Ink Black Heart: Gilderoy Gleenings

Have you ever been reading a book and been surprised by notes being struck that seem like the author is teasing you, maybe even laughing at you personally? As if he or she knows you?

Me, neither. At least not until I read Ink Black Heart.

I am asked at least once at every public talk I give or long conversation I have with a Rowling reader if I have met The Presence or if she knows I exist. I have not met her, have no reasonable expectation to meet her (she has refused for twenty years all interview requests from Potter Pundits and Serious Strikers), and she has not acknowledged the books I have sent her as a courtesy (she did reply to Penguin Books, sort of, when they proposed to give her an advance copy of Harry Potter’s Bookshelf; they were sent a note from her office accepting the offered book and another six weeks later to say Rowling did not have time to read it).

She has, though, made unpleasant comments to The New York Times about writers who have detailed the Christian content of her work, criticism she said that put her off reading book-length studies of her novels. I have, consequently, little to no reason to believe what we do here at HogwartsProfessor or what I have written or said here, in books, or in other venues are ideas or discussions about which Rowling is aware.

It may strike you as a little bizarre, given the investment of my time in the ‘Rowling Artistry and Meaning’ project and how much my public identity is twined with this study, but this ‘No Contact’ status has been no small blessing. I doubt very much, given the chasm separating our religious and political beliefs, not to mention the Grand Canyon between our financial conditions, that we could be friends. The work that I do, too, in examining her novels largely depends on at least the pretense of objectivity, something even access to her office for confirmation or denial of biographical details, one motivation I have had recently for wanting to contact her, might damage or Disapparate.

This being the case here in Gilderoy Glen, more than once during my reading Ink Black Heart  the story made me — and fortunately for my sanity, made others on the moderator channels as well — think Rowling was making reference to things I’ve written or said about her work. If this is of any interest to you, you’re probably a close friend or correspondent; join me after the jump for these very personal, well, reflections.

The Coleridge Connection

HogwartsProfessor faculty, full-time and adjunct, laughed of course when Rowling released the first chapter epigraph by Coleridge. It wasn’t Samuel Taylor Coleridge but his distant relation Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, but, still, my claims that Rowling’s spiritual thrillers hearken back to the Bard of Ottery St Mary’s through Tolkien, Lewis, and Nabokov have been discussed here frequently enough; see here, here, and here, not to mention the chapter in Deathly Hallows Lectures devoted to the subject.

That was a laughable connection, of course, one that I enjoyed and brushed off by saying, “Would that she had chosen STC for her epigraphs so all the work I did in my first thesis drafts on this influence might have paid off!”

When the book itself arrived, though, five other references popped up. The first two were about the character Zoe Haigh, aka ‘Worm28’ on the moderator channels.

The Worm Penis

Louise Freeman wrote to me about this; I am happy even relieved to admit the connection hadn’t occurred to me. 

Zoe chooses the online name she does presumably because there is a character in the ‘Ink Black Heart’ cartoon that is a worm, one the animators discuss in their chapter five interview, the one that sends Anomie around the twist when Edie disses their game:

Edie: Sometimes they see things that – well, not that aren’t there, but that we never saw or intended.

TB: Can you give an example?

Josh: The talking worm. We just thought that was funny, because a worm in a graveyard, you know, it’s eating decomposing bodies. So we liked the idea of it being pissed off about its job and talking about it like it’s boring hard graft. Like working in a factory. It’s just a jaded worm.

Edie: But then we had people saying it’s phallic or whatever. And a group of parents complaining—

Josh: —complaining that we’re making penis jokes for kids.

Edie: And we’re definitely not. The Worm is not a penis. [All laugh]

I include in every discussion of cryptonyms Rowling deploys and of her father Peter’s shadow in her work a parsing of the name ‘Peter Pettigrew’ to its meaning ‘Penis that didn’t grow very large.’ The laugh-line is always, “whence the nickname he is given by the Marauders, ‘Worm-tail’.” Louise has heard that joke too many times at fan gatherings we have attended not to think this “Worm is not a penis” line wasn’t a hat-tip or a put-down, a reference regardless. That it was included within a discussion of hyperactive interpretation or “over reading” made it more likely to be a slash rather than a compliment.

The Worm, the Way, the Truth, and the Life

Worm28, though, turns out to have a very meaningful real name, one very removed from male genitalia jokes. On the comment thread beneath the Placeholder post for ‘Ghosts,’ Louise Freeman made the case that Zoe Haigh was the character most likely to have been under the supernatural influence of Edie post mortem. Louise’s detailing there the importance of Zoe in the investigation, how she is able to seize Robin and Strike’s attention and focus whatever else they are doing when she appears, made me realize the name had special significance. I responded then:

Brilliant work here, Professor Freeman.

The name ‘Zoe’ makes your brief here that much more credible. It derives from the Greek word for ‘life,’ which, as opposed to ‘bios’ is the life of the soul transcending the human person’s mortal, physical existence. As C. S. Lewis explained in Mere Christianity:

In reality, the difference between Biological life and Spiritual life is so important that I am going to give them two distinct names. The Biological sort which come to us through Nature, and which (like everything else in Nature) is always tending to run down and decay so that it can only be kept up by incessant subsidies from Nature in the form of air, water, food, etc. is Bios. The Spiritual life which is in God from all eternity, and which made the whole natural universe is Zoe. Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to Zoe: but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or statue and a man. A man who changed from having Bios to having Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man. And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumor going around that some of us are some day going to come to life (p. 159).

Christ, of course, says He is this ‘Zoe’ when He describes Himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” John 14:6. Note also the difference between soul-life ‘psyche’ and eternal-spiritual life or Zoe: The man who loves his life [ψυχή / Psyche] will lose it, while the man who hates his life [ψυχή / Psyche] in this world will keep it for eternal life [ζωή / Zoe]. John 12:25 NIV.

That Rowling makes Zoe the character who is the vehicle of spiritual influence via Edie, the unjustly martyred woman-creator of the story, points on just whose side God is on in this business. Gus’ name, from ‘Augustus’ and redolent both of patriarchal power in being the name of the first Roman emperor and of religious prejudice against women via St Augustine who lays all of human evil and sin at Eve’s disobedience in Eden, marks him as the murderer, the anti-Zoe.

Strike and Robin’s seeking out Zoe, seemingly for no reason other than a hunch, may be a sign of their affinity with the Zoe as it is of Edie’s influence, which possibility I hope to write up in an IBH Christian content post.

So, the worm-not-a-penis bit seems like a hit, maybe a poke in the eye, but including the long-suffering Christ character a la Krystall Weedon, a young woman here whose love is manipulated into something tawdry by a predator just as the heroine of Casual Vacancy with the Name is raped, invites the hermetic between-the-lines spiritual interpretation, what many dismiss as “over-reading.”

A Pelican At Last

Along these same lines, there is the repeated appearance of the Pelican, first in a William Morris Art Gallery, then in Highgate Cemetery, both times with explicit reference to its use as a symbol of Christ.

Another story I tell in public talks and in what I’ve written about the great variety of Christian symbols Rowling deployed in her Hogwarts Saga is about a note I received from Stratford Caldecott, the late giant of Tolkien scholars and great fan of Harry Potter, after the publication of Tales of Beedle the Bard. I wrote about it in my poor excuse for a eulogy here

The funniest — and briefest — note [Stratford] sent me was “No pelican” after he read Beedle the Bard. I had made an aside that the only animal in the ‘Symbol of Christ’ menagerie that Rowling had not used in Harry Potter canon was a pelican. Stratford seemed disappointed that she didn’t work one into her fairy tale set.

Again, this is a joke I have made repeatedly in talks and in what I’ve written about the subject of Rowling’s menagerie of Christ tokens. The pelican is a symbol of Christ because, in legend at least, the bird feeds its chicks by sacrificially opening its chest so they can take nourishment from its blood. It’s not an obscure symbolism but a prevalent one in the arts, if one that is more difficult to weave into a story than, say, a lion, a phoenix, or a unicorn, if we’re talking fantasy fiction at least.

And it pops up in Ink Black Heart.

The pelicans first appear “in a design by Edward Burne-Jones” at the William Morris gallery where Groomer has taken Legs. Robin over hears the pedant instructing the young woman infatuated by him about “the Christian symbolism of the pelican, which was feeding her chicks with her own blood” (144). The Burne-Jones connection with William Morries, the Rossetti inspired Arts and Crafts movement in Victorian England, and the ‘heart’ as spiritual center in Christianity and the poetry deployed in Strike6 as epigraphs is a rich subject to explore. For now, though, I just want to note the author is highlighting the maternal sacrificial love of the pelican as an acknowledged symbol of Christ.

If that were insufficient reference, Rowling-Galbraith repeats it in Highgate Cemetery. Josh tells Robin and Strike from his hospital bed that he was supposed to meet ERdie on the night they were attacked:

‘I was ’eading for the place where we were going to meet. It’s where we were getting stoned the day she ’ad the idea for the cartoon.’

‘Where exactly is that?’

‘In a patch of graves where you’re not s’posed to go. It’s off the path and some of the tombs are unstable. Near a grave Edie always liked. It’s got a pelican on it. Be’ind there. You couldn’ see us from the paths on either side. There’s a bit of an ’ollow’ (618).

Robin recalls both these mentions on her inadvertent tour of Highgate:

Quite suddenly, the young man in the Drek T-shirt in front of Robin came to a halt, pointing at a tombstone that stood on a steep rise above the path, surrounded by thick undergrowth. To Robin’s slight surprise, she saw again the image she’d heard Groomer explaining to Legs back in the William Morris Gallery: the mother pelican plucking at her own breast, with a nest full of hungry chicks, beaks upturned, ready to be fed with her blood.

The girls surrounding the young man in the Drek T-shirt were now clutching each other. ‘That’s it, that must be it!’ ‘Oh my God,’ breathed the girl in the Paperwhite T-shirt, speaking through the fingers she pressed to her mouth. ‘I’m going to cry.’

The guide had stopped too. Turning to face the group, and ignoring the agitation displayed by the Ink Black Heart fans, he said: ‘This unusual headstone is that of Elizabeth, Baroness de Munck. The device of the pelican represents sacrifice. This tomb was erected by Elizabeth’s daughter, Rosalbina…’

An excellent discussion of the Pelican as symbol of Christ as well as of this specific monument can be found at ‘The London Dead’ weblog: The pious pelican and devoted mother of Highgate; Baroness Elizabeth de Munck (1767-1841) Highgate Cemetery.

Why would my eyebrows rise with repeated references to a Pelican, the Victorian, which is to say the Estecean understanding of it as something specifically Maternal and sacrificial, to the point of the murder scene and creative point of origin being situated in its shadow? There’s the Pelican joke I’ve made for years — “A shame she couldn’t have one in somewhere in a story more than a million words in length!” — but, more pointedly, there is the argument I have made repeatedly in my exegesis of Christmas Pig that Rowling’s foundational symbol of the love of Christ is the sacrificial love of a mother for her child. See here and here and here for that key idea.

The pelican is perhaps the most explicit possible symbol of Christ-as-sacrificially-loving-mother. It is either a drop-dead, no doubts confirmation of my thesis, a hat-tip reference (though something I only discussed explicitly in January), or both. I’ll take any or all of those possibilities.

Turtle-Back Heart: Situs Inversus

Here’s a stretch beyond these over-readings. Is it possible that Rowling is referring to turtle-back structures in the reason that Gus Upcott failed to kill both Josh and Cormoran with his machete? Josh explains how he survived when Edie didn’t:

‘I shouldn’ be alive right now. I was the one ’oo deserved to fuckin’ die and I was the one ’oo was wearing a jacket that stopped the knife goin’ as deep in my neck as ’e meant it to. An’ I’ve got a fing called situs inversus. All my organs are reversed, like, mirror image. My ’eart’s on the right-hand side. Anomie fort ’e was stabbin’ me frew the ’eart, but he punctured my lung instead. I never knew I was the wrong way round inside, never needed an X-ray before all this ’appened. Situs inversus… it’s the kind of freaky fing Ed would’ve really lik—’

I think we can read ‘Rowling’ for ‘Edie’ here, both being author-creators of an ‘Ink Black Heart’ epic. Rowling would like it both because of the importance of the ‘heart’ in her fiction as the spiritual center that Harry Potter represents in her soul triptych and because it is a mirror reflection within such a person, i.e., Josh is the living inverse image of everyone he meets, an elision of subject and object that makes the mirror the Estecean symbol of symbolism and of love. It also, of course, reminds those of us with chiasmus and ring composition on the brain of the turtle-back structure.

It is also the reason that Strike survives Gus’ attack in the Upcott home. Gus, no doubt, heard through his bugs from his mother that Josh survived because the killer stabbed the wrong side of the body for his heart. He resolved consequently not to make that mistake again — and stabbed Strike on his right rather than left side, only succeeding in puncturing the Peg-legged PI’s lung. Just sayin.’

Julius Evola: Bad Boy Perennialist

The most disturbing hint that Rowling is reading posts here at HogwartsProfessor and mine specifically is the appearance of Julius Evola. His book Ride the Tiger is in the North Grove Commune’s bathroom and the killer has a twitter alias, ‘I am Julius Evola.’ Evola is a noted advocate of the Traditionalist worldview or Perennial Philosophy, the most controversial one because of his association with Italian and German fascist movements.

Long story short, my reading of Christmas Pig was explicitly Perennialist. For explanation of what that means, see any of these posts: Part 1: John, Peter, and Jack Jones, Part 2: Dante, Sacred Art, and the Symbolism of the Tree and Its Angels, Whence Holly’s Hatred in Christmas Pig? The Symbolism of the ‘Broken Angel’Part 3: The Quadrigal ReadingPart 4: The Magic In ThingsRowling on Love, Hope, Happiness 2018Part 5: The Blue Bunny, Rowling, Ring Writing, and Maternal Love, and Part 6: The Ring Composition.

I will be exploring how and why Rowling references the works of Julius Evola in Ink Black Heart in a dedicated post. It’s complicated, as is the legacy and the peculiar Perennialism of Evola, a traditionalist who worked to distance himself from Guenon and Coomaraswamy, a disavowing that those writers seem to have reciprocated. I mention it here because it is the first time this school has made an appearance in Rowling’s work, perhaps the first of any critical school of thought, and it does immediately after the series I wrote last year on her Christmas Pig from this perspective.

So is this all Gilderoy self-importance? Am I imagining these notes as potential pointers, hat-tips, or criticism of my writing here and talks through the years?

It is, as likely as not, but I thought it worth a post. Let me know what you think in the comment boxes below!



  1. I’ll admit, my first thought when reading about the pelican in Ink Black Heart was that we had finally finished the Christ-animal-symbolism list.

    As to Evola, the connection seems less likely. I have had (unfortunately, as I would describe my politics as centrist) enough tangential contact with the far-right-adjacent side of the internet that I ran across Evola quotes through that long before I mentally connected him with Perennialism. I suspect that any writer who had done sufficient research into online alt-right spaces would note their use/misuse of Evola, without ever having heard of Perennialism.

    On a more humorous note, I have had a couple books that really made me feel spied upon, given their precise focus on my areas of interest, though with no real chance of them having any causal connection. The Christmas Pig was one of them. My research in philosophy has focused for years on transitional objects as images of God’s love for mankind and his act of creation (including a 2014 lecture I presented for a club at college entitled “A Metaphysics of Creation: The Ontology of the Velveteen Rabbit”). That’s why I had the details on Winnicott and Transitional Objects ready-to-hand the week of Christmas Pig release with a ready-made Winnicott/Coleridge connection. One of my senior philosophy theses in undergrad was arguing a variant on Logos epistemology as having the same metaphysical structure as the magic of toys being made real.

  2. Louise Freeman says

    I assumed Rowling was a Hogpro reader back in CoE.

    Cuckoo’s Calling had a batshit insane killer named John.
    The Silkworm had a batshit insane killer named Elizabeth.
    Career of Evil included the line: “But Louise was brilliant.”
    She apparently still liked me in Lethal White because she married “Louise” off to Andy.
    I must have annoyed her sometime before Troubled Blood, because she killed me and stuffed me down a well.

  3. Well, as regards the way Rowling incorporates Julius Evola into the novel. The basic idea I’ve got from all the remarks, and pointers she directs at him, is that Rowling is basically concerned with trying to make and showcase a distinction between her views of religious esotericism, and that of JE. In other words, if I had to summarize the basic gist of the idea she’s hoping to get across to the reader, then it would go something like: “No. Whatever else you do or believe, don’t get roped in by this guy (i.e., the author of “Ride the Tiger”). He’s not the genuine article. He’s doesn’t operate from anything like even a genuine, or proper spiritual base. He’s taking essentially good ideas, and twisting them into debased and decadent parodies of their original meanings. He knows nothing about Literary Alchemy, and doesn’t practice it right at all. Most of all, he perverts the idea of Tradition and the Individual Talent. He’s not your friend, and he never can be. He’ll never guide you anywhere near toward the Light, etc”.

    At least that is the basic idea that I get from reading the way he’s portrayed in “IBH”. In fact, there’s a question I wound up asking myself as all the references kept piling up. Stated barefaced, it goes like this. Could it be possible that J.K. Rowling thinks Evola is a heretic of some kind? Now I know that’s a strong way to put it. So I try to be careful in how I write all this, all the while not knowing what others may think of it. Instead, it’s just a matter of reporting what I can get from the text. What can’t be denied is this. It’s safe enough to list the following facts. (1) Rowling is very much aware of Evola and his writings. (2) In plain terms, she doesn’t trust him one bit. (3) She charges him with being a racist-isolationist. (4) She doesn’t seem him as good for the arts, or any legitimate act of religious belief.

    These are the discoverable facts. What’s left now is the verdict of the audience. The trouble there is, everybody speaks for themselves, perhaps in the hope of reaching some kind of consensus, although that can sometimes be a precarious matter. In that case, all anyone can do is express their own views on the issue, and there’s an end of it. For my part, what I’ve read up on and by this author that Rowling cites for censure has left me with just one conclusion. He’s too squirrely for me to ever be comfortable with. I can’t say I know if he has anything to do with Perennialism. What I am willing to go with is the idea that there’s just too much about him that leaves a bad taste in the mind. In the strictest terms, he sounds a bit too unchristian for me. He seems to be lacking in the qualities of either mercy or Caritas.

    Bear in mind, the actual subject of all alchemy was the exact problem of character. The goal was best put into words by Edmund Spenser, when he said that the hope of his poem, as in the hermetic art itself, was “the fashioning of a gentleman”. It still strikes me as one of the best expressions for the real goal behind the mythical masque of the Philosopher’s Stone, and its crafting. Evola doesn’t quite cut it in those terms.

    At least there’s nothing about him I can see that makes him trustworthy, so far as it goes. If I’m being honest, I find myself wanting to place him on the same list of suspicious authors as that of Aleister Crowley. Now, granted, it is possible to level a criticism at me that I am just saying all of this because the vantage point I have doesn’t allow me a clear enough understanding. I can at least acknowledge one important fact of a response like that.

    It really does help to know the point of view a person is using to try and comprehend anything that crosses their mind, or line of sight. This is because it’s the lens, or set of glasses, from which they try and get as clear a reading of reality as they possibly can; in theory, anyway. With this in mind, I belong to a household with an actual, Renaissance Jesuit in the family tree. In fact, he’s sort of set the tone for any time an actual religious discourse occurs “En Me Familia”.

    For those who don’t know, that sect of Catholicism has long since been in charge of what can only be described as an orthodox brand of Liberal Humanism within Church history. Think Thomism with a concerted interest in what Dickens termed “the common welfare” and you’ve got at least a rough, beginner’s idea of the Jesuit ethos. It’s been a cornerstone of the Western Catholic Church since the 17th century. The only other “Popish” sect I’m aware of that’s more liberal would have to be the Franciscans. Anyway, it’s this Jesuit tradition which is also something of a family legacy in my case, and it’s the coloring lens through which I’ve read Rowling on Evola.

    The upshot of these results and data leaves me right back where I started. Regardless of whatever Perennialism may be, my own experience and convictions lead me to believe that JKR was right to censure and criticize Julius Evola in her work. Everything I’ve read and hence am able to know about him forces me to regard her decisions as the right choice. There, for the record, is my two cents. It’s up to others now to decide what this means.

  4. *Laughing so hard at Louise*
    I am at the point in my JKR journey that I put nothing past her — certainly I will not assume that she hasn’t read something, distilled the writing into its basic essence, and then referred to it in her books. Be it Kierkegaard, Dante, obscure mythology or your blog, she has read it and repackaged it in insightful and illuminating ways.

  5. Brian Basore says

    At the moment, after a writing session, “pelican” reminds me of the pelikan symbol on the cap of the bottle of ink I used to fill my pen. That’s a writing related association, though I don’t know if Rowling/Galbraith writes with wet ink. I wouldn’t put it past her to make the reference.

  6. Interested to hear your thoughts on Evola, as I abhor fascism in any form.

    But I want to say a note about friendship. You said:

    “Doubt very much, given the chasm separating our religious and political beliefs, not to mention the Grand Canyon between our financial conditions, that we could be friends.”

    It seems to me that affinity, proximity, culture, and caste are the last things I look at when making friends. Rather I try to find some simple common ground with another person, for I believe I share some obsession — however small — with every soul I’ve ever met. I truly believe myself to be friends with everyone and everything, truly believe Boethius is right to call evil a sickness, truly believe my worst enemies to be irreplaceable friends: that seeking their redemption _as a friend_ is precisely the cure to the world’s ailments. The wounds of this kind of friend strike true.

    I say that to say that you two actually have more in common than you think.

    That commonality, it seems to me, ought build a bigger bridge than any wealth, honor, fame, power, pleasure, or even flawed persuits of truth, beauty, goodness, being. It seems to me the seeking — the deep, meaningful seeking — ought bind.

    Just a thought. It’s probably the one trait I share in common with Jack Lewis: I see friends everywhere I go, however introverted I remain.

  7. PS — Just wanted to come back and say I really hope this didn’t come off as a personal attack or indictment of John, I’m really just processing through my thoughts on friendship the last couple of years after some personal betrayals and significant grief.

    Like Chesterton, sometimes my mind activates the best in the dueling mode.

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