Guest Post: Is ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ the Prophecy of the Cormoran Strike Series? Strike5 and Treasure Island

Whodunit?: Some Thoughts on the Strike Finale by Chris Calderon

While predicting the future of a popular book series is something I’ll probably never be entirely comfortable with, the fact is I’ve got a rough idea of what could be in store for some of the main characters of J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike Mysteries. It all boils down to two ideas which, taken together, could form the briefest potential outline for the over-arching meta-narrative of the series: Who Killed Leda Strike? The rubric for this narrative involves echoes of one specific work from the Literary Canon. A good overall descriptor label for it might be:

The Treasure Island Scenario

The two ideas that make up this prediction go as follows.

(1) The solution to the mystery of Leda’s death could revolve around one giant, three part hunt for a definitive clue that will reveal all of the guilty parties and all potential motives. The nature of this Clue Treasure Hunt could be confined to just Books 6 and 7 or else it could always start with Strike 5 depending on how the author decides to move forward with her meta-narrative.

(2) This hunt for the vital clue would essentially make the final triad in the Strike series a literary riff or parody of R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island. This is what the basic outline of one possibility for the next three books amounts to. Strike and Robin might uncover a piece of information, possibly through one of Shanker’s contacts, that Leda left behind some very incriminating evidence that would throw open all the answers to her death. From there, “Mystic Bob” and His Gal Friday would be off on a hunt for the location of the major stash of hidden evidence along with hoping to uncover any reliable information as to its whereabouts.

Is Treasure Island a stretch for Rowling to use as her model? That book is a ring composition, as is the author’s Kidnapped, Rowling lives in Edinburgh, a city which lionizes its Stevenson legacy everywhere, and he is best known for his children’s books as is Rowling.

The Nature of Leda’s Clue

I have a very specific idea of what kind of clue would make sense on both a surface and thematic level that would help tie in Strike’s narrative with that of Harry’s. It all revolves around one of the inspirations Rowling has pointed to in the making of her books. It’s the hit single Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult. The reason why the song could serve as a useful series maguffin has to do with the nature and meaning of the song itself.

Despite its dark use, Don’t Fear the Reaper is actually a love song at its heart. Songwriter Buck Dharma explained what he was trying to get at with the song, saying: “The whole idea of the Reaper was that there was another sphere of existence, maybe lovers could bridge that gap if their love was strong enough (web)”.

When I first heard those words, it was sort of a jaw-drop moment. The irony is that one of the band-members has just given a perfect summation of the final meaning and nature of the entire narrative arc of the Potter saga. The lovers in question are parent and off-spring, rather than a romantic couple. Still, the core idea of the message Dharma is getting at stays the same. Besides which, there is such a thing as familial, as well as romantic love. Because of this, considering that Rowling has utilized the lyrics of B.O.C. once before in her latest series with Career of Evil, it would not be entirely out of left field if she used the lyrics highlighted by Dharma as the key clue that somehow figures in the solution of her death, as well as the delivery system of a kind of final parting word from a mother to her son.

Therefore I’m willing to go far enough to say that the final clue may consist in either a vinyl copy of the B.O.C./Reaper single, or else it’s Some Enchanted Evening, the album on which Reaper first appeared to the public. It is just possible that Leda would have thought to find some way to hide a clue to her tell-all, incriminating information in this hypothetical record in some fashion. Maybe Strike and Robin have to find a cipher that will help them discern the clue hidden in the lyrics of Reaper, along with maybe some of the other songs on the album. Or else, the clues are hidden somewhere within the album sleeve, or behind the label stickers of the record, or maybe the clue has been scratched into the grooves of the record itself. Either way, it would be the deciphering of this clue which would ultimately lead Robin and Strike to the hiding place where Leda stashed her explosive evidence.

It is this motif of the hunt for a clue that could carry the possibility of literary echoes of Treasure Island. The choice of framing the meta-narrative through the lens of Stevenson’s adventure yarn carries a kind of bonus in that it could help clear up plot threads regarding the role of Jonny Rokeby in all the proceedings.

Long Jon Rokeby?

A major complaint I’ve heard about the Strike series is that it’s lacking a big baddie. There’s no discernible Professor Moriarty to act as a foil to Strike’s Holmes. In spite of this, all the available evidence seems to point to the ner-do-well father figure of Jonny Rokeby as somehow having a vital connection with Leda’s death. The way Rokeby could function as the criminal mastermind of the series could be resolved with some speculative idea where it is revealed that Rokeby is not so much a Kingpin in the drug trade, but is rather something of a high-priced courier.

In this scenario, Rokeby has managed to parlay his position in a cartel by making himself one of those contact/delivery systems that are too valuable to touch. If he’s either killed or incarcerated, the whole operation of which he is a vital part of would collapse like a poorly made suit of armor held together by a single bolt. Therefore it would stand to reason that there are a lot of big names in the drug trade that would want to see to it that Papa Rock is made as comfortable as possible. At the same time, leverage would be everything for both Rokeby and his assorted employers. A number of these “gentlemen” would have the dope on Rokeby, and vice versa. The whole business arrangement would form one well balanced, yet precarious, whole.

The one thing that could throw a monkey wrench into all of it is Leda’s evidence. Here then, is how certain plot details could play out. It is revealed that Leda was indeed murdered. However, the exact identity of the killer remains a mystery, with multiple potential perpetrators listed as the one whodunit. This would include Rokeby himself, and the possibility would make him nervous, for he genuinely has no clear memory of the night of her death. Instead, it’s just a series of vague, drug-induced images where he and Leda are arguing. All he can recall before things went “out of the blue and into the black” was that he began to hit her, real bad too. Probably worse than any fight or argument they ever had. Then a dark pit opened up at his feet and he dived right in with the relief that comes from the total loss of memory, no matter what the regrets. It was better to live with a whole lifetime of regret of one sort or another than have to deal with what he might have done to a woman he once loved. He was “never very good on Speed,” after all. The next time he saw her, Leda was dead, and he was on the list of suspects.

When Rokeby and perhaps various other high-rolling players find out that one of his ex’s has stashed evidence away somewhere that could make anyone of them, everyone’s off to the races in a mad, bloody dash to reach the hiding spot and, if necessary, destroy whatever they find. Or else store it away as the ultimate leverage. “Dead men don’t bite, nor tell no tales”, after all.

It is here that seeing the entire plot of the next three Strike books as Stevenson Treasure Island analogues perhaps begins to make a bit more sense.

  • Leda’s evidence is Flint’s treasure.
  • Whitaker could be the stand-in of the trouble-making George Merry for this outing.
  • The Blue Oyster Cult song could be the map pointing the way, and
  • the drug cartel members are the blood-thirsty buccaneers involved.

Casting Rokeby as an analogue of Long John Silver also solves the problem of having a Moriarty for Strike to perform against. He could be introduced as someone who genuinely hopes he’s just a victim in all this, but he can’t be sure unless he sees Leda’s evidence. The trouble is what to do about his maybe son?

This is where Rokeby could take up where Stevenson’s swashbuckling mastermind left off. He can try and re-enact the role Silver played to Jim Hawkins by trying to be a father figure for Strike. Of course, like his piratical counter-part, he is a criminal who knows how to play sides depending on which direction the wind is blowing. In this way, Rokeby could try and finagle both parties in his increasingly obsessive journey to some undisclosed burial place.

The challenge for Strike would be to discover whether or not he can trust one of the handful of individuals he’s gone out of his way to avoid, and who he now finds himself stuck with as both try to uncover the truth. In this way, Rowling would have a very useful set of character dynamics from which to generate drama as each man grapples with the possibility that they may have to try and kill each other at some point. This would be a growing burden on Strike if, like Jim, he actually does begin to bond with daddy-dearest. The only way it can get worse is when/if Rokeby finds a way of using Charlotte as leverage over Strike.


It has to be kept in mind that all this is just a hypothesis. In the end, the best evidence that all of these potential parallels, from ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ and Treasure Island, is that they correspond with Rowling’s ongoing book by book commentary and parodic exegesis of her own Hogwarts Saga. The Blue Oyster Cult song in this thinking acts as the Prophecy revelation does in Potter5, Order of the Phoenix, and Treasure Island is something akin to the Orestes myth in Harry Potter. In this way, the Strike saga would find ways to echo and mirror Harry Potter while still having an identity of its own.

Please let me know what you think, Serious Strikers, in the comment boxes below!




  1. Evan Willis says

    Fascinating hypothesis. There is definitely something here surrounding the album cover for Don’t Fear the Reaper. So far as my quick research has shown, the album in which it was first released was not Some Enchanted Evening, as you suggested, but Agents of Fortune. Both Agents of Fortune and the single release of Don’t Fear the Reaper feature as their album art a secret-agent-looking character holding four Tarot cards: Sun, King (undetermined suit), Queen (undetermined suit), and Death. That this should illuminate (sun) the death (death) involving a mother figure (queen) and a father figure (king) feels like something Rowling might do. Tarot as again figuring in the resolution to 6 perhaps. That a prophecy should be stolen by a secret agent rings very parallel to the prophecy in HP 5.

    Also, ring narrative-wise, it seems reasonable that, now that we are passed the middle of a ring of seven, the start of chapter/part references should cycle back in reverse order. Thus 5 featuring Blue Oyster Cult, 6 tragedies, and 7 Latin literature (perfect if the start of the Trojan war parallel following the wedding should occur). Now whether 8 then features local government regulations is beyond predicting.

  2. Evan Willis,

    That’s a very good catch on the potential thematic links of the B.O.C. album cover (and apologies for getting it’s name mixed up with another record). You might have just made an additional discovery I didn’t see.

    Then again, I’ve never really read any Tarot cards in my life, so it figures I’d miss that. You may also be onto something with the final three books being an inversion of the first three series titles, as well.

  3. Mr. Granger,

    I shared with you a minor bit of trivia about how the local dialect of Cornwall might have affected the popular image of how pirates speak in imaginative fiction. It turns out this minor bit of trivia sort of led to something that “could be big” (unless it’s not). Less than a day after submitting the article above I got to thinking or half-remembering something: “Didn’t King Arthur have something to do with Cornwall?”

    I looked up both words together and ran right into Tintagel Castle and Merlin’s Cave. Strike’s designated home is steeped in Arthuriana. The interesting part is that these sites connected with both myth and history do not exist in isolation. In addition to the Camelot connection, Cornwall used to be a smuggler’s paradise. Back in the 18th century thieves and pirates of all sorts used the various coves in and around the Cornish coast as centers of operation. Tintagel seems to have had a connection with all this courtesy of the Trebarwith Cove, which is just to its south.

    Right away we have two genre settings in one, with the medieval fantasy of Geoffrey of Monmouth combined with the exotic Boy’s Own Adventure of Stevenson. The literary links don’t end there, however. There’s a popular Cornish destination that forms a real life tie-in with Rowling’s chosen Noir genre. The place is the Jamaica Inn. It used to serve as a meeting/gathering place for both pirates and local outlaws.

    Its reputation was enough to inspire mystery author Daphne Du Maurier to write a novel named after the titular establishment:

    The question is does this mean anything at all? To answer that, let’s take a look at Cornwall from a literary perspective. The landscape’s history offer a triad of genres packed into the same amount of square space:

    Geoffrey of Monmouth: Fantasy.
    Stevenson: Adventure.
    Du Maurier: Mystery/Noir.

    Ms. Rowling is a demonstrated, capable hand in all three styles of writing. So here’s a
    hypothetical question. What if Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” was placed right in or around Arthur Pendragon’s birthplace? In other words, what if the finale of the Denmark novels takes place in Strike’s hometown; a place that encompasses at least two of the author’s interests, and which could include a third in the form of the Stevenson angle?
    The idea that Ms. Rowling might collapse three texts (Arthurian Myth, the prototype swashbuckler, the detective novel) into one for the “Strike” finale is just something occurred to me once I understood the two pieces of information I was looking at. It’s also helped me clarify how Leda’s (potential) Treasure Hunt could serve as a mirror of the Horcrux Hunt in “HBP” and “DH”.

    The way it could work is that in Book 6, Strike and Robin (plus Rokeby?) can find out about Leda’s clue. Trying to decipher it can lead to Rowling’s “Nick and Nora” on a hunt to track down whatever other pieces of the puzzle they need to solve the clue. The solution (involving “Don’t Fear the Reaper”) points in one direction: Cornwall/Tintagel.
    Book 7 could take place with Strike and Robin arriving home on the Cornish Coast (maybe with Rokeby, Charlotte, and Whitaker hot on their heels?). Maybe they can even establish the Jamaica Inn itself as their base operations. The rest of the novel would consist of heroes and villains combing up and down the various coves looking for the hiding place of Leda’s evidence. At last the twin gumshoes narrow down their possibilities to just two places: Arthur’s Castle (what’s left of it), or Merlin’s Cave. The complication is that Rokeby might find out about this as well. I don’t know whether it’s right or not to hope for a “Battle of Tintagel Castle”, or anything too on the nose like that. I mean, “Gunfight at Ye Olde Corral”? Seriously?

    The ending that could work would feature a repeat of the denouement of “Cuckoo”. There is at least one way it could come about, while also serving as its own “Reichenbach Falls” moment. Strike and Rokeby both manage to dig up Leda’s evidence. The trouble is they’ve lost valuable time, and the tide has been rising in Merlin’s Cave, forcing them to take an unsafe shelter on the higher rocks of the cave wall. In addition, the waves are restless and fixing to do something. It looks like both men are about to become a statistic when Robin shows up in a boat (maybe piloted by Shanker). Strike could have trouble getting into the boat (he may have lost his prosthesis by this point) so Rokeby surprises everyone by helping him into the boat. The rock star could then act like he’s about to follow, only to give the boat a hard shove away with his foot, deliberately leaving himself to the waves. Shanker is forced to pull away because the waters are getting too dangerous this close to land. The last we see of Rokeby is his silhouette waving at the power trio before a wave crashes and batters the spot he where he was standing. When it recedes, Rokeby is gone.

    This is all just spitball theorizing, backed up with nothing but a whole lot of fancy (as opposed to Imagination). The one thing I’m not about to object to is being proven wrong. Still, the history and folklore surrounding Cornwall do offer enough thematic possibilities to at least make one wonder, if nothing else. Otherwise, what I wrote in the article above still stands.

  4. OK, so recently I’ve been trying to get up to speed on Tarot and it’s influence on Rowling’s writing of Harry Potter. So, this is extremely timely given the fact that the Blue Oyster Cult Agents of Fortune album cover includes—you guessed it—Tarot Cards.
    We all know that Tarot features in Divination Class, as Trelawney performs readings. We also know that the “Lightning Struck Tower” chapter title is a reference to a Tarot Card (The Tower, which depicts lightning striking a tower). The Levicorpus spell is a nod to “the Hanged Man” Tarot card. Also, I believe that the 7-part structure of the series is a nod to the 7-card Horseshoe reading in Tarot. Note that we have Horses and Tarot in that previous sentence, (maybe a stretch but) a Harry Potter and Strike theme overlap made clear through Tarot and made concrete through the reference to a Blue Oyster Cult album.
    I haven’t worked it all out yet, but I think it may go deeper still, with further connections between the alignment of Tarot cards to alchemical elements to astrological signs and planets to the Decans. I need to work that part out, but at the very least what we can say is that Hogwarts is a school of Hermetic magic: Tarot, Animals, Alchemy, and Astronomy–these are subjects that we know Rowling is steeped in and has incorporated into her work. The Blue Oyster Cult logo is a “stylization of the astronomical symbol for the planet Saturn.” The Agents of Fortune back album cover includes an image of Saturn above a pyramid. The front cover depicts a magician (or spy? or both?) holding Tarot cards. “The album cover depicts someone holding 4 Tarot cards “based on Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot: Death, The Queen, The King, The Sun. ”

    Here, with the BOC reference, it looks like we have a puzzle piece that both unlocks the intertextual commentary (as in “Harry Potter is a puzzle wrapped around the Tarot, among other Hermetica like Alchemy and Astronomy., just as Strike is”) and an autobiographical nod (as in, “I (JKR) first got interested in these esoteric subjects by listening to Blue Oyster Cult and looking at their album artwork.”).

    Also–the theme of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is the theme of Harry Potter–overcoming death through love. This theme was picked up by Rowling from Richard Wagner in his Ring Cycle (I’ll post more about that later and elsewhere) and there are many echoes and nods to Wagner throughout the JKR corpus. Including this song and its meaning is another concrete connection between the Potter saga and the Strike series and it’s significant that she uses popular music in the Strike series to leave clues that the Potter series incorporates classical motifs (or leitmotifs).

  5. Bob, Mr. Granger,

    I can’t say I know how Tarot applies to Arthurian myth. However one thing I forgot to mention in my last comment was how the Tintagel connection might form a mythic/thematic link with Strike’s character background. A nice summation of the legend of the Castle goes as follows:

    “In Geoffrey’s Historia, Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, puts his wife Igraine in Tintagol while he is at war (posuit eam in oppido Tintagol in littore maris: “he put her in the oppidum Tintagol on the shore of the sea”). Merlin disguised Uther Pendragon as Gorlois so that Uther could enter Tintagel and impregnate Igraine while pretending to be Gorlois. Uther and Igraine’s child was King Arthur. Some events of the Tristan and Iseult legend are also set at Tintagel (web)”.

    The basic description of the whole situation makes me wonder if there might be an influence that Rowling could draw from when it comes to filling in the blanks in terms of Rokeby being Strike’s biological father.

    The reason why has to do with the legend saying that Uther pretty much helped conceive Arthur by “taking advantage” of his mother. Mightn’t Rokeby have done the same thing when it comes to Leda? Does this in any way clear up the whole dating problem with the paternity issue if, say, Rokeby had Leda drugged first, before, well, “taking advantage” in another context? Maybe he could have procured the knock-out drugs from Whitaker, thus making him an accessory to statutory non-consensual, and then later murder?

    Does that do anything to alter the facts if they are looked at from the Arthurian angle? Just a question. At the very least, going that route would have the advantage of fitting Rowling’s previous approach to this sort of material. She would (hypothetically) be parodying an older text (i.e. Geoffrey’s “History”). In turn, the parody would act as both a satire and critique of the overall moral nature of figures like Uther, and maybe even Merlin. The underlying theme of this potential parody would then fit in with, and continue her theme of violence (and violation) against women. At the same time, it could be that Geoffrey’s original text was meant to highlight the classical tragic flaws of his heroes by showing them in a less than heroic light. In that case, “if” Ms. Rowling were to take a creative path like the one outlined in both the article and laid out here, it would count as a continuation of Geoffrey’s themes.

    I can perhaps go so far as to offer that this reading, on an alchemical level, would make Leda and Jonny an example of a flawed coupling. The King and Queen can bring forth an alchemical infant, yet it causes them both to be put in the grave. I’m sure there’s more to it, yet I can’t quite trace the symbolism of such a sequence of events.

  6. Joanne Gray says

    It has been 36 weeks now (November 23, 2018) since JKR gave us an update about Strike Book 5—and even then it was just to say when the scene she was currently working on was taking place: October 9, 2013, Robin’s 29th birthday. The trouble was even that bit of information actually left us with more questions than we had before hearing it since it meant the scene she was writing was taking place over a year later than the September 2012 date when Book 4 ended!

    It’s not an exaggeration to say that we feel a bit overdue for an update. Or at least overdue for a clarification of where the revealed big gap falls in the timeline of Book 5.

    On the subject of Treasure Island possibly influencing the story line of future Strike books—I actually think that a case could be made for a bit of a Treasure Island echo already having made an appearance in the fourth book, Lethal White.

    In Stevenson’s Treasure Island the book starts by introducing a character named Billy Bones whose treasure map starts the whole adventure in motion. In Strike Book 4, Lethal White’s case begins with the introduction of Billy Knight (who could be seen as an amalgamation of Stevenson’s two characters: Billy Bones and Ben Gunn (“a man of questionable mental stability”). Billy Bones provides the map and Ben Gunn provides the eventual treasure.

    In Lethal White Billy Knight, who also seems of questionable mental stability, provides the mystery and enough clues to lead Cormoran to “map” out where Billy has gone and to eventually find where the secret is buried. It’s a secret that needs to be dug up in order to reveal the long buried truth that will finally set Billy free. His treasure is for peace of mind.

    More echoes from Treasure Island may yet make an appearance in future books because there are definitely family secrets still hiding in Cornwall. One of the biggest themes in Lethal White was how those pesky old ghosts (white horses) of the past (i.e., Rosmersholm) remain behind amongst the living in order to haunt the family they left behind.

    Just like in Rosmersholm, there are unanswered questions about Leda’s birth family. Why are we never given Leda’s (or Uncle Ted’s) surname? Why was she was so desperate to marry and change her name with the quickie wedding to the original Mr. Strike, a man she barely knew? How is Ted such a rock and his sister Leda the total opposite and the very definition of a rolling stone?

    Finally, I am one of those who really wanted there to be a serious series rival—someone who had close matching skills to Strike but to serve as a bit of a dangerous, more ruthless, rival. I still have some hope that Mitch Patterson, who was introduced in Lethal White, may yet prove to be that character.

    I wish I could get behind Jonny Rokeby as the possible series villain but so far there is no one even remotely an echo to the HP villain. I realize there won’t be—nor should there be a larger than life fantasy Voldemort figure in Strike. Rather there just needs to be someone who has some of that palatable danger—a menace of a very real human sort. So far Jonny Rokeby is not anyone who instills fear by the mention of his name. He’s rather someone “Who Is Only A Name.”

    Since there is a major unsolved murder at the heart of the series it’s inescapable that at some point Leda’s killer will need to be introduced. And in order for that killer to have a real emotional impact on the story and those in it—it will be necessary for that character to be established in the story ahead of time. It goes without saying that the longer that introduction is delayed in the series, the longer it will be before the final resolution can take place.

    JKR did not sound like she was bringing Jonny onto the pages of Book 5. (She confirmed that Al Rokeby would appear but not Jonny. I realize now that I was in error—this means that she has actually given us two bits of information about Book 5: A date within the book (but not where inside the book) and that Al Rokeby, but not Jonny, will appear.

    The Strike series may indeed be 10 books by the end, especially if we are waiting for Jonny to show himself the main villain. At this point we have only Whittaker as a possible Leda villain. I’m still hoping Book 5 will begin to shine some light on who this villain may turn out to be—especially if the gaps between books stretch to several years.

  7. Wonderful thoughts, Joanne.

    I think you made a connection with a Twitter Header and the Harringay Crime Syndicate in a previous Strike5 post’s thread. Won’t the head of that Syndicate, who was put in jail on the strength of Strike’s testimony, be sufficiently powerful and vicious if he arrives on the scene in Strike5 as you’d expect in parallel with his mention-without-appearance as the bad guy in Strike3?

    I’m still all in with the White Horse meaning in the end street heroin — your first guess before Lethal White’s publication — and that we’ll see an Afghanistan tie-in to the drug trade, a Rokeby connection to the LA arrest of a band member and ‘what Leda knew,’ as well as, egad, an incest twist in Strike’s background a la Rosmersholm.

    But the Crime Syndicate bad guys are essential for all that to come together in a wow revelation. Please tell us about that Twitter header again but in a post!

  8. Joanne Gray says

    Thank you John. You are so right about the Harringay Crime Syndicate possible connection for Book 5–especially given Rowling’s one time Twitter header showing St John’s Gate that hints at the Clerkenwell/Harringay area of London being a location used in the plot of Strike Book 5.

    I just did a quick search and was surprised to see that there are several very recent articles (2018, 2019) about the real life Crime Syndicate that appears to be the inspiration for JKR’s Harringay Crime Syndicate and Terence “Digger” Malley. I am going to write something up today and tomorrow and send it your way. Hope it will hit on some promising, possible Book 5 directions.

    Thank you for the reminder–I was feeling a bit down about the total lack of new information for what seems like a year, that I neglected to see the trail right in front of me.

  9. “Digger Malley is our Voldemort.”

    Looking forward to discussion of that possibility in your Guest Post, Joanne!

  10. For anyone interested, I hastily scrawled out thoughts on the connections between Wagner, the Ring Cycle, and the works of J.K. Rowling:

  11. Joanne,

    It took a while, yet I just realized how “Reaper” could figure as the prophecy of Book 5. So I think I kind of owe you thanks for the comment above for giving me at least some clue how that could even come about.

    You mentioned that you heard somewhere that Al Rokeby would make an appearance in Rowling’s fifth novel. Well, what if he makes an appearance under the express order of his dad? Let’s take it a bit further. What if Al is there to deliver both a message and a package to Strike on behalf of “our mutual relative”? In other words, your words made me wonder if it wouldn’t make sense for Rokeby to be the one to deliver Leda’s “Reaper” album clue to Strike in the hopes that he can decipher the puzzle.

    The underlying setup could be that Rokeby already knows that his ex-wife has a stash of evidence hidden away somewhere. He just doesn’t how to find it or where to look. However, he does know that she’s left a clue somewhere in the “Agents of Fortune” album. The trouble is he can’t decipher it on his own, so he needs someone who is good at cracking clues. It’s with this in mind that he hands over Leda’s clue to Strike, hoping that he will be able deliver the hiding place over to him. Rokeby’s plan could be learn the location from Strike and then beat him to it before he even has a chance of reaching the x marked spot.

    The way things could work out is that Al can deliver Leda’s message somewhere in the middle of the action of Book 5, only Strike doesn’t take it all that seriously as (1) he’s in the middle of another case and (2) his low opinion of Rokeby makes him neglect it until after the current case has been solved. The rest of CBS 5 could then go on (hopefully) as Louise Freeman predicted, with Strike solving crimes in an academic setting (hopefully in Oxford, and with an embedded history lesson about how the Liberal Arts curriculum is its own form of Literary Alchemy). Otherwise, Al’s delivery can be regarded by Strike as just a bit of unfinished business that can wait some other time.

    Book 5 could then wrap up on a cliff-hanger epilogue in which Strike decides to knuckle under and at least take a look the package “dear old dad” has sent him. Such a scenario has the added bonus of being an echo of the Dumbledore meeting where the prophecy is revealed. In Strike’s case, what can happen is he merely unwraps the album from its package and looks at it, confused. Then he could see something, like maybe his mother’s initials on the album cover somewhere. This gets him taking a closer look at things. He begins to notice tell-tale signs of clues hidden in the package. At last, he begins to realize why the package was sent to him, and with all the reluctance in the world, he picks up the phone, and dials Rokeby’s residence.

    That is the note the fifth novel could end on. Book 6 could start almost where it left off, with Holmes and Watson getting to meet Prof. Moriarty in person. What “could happen” is Strike and Robin reach a deal with Rokeby (in effect making him their client?) whereby they agree to see if Leda hasn’t left some sort of clue to her death behind, and things proceed from there.

    This setup does allow for further literary thematic connections to “Half-Blood Prince”, “Silkworm”, and “Chamber of Secrets”. Each of those novels is about a main character trying to decipher a text or piece of art that is vital to the narrative they are in. “Prince” echoes “Chamber” in that both center on Harry trying to decipher the works of unknown authors. In “Chamber” it’s Riddle’s diary, in “Prince” it is Snape’s. “Silkworm” finds Strike having to figure out Owen Quine’s decadent roman a clef for clues to the author’s murder. Book 6 could see him pouring over Blue Oyster Cult’s “Agents of Fortune” looking for Leda’s clue(s). The idea of Rokeby hiring Strike would also provide a perfect thematic Ring book-end to “Cuckoo’s Calling” by having a criminal hire a private detective with the goal of making the gumshoe help cover up his crimes.

    It’s at least one possibility.

  12. It’s taken me a while to put something together, but I’ve written up some thoughts on the role that the “Agents of Fortune” album cover plays in the Strike series. This is the album that features “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” The cover features a magician holding 4 Tarot cards. These cards are, I believe, key to interpreting not only Strike but the intertextual commentary at play between Harry Potter, Strike and the other influences she’s woven throughout her work–Yeats, Ibsen, etc.

  13. In case you don’t want to read my tortured prose, here’s the nugget you’re looking for:
    The clue is in the fact that the Magician on the Agents of Fortune album cover is holding four Tarot Cards from the Aleister Crowley Thoth Deck:
    – Death
    – The Empress
    – The Emperor
    – The Sun

    If you cross-reference these cards with the Rider-Waite deck, you have four cards bookended by two white horses–one for Death and one for the Sun. Also a variant of the Rider-Waite deck includes the Empress with swans.
    Now, do you begin to see it? The Dioscuri riding white horses (Leda’s children, the Boxer and the Horseman, whose symbolism is applied to Strike/Robin). The Rosemersholm connection to Death and the white horse. “Lethal White.” The swan, of course, for Leda. This connects us to Yeats and all the allusions Rowling makes to his work (and to the Golden Dawn). The Swans bookending Lethal White. The mentions of Catullus who offers a prayer to the Dioscuri. On and one–the key to unlocking the web is in the Tarot Cards. Also, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is about how love overcomes death. That is the theme of the Harry Potter series, with all its reliance on Christian lore, the occult, and Wagner’s Ring. That is the emerging theme of Strike as it’s being drawn out through the intertextual and symbolic webs.

  14. Bob Rectenwald,

    After giving it some thought, my thinking about your article on J.K. Rowling’s use of the Tarot as a structuring device for her work goes as follows. Before setting out, please know that I mean what follows only in the best possible spirit of constructive dialogue. I can’t help thinking there might be flaws in your theory. However, you do turn up enough genuine information, facts that are, on examination, of enough literary critical value that I’m also forced to say that I just dismiss all of it entirely. The criticism proper comes to just a handful of points.

    When it comes to Aleister Crowley, I’ve never been able to shake the bad vibes I get from this guy. D’mico’s article on Crowley’s appropriation of Ibsen has really done nothing to change that opinion, I’m afraid. If anything, all it does is serve to cement it. I’m also not convinced that Rowling has any real influence from Crowley on her use of Ibsen. I think she’s going more along official critical lines when it comes to using that playwright’s legacy.

    As for the Order of the Golden Dawn, after a lot of reading, what I’ve come away with is the conclusion that when anyone examines that group, they’re really just looking at a bunch of con-artists, shysters, and frauds. When it comes to their use of alchemy, and the like, I’m convinced that they are deliberately picking, choosing at random, and distorting the work of orthodox Catholic scholars like Marsilio Ficino and Pico Della Mirandola. I think that’s the real story of the modern occult, that’s it’s all based off the theft and distortion of the doctrines of Renaissance Christian Humanists. Therefore I have a hard time believing what the GD says about a lot of things.

    Interestingly, when it comes it A.E. Waite, he comes off as one of the few positive examples. His story seems to be one of falling away from a lapsed Anglicanism that he never really knew in the first place, to an interesting in the symbolism of literary alchemy, which, in turn, eventually lead him to convert to Catholicism. For all the ornateness of his style, Waite seems to have had a remarkable ability for keeping his head while others around him were losing theirs. He seems to have realized early on that he was dealing with frauds in the GD, and left accordingly. I do wonder if part of his post-GD efforts were all about cult de-programming. If so, he was a better man than I’ll ever be.
    Again, when it comes to literary alchemy, ma own studies lead me to believe it is all to do with the Humanism of the Renaissance on the Christian side, and that modern occultism is really just a bowdlerization and (what’s worse) historical obfuscation of a much nobler strand of theology. Because of this, I’d advise caution about who gets labeled an occultist. Crowley definitely earns that title. And I’ll have to admit Barbault is an astrologist. However I’d be more careful when it comes to MacNeice and Marchan. Indeed, Marchan tends to come off as a good example of the theological strand mentioned above. The same goes for Nora Purtscher.

    As for Rowling herself, the whole tone of the thing makes believe she has her tongue firmly in cheek. I tend not only to agree with Mr. Granger’s thesis that Sibyl Trelawney is an embedded author reference. I’m also convinced the character is also meant to be seen as a gentle, yet firm jab at modern new age occultism in general. I think part of her narrative strategy with the figure is to highlight a lot of the short-comings of such a system of thought. Sibyl is a great believer in fate. Yet Rowling always drives that it is the ability choose which determines a person’s character. Therefore we have a distinct division between the beliefs of a character and her author.

    That said, I do have to admit that the parody horoscope is a genuine discovery. If approached in the right way, I think it can begin to help shed as least some kind of light on the author’s literary influences. Right away, a brief look into some of the names she checks leads to a literary grounding in the works of Blake, some of the Modernists through MacNeice, and Rilke through Purtscher. So already we have a wide a sophisticated reading pallet.

    The only other thing I have to disagree on is the idea that Rowling is obfuscating when it comes to the Freemason symbol from “The Man Who would be King”. I know the words were never meant to be taken in such a light. However, it’s also easy to understand why more casual readers could see those same words as being taken as somewhat callous. The charge could be raised that the critic is letting his own preconceptions get in the way of an honest human moment. For my part, I don’t believe she was obfuscating at all. I think it was just a genuine moment of unconscious memory, working as a partial influence. I’m far from believing that such things can happen, especially in the career of artists. In that sense I do believe it was all part of the actual coping process.

    Finally, there is the core element of the article. The one I can’t just throw away. I would argue that you might be onto something in the claim that Rowling might be using the Tarot cards, at least in part, as a device for plotting certain elements in the future Strike novels. With that said, I tend to want to take a more cautious, wait and see approach to how she could use these elements, if at all. If (and only “if”) “Agents of Fortune” should prove to be the major plot maguffin of the Strike series, then it is not an unreasonable assumption that the symbolism of the album cover could play a part, as well any of its songs the author might feel inspired enough by to act narrative elements that move the plot along. Maybe it will go as far as you say. Then again, who knows? That’s about as far as I’m willing to go when it comes to guessing what comes next in the series.

    That said, it is gratifying to note that someone else has figured that a B.O.C album and/or song could figure in the resolution of the Strike. And I do agree that there C.G. Jung’s psychology might exert an influence on her thinking.

  15. Hi Chris – thanks for engaging… my posts about Tarot in J.K. Rowling’s work is a sort of mid-stream processing of my own thoughts about the connections. I’ll say, I’m convinced that she most definitely is using the B.O.C. Agents of Fortune album cover as a key and the symbols on the Thoth and Waite Tarot cards as “clues” and that readers are meant to understand the Strike series in light of them. In fact, I’ll say that the unfolding series is a way of puzzling out the symbols of Death, the Empress (Venus/feminine), the Emperor (Mars/male), and the Sun. I’m re-reading Career of Evil and noting things like the way that she cites Patti Smyth as the author of some B.O.C. lyrics–specifically “The Revenge of Vera Gemini”. Why that detail? I believe it’s because Rowling, through Tarot and Ibsen and other symbols, and through a male pseudonym, is constantly plucking the string to sound the gender issue. Note the mention of the Gemini/Dioscuri in the Patti Smyth reference. Note also the refrain: “Oh, no more horses, horses / We’re going to swim like a fish.” I think the gender issues in the Strike series are the continued interplay between the Empress/Emperor archetypes, which also brings in the swans and Leda and Johnny Rokeby, etc. Why can’t a woman write a book like this? Why is it less of a concern if a severed limb were sent to Cormoran than to Robin? Why can’t Robin track a serial killer? or be a detective? All of this keeps harping on the issue of man/woman, Mars/Venus, Rowling/Galbraith. Once the Tarot connection is established in Career of Evil, we move on to Ibsen in Lethal White, where we’re playing with the symbols of the white horses on the Death and Sun cards, dealing with endings and possibilities, while also playing with the Empress/Emperor connection of the “will they or won’t they” between Robin/Strike (Venus/Mars) and also how they’re intertwined as Castor/Pollux which is also playing up Rownling’s own game as a male/female author as Galbraith/Rowling. Rosmer/Beata as a foil to Cormoran/Robin tied to the white horses and the Emperor/Empress Tarot cards. I expect this to continue to develop as she continues to play with the symbolism and the archetypes invoked in the cards. I also think that she’s purposely connecting the two series by means of her use of Tarot and this is a key to unlock the mirrored structure of the two series.

    As for your assessment of the Golden Dawn, I think it may be similar to Rowling’s own take on them. If we take Trelawney as a Rowling figure in the Potter series, then we have both a person who demonstrates her immersion in the world of the occult but also her criticism of it. She doesn’t actually believe in it, though she knows an inordinate amount about it. She’s been influenced by authors who did believe in the occult, however, like Yeats, and she’s done her homework. I love that she’s led me to read more books than I would have had I not become enamored with her work, from classics I’d never taken the time to read to strange and obscure manuscripts. The hermeneutical detective work is so much fun.

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