New Species of “Potter Wasp” Named for Mad-Eye Moody

One of my favorite talks to give is “Muggle Scientists and Magical Names”: a compilation of Potterverse-themed scientific names for new animal species. I have given versions of this talk once at the Chestnut Hill Harry Potter Academic Conference and several times at the Queen City Mischief and Magic Festival, most recently in the online version of 2020: “The Year That Shall Not Be Named.” However, this is one talk I am forced to update regularly, as scientists continue to discover new species and give them wizarding inspired names. I have recently become aware of lucky Potter species #13:  a bona-fide “potter wasp” named for Auror and Order of the Phoenix leader Mad-Eye Moody. 

The wasp, Alastor moody, was described along with eight other species in a paper published in August 2020 in the journal Zootaxia. The genus name, Alastor, is not new, dating back to the 19th century, when it was first used for one of some 200 genera of the insects known as “potter wasps.” This gives the new wasp something in common with the Luscius malfoyi wasp, in that the genus name was pre-existing (and, in this case, spelled slightly different from Draco’s dad), and the species name tacked on in to create the wizarding world moniker. Potter wasps get their name not from the Boy Who Lived, but from the clay nests in which they lay their eggs.

Alastor moody.

The wasps in the new paper were described from preserved specimens stored in an Italian museum. This gives Alastor moody something in common with Clevosaurus sectumsemper, the extinct lizard with self-sharpening teeth that was identified from preserved bones. Discoverer and paper author Marco Selis, who choose the name, stated that “The name of this species is dedicated to the fictional character Alastor Moody, from the “Harry Potter” book series by J.K. Rowling.”  The wasps themselves are found in the Western Cape region of South Africa. Alastor moody is the third species of wasp whose name was inspired by the Potter series. In addition to Luscius malfoyi, named in 2017, the Ampulex dementor wasp was discovered and named in 2014. 

Time to revise the talk again!

Memorial Day: Cormoran’s Memories

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, a day set aside for grateful recollection of those soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen, and Marines who have died fighting our nation’s battles.

There is no mention of Armistice Day in the five Cormoran Strike novels, oddly enough, 11 November being the UK’s equivalent of our Memorial Day. I say “oddly” because Strike revisits the scene of sergeant Gary Topley’s death and Strike’s loss of limb in almost every one of his investigations. It is never very far out of mind.

Strike first thinks of Topley in Cuckoo’s Calling. He’s on his way to the morgue:

This would not be the first morgue Strike had visited, and far from the first corpse he had viewed. He had become almost immune to the despoliation of gunshot wounds; bodies ripped, torn and shattered, innards revealed like the contents of a butcher’s shop, shining and bloody. Strike had never been squeamish; even the most mutilated corpses, cold and white in their freezer drawers, became sanitised and standardised to a man with his job. It was the bodies he had seen in the raw, unprocessed and unprotected by officialdom and procedure, that rose again and crawled through his dreams. His mother in the funeral parlour, in her favourite floor-length bell-sleeved dress, gaunt yet young, with no needle marks on view. Sergeant Gary Topley lying in the blood-spattered dust of that Afghanistan road, his face unscathed, but with no body below the upper ribs. As Strike had lain in the hot dirt, he had tried not to look at Gary’s empty face, afraid to glance down and see how much of his own body was missing… but he had slid so swiftly into the maw of oblivion that he did not find out until he woke up in the field hospital… (Cuckoo’s Calling, ch 10)

The only two ghosts that haunt Strike, it seems, whose dead bodies remain vivid memories to him, are his mother and Sgt Topley.

In The Silkworm we learned that Strike kept track of Topley’s family, if he was not of their mind with respect to the war in Afghanistan:

They marched against the war in which Strike had lost his leg the next day, thousands snaking their way through the heart of chilly London bearing placards, military families to the fore. Strike had heard through mutual army friends that the parents of Gary Topley – dead in the explosion that had cost Strike a limb – would be among the demonstrators, but it did not occur to Strike to join them. His feelings about the war could not be encapsulated in black on a square white placard. Do the job and do it well had been his creed then and now, and to march would be to imply regrets he did not have. And so he strapped on his prosthesis, dressed in his best Italian suit and headed off to Bond Street. (Silkworm, ch 14)

Strike thinks of Topley three times in Troubled Blood, appropriate in a book in which the dead play a living, dynamic role. The first is when one woman who had survived Creed’s attempts to murder her hesitated when a man interviewing her described her escape as “lucky:”

Strike had turned off the documentary at that point, frustrated by the banality of the questioning. He, too, had once been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and bore the lifelong consequences, so he perfectly understood Helen Wardrop’s hesitation. In the immediate aftermath of the explosion that had taken Strike’s foot and shin, not to mention the lower half of Sergeant Gary Topley’s body and a chunk of Richard Anstis’s face, Strike had felt a variety of emotions which included guilt, gratitude, confusion, fear, rage, resentment and loneliness, but he couldn’t remember feeling lucky. “Lucky” would have been the bomb not detonating. “Lucky” would have meant still having both his legs. “Lucky” was what people who couldn’t bear to contemplate horrors needed to hear maimed and terrorized survivors call themselves. He recalled his aunt’s tearful assertion that he wasn’t in pain as he lay in his hospital bed, groggy with morphine, her words standing in stark contrast to the first Polworth had spoken to him, when he visited Strike in Selly Oak Hospital.

“Bit of a fucker, this, Diddy.” (ch 11, Troubled Blood)

The next time is during a conversation with Robin about her interview with Paul Satchwell. She said he described the suffocation of his handicapped sister Blance had been a “mercy killing.” Robin thinks of Brian Tucker and the bit of Creed’s violence porn in which he described his torture of Margot Bamborough. Strike thinks of Topley, the subject of his “recurrent nightmares.”

“Some deaths are a mercy,” said Strike.

And with these words, in both of their mind’s eyes rose an image of horror. Strike was remembering the corpse of Sergeant Gary Topley, lying on the dusty road in Afghanistan, eyes wide open, his body missing from the waist down. The vision had recurred in Strike’s nightmares ever since he’d seen it, and occasionally, in these dreams, Gary talked to him, lying in the dust. It was always a comfort to remember, on waking, that Gary’s consciousness had been snuffed out instantly, that his wide-open eyes and puzzled expression showed that death had claimed him before his brain could register agony or terror. (ch 52, Troubled Blood)

In the penultimate chapter, Strike thinks of laughing in a German hospital with Anstis about Topley’s loss of legs:

“Well, that’s not very good for our egos, Roy,” said Strike, stroking the purring cat. “Implying that anyone could have done what we did.”

Roy and Anna both laughed harder than the comment deserved, but Strike understood the need for the release of jokes, after a profound shock. Mere days after he’d been airlifted out of the bloody crater where he’d lain after his leg had been blown off, fading in and out of consciousness with Gary Topley’s torso beside him, he seemed to remember Richard Anstis, the other survivor, whose face had been mangled in the explosion, making a stupid joke about the savings Gary could have made on trousers, had he lived. Strike could still remember laughing at the idiotic, tasteless joke, and enjoying a few seconds’ relief from shock, grief and agony. (ch 72, Troubled Blood)

Even in celebration of his Agency’s greatest triumph and his reunion with Robin after several weeks, Strike cannot help but think of Gary Topley. He is haunted by the memory of the fallen, a man he might have saved instead of Anstis, a man whose fate Strike escaped for reasons unknown to him, perhaps reasons unknowable.

His PTSD is a live issue. Strike struggles with it every time he gets into a car not driven by Robin. He understands Robin’s panic attacks consequent to her having been raped as an undergraduate and knifed while following a suspect. He’s had them himself; he shares her struggle for self-awareness, transformation, and transcendence of the nightmares.

I thought of Strike today when a Marine Corps friend wrote me about this veteran, an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Staff NCO, and the PTSD he struggles with, the ghosts of his fallen comrades who visit him when he drinks. Read it and weep.

If you have the time on the day set aside for such remembrance, read this article about a Marine veteran who took his own life years after his combat experiences, a victim of never recovering from his PTSD: ‘This Has Got To Stop.’

Strike never mentions Armistice Day or ritual observances of those who died in war and peace in service to their country. He does, however, note, in Lethal White a war memorial with “poppy wreaths at its base.”

The White Horse turned out to be an ugly prefabricated building, which stood on a busy junction facing a large park. A white war memorial with neatly ranged poppy wreaths at its base rose like an eternal reproach to the outside drinking area opposite, where old cigarette butts lay thickly on cracked concrete riven with weeds. Drinkers were milling around the front of the pub, all smoking. Strike spotted Jimmy, Flick and several others standing in a group in front of a window that was decorated with an enormous West Ham banner. The tall young Asian man was nowhere to be seen, but the plainclothes policeman loitered alone on the periphery of their group. (Ch 9, Lethal White)

If you wondered about Strike’s feelings as an Army veteran who is haunted recurrently by nightmares of Sergeant Gary Topley about how he experiences his survival in lieu of their sacrifice and about the fallen and how they look on him, my best guess is that “eternal reproach” may come close. He lives on, largely in their memory, doing what he can to make them, as was Aunt Joan, “proud of him.”

To those who died and those who live with their memories of the fallen as a haunting conscience and reproof, many thanks. ‘Memory Eternal!’

The Inklings and Culture: A Feast of Brilliant Scholarship

The Inklings and Culture: Monika B. Hilder, Sara L. Pearson, Laura N. Van Dyke, Monika B. Hilder, Sara L. Pearson, Laura N. Van Dyke: 9781527560147: Amazon.com: BooksOne of the great joys of my work with authors like Rowling, Lewis, and others is the opportunity to interact with remarkable scholars from all over the world, and one scholar whose work never fails to impress me is Dr. Monika B. Hilder, Professor of English at Canada’s Trinity Western University. Among other accomplishments, she is the co-founder and co-director of the Inklings Institute of Canada, a remarkable group of scholars that has just produced an incredible collection of essays that is well worth the attention of any reader of the Inklings.

The Inklings and Culture: A Harvest of Scholarship from the Inklings Institute of Canada, published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, and edited by Hilder as well as Sara L. Pearson and Laura N. VanDyke has something for everyone who enjoys the work of the most well-known Inklings, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, as well as that of less famous (to the general reader) members,  “de facto” Inklings members, and honorary or “proto-Inklings” like Charles Williams, Owen Barfield,  Dorothy Sayers, George MacDonald, and G.K. Chesterton. [Read more…]

Cormoran Strike: Troubled Blood

This is a tentative listing by category of the posts at HogwartsProfessor about Troubled Blood. It will be updated continually as the Pillar Post for the book. Please add the posts I have missed in the comment box and forgive the several posts-in-progress that are listed without links. There’s much more work to do on this wonderful work!

1. Chiastic Structure

Rowling’s fixation on planning in general and with structural patterns specifically in all of her work continues in Troubled Blood. From the first reading, it became apparent that in Strike5 Rowling-Galbraith had taken her game to a new level of sophistication. She continued, as she had in her four previous Strike mysteries, to write a story in parallel with the Harry Potter septology; there are many echoes of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth and equivalent number in the Hogwarts Saga, in Troubled Blood. Just as Phoenix was in important ways a re-telling of Philosopher’s Stone, so Troubled Blood also echoes Cuckoo’s Calling — with a few Stone notes thrown in as well. The new heights of Rowling’s structural artistry, though, extend beyond her patented intratextuality; they are in each of Strike5’s first six parts being ring compositions themselves, the astrological chart embedded in the story chapters, and the six part and two chapters correspondence in structure between Troubled Blood and Spenser’s Faerie Queen.

2. Literary Alchemy

Per Nabokov, literary artistry and accomplishment are known and experienced through a work’s “structure and style.” Rowling’s signature structures are evident in Troubled Blood (see above) and her characteristic hermetic artistry, literary alchemy, is as well. Strike5 is the series nigredo and Strike and Robin experience great losses and their reduction to their respective and shared prima materia in the dissolving rain and flood waters of the story.

3. Psychology/Mythology

Rowling told Val McDermid that if she had not succeeded as a writer than she would have studied to become a psychologist:

V: If it hadn’t worked out the way it has. If you’d sat there and written the book in the café and nobody ever published it, what would you have done with your life, what would you have liked to have been?

JK: There are two answers. If I could have done anything, I would have been really interested in doing, I would have been a psychologist. Because that’s the only thing that’s ever really pulled me in any way from all this. But at the time I was teaching, and I was very broke, and I had a daughter and I think I would have kept teaching until we were stable enough that we were stable enough that I could change. 

Because of her lifelong study and pre-occupation with mythology, it is fitting that in Strike5 readers are confronted with a host of references to psychologist Carl Jung and to a specific Greek myth which Jungian psychologists consider essential in understanding feminine psychology. All of which leads in the end to the Strike series’ equivalent of the Hogwarts Saga’s soul triptych exteriorization in Harry, Hermione and Ron as Body, Mind, and Spirit, with Robin and Strike as Handless Maiden and Fisher King, the mythological images of anima and animus neglected and working towards integration.

4. Valentine’s Day

The story turn of Troubled Blood takes place on Valentine’s Day and the actions, events, and repercussions of this holiday of Cupid and Heart-shaped candies, not to mention chocolates, shape the Robin and Strike relationship drama irrevocably. Chocolates play an outsized portion of that work symbolically, believe it or not; the word ‘chocolate’ occurs 34 times in the first four Strike novels combined but 82 times in Troubled Blood. I explore the importance of this confection in two posts before beginning to explain the importance and appropriateness of Valentine’s Day being the heart of the story, one that is in large part a re-telling of the Cupid and Psyche myth.

5. Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen

Troubled Blood features several embedded texts, the most important of which is never mentioned in the book: Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen. Serious Strikers enjoyed the luxury of not one but two scholars of Edmund Spenser who checked in on the relevance and meaning of Rowling’s choice of the greatest English epic poem for her epigraphs, not to mention the host of correspondences between Strike 5 and Queen. Elizabeth Baird-Hardy did a part by part exegesis of the Troubled Blood-Faerie Queen conjunctions and Beatrice Groves shared her first thoughts on the connections as well. Just as Lethal White’s meaning and artistry is relatively unappreciated without a close reading of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm, so with Strike 5 and Faerie Queen.

Elizabeth Baird-Hardy

Beatrice Groves

John Granger:

6. The Ghosts

Rowling’s core belief is in the immortality of the soul and her favorite writer of the 20th Century is Vladimir Nabokov, whose work is subtly permeated by the otherworldly. No surprise, then, that Troubled Blood is haunted by a host of ghosts, most importantly the shade of Margot Bamborough but to include the women murdered by Dennis Creed and Nicolo Ricci. Their influence is so obvious and so important that it has spurred discussion of the spectres that haunt the first four Strike novels whose presence had not been discussed prior to the revelations of Strike 5. 

7. The Names

The Cryptonyms or Cratylic Names of Troubled Blood are as rich and meaningful, even funny, as those found in Lethal WhiteFrom Paul Satchwell’s “little package” to Roy Phipps as the Spanish King Phillip, from the nigredo black elements of Bill Talbot and Saul Morris to the Spenserian echoes of Oonaugh Kennedy and Janice Beattie, and the Rokeby-Oakden coincidences, Strike5 is full of name play. Did I mention that the detectives solve the mystery largely through their exploration of names? Douthwaite and Oakden only pop-up after Strike has revelations consequent to serious reflection on their names and pseudonyms. Rowling-Galbraith really wants her real-world readers to be reflecting on the Dickensian names of all her characters.

  • The Cratylic Names of Troubled Blood: A Top Twenty Round Up

8. The Flints and Gaffes

Rowling commented in one of her interview tableaus for Troubled Blood that she had worked extra hard to get the dates right in this most complicated of novels and that her proof reader and continuity editor found a big mistake. Serious Strikers, though, were left crying “Alas!” and laughing aloud at the number of bone-headed gaffes in The Presence’s longest work to date. It remains her best as well as her longest book to date, but, really, get the woman the help she needs to comb the book for errors pre-publication. Can you say, “Isla”?

9. The Astrology

The principal embedded text in Troubled Blood, the one Robin and Cormoran read repeatedly, create keys for, and discuss throughout the book, is Bill Talbot’s ‘True Book.’ It features an astrological chart for the exact time and place of Margot Bamborough’s disappearance in 1974, which map Talbot used to try and solve the case. Strike is profoundly disgusted by this approach but spends, as does Robin, much of his time trying to figure out the chart or at least what Talbot made of it. Troubled Blood, consequently, turns into something of an exploration of astrology and its relevance to understanding ourselves and the world. Unpacking what Rowling means by it, not to mention what the natal charts of Robin and Cormoran tell us about these charactes, their relationship, and Rowling-Galbraith’s intentionally hermetic artistry, is a large part of the exegetical work to be done on Troubled Blood.

10. The Tarot Card Spreads

We know that Rowling has significant skills when it comes to astrology. What is less well appreciated is that almost from childhood she has played with tarot card reading which knowledge has informed her work. This is comic in Trelawney, say, but comes to the fore in Troubled Blood‘s card spreads: the Celtic Cross in Talbot’s ‘True Book,’ his embedded three card spreads in the illustrations of that tome, and Robin’s two readings, one in Laemington Spa and the other in her flat at story’s end.

  • Part Three, Note Six
  • Part Four, Note Five
  • Part Five, Note Five
  • Part Six, Notes Five, Six, Eight
  • Bill Talbot’s Tarot: The Embedded Occult Heart of Troubled Blood
  • Robin Ellacott’s Tarot: The Missed Meanings of Her Twin Three Card Spreads in Troubled Blood

11. Who Killed Leda Strike?

To Rowling-Galbraith’s credit, credible arguments in dedicated posts have been made that every person in the list below was the one who murdered Leda Strike. Who do you think did it?

12. Embedded Texts

All of Rowling’s novels feature books and texts, written work as well as metanarratives, with which her characters struggle to figure out in reflective parallel to what her readers are trying to do with the novel in hand. Troubled Blood is exceptionally laden with these embedded texts. Beyond Talbot’s True Book and Spenser’s Faerie Queen noted above, we are treated to selections from The Demon of Paradise Park, Whatever Happened to Margot Bamborough?, Astrology 14, and The Magus.

13. The Murderers: Creed and Beattie

A demon-possessed psychopath and the brain-damaged lonely woman… Each is described as “a genius of misdirection” and being without remorse or empathy. The actual murderers in Troubled Blood are distinct, certainly, but paired as well, as one of the many mirrored pairs in this story.

14. Feminism

Troubled Blood, Rowling has said, is a commentary of sorts on changes in the history of feminism. It is an unvarnished, even brutal exploration of the heroic age of the feminist movement, its front and back, largely through the personalities, circumstances, choices, and experiences of two pairs of women, Margot Bamborough and her plucky Irish side-kick Oonaugh Kennedy and the paired through time couple of Irene Bull-Hickson and Janice Beattie.

15. Rokeby 3.0

Jonny Rokeby makes his first appearance, albeit only by phone call, in Troubled Blood and yet it has reset thinking about Strike and his biological father considerably. Kurt Schreyer thinks the head Deadbeat is more Snape than Voldemort — and, if this is the case, we need to re-read the series to see how much Strike’s emotional injuries from childhood neglect have misshaped his understanding of his dad so he lives in upside-down land.

The Ghosts Haunting Troubled Blood

In January I wrote and posted a reading of Troubled Blood as an allegorical drama, a Medieval Morality Play, of the temptations and pitfalls that are met along the way of the Seeking Soul’s journey to its true home in God. The argument that this allegorical reading is a legitimate interpretative exercise rests on (1) the Faerie Queen epigraphs before every chapter and Part, (2) the character Cratylic names or cryptonyms that point to each being an allegorical figure (especially the Oonaugh/Una and Janus/Duessa ‘lifts’ straight from Spenser’s epic poem), and (3) the first act of the play’s ending with God’s appearance as ‘Theo’ and judgment of the fallen Pure Soul, the Pearl.

Today, I hope to offer an exegesis of the Morality Play’s second act, in which the Pearl, Margot Bamborough, is repentant in her after-life as a ghost and communicates as she can in dreams or nightmares, occult openings, and in the thoughts of those receptive to her messages. She guides, if this reading is correct, the cold-case investigation of her disappearance in 2014 from beginning to end and her trail in the years 1974 to 2014 is visible in the testimony of witnesses during this successful inquiry. To understand most of what follows, you will be best served by a quick review of Troubled Blood as Allegory,Part 1 and Troubled Blood: The Dead Among Us in which post I first reviewed the “ghostly images” throughout Strike5.

You’ll also, of course, have to suspend your disbelief in ghosts.

We Postmoderns as such do not believe in ghosts. It’s a function of skepticism about anything supernatural or spiritual, the inherent materialism and naturalism of our historical period, and the belief that, however compromised and undependable it may be in knowing reality as it truly is, reasoning based on sense perception and deductive logic is the highest human faculty and the surest way to knowledge (Science!).

Rowling-Galbraith, perhaps to shake us free of that delusionary baggage, stuffs her stories with ghosts.

There are the visible gang at Hogwarts, good for laughs and a melodramatic Gothic flavoring, and we learn via the Resurrection Stone that the dead are at hand, 24/7, to be called up for conversation and advice (cf., Harry’s walk into the Forest with James, Lily, Remus, and Sirius as companions). ‘The Ghost of Barry Fairbrother’ haunts Casual Vacancy, and, though his messages are written by living people in his name rather than by him, per se, his influence as other-worldly playwright on these writers seems obvious. Strike notes the presence of his mother’s ghost at the beginning of Troubled Blood: “the wraith of Leda seemed to drift on his cigarette smoke around him” (34). He has similar feelings about his Aunt Joan immediately after her funeral and at the beach in Skegnes.

Rowling’s post Potter spirits are not visible as the riders in her Headless Hunt. As with the ‘King’s Cross’ after-life conversation with Dumbledore and Harry at the otherworldly King’s Cross, she is careful to write the story so the moral is clear without being “moralizing,” a big no-no in her thoughts about what makes writing good or bad. Therefore, a reader doesn’t have to believe Harry has really gone to a Logos Land or Limbo at a mystical King’s Cross where Voldemort’s self-butchered soul is in a heap on the floor and enlightened Albus teaches Harry; if an after-life is an anathema idea to any reader, that Harry doesn’t learn anything he couldn’t possibly have figured out on his own, the meeting at King’s Cross might indeed just be “in his head,” real in some sense but only psychologically. 

Having noted Rowling’s care not to be preachy about the soul’s survival of bodily death, I think it is obvious that the ghost of Margot Bamborough is everywhere in Troubled Blood. This woman, whom Oonaugh, Cynthia, and Satchwell all testify would “never have left her daughter,” is in the thoughts, dreams, occult invitations, and ideas or inspiration of ten different characters. Margot, the Pearl, as with the pearl-maiden shade ‘over the river’ in the Medieval allegory Pearl, is an otherworldly guide to those seeking her; unlike the poem spirit, though, Bamborough is not at peace and haunts this world to protect those she loves, reveal those who killed her, and help those who are open to her guidance. Every instance that I provide as an example, however, can be read, certainly is read by the great mass of readers as just normal human thinking, dreaming, imagining, and game-playing with tarot cards sans ghostly influence.

That having been noted, reading Troubled Blood as a Spenserian allegory all but requires that the fallen but repentant soul of the good-hearted but wrong-headed atheist Margot be allowed to do what she can in her after-life to correct her mistakes and punish the truly evil before her coming to God’s final judgment. We have not only to believe in ghosts, but also to look for their traces in the psychic realm of our souls and minds in order to see them. Fortunately, Margot’s ghost trail isn’t that hard to see.

Join me after the jump for the Ghosts of Troubled Blood, both Margot and the other murder victims, the Nabokov connection, and what this all means for Serious Strikers re-reading the series.

[Read more…]