Ink Black Heart Synopsis Pointers: Mythological and Ring Suggestions

Two days ago, the cover of Ink Black Heart and its fly-leaf synopsis were revealed — and already two of the world’s most insightful Rowling Readers have checked in here with in-depth explorations of ideas about what might be coming in Strike 6. Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, led the charge with The Ink Black Heart: Uncovering the synopsis clues and Louise Freeman, professor of psychology at Mary Baldwin University, followed up yesterday with The Social Science Guide to “Anomie” and What It Could Mean for The Ink Black Heart.

As you’d expect (and want), each addressed possibilities in those subjects in which Serious Strikers know these pundits are expert. Prof Groves gave us a fascinating exploration of the Cratylic name ‘Anomie,’ more on Highgate Cemetery with a focus on its disused Underground Station, and a prediction that Sidney’s The Arcadia will be the epigraph source in  the penultimate Strike mystery, first septology. Prof Freeman explored the social science meaning of anomie a la Emile Durkheim and Robert Merton, repercussions with respect to the 5-6 Flip Idea, what ‘lawlessness’ might tell us about Leda Strike’s supposed suicide, and wealth as the magic of the Strike series in parallel with the Wizarding World seven books.

I confess to being almost overwhelmed by these idea avalanches and left to wonder what else there is left to say about Ink Black Heart’s flyleaf copy and the new cover. After the jump, though, I will share two thoughts which, like Professors Groves and Freeman’s posts, you’d expect I would have, that is, what the synopsis suggests to me about the ring structure of the first seven books, the Parallel Series Idea, and the mythological templates of the Strike-Ellacott relationship. See you there!

(1) Ring Composition: The Series Cycle

Each of the five books in the Strike series we have to date has been a ring composition, Rowling’s signature structure and story scaffolding. We have noted here, as well, that these novels as they relate and refer to one another are taking the shape of a seven book turtle-back structure. The synopsis content confirms this and, at least as intriguing, suggests the first cycle of seven Strike books will take the peculiar ring shape of the Potter novels.

Those who have been following discussion of Rowling-Galbraith’s formal artistry in her second series of books know that there are two leading candidates for the shape of the seven book cycle. The first is the archetypal ring per Mary Douglas with its story-latch of opening and closing books, the story-turn at the fourth entry which echoes number one and foreshadows number seven, and cross-axis correspondences linking novels two and six and three and five. We won’t have evidence of a latch until the seventh book is out, but Lethal White had a host of pointers to Cuckoo’s Calling and that it was a story-turn (Part Two!) and Troubled Blood, book five, was stuffed with links to Career of Evil, book three.

We have also, though, been tracking the possibility that the Strike series is not a classic turtle-back but an asterisk a la the Potter septology cycle. Joyce Odell, Potter Pundit extraordinaire, pointed out in her comprehensive ‘Red Hen’ posts back in the run-up to Deathly Hallows and the deconstruction after its publication that books one and five in the Potter series as well novels three and seven were near mirror images. Those correspondences explode a turtleback structure, frankly, making a different formal model necessary to explain these undeniable echoes between books.

That model is an asterisk with book four at the center of the circle, which shape allows books one and five as well as three and seven to be in close proximity and their relationship closing the two gaps in the circle. This remarkable re-invention of a chiastic structure is explained at length in my Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle and in my contribution to the first Harry Potter for Nerds.

For this series shape to be the form Rowling-Galbraith is giving the Strike books, which the Parallel Series Idea (PSI) suggests must be considered as a strong possibility, the first and fifth books must share strong connections in plot and content. It was to explore that possibility that Louise Freeman posted a thread at the publication of Troubled Blood, book five, on which readers could note parallels connecting it with Cuckoo’s Calling. Check out that post for Prof Freeman’s observations and those of many other Serious Strikers. The correspondences go well beyond the two books featuring ‘cold cases.’

That box being checked, the next test of the asterisk possibility comes at the publication of books six. Does it connect with book two through the fourth book? The fourth Strike entry, Lethal White, has to be the central novel, which is to say, in addition to acting as the story turn joining beginning and end, it must also include elements of the two-six and three-seven correspondences. The synopsis just released for Ink Black Heart, it turns out, provides a link joining books two-four-and-six in their openings, a necessary piece of the asterisk model.

In brief, as pointed out in the comment thread to Prof Groves’ post, the hard-to-miss echo of “frantic, dishevelled Edie Ledwell” who “appears in the office” to beg for help from the Strike Agency is with Billy Knight’s apparition and disappearance there in Lethal White, book four. What I haven’t read elsewhere — and forgive me if this is an instance of neglecting my own weblog and the conversation here — is that this parallels the opening of The Silkworm, in which Leonora Quine, not quite mad but not all there either, shows up at Strike’s office with her bizarre but urgent expectation that the Peg-Legged PI will find her missing husband, Owen Quine. 

That’s hardly conclusive evidence of the asterisk model over the turtle-back classic, but, with the Cuckoo-Blood echoing, it definitely means we will have to be looking for Lethal White touches as well as Silkworm (and Half-Blood Prince) echoing in Ink Black Heart.

(2) Repercussions for Series Finale

I know all that sounds like, well, is inside-baseball only important perhaps to those of us who find Rowling’s structural artistry both fascinating and meaningful. In brief, it is a remarkably subliminal but nonetheless powerful buttress to the series psychomachia, the allegory of the soul’s perfection in the spirit, and its attendant literary alchemy. On a more mundane (and fun) level, the structure question — turtle-back or asterisk? — also has implications for the series finale and our speculations about what it will include.

The synopsis just released, in providing further grist-not-quite-evidence for the asterisk argument, points to Strike 7 as being not only the series latch, connecting beginning and end, and the finale to which book 4 points with its suicides and incest a la Rosmersholm, but also a novel that echoes book 3, Career of Evil, in many important ways. I don’t know about you, but I consider Career the ‘Ian Rankin’ novel of the series and its Blue Oyster Cult epigraph-lyrics and journeys into the mind of a psychopath, not to mention the trail of abused, dismembered, and murdered women, the most disturbing Strike novel by far. The idea, consequently, that Strike 7 will be a second trip down that road is not one for which I can feign enthusiasm.

(3) The Mythological Template: Psyche and Cupid

It is a ‘given’ or premise of discussion at HogwartsProfessor that Rowling is a significant artist skilled in the traditional arts of story-telling and the transfiguration of readers via imaginative defamiliarization. This is a stretch for readers who just want to know when Robin and Cormoran, biig bird and little bird, will be jumping into the sack for a “sneaky shag,” as Saul Morris would say. It is no small tribute to Rowling’s work that she simultaneously is writing Shakespearean/Spenserian psychomachia — Troubled Blood features Strike and Robin reading the Red Crosse Knight-Una drama in the lives of Margot and Oonaugh while living out Faerie Queen’s Book 1 action themselves — and romance fiction that has Harlequin and Fifty Shades fans waiting in line for Ink Black Heart.

As interesting as Rowling’s soul journeys are — the triptych of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, the soul-spirit artistry of Strike-Ellacott, and the ‘transitional object’ psychology a la Dante in Christmas Pig — her complementary and conjoined use of mythology as her story templates and re-invention playground is at least as important. You don’t get Harry Potter without knowing about Orestes, Fantastic Beasts is a re-telling of Theseus’s journey, and the Cormoran Strike novels are re-writes of Leda and the Swan, Castor and Pollux, and of the Psyche and Cupid myth.

I have explored this last here and here if this is news to you and you want to play catch-up. In brief, Robin is ‘Psyche’ or the soul, Strike is Anteros, the true Cupid, and Charlotte is Venus in the myth that most profoundly displays the steps of apotheosis, again, the soul’s pilgrimage to perfection in the spirit. I have argued that Troubled Blood with its light-and-knife ‘tell all’ scene in the Agency inner sanctum, Robin’s clandestine, dangerous, and successful entry into the after-life and encounter there with Luciferean Luca Ricci, and the ‘Philosichos’ and ‘Narciso’ perfumes had all the markers of the Greek myth and its attendant content.

The synopsis and the write-up about the possible importance of Highgate Underground Station by Prof Groves per Nick Jeffery’s suggestion makes me think I may have been wrong in at least one respect.

We know that Rowling’s version of the classic hero’s journey formula in Harry Potter features a trip underground (or in Goblet to a graveyard representing the underworld) in every story; Deathly Hallows features no less than seven. The first Fantastic Beasts film, too, has its climax in a New York City subway station. Rowling here is not being especially subtle in her psychological allegory, but there’s no arguing it is effective, By going beneath the surface in these descents, we go down into the sub-conscious depths to encounter what has not been visible in the story above-ground. Harry there learns the secrets and comes to the transforming resolution of his inner conflicts (and exteriorized enemies) in the presence of a symbol of Christ and rises from the death of his ignorance and lack of self-awareness.

The Jeffery-Groves speculation about the appearance of the disused Underground Station in a graveyard that I find more than credible suggests that she will be using this same mythological trope in Ink Black Heart. Graveyard? Underground Station? Expect a visit that will raise ghosts from the past a la Odysseus and Aeneas in Strike 6.

Back to my mistaken reading of the Psyche-Cupid myth, though. I read Troubled Blood as having concluded with Robin having successfully negotiated Venus’ last impossible task, namely, that she journey into Hades and returns with a token of Persephone’s beauty for the Goddess of Love. I think now, though, that it seems as likely that this is another case of Professor Freeman’s argument that books five and six were originally planned as books six and five, the 5-6 Flip Idea (see here and here). The Underground Station at Highgate Cemetery is a much better setting for Psyche’s last challenge and the drama — re-written so Psyche is not the damsel in distress needing Cupid’s rescue and Hermes’ elevation to Zeus on Mt Olympus? — of her journey, fall to temptation, and apotheosis.

Which is a lot of speculation from a very short synopsis, no? The enthusiasm here for turning every clue over here in search of support for our favorite theories, nails for our individual critical hammers, I hope is forgivable. It certainly reflects the excitement here as we wait out the last two months before publication of Ink Black Heart, a feeling I’m confident you share if you have read this far! Please let me know what you think of the structural and mythological speculation above as well as sharing your own thoughts about the cover and synopsis in the comment boxes below!


  1. What you wrote about Book 7 being the latch and ending of the first septology made me think: what if it is not only that, but Book 7 also works as Book 1 for the (let’s pray it’s a reality) second septology? This would open a new experience for the ring/turtle back/asterisk theory. Oh the possibilities it may open!

    Also, I found the comment of people waiting for Strike and Robin to finally be together as an “official” couple to be Fifty shads or Harlequin fans to be a little condescending. I am not a fan of neither kind of books and, nonetheless, am waiting for them to be an official item, not because I want to read about sex between them (scenes that Galbraith has written so far with extreme delicacy), but for what it may mean for the character’s growing arc. Both are damaged human beings and, as far as we have seen they have been able to work some of their traumas through the relationship with each other. I think that one of JKR’s strongest points is character development, and I am seing JKR at her best with the development of “Big Bird” and “Little Bird”.

    Let’s see what we find in IBH!

  2. Louise Freeman says

    Thank you, Beth! I’m interested in what you think of the pentagram model, which suggests that IBH may be the start of a new cycle.

    As for romance, I am with you… not usually a genre of fiction I seek out, but I love the Strike-Robin relationship and seeing it unfold. As long-time readers know, I am very interested in the role of fiction in the development of empathy, and romance is one of the best genres for those type of effects.
    As for the Big Bird/ Little Bird.. interesting that cormorants are black (or black and white0 while robins are associated with red. That has potential for an alchemical pairing.

  3. I’m sorry, Beth, that you found my notes about readers excited about the Strike-Ellacott romance “condescending.” That’s inevitable, I suppose, because I am trying to draw out Rowling’s more profound though subliminal artistry about romance in her allegorical depiction of the soul’s perfection in spirit a la Spenser and Shakespeare in her Robin-Little Bird/Cormorant-Giant Sea Bird soul/spirit ‘romance.’ I think it more than credible, even likely, that psychomachia of this type is the true engine driving the incredible sales of romance fiction, by far the most popular genre of story today. Rowling, though, with her mythological, alchemical, and traditional symbolism, not to mention her chiastic scaffolding, is taking this artistry to a remarkable height.

    I fear that I come off as dismissive or patronizing to the Strike fans who are enthralled by the prospect of Strike and Robin hooking up, consequently, because I’m a little frustrated that they are reducing a great artist’s work to something relatively tawdry. Which is a silly concern in the end. Most audiences of Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra, and Othello miss in each the psychomachia of soul and spirit — and the deaths to ego represented in the murders and suicides — as action-packed plays and love stories. But they still love them and experience the subliminal effects of Shakespeare, oblivious as we are at the conscious level to the allegorical and anagogical content at first viewing.

    So with the Strike novels. A lot of Harry Potter fandom was consumed as the books came out with ‘shipping concerns, the love relation-ships between Harry, Ron, and Hermione. That was a big deal, of course, in terms of the body-mind-spirit psychomachia and the literary alchemy that were in play but those topics weren’t a big part of the fandom discussion, believe me. My hope — and our efforts here at HogwartsProfessor — are about exploring the artistry and meaning of story with special emphasis on J. K. Rowling. If it seems I’m looking ‘down’ on other readers’ concerns and excitement about these books, I suggest again that is inevitable to our attempts to be looking at something simultaneously higher and more profound, a greater depth, than the surface story.

    Apologies for whatever offense this gave you and thank you for reading our posts here! As you say, it can only get more involved and more exciting in Ink Black Heart. I look forward to reading what you think of it in the conversations we’ll be having at HogwartsProfessor in September.

  4. I never did latin or classics, but I would like to hear your thougths on the cover: a picture analysis.
    Because I see the green mans face in the large tree and Robin looking up at it, while Strike looks down at the ground, a crouch in his left arm.
    The most famous Green man in litterature is Puck in Shakespeares “A Midsommer nights Dream”. And as I recall there is also a connection to Dionysius, as a greek counterpart to the green man being pagan. And the leaves on both sides of the cover ties neatly in with the green man, who is always pictured with leaves.
    Further more when I look at all the book covers 1-6, I can actually see Robin and Cormorans relationship evolve on basis on their bodylanguage. Back to back in the first one, turning more and more towards each other. And in every cover there has been hints of where story takes place, but I believe there are many more hints in IBH’s cover.
    If I’m right, how do you think it ties into Robin/Cormorans further journey?

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