Ink Black Heart: The Mythic Backdrop

I originally planned this ‘Mythic Backdrop’ post as one of the ‘placeholders’ to be put up at HogwartsProfessor while everyone finishes reading the book as a place for those who are already done to share their thoughts about key subjects (see the homepage Pillar Post column’s ‘Ink Black Heart Discussion‘ on the upper left for the collection of those conversation starters and insight collectors). I think now, though, that, while welcoming feedback and insights from Serious Strikers, I will file this on that page devoted to Strike6 discussion under ‘Analysis and Theories’ rather than ‘First Impressions.’

I do this because it seems more than credible to me that the reason Rowling-Galbraith switched the places of Troubled Blood and Ink Black Heart, a move that Louise Freeman’s literary detective work has made very hard to deny (see her brilliant compilation of the Strike6 evidence for the 5-6 Flip if that is news to you), is that the mythic backdrops of the Strike series, ‘Leda and the Swan’ and ‘Cupid and Psyche,’ all but require that the action and events of Ink Black Heart follow rather than precede Troubled Blood.

Join me after the jump for a review first of Rowling’s neo-mythological backdrops to her Strike series and then exposition of the Ink Black Heart events that make it the seamless continuation of what happened in Troubled Blood from the perspective of the myths in play.

Review of the Strike Series’ Mythic Templates

The good news is that I have compiled the HogwartsProfessor discussions of Rowling’s adopted and adapted Greek mythology in the two posts I wrote before Ink Black Heart was published. If you are unfamiliar with the stories of ‘Leda and the Swan’ or ‘Cupid and Psyche’ or want to refresh your memory of their details (and how Rowling’s characters conform to the original tales of gods and men), please read the posts behind the links in this guide to the subject below:

Seven Guides to Making Predictions for Ink Black Heart (February 2022): ‘Mythic Templates’

Since 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.

I confessed somewhat petulantly on the eve of Strike6’s publication my frustration that few people take this mythic template seriously enough to mention it in their predictions. I predicted, in contrast, that the action, mood, and setting of Ink Black Heart would be heavily colored by Robin’s necessary trip to Hades as Psyche does in the myth as the last of Venus’ trials. She would be going to hell, in other words, and Strike6 would be miserably dark in consequence.

 Nine Guides to Ink Black Heart (August, 2022): ‘Mythic Templates’

Alchemy, Ring Composition, and PSI have traveled Walker Percy’s three steps of scientific discovery to arrive in Strike Studies at “We’ve Always Known That” status. It remains something of a mystery to me that Psychomachia and Rowling’s mythic templates in Strike, especially the myths of Psyche and Cupid and the folk stories of The Fisher King and Handless Maiden, are still controversial or just neglected as another one of John’s hobby horses. Robin will be wearing ‘Narciso’ perfume in Ink Black Heart and I will be very, very surprised if we do not see her pass through Hades successfully — estrangement from Strike? return of Charlotte-Venus? — because of her emotional hardening or putting off her feminine empathy. The mythic templates of Venus’ tasks for Psyche and the Handless Maiden’s victory all but demand it.

In Robin’s Two Perfumes: The Meaning of Philosychos and Narciso, I spell out in detail the importance of Psyche-Robin’s hardening according to Jungian analyst Erich Nuemann, a perspective the opening chapter of Ink Black Heart with its mention of a therapist with that training invites. Read that post for the meat of the argument; I concluded:

Erich Neumann in his Amor and Psyche: The Psychic Development of the Feminine describes this discipline as a “prohibition against pity” which “signifies Psyche’s struggle against the feminine nature.”

Psyche’s last trial involves her having to confront death, a “marriage” to which she was condemned as a sacrifice at the story’s start, a meeting she can only survive by transcending her feminine qualities of nurturing and pity. She must become, if only temporarily, a narcissist to pass through Hades and return to the world of the Sun and to Cupid. The myth, in Jungian lights, is about her transcending the accidental self, here her feminine and sexual relation to Eros or Cupid, for “ego-stability” leading to “individuation,” ascent to the greater, immortal Self.

Robin as resident psychologist and loving soul is the Psyche-cipher of the Strike mysteries. She differs from the relatively passive Human Beauty of the myth in her active and determined “struggle against the feminine nature,” her “What. I. Do!” She not only wrestles with her desires for domesticity and maternity in her thinking but stands up to Strike-Cupid in their Valentine’s Day Street Fight and demands his respect or at least more considerate behavior. But she is still struggling with her difficulty to be the narcissist rather than the Great Mother when circumstances and her heroine’s journey of psychological individuation demand that.

She has, however, at the end of Troubled Blood chosen Narciso as her signature scent and Strike has signed on to this big change in his partner by buying it for her. Which brings us to Ink Black Heart, the story events of which, though the great preponderance of evidence suggests the novel was meant to come before Troubled Blood, had to come after it according to the mythic templates of ‘Cupid and Psyche’ and ‘Leda and the Swan,’ Strike’s mythic story pattern.

Ink Black Heart’s Mythic Elements

The key elements of the ‘Cupid and Psyche’ myth to keep in mind for the parallels in Ink Black Heart with this legend are that:

  • After Psyche confronts Cupid in their bedroom with a lamp and knife, the son (and lover?) of Venus flees to nurse his lamp-oil-burn wounds in his mother’s Olympian home;
  • Psyche in her grief and desire to reconcile with Eros agrees to undergo the trials set by Venus to test her worthiness and repentance;
  • The last and most difficult of her assignments is to travel to Hades and to return with a gift for Venus from Persephone;
  • Psyche despairs because the trip is a guarantee of her death so she climbs a tower to commit suicide;
  • The Tower explains to her that she can survive the trip to hell and back if she can just repress her feminine reflexes of care and mercy.

Apuleius described that mission from Venus and the advice from the heavenly Tower this way:

[Venus told Psyche,] “Take this box and go to Hell to Proserpina, and desire her to send me a little of her beauty, as much as will serve me the space of one day, and say that such as I had is consumed away since my son fell sick; but return again quickly, for I must dress myself therewithal, and go to the theatre of the Gods.”

Then poor Psyche perceived the end of all her fortune, thinking verily that she should never return, and not without cause, as she was compelled to go to the gulf and furies of Hell. Wherefore without any further delay, she went up to a high tower to throw herself down headlong, thinking that it was the next and readiest way to Hell, but the Tower, as inspired, spake unto her, saying:

“O poor miser, why goest, thou about to slay thyself? why dost thou rashly yield unto thy last peril and danger? know thou that if thy spirit be once separate from thy body, thou shalt surely go to Hell, but never to return again; wherefore hearken to me. Lacedaemon, a city of Greece, is not far hence.

“Go thou thither and inquire for the hill Taenarus, whereas thou shalt find a hole leading to Hell, even to the palace of Pluto: but take heed that thou go not with empty hands to that place of darkness; but carry two sops sodden in the flour of barley and honey in thy hands, and two halfpence in thy mouth;

“And when thou hast passed a good part of that way, thou shalt see a lame Ass carrying of wood, and a lame fellow driving him, who will desire thee to give him up the sticks that fall down, but pass thou on and do nothing; by and by thou shalt come unto the river of Hell whereas Charon is ferryman, who will first have his fare paid him, before he will carry the souls over the river in his boat.

“Whereby you may see that avarice reigneth amongst the dead; neither Charon nor Pluto will do anything for nought. For if it be a poor man that would pass over, and lacketh money, he shall be compelled to die in his journey before they will show him any relief. Wherefore deliver to carrion Charon one of the halfpence, which thou bearest for thy passage, and let him receive it out of thy mouth. And it shall come to pass as thou sittest in the boat, thou shalt see an old man swimming on the top of the river holding up his deadly hands, and desiring thee to receive him into the bark, but have no regard to his piteous cry.

“When thou art passed over the flood, thou shalt espy old women spinning who will desire thee to help them, but beware thou do not consent unto them in any case, for these and like baits and traps will Venus set to make thee let fall one of thy sops: and think not that the keeping of thy sops is a light matter, for if thou lose one of them thou shalt be assured never to return again to this world.

“Then thou shalt see a great and marvellous dog with three heads, barking continually at the souls of such as enter in; by reason he can do them no other harm, he lieth day and night before the gate of Proserpina, and keepeth the house of Pluto with great diligence, to whom if thou cast one of thy sops, thou mayst have access to Proserpina without all danger.

“She will make thee good cheer, and entertain thee with delicate meat and drink, but sit thou upon the ground and desire brown bread, and then declare thy message unto her; and when thou hast received such beauty as she giveth, in thy return appease the rage of the dog with thy other sop, and give thy other halfpenny to covetous Charon, and come the same way again into the world as thou wentest. But above all things have a regard that thou look not in the box, neither be not too curious about the treasure of the divine beauty.”

In this manner the Tower spake unto Psyche, and advertised her what she should do: and immediately she took two halfpence, two sops, and all things necessary, and went to the mountain Taenarus to go towards Hell.

Psyche obeys these instructions to the letter. Showing no pity or sympathy for the “lame fellow,” the “dead man swimming,” and the “old women spinners,” and refusing “delicate meat and drink” for the plain fare of “brown bread” eaten in a position of humility (“on the ground”), she succeeds in the last deadly trial set by Venus.

Erich Neumann, noted Jungian analyst, explains what this means for the archetypal female on her journey to psychological integration:

Here again we may possibly have traditional motifs, but they take on a special significance for Psyche. As the tower teaches Psyche, “pity is not lawful.” If, as we shall proceed to show, all Psyche’s acts present a rite of initiation, this prohibition implies the insistence on “ego stability” characteristic of every initiation. Among men this stability is manifested as endurance of pain, hunger, thirst, and so forth; but in the feminine sphere it characteristically takes the form of resistance to pity. This firmness of the strong-willed ego, concentrated on its goal, is expressed in countless other myths and fairy tales, with their injunctions not to turn around, not to answer, and the like. While ego stability is a very masculine virtue, it is more; for it is the presupposition of consciousness and of all conscious activity.

The feminine is threatened in its ego stability by the danger of distraction through “relatedness,” through Eros. This is the difficult task that confronts every feminine psyche on its way to individuation: it must suspend the claim of what is close at hand for the sake of a distant abstract goal. Thus the tower is perfectly right in saying that these dangers are “snares” set by Aphrodite. The Great Mother, as we recall, also has her life-giving and life-preserving aspect, but in the conflict between Aphrodite and Psyche she reveals only the negative side. This means that here she represents only nature and the species in opposition to the requirements of the individual, and from this standpoint the merciful attitude of the Good Mother can be forbidden to the individual. (Amor and Psyche, 112-113)

I suggest for your consideration that this is what Rowling is depicting in Robin’s journey through the events and mystery of Ink Black Heart: a trap set by Venus, one that takes Robin to a personal and professional underworld or hell, her survival and endurance of every temptation by her determination to be steely rather than empathetic, especially with respect to a certain “lame fellow” (!), and her re-surfacing from hell a changed person, one worthy of begrudging Venereal approval (or Zeus’ intervention — Rokeby!).

Here are my first ten notes on this mythological backdrop:

(1) Cupid’s Retreat to Venus: Just as Cupid flees to Venus’ lair after being wounded by the lamp oil of the untrusting Psyche, so Strike, hurt to the core by Robin’s rejection of his attempt to kiss her outside the Ritz Hotel, jumps at the first opportunity for carnal, erotic love that comes his way in the New Year. It is a cowardly and selfish thing to do, frankly, but Cupid is not Ares. Venus in the Strike series of course is played by the deceptive and manipulative other-worldly beauty, Charlotte Campbell-Ross, who has a hand in setting up Strike’s relationship with Madeline through her brother. Charlotte loves Cormoran, and, more to the point, hates Robin; Venus is set to send Robin to hell. ‘Valentine Longcaster,’ her half-brother, is deployed as her agent in this mission because his name is a euphemism for the carnal aspect of Cupid, Valentine’s Day being Cupid’s dedicated holiday and ‘longcaster’ being a reference to Cupid’s bow and love-potion tinged arrows.

(2) Venus-Voldemort: Just as Voldemort haunts the dreams and thoughts of Horcrux-Harry in Order of the Phoenix, the parallel story of Ink Black Heart if it was originally Strike5, so Charlotte lives rent-free in Robin’s head. The Dark Lord returned in Goblet of Fire‘s Little Hangleton graveyard resurrection and then worked behind the scenes throughout Phoenix to manipulate Harry into self-destruction via his backdoor-forehead access to the boy’s mind. So Charlotte returned in Lethal White’s Paralympian Celebration and in Ink Black Heart, Strike5 in conception, does everything in her power to bring Strike back into her orbit of influence — literally offering to pay him to investigate her home life — and to break up his relationship with Robin. Whence Madeline.

(3) The High Tower Advice: ‘Madeline,’ as Louise Freeman pointed out, means “high tower.” (Her last name ‘Courson-Miles,’ means “cursed foot soldier,” cf., Reaney and Wilson, 121, a suggestion that she is subject to a commander’s orders and it won’t end well for her.) Mads never meets Robin, of course, so doesn’t advise her as in the myth, but Ilsa, who elsewhere plays the role of one of Psyche’s jealous sisters (she seems to love Strike more than Nick, which is understandable) stands in here for the Tower. Charlotte drops the bomb of Madeline’s status as “Corm’s girlfriend” on Robin in chapter 25 (236) and she seeks Ilsa’s advice in chapter 28.

Ilsa explains over champagne she is not drinking (baby!) that Charlotte “can smell something between you and Corm and wants to screw it up,” that Robin was right to deny the drunk and “commitment-phobic” Strike a kiss at the Ritz, that “he’s with this new woman because the pair of you nearly kissed and it scared the living daylights out of him,” that his fractured relationship ideas are down to the bi-polar role models of Joan and Leda, and that Madeline is Strike’s stand-in for Robin, the two looking exactly alike, except ‘Your boobs are too big. So that’s Ellacott two, Courson-Miles nil, for a start.”

The wise Ilsa tells her, in other words, that she should not panic about Madeline; once these girlfriends “get past an hour, or a week, he starts pissing them off.” Robin should call DI Murphy back, “Say you’d like a drink.” Steel yourself to the hell of your lover being entrapped by Venus’ manipulation and plotting — and make a change in yourself.

(4) Back to the Ritz: Speaking of Robin’s “boobs,” Strike takes his first long look at “the deep cavern of cleavage” that she shows when bending down, but then then reverts to  his habit of eye-aversion when she sprays Narciso “down into the hollow between her breasts” (11). We’d been told (sort of) that Robin was blessed with a bountiful bus back in Cuckoo’s trip to Vashti, but we are introduced here to the newly feminine and independent woman, unlike the one who blushed at Strike’s embarrassment about her beauty in the green designer dress. Narciso-Robin tells her partner that she is looking for her own place, literally and figuratively, “It’s about time I was out on my own, don’t you think?” (9). With the Jung name-drop and the “bronze panel… which showed a naked Leda being impregnated by Zeus in the form of a swan” (5) in the same exchange, we’re off to the mythological races from the start.

(5) Doing What’s Necessary: Robin as Jessica Robins interviews Pez Pierce in a pub called The Gatehouse outside Highgate Cemetery (ch 67). Pez had made his first appearance with a prodigious penis as the naked model Robin sketched as an adult art student in the North Grove commune’s classes. In this interview Robin/Jessica, wiles information out of Pez by making out with him between questions and answers. She reflected later that “she didn’t think sleeping with Pez Pierce lay within the scope of duties Strike could reasonably expect of her” (681) and sent Cormoran a recording of their conversation with only the last hour of affection deleted. Which sends Strike all but around the twist (685-686). Strike had, in fact, slept with a woman to get access — actually to reward a woman for having provided access — to information to advance a case; remember poor Nina Lascalles? Robin shows herself to be a skilled manipulator of the opposite sex with Pez and capable of passionless and dissociated if restricted love-making to get what she wants.

(6) Not Strike’s Mother: Cormoran has a very hard time of it in Ink Black Heart, not the least of his problems being his leg-stump. He is incapacitated in the novel’s Coda denouement, winding up at the hospital, in a flash-back to his kairos moment with Charlotte-Venus. But, as in the previous thousand pages, Robin is solicitous of Strike’s needs without being especially maternal, dependent, or empathetic. His condition and injuries, beyond the IED blast, to include the stiletto kick from Madeline, are all his self-inflicted wounds; she’ll support his weak resolve to vape and eat lower calorie foods, but she doesn’t nurse him in any way or hover or chastize him when he breaks his commitments to better living. Even after Strike shows him the picture of the window with the re-named agency, she tells him she’s off for a date with Murphy (“sea-warrior,” Reardon and Wilson, 317; an albedo character equivalent for Courzon-Miles?).

(7) Life in Hell: Louise Freeman has noted in her 5-6 Flip update that Robin and Strike have forgotten in Ink Black Heart their cathartic change of terms in Troubled Blood post her trip to St Peter’s and meeting Luca Ricci that she is to take physical risks on par with those he takes. She is exiled to a hotel room post bomb blast and accepts her safe-place assignment with barely a murmur of protest. This seeming return to obsequious obedience and deference to Strike, though, is Robin’s journey to hell. She hates the confinement of the hotel room and literally spends her time there immersed in the afterlife setting of the ‘Ink Black Heart’s 42 episodes as she “revises” for her moderator test. This may be the essential equivalent of Psyche’s journey into the underworld.

(8) Reason for 5-6 Flip? Louise Freeman has demonstrated to my satisfaction that Troubled Blood was originally Strike6 and Ink Black Heart was meant to be the seven book series nigredo Strike5. Strike Extended Play theorizes that Rowling-Galbraith changed the order due to her imagining three new cases and deciding to double or halven each alchemical stage after the series turn for a total of ten books. I think that it is at least as likely that the switch was made in order to keep the mythological sequence in order. Once the American Bar fight and the Psyche confronts Cupid with light and knife scene took place in Troubled Blood, the scene in the Agency office, Robin-Psyche’s journey to hell has to take place in the subsequent novel. Rowling-Galbraith included the trip to St Peter’s and meeting with Lucifer-Luca as a short-cut version in Blood of that journey into Hades but there is no Venus-Charlotte in the background. Switching the novels’ places allows her to give her readers a proper “injured Cupid” post Ritz, Charlotte’s creation of a lover for Strike and a case to bring him to her home, and the hellish environment of the Dark Web and its underground madness.

(9) Strike’s Mythic Nigredo: While Robin is living out Rowling’s much updated version of Psyche Goes to Hell episode in the ‘Cupid and Psyche’ myth, Strike is having his trumpeter Swan experience a la ‘Leda and the Swan.’ His trials are largely the equivalent of Harry’s learning the Prophecy in Order of the Phoenix after confronting and defeating Voldemort in the bowels of the Ministry (well, with Dumbledore’s assistance). Strike confronts and denies Venus-Charlotte-Voldemort at story’s end — and learns at last his painful core truth, namely, that he is Jonny Rokeby’s son, his father’s spot-on image. Just as Rokeby treated women as his sexual play-things to act out his Zeus-like libido and self-importance contra Juno, his wife, Strike realizes per Madeline and Robin that he is no different from his biological father in only “fucking famous.” Again in echo of the Phoenix denouement revelations of the Prophecy in DDore’s office, Strike now has the deflating truth about himself with which he must come to terms to solve the over-hanging mystery of the series, ‘Who Killed Leda Strike?’ As with Robin’s trip to hell, this experience only makes sense after rather than before Troubled Blood.

(10) Conclusion: If there is a known-but-neglected truth in Rowling Studies, it is her affection for and deployment of mythology as her story templates. ‘Harry as Orestes,’ ”Newt as Thesus,’ and Strike and Robin as ‘Psyche and Cupid‘ with ‘Leda and the Swan‘ have been written up and noted but Rowling as neo-mythologist and her work as psychomachia are ideas that are still not taken nearly as seriously as they should be (compare to alchemy, ring composition, or PSI…). Rowling’s riffs and adaptations on these psychomachian parables are significant; she’s not parroting or in lock-step with the models but, as she once said, she is “taking horrible liberties” with the traditional stories she has studied since her classes on the subject at Exeter (and with Steve Eddy at her Comprehensive). Mythology is Foundational — and the ‘Cupid and Psyche’ and ‘Leda and the Swan’ myths are especially important, even critical to grasping Rowling’s artistry and meaning in this series.

I hope you will share all the Ink Black Heart parallels with the myths I have missed in this introductory but still overlong post in the comment thread below, as well as writing out your objection to my finds and conclusions. Let the conversation about Rowling as psychologist and neo-mythologist begin again!


  1. There seems to me a non-diagetic reason for the switch, which I do believe happened. The Ink Black Heart gas to do with a Fandom that turns on the creator of the text they adore, and this story coming out after the 2019 public storm would have made the storm worse and overshadow the books. What this makes me believe is that Galbraith works on several of the books at once, which would be necessary to pivot so smoothly(ish).

    Galbraith is a combo of Vctor Hugo and Juvenal. Each of the Strike books is a plea for compassion towards women and also a satire and send up of a different aspect of society: fame and race (1), the publishing world (2), misogyny (3), politics (4), health care (5), and now fandoms (6). I would be interested in what society aspects/institutions will be dissected and examined in the rest of the books in the series.

  2. Louise Freeman says

    Very interesting! I love the way you connect the mythic elements to the events of the Ink Black Heart. If I may make one addition, recall that we also learned Robin is the daughter of a sheep expert, who picked up quite a bit of sheep trivia along the way. That recalls Psyche’s second task: to steal golden wool from some extra-nasty savage rams. Robin instantly recognized the breed of the critters Strike described as “evil-looking bastards, black and white, with huge horns and yellow eyes.”

    So, where in the story are we at the end of IBH? I was thinking maybe Charlotte would be gone for good now, as Matthew appears to be after TB. Certainly her last words of TB, about being jealous of “that girl Robin” make sense in light of Venus’s jealousy over the homage paid to Psyche for her beauty. But, is there more wrath in store for Robin, courtesy of Milady Berzerko? Do we still need to see some equivalent of Psyche opening the box and falling asleep?

    I also think it is interesting that Zeus kept an eye on and assisted his son in the myth— by sending his eagle to help Psyche gather the waters of forgetfulness. We have speculated in the past that Rokeby might have played some, still unknown, role behind the scenes, perhaps helping Ted and Joan find the kids when Leda’s whereabouts were unknown, for instance. Will Strike’s eventual reconciliation with Rokeby involve him doing something for Robin? Fascinating, as always.

  3. Louise Freeman says

    Could the hours Robin spends going through years of Twitter feed to sort out the accounts that wind up being important to the case be the equivalent of Psyche’s seed sorting?

  4. Very very interesting! If I understood the myths more then to just barely follow along, I promise that I would have mentioned them in my predictions.

  5. I have been on flights to and at a wedding in Utah this weekend, all away from a computer. I worked when I could on my first structural post for Strike6, the Latch of the Prologue and Coda. My wife told me that you had written a longish response to my Mythic Backdrop post, Louise, but she didn’t want to read it to me lest she spoil the book she is still reading.

    I confess to having dreaded reading it, because I felt almost certain you would have mentioned the funniest mythic element of the book in a character name as one of your ‘finds.’ I love what you did find, let me hasten to add; you have found compelling links between myth and story, exactly what I hoped my post would encourage readers to look for (and I had missed!). But I was also relieved you didn’t discuss the forehead slapping name of ‘Valentine Longcaster,’ Charlotte’s half-brother, who shows up at Annabel’s in chapter 3, to introduce the Ross Family story-line in the novel, and, more to the point to tell Strike that Mads thinks he’s sexy.

    Valentine Longcaster is a hilarious cryptonym for Cupid, for whom Valentine is a second name (see the post on Valentine’s Day in the Psyche and Eros post) and ‘Longcaster’ is a reference to his weapon of choice, the bow and arrow of the god of love. He pricks Strike at the direction of Venus-Charlotte, in some myths his mother, in others a lover and cousin or brother (murky waters!), and sets in motion the long-range plan of the envious ex to destroy Robin and Cormoran’s budding relationship.

    Add ‘Valentine Longcaster’ to the pile of evidence for this particular backdrop and let’s continue to look for parallels and links Rowling has playfully embedded in the psycho-spiritual, neo-mythological allegory of the soul’s journey to perfection, and specifically the souls of women.

  6. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I thought the Pez Pierce interlude in the pub was out of character for Robin. Parallel series, fealty to myth, “being Jessica” and payback for Strike’s alleycat behavior don’t account for such a jarring shift in allowing herself to be tongue- probed by a gross, smelly womanizer while rationalizing that she was using him. And he was a SUSPECT! The I-had-no-choice rationale is a plot device in every bodice-ripper ever written. Far from being simply dedicated to her profession, Robin came across as a workaholic willing to cut corners and compromise herself to get the job done.

    Guess I’m longing for a truly noble character in these depressing times and Robin, with her innate kindness, forbearance, depth of soul and sense of self was, until that scene, it for me. I’d love to see this interlude revisited in a future book with Robin expressing the same revulsion I felt.

  7. Louise Freeman says

    Just curious, what did you make of Strike’s calling the look Robin gave him over his “delight” at catching Jago Ross abusing his daughters a “Medusa stare?” I suppose it could be a distant link to Chamber of Secrets, where we had the basilisk killing people through its eyes, and Hermione using a mirror to protect herself, much like Perseus used his shield to avoid directly looking at Medusa when he cut off her head. But does it connect in any way to the Cupid and Psyche or Castor and Pollux stories?

  8. Louise Freeman says

    Albus: I had a very similar reaction. I would like to see what guidelines are enforced for “how far to you go” in getting info from a suspect or witness. Strike has made it clear that sleeping with them isn’t acceptable. (Morris broke that rule). Buying lots of drinks is fine (though I noticed Robin put Gemma into a cab; I would like to think there is some provision in place so your witness doesn’t drive home drunk afterwards). Now,” making out” with them seems to be acceptable— at least for women detectives/male witnesses. (I must admit, the vision of a male detective kissing a female seems a bit more threatening to me.)

    Other illegal acts (impersonation: even a government minister, planting bugs, trespassing) are also accepted. Once again, I am wondering what kind of license you need to be a PI and if there is any sort of ethic code to which you must adhere or risk losing it.

    I guess the mythic elements make ignoring moral codes more likely (those Greek gods and goddesses can apparently do whatever they want!) but it still makes me wonder.

  9. Louise: I agree. I cannot think of a company I’ve ever worked for where making out with a client, supplier, customer or colleague in order to gain an edge or information of any kind would be acceptable. In recent years it would be a firing offense. Robin jeopardized the agency’s reputation and jumped the shark in that scene. And that, for such a scrupulously careful, self-respecting and mindful person was grossly (on both levels) out of character. (I was seriously worried they were going to step out into the alley.)

    Full disclosure: I’m ready for Strike and Robin to stop this dance and decide if they’re soul-mates or not. The will-they/won’t-they is wearing a bit thin for me and (despite JKR’s mastery) feeling increasingly less credible. I love these books and long for these two to enjoy some much-deserved happiness.

  10. This mythic backdrop idea is relatively new to me and so my lack of comment stems not from indifference. The fact that I find this fascinating does nothing to equip me with a sensible comment. For instance, I’m still trying to sort out my thoughts on Evan’s erudite but complicated article.
    Louise, I’m so glad you mentioned Robin recognizing the sheep breed. Coincidentally, I learned in my attempts to understand the Hermes connection that he is, among other things, the shepherd god. Strike’s uncharacteristic mention of anything Charlotte-related includes not only the evil-looking sheep (nigredo AND albedo), but also Sir Anthony’s Johnny Winkle, a phallic reference pointing to Hermes as god of fertility. Add to that the fact that Strike travelled and crossed a border to get to Arran, and Hermes is all over this Ritz evening, the Trickster hiding in the “eye of some slow-motion tornado” and probably aiding and abetting the missed kiss.

    I’m also still reading about psychologist Rowling’s mention of Schadenfreude in CC and how that parallels Anomie, as well as how this human tendency plays out in both plot points and relationships, especially since an association with the unconscious mind in Jungian psychology is yet another Hermes symbol (Hermes is a messenger between the conscious and unconscious mind).

    Tbh,I feel like I’m losing my mind a little! And to think I thought I was just reading an engaging story with winsome but traumatized characters finding their niche against all odds! Thank you for correcting me and issuing these challenges!

  11. Sandy, I’m confident I speak for all the writers here at HogwartsProfessor when I say you are exactly the serious reader for whom we write.

    Thank you for this wonderful note, for the words of appreciation as well as the several places you take the conversation forward.

    Gratefully and with admiration,


  12. Thinking of journeys through the underworld for Robin – not only is she spending a lot of time in a virtual cemetery, she also takes a tour through an actual one.

  13. [Sound of hand slapping forehead]

    That ‘Robin in Hades’ mythic background is exactly what I was talking about, Ed, and yet I completely missed what you point out!

    My confidence in the idea that Ink Black Heart was meant to be Robin’s journey to Hell, already strong, has become that much stronger.

    Great spotting!

  14. Ed and John yes! The actual cemetery with the Circle of Lebanon (also mentioned by Vile and LordDrek, boo hiss) a lower part of cemetery, which reminded me of the lower part of the Forbidden Forest where the spiders lived and where Aragog died. The cemetery is even described in similar ways as the forest- tree roots, thorns ripping clothes, uneven ground…

  15. “Thinking of journeys through the underworld for Robin – not only is she spending a lot of time in a virtual cemetery, she also takes a tour through an actual one.”

    Ed: yes . . . where she encounters a satyr and faces temptation. I may be catching on!

    While I could fill volumes with what I don’t know about mythic backgrounds and archetypes, I sometimes recognize when a contemporary author seems to be straining to cleave to one. Perhaps the notion of a mythic journey works better for me in HP because those books are fantasy, already based on myth. With Strike firmly set in the real world, however—love these books as I do—it’s becoming harder for me to accept plot and character twists that strain credulity, whatever their origins.

    Beyond Robyn’s dalliance with Pez, a suspect, which would put any ethical agency at risk (that her wig stayed in place while energetically snogging for an hour plus is absurd), Strike’s letting her off with a gentle admonition, didn’t scan. This is a guy who is so protective of his business that he lurks outside Madalyn’s show to avoid being photographed, protecting his ability to surveil unnoticed. Likewise when Strike is recovering from a near fatal machete wound at least partially caused by Robyn’s impetuosity, he is entirely too quick to shrug it off.

    OK, that sounds harsh, but here’s my rationale. Some of the most dangerous moments Robin has faced seemed to come from her understandable insecurity that she is being taken seriously as a detective, or insistence that being a woman should not prevent her from taking on any risk that Strike might face. That indirectly led her to carelessly becoming lost and getting slashed by Donald Laing in CoE. Or wandering around an empty house knowing that someone (Raff, the killer, it turned out) was creeping around to avoid detection. Or placing herself in the same room as Mucki Ricci, a gangster in TB so fearsome that even Shankar won’t go near him. Then there is her pattern of going it alone, acting in secret behind her partner’s back—often for good or even noble reasons—but in ways that are incompatible with a partnership.

    So there’s a bit of a pattern here, leading to her decision to rush into the Upcott house to rescue Flavia. Even allowing for Adrenalin, she had to know Strike would follow on his crutches and would be utterly helpless to defend himself or her. This is a woman who can see through a brick wall and often thinks faster than Strike. It was a terrible dilemma but that she would be so willing to expose herself—and Strike—to mortal peril would seem to call for a far stronger response from Strike.

    Whether any of this was in service to a mythic background or if it was just JKR struggling to come up with a peak climactic moment and mercifully end this book, I can’t say. I do know that, for these and other reasons, IBH was, sadly, my least-favorite book in the series.

  16. Sorry, I meant Luca Ricci.

  17. Madeline cites Elin Toft in the “only fuck famous” accusation. Is this a reason behind Elin having the unusual job of a BBC radio presenter? Strike met Ciara while investigating a supermodel’s suspicious death. But he met Elin because her brother was a friend of a friend of his. The plot required her to be well-off but it didn’t require her to be well-known. Yes, when Robin was trying to convince her mum Strike wasn’t out to seduce her because he had a girlfriend, she found it useful to cite a name her mum had heard of… But Elin is on the radio! She doesn’t have “a face for radio” but she might have.

    Is it a reach too far to believe that Rowling was setting the scene for this accusation already in Career of Evil?

    Especially since her grasp of canon has slipped again with Strike’s past girlfriends when he tells Valentine “I haven’t seen her in five years” even though Izzy makes it clear to him in LW that word quickly spread about him and Charlotte being seen together more recently.

  18. – – – – – – –
    Louise Freeman says
    September 20, 2022 at 11:15 am
    Albus: I had a very similar reaction. I would like to see what guidelines are enforced for “how far [do] you go” in getting info from a suspect or witness.
    – – – – – – –

    The question of JKR’s permeable legal, professional, ethical and moral boundaries in Strike World has been gnawing at me. It turns out all but five US states require licensure for private investigators and enforce ethical requirements on license holders. Surprisingly, PIs in Britain need not be licensed. For the Strike/Ellacott Agency, this is probably a good thing since, some days, they’ll cross ethical and professional lines at the drop of a hat! Trespassing, bugging, breaking and entering, entrapment and impersonation can all be part of a day’s work.

    “And if the law’s a bit of a gray area, and we can’t get the information any other way? ” Strike asks Robin before sending her off to bug Winn’s office in LW. Actually, unless you’re in law enforcement and have a warrant, there’s nothing gray about it. Bugging a private area without the owner’s consent is patently illegal in Britain and most countries operating under the rule of law. Which raises another troubling moral question—knowing the legalities as Strike almost certainly did, was he misrepresenting the risk to Robin and making her complicit by calling the bugging a gray area?

    Sleeping with a source you meet on the job, as Strike did with Ciara and Nina, or snogging with a murder suspect, as Robin/Jessica did with Pez, would be considered grossly unethical by most professional standards—even in Britain—and would put their licenses at risk if they were working in most US states. Of course, the books might be duller without Cormoran and Robin pushing—and crossing—boundaries at times, but it’s getting to be a too-convenient means of advancing the plot, IMO..

    I still think Strike and Robin are fundamentally decent people facing complex moral choices and it can be argued that they are crossing lines for the greater good. But if that becomes the go-to rationale it starts to sound like burning the village in order to save it. They seem to have few moral qualms about using people to get what they need. So it’s also possible JKR is slowly revealing the descent of two ethical/moral characters into the mire that their work-life forces upon them. A very dark turn, if true.

    Based on what we know at the moment, it seems that success for the Strike/Ellacott Agency can only come at the price of ethical/moral/professional lapses. The question is, how far will JKR go with it? Kinda sad for those of us smitten with these characters to see some of their lustre tarnished, even as they navigate a gritty, hard-boiled profession. Reminds me of a saying we used to have in the newsroom: “too much checking ruins a good story.”

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