Lethal White: The Top Ten Things We’ve Learned About It Since Publication Day

Debbie Moltisanti wrote me last month to say, “I just completed my first read of Lethal White. Interested to hear some of your thoughts, John.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this request; since Lethal White’s publication date, I have posted “some of my thoughts” and those of other Serious Strikers in 25 pieces here at HogwartsProfessor.

This request worries me a little, too. Could serious readers of Cormoran Strike not know the fascinating reveals and theories that thave been written up here in the six weeks since Lethal White was published? It’s time for a Round-Up post to facilitate easy catch-up for those just now finishing Lethal White as well as a one url link to speed simplified sharing of the treasures to be found here.

1. The Mythic Content and Context Of Cormoran Strike

Rowling’s classes at the University of Exeter were divided between French and ‘Classical Studies,’ which seem to have been much more about mythology than Latin, Greek, or Ancient History. Harry Potter is largely her re-telling of the Orestes cycle, Newt Scamander’s adventures a re-visiting of Theseus and the Minotaur (The Beast Within!), and, through Joanne Gray’s and Evan Willis’ independent researches, we know that the Cormoran Strike novels are a postmodern revision and adaptation of the Castor and Pollux stories. For the most up to date discussion, post Lethal White, of this connection Evan Willis’ ‘The Mythic Context and Hermetic Meaning of Cormoran Strike’ is an absolute must-read post. He reveals, I believe, the likely direction of the next two books and the finale while explaining the swan brackets of the current book and ‘How to Read Myth Revised.’

2. The Goblet of Fire echoes in Lethal White

Does Lethal White Echo Goblet of Fire?was our ‘out of the gate’ look at whether Strike 4, as the previous three Strike novels had, included pointers to and echoes of its equivalent number in the Harry Potter series. I listed seven in the post, other readers shared their several important finds in the comment boxes, and there are many, many more; Robin’s relationship with Sarah Shadlock at the finish is almost exactly the same as Hermione’s control of Rita Skeeter at the end of Goblet. The connections between the Minister of Sport and the Minister of Culture, however, and the patricide defining the work are the undeniable links.

3. Lethal White as Cuckoo’s Calling in Reverse

InIs Lethal White a Re-telling of Cuckoo’s Calling?I opened the structural discussion of the Strike series post Lethal White, which despite Rowling’s implicit and explicit denials, seems to be running as a seven book ring cycle. The first true test of that theory was not possible until we had the fourth book, which, if the series is a seven book ring, will have to have significant pointers to the first book in the series, Cuckoo’s Calling. I discussed several interesting parallels and Louise Freeman in the comment boxes shared quite a few plot details — I love the Robin retail store undercover and the secret note hidden where a man wouldn’t think to look — that nail it down. I call this find ‘In Reverse’ because Billy Knight is “Bat shit insane” and violent at the start and is, if not perfectly rational at the close, much, more together than at the beginning.

4. Lethal White as Cuckoo’s Calling, Straight Up?

But the Lethal White beginning is a straight up mirror image of Cuckoo’s Calling in several ways, right? Strike has a new temporary secretary he doesn’t want, a crazy, violent person runs out of his office and Strike is unable to pursue, and the story beginning is all about Robin and Matt’s engagement and wedding. The Missing Page Mystery of Lethal Whitetakes these direct correspondences a step further by noting that there is no page in Strike 4 for ‘Part One,’ though there is a ‘Part Two’ at the exact center of the book by chapter number. This suggests not only that the second half of the seven book series begins at this point, but that the Cuckoo’s echoes should be heaviest here. Sure enough, Izzy Chiswell, a la John Bristow, has a scene with Strike where she begs him not to think she’s crazy but she cannot believe her father committed suicide. The parallels continue to the finish in fascinating fashion. Rowling’s structural artistry is almost driving the story, it seems.

5. The ‘Gallows-in-the-Barn’ Subplot

One of the more bizarre and not very believable aspects of Lethal White was the death penalty background theme delivered via the story of Jack o’Kent building gallows for export in the Chiswell Estate barn. Louise Freeman shared her misgivings about this (and Cormoran’s taking the case without knowing or finding out immediately what the blackmail was about) in herFirst Impressions of Lethal White— which includes her find of the real-life gallows maker who built them in his barn and sold them for export! Rowling didn’t make up what seemed the most Dickensian and fantastical of story points. Too funny.

6. ‘Black Vanessa’

Names are a big deal in J. K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith novels, something you’d expect perhaps from an author writing under two pseudonyms herself. I catalogue the new featured character’s names and my first guesses about their meaning inThe Cratylic Names of Lethal White‘. There’s a lot more work to be done here — Roddy Fforbes and Kasturi Kumar, anyone? — but the big find was realizing that Robin’s best woman friend, Vanessa Ekwensi, a black Met officer, is a pointer to a key player in Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, the ‘Black Vanessa’ butterfly. Non-Nabokovians will find that a real stretch, I’m sure, but it is a laugh out loud obvious connection to those of us who enjoy both authors; it is important because of the other-worldly references of the Red Admirable in Pale Fire and what it suggests about the ghosts haunting Lethal White and this series.

7. Rattenbury!

At least as much fun on the name’s front was Louise Freeman’s find that she wrote up inRattenbury the Wonder Dog: The Secret of Lethal White‘s Yapping Terrier.‘  Who could have guessed that the nasty dog of the Chiswell Estate was named for a murdered man whose case was a direct parallel with — hence possible inspiration for? — Lethal White‘s.

8. Jack and the Giant

I wrote up the many pointers to White Horses that Rowling/Galbraith had given us in the run-up to Lethal White in a border-line encyclopedic listing of the evidence in Pre-publication ‘White Horse Evidence.’ One of the points I made there was a dead end I had followed, namely, my search for any white horses in the various versions of the fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk.’ I made that search because there are so many pointers to this story being important to these mysteries; Cormoran, after all, is the name of the giant in Cornwall that Jack kills — and we have a Jack in the story, Lucy’s son, the boy enamored with his ‘Uncle Corm.’ Jack makes a big return after his last appearance in Cuckoo’s Calling, a birthday, with a near death and resucitation in White. I point to what that may mean for Strike 7 in this note about Nephew Jack on 1-4-7 Ring Cycle Axis.

9. Rowling Autobiography Embedded in Lethal White?

I wrote up three more or less obvious correspondence between the life of Joanne Rowling Murray and the events of Strike4 inAutobiographical Elements in Lethal White.’ The psychological counselling she received, her relationship with her father, and the violence of her first husband rather jump up and bite the attentive reader. That being said, the most important thing to take away from the parallels is the changes Galbraith makes in these stories and the lesson being drawn. We’re not totally removed from wish-fulfillment fantasy in fiction but Robin Ellacott is not a ‘Mary Sue.’ Which is to segue to the Leveson Inquiry…

10. The Shift in the Series at Lethal White

Throughout Strike 4 we find Strike and Robin saying to each other, “Good! I mean, ‘bad’…” and they struggle with their hope for other’s hardships or their crimes which would be good for their business. It’s an awkward part of their making their living ferreting into other people’s lives, however driven they are by concerns for justice. In ‘The Crimes of Cormoran and Robin — and the End of the C. B. Strike Agency?’ I point out that, for the first time in the series, the Dynamic Duo not only skirt the law, they break it by recording conversations illegally and by Strike assaulting Jimmy Knight to prevent his revealing Chiswell’s gallows sales. Rowling/Galbraith hates detectives and journalists who take this route, especially phone hackers and the nigredo of Strike 5 may very well turn on the Strike Agency being punished for their excesses in Lethal White.


Those are my Top Ten but I had to fight the urge to make it a ‘Top Twelve’ or ‘Top Twenty’ list. I mean, the repeated bits about the NHS I explore in The Ghosts of Aneurin Bevan and the NHS (Lorelei!) is a keeper and the fun we had speculating about whether Jasper Chiswell could have been Cormoran’s real father (see Joanne Gray’s ‘Who is Cormoran’s Real Father?’ and my ‘Cormoran Chiswell? Really?’ for the ‘Cormoran Chiswell’ theory…) was memorable. But if I had to make one entry to the ‘Top Ten’ list of things we’ve learned about Lethal White in discussion here at HogwartsProfessor since the publication of Strike 4, it would have to be all the subjects we have yet to explore.

I have started, for example, the breakout of the meaning of White Horse Symbolism in Karmic Legacy of Empire in the UKbut it really is just a start. Cormoran cites Ibsen’s play that is the source of all the chapter epigraphs for its meaning there as a “death omen.” We’re a long way from my pre-publication guesswork about heroin (‘Lethal White Horse’ Speculation Round-Up) but we’ve barely scratched the surface about the eye of the White Horse of Uffington, the tokens of Chiswell’s military regiment, and the various pubs names after the White Horse, not to mention the Lethal White painting that is the murder motive. And Rosmersholm

I’m eager, too, to break out the structure of this book in itself rather than in relation to Goblet and Cuckoo. My preliminary work suggests it is simultaneously a ring beginning to end with axis and chapter parallels in turtleback fashion — but one with the two parts also being rings themselves, mirroring the other within in that larger ring.

And there is the Christian content of the books, most notably the idea of redemption. Raphael brings them up explicitly (and ironically?) but it is implicit to Robin’s remarks about the PM statues in the House of Commons and her wondering if she will ever recover from her experiences of violent men. Strike, too, is on a parallel if complementary and opposite path of physical and spiritual recovery. Rowling is a Christian author whose previous books have been laden with Christian imagery and content (not to mention those twitter-page headers). Where is this in the Strike novels?

And the alchemical references? We need to find those, too, right? I look forward to the months ahead and our conversation here in exploring these subjects and others as we learn more on our re-reading of Lethal White. Thank you for being part of our first looks at the book, and, in advance, for joining the conversation and sharing your ideas about subjects we need to discuss in the comment boxes below!

More HogwartsProfessor Lethal White posts not included or mentioned in this Round-Up:

Robert Glenister Audiobooks

Beatrice Groves’ ‘Galbraith Meets Graham Norton’

Three Things You Didn’t Know about Doom Bar Ale

BBC1 Adaptation a ‘Go’ — Notes on Series Book Sales

Marketing Efforts and First Week’s Book Sales

A Review of the Critics’ Lethal White Reviews

Day One: Have You Got a Copy?

Lethal White: What We Can Expect (February, 2018)



  1. After allowing myself to be distracted from CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ, OVID, and AESCHYLUS, I finally started and finished this. Going to work systematically through the posts — sorry for the delay — and will comment as I see fit. I have an idea for a guest post, but want to make sure you haven’t addressed it first.

    This will take me a minute. Please be patient with me.

    First comment is Jack O’Kent is the other Jack in the story v. Cormoran.

Speak Your Mind