Loving Mom-Bad Dad, Killer Rokeby, and Why Rowling is Writing the Strike Series in Parallel with Her Harry Potter Novels

A thoughtful reader named Michelle left a comment on the Troubled Blood-Order of the Phoenix Parallels’ post’s comment thread yesterday that I want to reprint here in full for the usual reasons I bump comments into posts — important insight, ease of reference, disappearance prevention, et cetera. I also do this because Michelle’s comment provides an occasion for me to write out several thoughts I’ve wanted to expand on here, as disconnected as they might seem in that long title above.

Michelle is re-reading Troubled Blood and notes an important parallel between Harry and Cormoran with respect to their relationship with their fathers.

As I undertake a reread of Troubled Blood, I’m struck by the steps both Harry and Strike make towards resolving their long-simmering daddy issues. One of these parallels was noted above, but for me the similarities run still deeper. The journeys in question, granted, start from opposite poles (Harry’s hero-worship of James looks nothing like Strike’s profound antipathy towards Rokeby). But in the fifth books of their respective series, both our protagonists are forced to face facts about their fathers that are directly at odds with their pre-conceived narratives.

Harry’s vision of “Snape’s worst memory” casts his father in a horrifying new light, and it’s to Harry’s credit that he accepts those truths immediately even as he searches for extenuating circumstances. Strike’s analysis is less clear-eyed when faced with the notion that old Jonny may not, in fact, be as bad as first thought (I say this as an avowed skeptic of the Rokeby murderer theory floated elsewhere on this site, so please apply salt liberally if you are a truer believer 🙂 ).

A parade of relatives stream into Strike’s life to encourage him to resume contact with his estranged father. The sheer number of people prepared to intervene on Jonny’s behalf, to me at least, suggest the man has more going for him as a parent than Strike has previously been willing to credit. Calls from his relatives are taken up by dearly departed Aunt Joan, who puts her finger on so many of Strike’s hang-ups and identity struggles to date (Strike discards this advice and insight, as is his wont, but are we really surprised? 🙂 ).

Rokeby himself even emerges from the shadows to initiate direct contact. He’s not exactly well-repaid for his efforts, but to me this further speaks to a genuine desire for connection with the son who’s long shunned him. And finally there’s the cancer diagnosis that renders Rokeby both mortal and potentially more relatable in Strike’s eyes,  having recently gone through the same experience with Joan.

If I had to hazard a guess about one aspect of Ink Black Heart and Strike7, it’s that one of our two favourite detectives will continue to gain perspective on his complex paternal relationship and ultimately arrive at a view of Jonny Rokeby that’s more nuanced and psychologically healthy.

If killer Rokeby does prove to be correct, I cheerfully accept any and all mocking glee this post may provoke in future. 🙂

Three Notes on Michelle’s Insights and Errors After the Jump:

(1) The ‘Bad Dad’ Parallel between Phoenix and Troubled Blood

Michelle’s biggest mistake in this insightful comment is her humility with respect to her find. I have re-read Professor Freeman’s initial write-up and the wonderful thread of reader-found parallels and the closest thing I could find to what Michelle says is a Bad Dad parallel “noted above” was one by Louise about Harry Potter and Anna Phipps being concerned about their father’s possibly not being the good guys they imagined. That’s a long way from her exegesis of both Harry and Cormoran having to face their pre-conceived ideas about their fathers and their relative success and failure in this work of coming to terms with foundational inner narratives. This is a real find or great catch! Thank you for sharing it here; it is yet another piece of evidence that Rowling-Galbraith is writing a series in playful parallel with her Potter books — and we’ll never have too many of those — and a helpful insight about where the series is headed.

I’ve been writing Bad Dad posts and comments this week because, simultaneous with Michelle’s work, I have come to the conclusion that, just as Loving Mother is Rowling’s go-to symbolism for the unconditional and sacrificial love of Christ, so Negligent Father is her reflex representation of the origin of evil, her icon of Lucifer. Scroll down to point #2, ‘The Bad Dad Dark Side,’ in this post for the Rowling interview and Goblet of Fire evidence of that.

This argument was largely made with respect to Potter and The Christmas Pig, but Louise Freeman reviewed the Bad Dad evidence in the Strike books for this representation with the conclusion, per Rowling’s John and Peter name-signifiers, that “If the pattern holds, Peter Gillespie is a bad guy and Jonny Rokeby is a good guy.” I shared in response to her work and to Karol Jay’s insights about the Lethal White parallels to Crouch in Billy the reasons why I think this is important beyond being able to guess the serpents in the grass and the secret Severus Snapesque heroes:

If I am right in reading Strike and Robin’s relationship as a Spirit-Soul allegory after Shakespearean models (Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra, even Othello and Desdemona; cf. Lings) and if Rowling-Galbraith’s uses mother’s love and daddy neglect as her ciphers for Christ and Satan, Logos and Evil, respectively, then the angst and confusion each principal character experiences about becoming a parent, Robin as mother and Strike as father, are best read as spiritual markers, i.e., Robin the psychologist’s coming to terms with her own desire for self-transcendence in an unconditional and selfless love for other and Strike the decorated soldier and agent of justice alarmed at his possibly becoming a genesis point of sin if he proves unequal to that sacrificial love for a child.

Your insight about Troubled Blood, in parallel with Harry’s daddy-issues in Phoenix, being about Strike’s being forced to think about his Oedipal issues, viscerally felt and on a hair trigger, I think is as important to getting what these books are about allegorically and anagogically as is the interior struggle Robin feels as a woman-with-vocation with respect to having children.

(2) Why the Series in Parallel?

The parallels between the series, fun as they are to spot and share with other serious readers, raises the question of why Rowling would be doing it, if we are to assume it isn’t one of the longest and most involved gags in literary history. One answer to that question is “she wants to clarify the meaning and experience she tried to deliver in the first seven book series by re-visiting both from a different angle in another genre,” i.e., reinforcement by repetition and correction via revisiting. I think Michelle’s catch here supports my Bad Dad core symbolism for Satan theory and I doff my hat in grateful admiration.

(3) Killer Rokeby

Michelle when she wrote her comment seemed to be only familiar with my posts about Jonny Rokeby being the most probable killer of Leda Strike, an idea I last updated in 2018 (cf. Heroin Dark Lord 2.0). I have a writer’s defensiveness about old theories and want to cry out, “Those were some great posts given what we knew at the time!”, pathetic as that must seem. Jonny Rokeby is almost certainly not the person responsible for Leda Strike’s death; just being named ‘John’ seems something of a guarantee for that at present, as Louise says, “if the pattern holds.”

Louise Freeman responded to Michelle with the link to HogwartsProfessor posts about who killed Leda Strike and to two posts that argue Rokeby will be the Strike series equivalent of Severus Snape (here and here). I think almost everyone on this list now seems a more likely suspect in Leda’s demise than does Jonny Rokeby, though, if the Snape parallel holds, there will be a lot of pointers in Ink Black Heart that he is a killer of some sort and somehow culpable for Leda’s suicide as Snape seemed in Half-Blood Prince to be for Lily’s death.

Peter Gillespie’s names both suggest he played a part if he didn’t actually inject Strike’s mum with heroin (‘Gillespie’ means ‘servant of a bishop’ and that’s not a plus in Rowling’s world view but the mark of an ideologue or fundamentalist; institutions are bad and Catholicism is her archetype of Christian legalism, etc.). I enjoy Louise’s theories about Nick Herbert and Sir Randolph and I have a disputant’s attachment to the Dave Polworth idea.

I’m so wrapped up now in the Loving Mom-Bad Dad symbolism, though, my current idee fixe, if I had to bet on who did it this afternoon, I’d say Leda did commit suicide and that she did it — and I have no idea how this works in story — to save her children from a near-certain death. Rowling use of a Mom’s salvific love as a transparency for the divine was so much in play in Christmas Pig (cf. ‘The Blue Bunny‘) and in Potter (cf., ‘Rowling, Ring Writing, and Maternal Love‘), and Strike’s story arc is so much about his overcoming his skepticism about spiritual reality (“None of it is real!”), that I struggle to imagine Rowling breaking with the patterns evident in her principal work. Leda’s death must somehow be about sacrificial love and Strike’s learning this with Robin’s unconditional support will make him at last ready to overcome his fears about being another Bad Dad.

All that to say, “No, I don’t think Rokeby killed Leda, Michelle, but I do look forward to reading your thoughts on the other suspects we’ve been discussing!”

(*) Comments and Corrections Coveted

Please do share in the space provided below your thoughts on Michelle’s idea about Phoenix-Blood parallels. I hope you’ll write, too, about my hypothesis concerning Rowling’s parallel writing, my Bad Dad anagogical idea, and the the thought that Rowling’s fidelity to Loving Mother as Christic Sacrifice as a symbol means that Leda probably did kill herself — and that this suicide was a heroic, even spiritual thing, again along the lines of Shakespearean psychomachia in the later plays. Thank you again, Michelle, for the great comment, and thank y’all in advance for joining in and advancing the conversation about the novels in progress and the ones already written!


  1. Louise Freeman says

    Interesting, as always, Headmaster. A few random responses:

    So, was it narrative misdirection to have the first batshit insane killer of the series named *John* Bristow? For that matter, “Janice” is a variant of “Jane” which also shares an etymology with John. So, though John may signal virtue in Rowling’s work, it’s also a variant of 2/5 (or six given the Raff-Kinvara partnerhip in Chiswell’s death).

    As for “heroic suicides” the examples in Harry Potter (beyond Lily) include Dumbledore and Regulus Black, though they might be construed as more “suicide missions” in a combat situation. One happened in Book 6, the other long before the series began. The truth of both was revealed in Book 7.

    As might be predicted, I’m going to bring up the same thorny issue that I always do at the idea of the motive for Leda’s death being the “saving” Cormoran and Lucy from… something. Namely, Cormoran and Lucy were adults (near James and Lily’s age, in fact) and both were further removed from Leda than they had ever been, with Lucy in Ted and Joan’s custody for 4-5 years, and Strike off at Oxford for around 18 months. Like you, I don’t get what could possibly be enough of a threat to even one of them’s physical life or mental or emotional health to justify murder. Let alone both.

    This brings me back to my oft-repeated guess that baby Switch, and where he was at the time his mother died, will be the element that “flips” the story on its end.

    Back to names: Given all the multinational variations of “John” I think we need to look for some Ian’s, Ivanna’s, Giovanni’s and Juanita’s to pop up in the next few books.

    Another interesting tidbit: Despite my earlier quip, Rokeby’s given name, Jonathan, actually is etymologically distinct from John, since it derives from the Hebrew “Yonatan” which means “given by God” as opposed to Yohanan, “graced by God.”

    And, his middle name, Leonard, means “lion-strength.” A Gryffindor, perhaps? It certainly sounds like the name of another strong mother in the series, Leonora, although that, too, is a false cognate. Leonora is of Greek origin, and means “compassion” or “light.” Leo the lion is from Latin.

  2. John Bristow and Dolores Jane Umbridge are the two exceptions to the Peter-John rule thus far in Rowling’s books. Thank you for pointing out that it is not a perfect guide. Your ‘Jonathan’ etymology may help with the problem that Rokeby’s first name suggests he must be a White Hat while his negligence of his bastard son means he is necessarily a Bad Dad. That his last name points to oaks and hence to Jupiter/Zeus may make him a stand-in for the injustice Rowling feels with respect to God the Father because of her abusive dad.

  3. Louise Freeman says

    Another exception: Matthew John Cunliffe.

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