JKR’s New Swan Twitter Feed ‘Header’

For those of you who follow J. K. Rowling’s twitter feed (12 million folks worldwide), you may have noticed that the ‘header’ picture has changed again. Rowling has said these changes reflect her current thinking and previous pictures have fostered significant conversation.

The picture today is of a swan. I think this can be taken in two ways, both reflecting on Lethal White.

The first I thought of was the alchemical symbolism of it.

From Lyndy Abraham’s Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery (CUP), pp 196-197:

Swan: a symbol of the white stage known as the albedo, and of the white elixir or stone which can transmute base metal to silver. Ruland wrote: ‘When the Stone… has arrived at the perfect White Stage… or Swan, than all the philosophers say that this is a time of joy’ (Lexicon, 379). The swan is one of a series of hermetic birds which represent the different phases and colours of the the matter in the alembic during the opus. The crow or raven of the black nigredo is followed by the many colours of the peacock or peacock’s tail [cauda pavonis], which is then transformed into the swan or dove of the albedo and finally into the phoenix of the red rubedo. In Jonson’s The Alchemist, Face informs Mammon that he has put the matter through the ‘several colours,’ ‘the crow/ the peacock’s tail, the plumed swan’ (2.2.26-7). The swan is sometimes depicted as swimming in a silver sea and spouting the silver arcanum or elixir. It can also signify the magical mercurial arcanum with which the king (the male principle) is fed when he unites with the queen (the female principle) to become one body in the chemical wedding (sixth key, Valentine, in HM, 1:3336).

The Thacker-Sprague thesis is that the Potter novels are told in a red-white-black-turn-black-white-red alchemical ring. If we add to that my working hypothesis that the Strike novels exist in parallel and as commentaries on the corresponding numbers of the Hogwarts septology, then, this giant-sized albedo marker in Rowling’s twitter header would rather blow up my idea about the fourth Strike mystery.

I’ve been predicting that Lethal White will be a story turn a la Goblet in which

  • the Dark Lord will appear at last (i.e., Jonny Rokeby),
  • the hero’s mission/destiny will crystallize vis a vis the villain (i.e., convince Strike that Rokeby was the invisible hand behind Leda Strike’s death — and Rokeby that Strike must die lest his ‘son’ expose him as the murderer),
  • in the context of a global sports event (i.e., the 2012 London Games, per Louise Freeman)
  • with three deadly tests in correspondence with the three alchemical stages (your guess is as good as mine, really).

If Lethal White marks the story as the alchemical albedo ALL CAPS which the Swan strongly suggests (only the moon or Luna, water, and silver are more striking white stage signifiers), I’m not sure what to make of that.

  • Perhaps this means that the first three books have been a nigredo and that we are entering a new stage of Strike’s transformation?
  • Or that the Lethal White story features swans in some way? Murderous swans? (Okay, just sayin.’)
  • Or that Rowling has moved on to Book 5 now that White is ready for publication — and that we will meet a swan character in it as we met Luna in Phoenix?
  • Or even that Rowling found the picture striking and wanted to share it with her almost 12 million twitter followers?
  • I mean, how many people on planet earth are going to make anything of this Twitter header choice? Not to mention get the alchemical meaning of it, if that is indeed what she is sharing?

You got me. Maybe a thousand serious readers? Pretty weird if she is sending this population secret messages to jump start our speculative conversations — unless she’s half-desperate for her readers to start reading her work iconologically.

Fortunately, there’s a much simpler answer to the swan than an alchemical explanation!

The strongest mythological reference in Rowling’s oeuvre is that between Leda Strike and Leda and the Swan.

The swan in the header, from this view, is about the Greek myth beneath the life of Leda Strike. The big, scary Swan in the header is Zeus, erumpent, in the story as rock star Jonny Rokeby.

For a full explanation of that, see the epic post on the relevant mythology by Joanne Gray — one that was followed immediately by another on the meaning of Rowling’s twitter feed ‘headers.’

Is that ‘Leda and the Swan’ connection a sure thing? I’m pretty sure this is a reference, but I’ll be looking for a guess and confirmation/denial today on the Twitter feed.

The only thing I’m really confident of is that the premiere of the Strike television show this weekend will be the occasion for Little, Brown and Rowling to announce the October/November publication date for Lethal White.

Which will be nice to have at last.

Your thoughts?








  1. At this point, I’m pretty much ready to flip a coin and see where it lands. That said, I am rooting for the Leda and Swan theory to be the correct one.

    Here’s hoping.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Possibly no more than ‘free-associating’…

    In high school, we sang Orlando Gibbons’ madrigal:

    The silver Swan, who, living, had no Note,
    when Death approached, unlocked her silent throat.
    Leaning her breast upon the reedy shore,
    thus sang her first and last, and sang no more:
    “Farewell, all joys! O Death, come close mine eyes!
    More Geese than Swans now live, more Fools than Wise.

    (Cf. “I open at the close”?)

    The 12th-c. Latin bestiary translated by T.H. White variously notes reported interplay “in strict measure” of swans and musicians, and that “Sailors quite rightly say that this bird brings good luck. ‘Cygnus is a fowl most cheerful in auguries’, as Emilianus remarks. The reason why sailors are fond of it is because it does not plunge itself beneath the waves.”

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    My better-reread wife just asked, en passant, the Patronus Question:


    “Cho Chang – Swan” – with no detailed discussion…

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