure in his career and life with the first production of “Under Milk Wood”, and plans to work on operas with Igor Stravinsky and Samuel Barber turned instead into a requiem for man whose life spiraled out of control.

    “Was it alcohol abuse, diabetes, a heart attack, medical incompetence – all reasons previously advanced? And was Thomas himself at fault? What part was played by his lover, Liz Reitell, her doctor Milton Feltenstein, hospital doctors McVeigh and Gilbertson, the literary impresario John Malcolm Brinnin?

    “Leading Dylan Thomas authority David N. Thomas draws on his extensive research, and uncovers startling new evidence, to produce the definitive answers in a superbly written account which balances historical context with forensic detail, Thomas’ character with the demands made upon him by friends, lovers and his reading public. His verdict is a chilling study of a poet, a place and a death”.


    Yeah, so, in order to help put all that in a very ironic perspective, I’ll have to use “Troubled Blood” as an illustration. Part of the task the detectives face in that mystery is separating fact from fiction between conflicting accounts given between Carl Oakden and other sources. The addition of the Dave Thomas book means it’s almost as if that fictional conflict has now somehow come to life, only it involves the ultimate fate of a famous writer. The summary paints a picture of death by neglect, in essence. The author claims that Dylan Thomas was done in by a protracted form of exploitation in New York. The list of suspects given above are the ones sharing a joint guilt in the affair, and it posits that Malcolm Brinnen’s own “Paradise Park” text was churned out in an effort to cover all their tracks by creating the caricature that the poet Thomas has been saddled with ever since. If I’m being honest, wading through all that puts me in mind of Pascal’s complaint about not being able to sit still in a room.

    It gets even weirder than that, however. I didn’t come here to play one-up. I’m just curious how it will sound to hear that after learning of all the various connections you have with DT sources, Dave Thomas has gone and written another book about the Welsh poet? This one is a fictional story entitled: “The Dylan Thomas Murders”. And no, I can’t claim to have made any of this up. Here’s a synopsis:

    “Waldo: a loner, an obsessive, the son of a famous writer – but which one? His mother Rosalind: did this old lady really work for MI5? Rachel: poet, Jew, Quaker – why is she taking such risks for the sake of friendship? Martin: her husband: retired academic, amateur detective, who is tested to the limit by events past and present in his new home in rural Wales.

    “In this chilling mystery winding around the secret life of Dylan Thomas, each of the characters is confronted by the legacies of parents to their children. None of them could guess how stories from the past would shape their lives, and plunge them into elemental and dangerous relationships of their own. Set in the Aeron Valley and in Corsica this intriguing and ingenious novel is imbued with the spirit of Dylan Thomas. It marks a chillingly authentic fictional debut”.


    You want to know the really weird part. Ridiculous as it might be, there are bits and pieces of that synopses which carry an eerie number of parallels to plot points and a lot of the themes Rowling has been tackling lately in the “Strike Series”. In particular, it’s the line of children confronting the legacies of their parents that jumps out at you. Because I’ll swear that’s just about what’s bound to happen to “Galbraith’s” main lead sooner or later. And here it sounds like a complete stranger has written a book on similar, if not exactly identical lines. The book’s publication date is listed as 2002, so there’s no question of plagiarism. Though it does open the door to speculation of whether this is a text Rowling might have read for herself at one point. All I know is this must be what Tolkien talked about when he said “way leads on to way”. Perhaps that second book is something worth looking into in the run up to “Strike 7”, or not. I just bring it to everyone’s attention because of an ironic bit of relevance.

  4. Here to say I had the privilege of reading on the White Horse Stage at the NYC Poetry Festival. That and Chumley’s, which went the way of all things mid-pandemic.

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says


    That is astonishing! Having been cheerfully Dylan-Thomas ‘conscious’ for my whole life since at least a teenager (or did I encounter A Child’s Christmas in Wales even earlier?), I have not dug into the scholarly/biographical literature, or – clearly – even kept up with just what I’ve been neglecting! I happened to hear some very sad things about his family life from someone who knew them well, but never anything like any of this! Deliberate parallels with ‘Thomas’ mysteries and sorrows by JKR?RG seem plausible to me .

  6. D.L. Dodds,

    Your last comment managed to jog a piece of memory. It turns out that I grew up with what might be termed a second-hand snippet of Dylan Thomas’s writings growing up. It was a blink-and-miss-it moment of preview for a 1987 TV adaptation of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”, starring Denholm Elliot. I was very young at the time, and this was just a passing bit of information that was just a parcel of a larger preview of other Christmas themed shows. The dramatization of Thomas’s memoir was just haphazardly thrown in there, among the mix. The key thing to note, however, is that this was all the extent of my knowledge of it at the time. I haven’t really gotten around to paying attention to this particular piece of writing until the release of the title for “Strike 7”. In essence, it took the efforts a seemingly disconnected author to somehow take a passing bit of childhood, and then bring it full circle somehow. It’s another bit of seemingly strange coincidences that her latest book keeps conjuring up.

    As for Thomas’s “Christmas Tale”. Like I say, that will be interesting to look into sometime after “Book 7” has been gone over, and then there might be another reason for revisiting “The Christmas Pig”.

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