How to Think About ‘The Ink Black Heart’ – Seven Guides for Making Predictions

@CormStrikeFan, the twitter handle of, tweeted the list above early in December last year with the comment, “Here’s a predictions checklist for The Ink Black Heart you can fill in.” The thread beneath the list includes StrikeFans’ own choices and some of the Serious Strikers who follow these tweets shared their checked lists, too.

I’m of two minds about the list.

On the one hand, it’s a brilliant idea, a handy compilation of plot point options from which the reader who knows the story well will get profound endorphin hits while reflecting on the likelihood of each occurring in Strike6. It took some real self-restraint not to print out a copy of the StrikeFans list and start checking boxes myself.

On the other hand, the list is really disappointing. Only two of the possibilities on offer require anything more than having read the series (the one about “The Black Heart Pub in Camden” and the other about Marilyn Manson). There isn’t a hint or suggestion beyond the “Swans appear somewhere” that any of the literary artistry and meaning of the Strike series that we have discussed here at HogwartsProfessor thus far might be helpful in predicting what will happen in the coming books.

After the jump, to correct this failing I will share a one-step introduction to the seven subject guides with which Serious Strikers here read the adventures of the Peg-Legged PI. I’ll add brief prediction possibilities that each guide suggests as things to look for. The good news about this exercise is that, though there is little chance that I will hit on the actual Rowling-Galbraith plot points or story, I will be using the tools and ideas that have helped us understand the five books we have in hand and which will definitely be deployed in the exegesis of Ink Black Heart.

(1) Ring Composition (series): Rowling, as is fitting given the pronunciation of her maiden name and principal pseudonym today, writes in rings. If you are unfamiliar with ring composition or chiasmus, I wrote a brief introduction to Mary Douglas’ work and its relevance to reading Rowling right here. The neat thing we learned in the Hogwarts Saga was that not only are the individual books written this way, the series is a turtle-back structure, too. We’ve seen that Lethal White echoed Cuckoo’s Calling (here, here, and here for refreshers), as should happen in a seven book series in which the fourth piece will be the ‘turn,’ and that Troubled Blood corresponded with Career of Evil in detail resonances and thematic points. The Ink Black Heart, on this model, should have a host of meaningful parallels with The Silkworm, as Half-Blood Prince did with Chamber of Secrets. 

The StrikeFans list of possibilities includes “Case centers around the music industry” and “Case centers around students/uni life.” If Heart is in parallel with Silkworm, the music industry seems a much better bet because Strike2 was all about the publishing industry. Knowing that it is possible Strike’s first meeting with his supposed biological father might have been on Denmark Street, it is easy to imagine Rokeby’s autobiography text, a second Bombyx Mori and one mentioned in The Silkworm, could be to rock-n-roll history what Owen Quine’s ghosted novel was to the history of his convoluted relationships. Look for Marilyn Manson lyrics as possible epigraphs here, the way Blue Oyster Cult’s were used in Career of Evil, if this is the case, a choice sure to send the Twitterati Sirens into prolonged hysteria given his history.

(2) Literary Alchemy: Rowling is a writer with the hermetic formula solve et coagula tattoed to her right wrist. It’s there as a reminder that her personal and professional aim is self-transformation and re-invention in her own life and to foster the same in the reader’s experience of her stories. She does this in large part through her deployment of alchemical sequences and symbolism, most notably the black-white-red stages of metallurgical alchemy. Strike’s agony in Troubled Blood was his dissolution or nigredo akin to Harry’s in Order of the Phoenix. The events of Ink Black Heart will be the ablutionary albedo or ‘white stage,’ in which he will be cleansed of delusion and prepared for the final chrysalis and revelations of the rubedo or ‘red stage.’ Harry Potter learned about the Horcruxes which set him up for the challenges of Deathly Hallows; my bet is that Strike discovers in his conversations with or reading of Rokeby and interviews with others, especially Peter Gillespie, what he needs to know to begin solving the mystery of Leda’s demise. There will be swans, albedo standards, silver, moonlight, water, rain, snow, and booze galore. The mystery of Charlotte Campbell’s lost pregnancy I have to think may be in play, too.

(3) Literary Allusion/Intertextuality: Lethal White and Troubled Blood have been astonishing achievements with respect to using a classic piece of literature both as a template and the object of Rowling’s re-invention and critique for her new stories. Strike 4 used Ibsen’s Rosmersholm and Strike 5 Spenser’s Faerie Queen for their epigraphs, allegorical content, and, incredibly in Blood, even its structure. Predictions about Ink Black Heart that do not attempt a guess of which book or genre Strike6 will use ignores just how important Rowling’s choice of template is. The best guesses so far on this count have been made by Beatrice Groves and Kurt Shreyer inThe Mystery of the Ink Black Heart,’ in which they argue that Shakespeare’s sonnets are a likely source of Rowling’s Strike6 epigraphs.

Because so many of these sonnets were written to encourage a hesitant friend to marry and reproduce, that intertextual echoing would be a rich vein to explore for Robin and Cormoran as well as Nick and Ilsa and the difficulties conceiving a child (figuratively with Strike-Ellacott, literally with their good friends). Strike’s own conception in a New York bar and Charlotte’s lost child could be part of this referencing as well.

I’m curious, too, about the parallels between the Sonnets and their equivalent numbers in the Book of Psalms, a subject explored by Alastair Fowler in Triumphal Forms: Structural Patterns in Elizabethan Poetry and by Ira Zinman in Shakespeare’s Sonnets and the Bible: A Spiritual Interpretation with Christian Sources. Scholarship suggests that the Bard of Avon wrote his sonnets with the Psalter as his literary backdrop something like what Rowling has done with her epigraph sources in the Strike series. Forgive me for wondering if she is not highlighting the spiritual substance of her work in choosing the Sonnets which have the Bible as their intertextual core reference.

(4) Mythic TemplatesSince Joanne Gray broke the mythological code of the Cormoran Strike series — see the post she and I wrote in 2017 about Rokeby and Leda as the Swan and Zeus as well as Cormoran and Robin as Castor and Pollux, the semi-divine boxer and the all-too mortal driver — we’ve known that this is the core myth of Galbraith’s books. See the @zsenyasq find about the Ritz paintings of the rape of Leda by the Swan we are almost sure to see in the first chapters of Ink Black Heart.

Rowling has a concurrent myth being re-told in the series, namely, that of Cupid and Psyche. As explained in my A Mythological Key to Cormoran Strike? The Myth of Eros, Psyche, and Venus and Troubled Blood: Robin’s Two Perfumes The Meaning of Philosychos and Narciso, psychologist-wannabe Robin plays the part of Psyche, Strike of Eros, and Charlotte as the furious Venus in Strike5 especially but in all the books so far. If she continues within the template of this myth in Ink Black Heart, having in the ‘Best Mate’ office scene in Blood reproduced Psyche’s exposure of Cupid with light and knife, we should see the trials of Psyche by Venus in Strike6. See Mythological Key and Robin’s Two Perfumes for the impossible tests the Goddess of Love sets for her rival in the myth and how they might be reproduced in the next novel.

(5) Parallel Series Idea: Most of the writing I’ve been doing this month it seems has been about how Rowling is playfully writing her Strike series in parallel with their equivalent numbers in the Harry Potter books, i.e., Cuckoo’s Calling with Philosopher’s Stone, The Silkworm with Chamber of Secrets, etc. This would mean, we will have strong notes of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in Ink Black Heart, perhaps as strong as the almost ridiculous echoing of Goblet of Fire in Lethal White (see here and here for those).

Louise Freeman has already made predictions along these lines. I think the most credible is that Rokeby, who was off-stage and the cause of Strike’s anger in Troubled Blood the way Dumbledore was to Harry in Order of the Phoenix, will be center stage in Ink Black Heart, perhaps through his autobiography, perhaps in Pensieve sessions with his petulant off-spring, talking about the core mystery of the book, “Who Killed Leda Strike?,” and that he will die by the story finish. Insomuch as Charlotte is the Strike series equivalent of the Dark Lord, I’m obliged to guess her history will be revealed in Strike6 as well. The story won’t lack drama if we head into the Pensieve with Strike’s memories of and discoveries about Charlotte’s past.

(6) The ‘Lake’ Crises: Rowling has invited her readers more than once, most notably in her ‘Lake and Shed’ 2019 interview, to read her books as having at least been inspired by the personal crises of her life. Six of these are public knowledge and one I think is evident in the Strike books, Christmas Pig, and the transgender controversy; see Christmas Pig 1: Jack Jones, Peter, John for that list of crises and their relevance as “pain to brain” starting points in Rowling’s artistry and meaning. Jonny Rokeby is almost certainly a Good Guy and Peter Gillespie a villain, we learn through this reading, and that negligent fathers are the origin of evil or tokens of Satan and the unconditional love of a mother the symbol of Christ in Rowling’s work. Violence against women is the theme it is because of Rowling’s experience of same as well as her exploration of sex roles in relationships and the burden of vocation have their beginnings in Rowling’s Lake of inspiration and the Muse who lives in it.

What we’re seeing in the slow-release development of the Strike-Ellacott relationship in this series I think is Rowling’s Shed artistry transformation of her personal struggle in her second marriage between her vocation on one side and her life as Mrs Murray and the mother of her Murray children on the other. It is her story depiction cum resolution of this conflict between a calling or logos “inner essence,” biological demands to include the Christic experience of love between mother and child, and the challenge of marriage as a spiritual union and the consequent male-female roles, traditional and conventional, that foster that theophanic union.

Robin experienced some relief in Blood from these three agonies, though still unmarried, when Strike confessed she was his “best mate.” I expect, along with the Trials set by Venus-Charlotte, that Ink Black Heart will feature the former Mrs Cunliffe’s continued struggle with her biological clock, her feelings for Cormoran as mate and man-demigod deliverer, and her awareness that she was born to be a detective. The closest thing to this on the StrikeFans list of possibilities is, ignoring the “kiss” and “have sex” teevee adaptation fan servicing, is “Michelle makes Robin jealous.”

That’s possible, surely, but I expect Matt’s new baby in Masham is as likely to be catalyst to her crisis or, better, Charlotte’s re-appearance. If the Venereal Witch brings a case for the Agency to solve or if Robin needs her help when Strike is in a coma to figure out what he was doing — think Hermione knocked out in Chamber of Secrets and that story ending with Ink Black pouring out of the stabbed Riddle diary — that could be the occasion a la Cupid and Psyche for Robin’s albedo catharsis.

(7) Psychomachia at the Anagogical Level: I have argued since the 2007 publication of Deathly Hallows and, truthfully, it’s in my 2002 Hidden Key to Harry Potter, that the heart of Rowling’s writing is in her allegorical content about the soul’s journey to perfection in the Spirit and the obstacles along the way. For my most recent explorations of this subject, see Christmas Pig 3: The Quadrigal Reading and Christmas Pig 5: The Blue Bunny. In the Strike series, Rowling has dropped the soul triptych allegorical trope she used so effectively in Harry Potter for the Shakespearean romance model, in which the man and woman in love represent the soul and Spirit to one another in reflection; cf. Martin Lings’ work on the anagogical depths of Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra, and even Othello. You’ll note the all the couples in these plays die by suicide (well, Desdemona is murdered…), which, as Lings explains, works as allegory for absolute transcendence of ego-existence and self even in mystery plays in a Christian culture for which self-destruction is a mortal sin. We must expect profound solve et coagula in The Ink Black Heart and Strike 7 akin to that we saw in Troubled Blood.

Strike is a skeptic about all things religious and spiritual; his Team Rational posturing is pedestrian agnosticism rather than the examined life he projects contra The Believing Horde (TM). Rowling-Galbraith, with the host of ghosts active in the Strike books (see here, here, and here for that), are setting the table for a feast of his having to come to terms with spiritual reality. Troubled Blood was his immersion in astrology and the occult use of tarot cards.

I think Louise Freeman is right in her exploration of and predictions about the Norfolk Commune, that they created the negative mindset the detective has about immaterial realities, the soul especially and its surviving bodily death, and that this will come into play in Ink Black Heart or Strike7. I suspect Strike6 will set up this revisiting of Boy Strike’s critical experience in the series finale, a set-up involving Rokeby giving him clues or paying for him to investigate the background to his mother’s death. The Deadbeat may have had this in mind in his Troubled Blood Valentine’s Day conversation with his son, an idea of “help” that Strike misread as a bribe.

Regardless, I’m confident that Ink Black Heart will be the nadir story in the series for those hoping for PDA and not so public displays between Robin and her partner. The union finale all but requires the penultimate story or scenes be separation and differences, the agonies of Psyche in Hades on Venus’ impossible task, the misunderstandings between Montagues and Capulets, the secret purification of the albedo. I dread Ink Black Heart in this regard but look forward to the experience Rowling will deliver of the soul’s passage from ephemeral to eternal concerns. The Christmas Pig has me very hopeful indeed with regard to the psychomachia aspect of the Strike series.


The title of this post almost certainly offended most readers. No one wants to be told ‘How to Think,’ right? I hope, that being the case, this post clarified that what I mean is there is a better way to think about the possibilities of The Ink Black Heart, a more challenging and edifying way to consider what is happening in these books and what will happen in light of that context. For that, Serious Strikers need to think and re-think along the lines set by the seven guides above.

I think I will print out the StrikeFans list, though, handy and fun as it is in this format, and check off my choices from the possibilities there. While I do that, please share your comments and corrections in the space provided below. We have some time to sort through these guides and others you may prefer before we can actually read Ink Black Heart and I very much look forward to the conversation, even if you disagree with me about How to Think about Ink Black Heart.


  1. I worry how accessible the Strike series is to the average person. I actually saw a Facebook group for fans of the Strike TV show ONLY. It’s sad to me that people would love the show that much but not bother or enjoy reading the books on which they are based.

    But some people haven’t read a book since they were a kid, no judgment, non-readers are good people too. And these books are fairly long, complex, mostly need to be read in order and greatly reward re-reading. But does that mean they punish readers who read them once and keep them on the shelf until the next book comes out?

    So, I am glad that there are people reading them in spite of the fact they are probably aren’t paying a lot of attention to the epigraphs, etc. And a lot of your points, John, wouldn’t fit on say a four by six card for predictions.

    But some them might. What I used think think of as mirroring of the books in the Harry Potter series is pretty evident and accessible. I think the parallels between Potter and the Strike series are very evident at this point. And of course we have Strike books three and five by themselves to look at for the mirroring.

    I don’t think it’s asking too much for book fans to notice and enjoy these mirrors and parallels in their predictions. Honestly, I think a little more about the title’s meaning, will it come from the ephigraph, and what theme/work will the epigraphs come from are reasonable expectations.

    The intertextuality of the epigraphs add amazing depth, but it took a slow reading of each of Elizabeth’s and Beatrice’s posts for me, a business major, to receive enough a crash course of The Fairy Queen to understand how the quotes and characters related to Rowling’s Troubled Blood.

    I think that any reader will find their reading life and potentially regular life greatly enriched by doing what they can to educate themselves on all the topics that are listed above by John. But it’s definitely a time commitment. I can understand a lighter approach to the books and have maybe a little bit of a pathetic appreciation that hopefully more people are at least reading them.

  2. Thank you, Rebecca, for reading this post and for the very thoughtful reply.

    I was joking with Professor Freeman that, as challenging and almost encyclopedic as this Seven Guides or Keys collection is, the starlet post that followed the next day was sure to get more readers and comments. It turns out that you have been the only reader who commented on either!

    To your points:

    First, you are the ideal reader of HogwartsProfessor posts. And, though we don’t have a FaceBook or active social media presence, you are not alone. I am told that we are in the top 600,000 websites on the internet according to Alexa ratings which makes us far and away the most visited ‘place’ online for Cormoran Strike conversation that isn’t twitter; we average a thousand visitors a day, believe it or not, which, given the relative weight and depth of our content (I don’t want to say ‘heaviness’) and the comparative narrowness of our niche, is astounding. Thank you to our regular readers!

    Second, re-reading this post in light of your comments, I see that it comes off as a condescending put-down of the StrikeFans predictions list. That really is unfortunate and regrettable. I wish it had better reflected my real feelings about that site, an invaluable resource for Strike readers and one I refer to (with each book’s Wikipedia page) when memory for details fails me mid-post. What seems to be a patronizing sneer, I fear, “Why can’t StrikeFans be more like HogwartsProfessor?,” I wanted to be an invitation for them to pay attention and use our work here as a resource for their posts and podcasts as we use StrikeFans. I regret now not having written this explicitly; thank you for the prompt to do so.

    Last, the sentence that warmed my heart the most in your reply was “I think the parallels between Potter and the Strike series are very evident at this point.” The Parallel Series Idea (PSI), though something of a premise of posts here since the publication of The Silkworm, is the biggest ‘reach’ or ‘stretch’ for readers of the books who are not given to re-reading (and re-reading again) or to the kind of compare-and-contrast thinking between books that PSI requires. It’s harder to grasp than ring composition in each book or within the series, I think, or to believe a writer would do. That you accept it as “very evident” is something of a relief and an incentive as I begin the last of the series of posts about PSI and the first three Strike novels. Thank you for the boost!

    And thank you again for joining us here and for commenting! This post is something of a ‘HogwartsProfessor Field Guide to Cormoran Strike’ in the form of a Predictions Pocketbook and I confess that, having completed it, I wondered if the effort made was in any way equal to the number of people who would read it and appreciate the collection of the various touchstones here. Your note was reassuring that it was.

    Grateful John

  3. Mediocre_morning says

    I love this website, but I don’t understand the need to put Strikefans down. Is it just one right way to enjoy the strike novels? Can’t people be allowed to wonder about Rokeby or romance or a murder plot without mentioning ring composition?

  4. I guess you missed my note above where I addressed this point.

    In answer to your rhetorical question, no, there is not “one right way” to read the Strike novels, though there is greater and lesser appreciation of their artistry and meaning, and, yes, readers are “allowed” to wonder about plot points and neglect the clockwork mechanisms of the author’s story-telling.

    FYI, I have been corresponding today with StrikeFans in order to participate in their Forums and others on this site have been in contact with their podcast crew about joining them for discussions of the series. There is no enmity between HogwartsProfessor and StrikeFans; there is to my knowledge only mutual admiration.

    My apologies if this post, which detailed the various touchstones and premises of our discussion of the Strike novels here, because it was framed by my disappointment that none were reflected in the StrikeFans predictions checklist, was easily misread as a putdown of that site.

  5. Mediocre_morning says

    Thanks for clarifying. I am glad to hear of the mutual admiration. The Strike novels can be read in so many ways. Hope to hear you on the podcast!

  6. Louise Freeman says

    I have recently participated in a Twitter Readalong with a bunch of Strikefans readers and loved every minute of it, gaining a million insights on the way, some of which made it into my Hogpro posts. And I thank Rokeby for their book-by-book timelines and character guides every time I write a post.

    The Strike and Ellacott files recently did a podcast where they talked quite a bit about our Headmaster’s work.

    We represent different aspects of fandom, but have a synergistic relationship when it comes to enjoying the books and encouraging others to enjoy them too,

    Besides, I enjoy an occasional drool over Tom Burke’s gorgeous cheekbones, and John’s not into that.

  7. John, thank you for your kind message and comments, they mean a lot.

    Tone can be hard to figure out when writing, even in long form.

    That said, I’m sorry if the tone of my message came across censorious, which I didn’t mean for it to. I also realized that the use of my word “punishing” could be misconstrued. By punishing the reader, I meant that people might miss out if they don’t re-read the series occasionally. So it’s the books or I guess Rowling/Galbraith punishing the reader. Or rather, more casual readers will miss out on some literary elements or perhaps be confused by a character or incidence that they don’t remember. I think that a great alternative/antidote to part of the problem is having lists of the characters and plot synopsis like the Strike Fans website has.

    I didn’t originally think that I would re-read the Strike series much, as they are who-dun-its and a bit grisly in parts, to say the least. But I find myself obsessively re-reading them now. Having convenient audio books also helps.

    Oh, I believe the thousand of page views a day and being in the top 600,000 of websites. That’s great, an amazing accomplishment! Hogwarts Professor is a wonderful, well managed website with some very unique resources, but still approachable. I was searching ring composition to see how easily it came up from other sites, and, Hogwarts Professor would easily be the first five results every search.

    (I prefer finding websites I like and then visiting those websites directly rather then getting distracted on social media. But social media can be a good way to find those websites…)

    I first started to think of ring composition as a line. Such as if the images all of the Harry Potter books covers were lined up evenly across both halves of a book, with Goblet across the crease, and you close the book, 1 and 7 match, 2 and 6, 3 and 5, with book 4 folded back on itself. I wasn’t really sure what to do with book 4. Now, I still often think of them in a line, but with a thread connecting 1, 4, and 7. I realize it’s more detailed then that, and is indeed a ring.

    Rowling is highlighting the ring structure now, as well. The part two without really a part one in Lethal White . And having Troubled Blood divided into seven parts helped me understand ring structure on a book level much better. I need to read your Christmas pig posts. It looks like she did a very similar thing.

    I did originally have a hard time with the idea that there would only be seven Strike books, because I love them. And Rowling has, um, let’s call it *misdirected* readers in saying that it’s not only seven books. But I now throughly believe it’s seven, and that Rowling will finsh the Strike series and later come out with something new and amazing. Or different and hard to read, like The Casual Vacancy. But she can’t seem to take much of a break from writing, which is fortunate for us.

    Professor Freedman, I just found The Strike and Ellacott files podcast and started to listen to their predictions podcast before my earlier comment, but I hadn’t listened far enough in to hear them talking about ring composition or  parallel series idea. That would be wonderful to have one or more Hogwarts Professor faculty on The Strike and Ellicott files in the future!

    True, our headmaster has a distinct lack of appreciation for Tom Burke’s cheekbones.



  8. Thank you for this note, Rebecca!

    Just one clarification: I think Rowling is being truthful and deceptive simultaneously when she says there will be more than seven Strike novels.

    The deception part is that “more than Seven” obscures that she is writing the first seven as a coherent set or relatively closed series, one in parallel with the Hogwarts Saga.

    The truthful part? As she has said, the glory of the genre is that it can continue indefinitely as long as she can think up crimes and solutions. I confess to hoping she will write another seven-piece set of Strike mysteries if I struggle to imagine how they can be as good without the Robin-Cormoran relationship tension and the over-arching enigma of Leda Strike’s death as backdrops.

    I’m confident, though, as you seem to be, too, that she will continue with another series; this is her peculiar genius, no?

    Thank you again for the thoughtful responses to our posts here!

    Grateful John

  9. I think of the quote from John Green: “As a child I was an inveterate liar. As opposed to now, I am a novelist.” I think he’s mostly joking, though.

    J.K. Rowling guards two things closely: her husband and children’s private family life, as she certainly should, and the details of what she is currently working on. With her early years and childhood, she does seem to be inviting us in.

    I don’t really want Rowling to give us too much information, anyway, I like the mystery of the writing of her books, the clues about the books she drops, and the chance theorize and speculate. I guess it is possible that she would finish this seven book story arch and then continue with with new ring. A ring composition could be any odd number? I see her doing a shorter ring of 3 or 5 if she does that. But it would indeed be very hard to to have it at the same level as the mystery of Leda Strike’s death and the impact that’s had on Cormoran’s life. It would be a good challenge for Rowling, though.

    I just see her moving onto something else and if she went back to Strike and Robin, it might be when she’s eighty or something.

    Series are her peculiar genius.

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