Exceptions to the Peter-John Rule? John Bristow, Dolores Umbridge, Matt Cunliffe

The Peter-John Rule as explained in Christmas Pig 1: Jack Jones, Peter, John is that Rowling, after a historic and semi-Biblical understanding of Sts Peter and John (and James, St John’s brother, the Sons of Thunder) as representative of the two sides to faith in Christ, names her Bad Guys ‘Peter’ and her good guys ‘John.’ ‘Peter’ in this post-Reformation understanding stands for the formal and legal aspects of Christianity, ‘Church-ianity’ in current jargon; Catholicism with its scholastic bent, celibate male priesthood and hierarchy, and its legalistic front is the Petrine church in the Western binary of Vatican vs Reformed or Protestant churches. ‘John’ is the esoteric, inner, or real faith in Christ with the relatively free-form or ad hoc theologies of the Reformers and their insistence on individual conscience as the ultimate authority being the Johannine pole in the binary.  

Rowling adopted this rule as her own, the theory posits, because of her family history and experience. As explained here with confirming testimonial evidence from family here, her father, Peter John Rowling, was an abusive or negligent father or both. For starters, according to his oldest daughter, dad wanted his first child to be a boy, chose the name ‘Simon John’ for what he hoped would be his namesake (‘Peter’ in scripture was originally ‘Simon bar Jonah’), was disappointed he had a daughter instead, and never really let go of his disappointment. The name ‘Joanne,’ there being no female equivalent for ‘Peter,’ seems to have been chosen to assign her his middle name of ‘John’ as well as the mother’s ‘Anne’ name; ‘Joanne’ is from ‘Johannes’ the Greek original of ‘John’ and the second Rowling daughter was named ‘Dianne.’

Rowling characters, consequently, are named ‘Peter’ or ‘Simon’ if they’re bad men and ‘John’ or ‘James’ if they are good guys. Rowling’s father, of course, had both names, with ‘John’ appropriately as his middle name, his secret ‘inner essence,’ which loving and spiritual aspect of his , as one pundit put it, the surface and patriarchal ‘Peter’ aspect murdered. See the exploration of Rowling character names in Christmas Pig 1: Jack Jones, Peter, John  for the wicked ‘Peter’s and ‘Simon’ and the benevolent ‘John’s and James’ from Harry Potter to The Christmas Pig as well as Rowling’s jumping on the Spenser contra-Catholicism train in Troubled Blood. This has significance to those reading the Cormoran Strike novels because Strike’s father is named ‘Jonny’ and the rock star’s barracuda barrister is named ‘Peter.’

This Peter-John Rule, really more of a working hypothesis, has led to other insights in Rowling’s work, most notably, that Bad Dads are the origin of evil in the world, something like Satan, and Maternal Love in her work is divine, even a symbol of Christ’s love (Johannine theology stems in large part from the Logos Prologue to that evangelist’s gospel and from the “God is Love” teaching in his epistles). Discussion of the Mom-Dad, Christ-Satan symbolism in the parallels between Order of the Phoenix and Troubled Blood led to the first serious objections to the Peter-John Rule.

Louise Freeman noted that there were ‘John’s in Rowling’s books who were very bad guys indeed.

So, was it narrative misdirection to have the first batshit insane killer of the series named *John* Bristow? For that matter, “Janice” is a variant of “Jane” which also shares an etymology with John. So, though John may signal virtue in Rowling’s work, it’s also a variant of 2/5 (or six given the Raff-Kinvara partnerhip in Chiswell’s death).

‘Janice’ we can throw out as a ‘John’ derived name because it was clearly meant to be understood, as Elizabeth Baird-Hardy pointed out soon after Troubled Blood was released, as ‘Janus,’ the two-faced god of Roman mythology. John Bristow, however, is seemingly a pronounced exception to the Peter-John Rule; he’s the Bad Guy murderer in Cuckoo’s Calling, after all. Louise later pointed out that ‘Matthew John Cunliffe’ was also a ‘John’ without redeeming qualities. The other seeming exception to the rule is the universally deplored ‘Dolores Jane Umbridge,’ the star representative of law and government, the Petrine establishment in other words, in Order of the Phoenix.

I think, though, that a closer look at these supposed exceptions to the rule turn out to be demonstrations of it. Join me after the jump for how these ‘John’s and ‘Jane’ who are Bad Guys fit in and even highlight the meaning of ‘Peter’ and ‘John’ in Rowling’s work. It’s worth your time if you are a Serious Striker because John Bristow’s fate may be an important clue to the series ending in Strike7.

Let’s start with ‘Matthew John Cunliffe,’ the Strike series character Louise Freeman has tagged with the nickname “Flubberworm.” I think we can agree that poor Matt is nowhere near Umbridge and Bristow territory on the villains chart but he is definitely not a Good Guy. He was unfaithful to Robin during her convalescence from having been raped and committed adultery when they were married. Matt consistently worked to undermine Robin’s vocation as a detective and to force her into the harness of an obedient and subservient wife to her husband. Matt is rightly jealous of Cormoran Strike, and, though he has moments of repentance and support to his much more talented and self-reflective mate, he eventually becomes border-line violent and abusive when she confronts him with evidence of his infidelity. Not a Good Guy.

This is an interesting find and I don’t want to discount it; it certainly seems an exception to the Peter-John Rule. I think, though, it is more akin to the use of ‘John’ in ‘Remus John Lupin’ than it is to ‘Dolores Jane’ and the the Bat-Shit Insane Bristow Boy.

Remember Rowling’s father’s name is Peter John Rowling. According to the Peter-John analysis marker mentioned above,  in a Freudian turn in Rowling’s digestion of that pairing in her father’s name, the first name murdered the middle name quality which was his ‘heart’ or hidden, inner essence. She was named ‘Joanne’ for that essence and has taken it as her own, that of Johannine spirituality.

Her characters, then, with ‘John’ (or derivatives) as their middle names may be less ‘Good Guys’ straight up then those with ‘John’ as their first names. Lupin famously abandons wife and child to join the Terrible Trio on their Horcrux Hunt in Deathly Hallows; the ‘Remus’ lupinity was killing his ‘John’ essence, in other words, before Harry rebuked him as a Bad Dad in their House of Black confrontation. To Lupin’s great credit, he reversed course to become a hero in the Battle of Hogwarts.

And Matthew? His greatest fault is that he is a schmuck, one easily manipulated through his vanity by Sarah Shadlock, a master of that craft. Matt just isn’t the equal of Robin in intelligence, character, or vocation, not to mention in contrast with Strike in which comparison only his good looks and relative youth count in his favor. Robin in Troubled Blood, however, thinks Matt will be a good dad, with the reservation that this will be true only if his children conform to conventional categories and thinking.

Matt’s given first name, ‘Matthew’ means ‘Gift of God’ and this is largely his self-important idea of himself. He is universally known as ‘Matt,’ however, which suggests ‘door-mat,’ pointing to his being used by others more than being capable of independent thought and action on his own. The ‘Matt’ murders the ‘John,’ alas, the life he might have had if he could have embraced living with a woman who is in almost every way his superior as such. Rowling-Galbraith may be pointing out in the Matt story cycle and in the Cratylic names just how hard a choice that is for a man, one Dr Murray seems to have made successfully.

We know relatively little about Dolores Umbridge (for which paucity of information I think we should be grateful) but it is not that difficult to see that her ‘Jane’ middle name is much akin to the Peter Rowling ‘John’ than to the first named ‘James’ and ‘John’s in the Rowling Character Multiverse. Dolores, ‘the grieving one’ or ‘grievous person,’ killed her inner ‘Jane.’ (As an aside, if the ‘Janus’ explanation of Troubled Blood‘s ‘Janice’ does not suffice, she can be thought of as the Strike5 parallel to Phoenix‘ Dolores Jane. Their corresponding girlish unattractiveness and decorative taste make this echoing, along with the names, more obvious than the previously suggested Saul Morris, whose name makes him the equivalent of Sirius Black.)

And John Bristow, the remaining exception to the Peter-John rule? Three quick ideas to salvage the set:

(1) Not Really a John: He was an adopted child, hence it is possible even likely that ‘John’ is no more his real name than ‘Bristow’ is his given surname, especially given his adoptive mother’s predilection to deny her adopted children had mothers and families before her. Lady Yvette wanted a ‘John,’ as all mothers do, and got, well, ‘what she got.’

(2) Narrative Misdirection: Rowling may indeed have given Bristow the Good Guy name, as Professor Freeman suggested albeit I think with a touch of sarcasm, to trick the Rowling Reader into accepting him as a White Hat. It is certainly why she chose to make Bristow, contra detective fiction conventions, the person who hired Cormoran to find Lula’s murderer; who would suspect that guy of being Lula’s murderer himself?

(3) The Rokeby Parallel and Ring Possibility: Bristow, as the first Bad Guy in the Strike series, the adventure in which Strike “becomes a name,” has an especially important name. ‘John,’ though it, as Louise Freeman explained here, is not etymologically the same as Jonny Rokeby’s real first name, ‘Jonathan,’ is resonant and suggestive of Strike’s father’s first name. Strike is very much in conflict with his father’s agent in Cuckoo’s Calling, the lawyer Peter Gillespie, and winds up all but murdering the ‘John’ in his life who is paying his bills which include the note he owes ‘Jonny.’

The murderer in the first book, from this view, is the mirror image of Strike’s father whose name he kinda sorta shares.

  • Bristow is a Bad Guy indeed but one who rescues Strike and his Detective Agency from bankruptcy; he is embraced for all his faults until the very end as a Good Guy.
  • Rokeby, the looming Jonny of the overarching story, in contrast is the negligent father who is a Good Guy only in the sense that his parental indifference helps Strike transform into the Avenger and agent of justice he has become, but who is also in that otherworldly role as Jupiter-Zeus-Deus-Pater seemingly the ultimate Bad Dad and source of all Strike’s problems.

We see in the finale of the Harry Potter septology a profound role reversal between Harry and his Headmaster from that in the first book of the series. In Philosopher’s Stone, Harry is rescued by Dumbledore in the circular room miles beneath Hogwarts and all but raised from the dead after three days in the Hospital Wing. In Deathly Hallows, Harry confers with the dead Albus Dumbledore in the otherworldly King’s Cross and realizes in that meeting what he must know to defeat the Dark Lord, a confrontation consequent to his rising from the dead and the beyond.

Is it so wild to think that the end of Cuckoo’s Calling prefigures a similar reversal we will see in the end of Strike7, albeit one in which John Bristow is the inverse image of the finale’s Rokeby? In this scenario, Strike realizes something (in reflection on something his late father told him?) that gives him exactly the insight he needs to overcome a seemingly impossible obstacle or challenge.

John Bristow in the finish of Cuckoo tries to murder Strike and only Robin prevents Strike from killing his client in self-defense. I think it is credible to think Rowling has the series sufficiently well planned that the end of Strike7 will include a Stone-Hallows like parallel in which the Bad Guy Jonny of the first book is somehow the deliverer in the finale and in which Strike resolves his ‘Peter John’ issues vis a vis Gillespie and Rokeby. In this internal Oedipal victory externalized, he will be able to enter qua Castor-demigod into a loving relationship with Pollux-Robin at last, much as Rowling may have struggled in her life to do the same and settle into a marriage with her relatively mortal physician spouse.

That’s putting a lot of weight, I know, on the Peter-John Rule and its corollary Dad-Satan/Mom-Christ hypothesis, not to mention the Parallels Series Idea and our working premise here that the Strike Series is written as a seven book Ring Cycle. All of these outside-the-conventional-box ideas have to be correct for the Bristow-Rokeby Inversion possibility to be true. That may be a bizarro stretch for most readers, but I’ll put down a marker made via extrapolation of these several theoretical suppositions that Strike7 will reflect Cuckoo’s Calling as a reversed mirror image as Hallows does Stone and that the John and Jonny characters will be the subject and object of that inverse reflection.

And The Peter-John Rule has no exceptions to date. 

Your comments and corrections are coveted as always.

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