Rowling-Galbraith: On Denmark Street

“Denmark Street fits Strike like a glove, because, obviously, his parentage. He comes from in some ways from Rock n Roll Royalty but he’s never lived that life, and yet he’s gravitated to Denmark Street. And Robin might be calling him on that at some point in the future.

“It is an iconic street. And it is a place clearly that he feels at home, though I’m not sure he’s ever thought that through. Because he grew up being dragged around concerts by a passionate Rock fan and a groupie.  So to operate out of a place where the buskers are constantly playing is, so this is home to him, yeah.

“But I love Denmark Street. I know it of old and used to live quite near there and it’s just one of those iconic places that I hope is not about to disappear though I fear for its future.”

Beatrice Groves, in her exegesis of Rowling’s choice of Charing Cross Road, has pointed out the importance of Denmark Street to Robin rather than Strike, that is to her what the Leaky Cauldron was to Harry Potter, and to The Presence herself as well:

More recently Rowling has spoken of how setting Strike’s offices on Denmark St was not a random choice, any more than was the placing of the Leaky Cauldron in Charing Cross Road. For Rowling, like Robin, once temped in Denmark Street: ‘I was sent to an office in Denmark Street years ago, and I was only there a week, and I loosely based Strike’s offices on that place where I temped.’ This was the first time that Rowling has mentioned her personal connection with this area of London and it makes sense that this might have been the time in her life when she got to know, via perusal in her lunch breaks, the bookshops of Charing Cross Road….

In sending Robin to temp in the office where she herself once temped, Rowling is doing something more than simply using a location which is familiar to her. For Strike’s office is to Robin what the Leaky Cauldron was to Harry: it is her portal of transformation. It will take her from the loveless, conventional life by which she feels stifled, and into her dream career. Matthew shares with the Dursleys both his obsession with the gaze of others, and in the desire to quash anything unconventional, anything of which those others might disapprove, out of the person whose behaviour might reflect badly on him. Matthew’s attempt to keep Robin away from the job for which she longs precisely echoes the Dursleys’ attempt to crush the magic out of Harry. It seems likely that it is no mere coincidence that the place that transports Harry from the Muggle to the magical world should be next-door to the place that transports Robin into the life she has always wanted. 

Wordsworth writes that ‘there are in our existence spots of time,/ That with distinct pre-eminence retain/ A renovating virtue.’ I can’t help wondering whether Rowling has placed the gateways into her heroes’ dreams at precisely this location because she connects that particular ‘spot of time’ in her life, that time when she was temping in London the late 1980s, with the fulfilment of her own dreams. My hunch is that Rowling connects that time, and place, in her life with the crystallising of her own transformative dream to become a writer. 

Rowling in today’s short comment talks about the Strike connection to Denmark Street, a side street to Charing Cross famous for its guitar stores and past clubs, the latter all closed (Strike’s address was in the not so distant past a notable one; see my post about dropping by Strike’s premises and favorite pub in 2016). The most exciting part of her asides here, I think, for Serious Strikers is the near confirmation in them that our prediction that the Agency will be forced to move from Denmark Street in Strike6 (and that Joe North’s home would be a perfect fit).

The eviction and search for new digs would be the perfect occasion for Robin to explore with Strike why he chose Denmark Street in the first place — and to suggest, when he neglects the obvious connection, that it was because an avenue that was Rock n Roll heaven at the time of his parents’ meeting felt like home to the recently demobbed soldier. My choice for the place for them to have this conversation is one closer than even Charing Cross Road or the Tottenham pub, namely the Church of St Giles in the Fields, the remarkable and beautiful building and grounds of which, though never mentioned in the books, are only a few steps and just across the street from the Agency’s entrance.

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More Hauntings in Cormoran Strike: The Ghost of Charlie Bristow Comes Calling in Cuckoo

Headmaster John has made a strong case for Margot Bamborough as a ghost who haunts Troubled Blood. Given that repetition of themes is a hallmark of Rowling’s work, shouldn’t we be re-reading the earlier Strike books with an idea of uncovering still more ghosts?  I’m going to begin with the first in the series of posts, and argue that young Charlie Bristow plays a “haunting” role in The Cuckoo’s Calling, as much or even more so than does the principal murder victim, Lula Landry. 

The ghost of  “Cuckoo,” the murdered model, calls to Strike as he reads her emails. Furthermore, we learn that the sensation of crime victims haunting him is not unusual. 

Out of these dry black marks on paper, out of erratically spelled messages littered with in-jokes and nicknames, the wraith of the dead girl rose before him in the dark office. Her emails gave him what the multitude of photographs had not: a realisation in the gut, rather than the brain, that a real, living, laughing and crying human being had been smashed to death on that snowy London street. He had hoped to spot the flickering shadow of a murderer as he turned the file’s pages, but instead it was the ghost of Lula herself who emerged, gazing up at him, as victims of violent crimes sometimes did, through the detritus of their interrupted lives.

Though Strike does not yet know his childhood friend was murdered, Charlie Bristow’s spirit has apparently been with Strike ever since the boy’s tragic death. Despite knowing the lad for only a couple of months, and the many competing people he met over the course of his itinerant childhood with its oft-interrupted schooling, Charlie is solidly fixed in Strike’s memory. This is likely because Charlie’s death was Strike’s first experience with the passing of a peer. 

From that day onwards, Strike had seen the face of a laughing blond boy fragmenting every time he looked at, or imagined, a quarry. He would not have been surprised if every member of Charlie Bristow’s old class had been left with the same lingering fear of the great dark pit, the sheer drop and the unforgiving stone.

When Strike sees Charlie’s picture by his mother’s deathbed, he re-experiences his friend’s presence.

With something akin to an electric shock, he found himself looking into the eyes of ten-year-old Charlie Bristow, chubby-faced, with his slightly mullety haircut: frozen forever in the eighties, his school shirt with its long pointed collar, and the huge knot in his tie. He looked just as he had when he had waved goodbye to his best friend, Cormoran Strike, expecting to meet each other again after Easter.

Charlie, we should remember, died on the day most associated with resurrection from a dark pit and stone tomb. Given that he expected to see with Strike again after the holiday, it is not hard to imagine him keeping the appointment,  post-mortem. The first favor Charlie did for his best mate may have been to give a prod to his big brother. John Bristow, like Gregory Talbot of Troubled Blood, claims support from beyond for his decision to work with Strike.

“Nobody,” said Gregory. “It’s been up in our attic for the last ten years. We had a couple of boxes of stuff from Mum and Dad’s old house up there. Funny, you turning up just as the loft was being mucked out… maybe this is all Dad’s doing? Maybe he’s trying to tell me it’s OK to pass this over?”

“Well you see, when I was looking for someone to help me with this business, and I saw your name in the book,” Bristow’s knee began jiggling up and down, “you can perhaps imagine how it – well, it felt like – like a sign. A sign from Charlie. Saying I was right.”

Unlike Talbot, Bristow is presumably lying, bringing up Strike’s connection to his dead brother as a form of emotional blackmail to get Strike to take the case. But, just like Ron Weasley’s made-up predictions in divination have a way of coming true, Bristow’s words are inadvertently factual. Charlie is described as “laughing” and “a clown;” Lady Bristow recalls, “He loved performing, do you remember?” Young Charlie appears to be getting the last laugh on the brother who killed him. John Bristow wants two things out of life:  money and his mother’s affection. If Charlie did supernaturally inspire John to seek out and hire Strike, it was the ultimate revenge act. First, John hands over a hefty chunk of his coveted cash to Strike, who sorely needs it. Second, Strike solves the case, which results in John both losing his adopted sister’s fortune and presumably being forever alienated from his mother, once he is exposed as the killer of the two children she loved. Third, and as an added bonus, Bristow gets pounded in the face with Strike’s prosthesis, winding up beaten to a pulp and with a broken nose and jaw.

In the book epilogue, Strike tells Jonah Agyeman about the Bristow family safe combination: “030483. Easter Sunday, nineteen eighty-three: the day he killed my mate Charlie.” Strike is remembering Charlie’s fatal plunge into the quarry; that means that he is again seeing the face of the laughing, angelic schoolboy. Even though he’s having a pint with Agyeman, the imagery is of Strike raising a glass with his childhood friend, toasting the “gotcha” that they have together pulled on the “surly older brother” and murderer.

Interestingly, the name “Charlie” does not come up again until Lethal White, where we discover that it is the horsey set’s nickname for Charlotte Campbell, the living person who continues to haunt Strike.

The final two people who may have gotten a visit from Charlie are Lady Bristow and Lula, on the last day of Lula’s life. Charlie’s picture was likely present at her mother’s bedside then; at the very least, he was a topic of conversation:

“Can you remember what you talked about?”

“My operation, of course,” she said, with just a touch of asperity. “And then, a little bit, about her big brother.”

“Her big…?”

“Charlie,” said Lady Bristow, pitifully. “I told her about the day he died. I had never really talked to her about it before. The worst, the very worst day of my life…”

Strike thought of how the room would have looked on a winter morning months ago, when the trees must have been bare-limbed, when Lula Landry had sat where he was sitting, with her beautiful eyes perhaps fixed on the picture of dead Charlie while her groggy mother told the horrible story.

While this tale was unfolding, John Bristow was hiding in the middle flat of Lula’s building, trying on Deeby Mac’s clothes, and hatching the plot to murder his sister. Both Lula and her mother are marked for death; one knowingly, the other not. Perhaps it was only the post-operative pain and drugs that prompted Lady Bristow to finally confess the suspicions regarding John and Charlie’s death. Perhaps it was the sheer horror of what she had just heard that prompted Lula–for whom neither personal responsibility nor financial wisdom seem to be strong points–to immediately grab the blue note paper, write her will, call her trusted witness and set her affairs in order. But, with the imagery of the dead child’s picture in place, it is easy to imagine the veil thinning for both doomed Landry women, and Charlie’s ghost, with divine understanding of events to come, urging both his mother and his sister to take the actions that are needed to bring the killer to justice.

The Life and Times of Strike and Ellacott Timeline available for Readers

At long last, the timeline I created for Robin and Strike’s lifetimes is available to anyone who requests it by email.  See link at the top left of the Hogwartsprofessor.com homepage.

This timeline grew out of my interest in the errors and inconsistencies in the series as a whole, and particularly my efforts to make sense of Donald Laing’s timeline. Troubled Blood solved a few time mysteries, but also opened up others.

I am grateful to all the readers who have already contributed to the effort through their comments on this site, particularly Nick, who explained British school calendars to me. Lots of details, such as Switch LeVey Bloom Whittaker being a probably preemie, were the result of comments on my earlier posts.

The day-by-day book timelines available at www.Strikefans.com were also very useful.

I fully expect this to be a “living document” updated not only with publication of new books, but when others spot dates that I missed, or correct my errors.

Enjoy!

 

New Cover Reveal for the Christmas Pig

On 29th June 2021, J.K. Rowling announced that the cover of her new children’s book – The Christmas Pig had been revealed. Designed by Jim Field the award-winning illustrator, character designer and animator.

“The new book will be published as a “gorgeously gifty hardback”, with full-colour jacket and featuring nine black and white spreads and decorative inside art from illustrator Jim Field. The jacket design will be revealed in the coming months.” The Bookseller

Jim would seem to be the ideal choice for a project that looks like a very promising animated film, and at least to me the cover has more than a little of the movie poster about it. Far more interesting to me will be the nine black and white spreads that Mr Fields has been commissioned to do. Look around his website to get an idea of some of the beautiful monochrome work he is capable of.

“Jim’s illustrations are simply perfect. It really is as though he got inside my head and drew what he saw there. I gasped out loud when I saw one particular illustration — I can’t say which it is without giving spoilers — because it was such a perfect representation of one of my favourite scenes.”  JK Rowling

 

“It was ever so slightly daunting when I thought about the number of people who are going to see this cover around the world. I wanted to create something filmic, timeless, that captures the excitement of J K Rowling’s incredible story and the wonder of Christmas, where the adventure begins. It is really a dream project and I’m so chuffed to be part of it.” Jim Field

Ms Rowling seems more than happy and given that Jim Field is aiming for the filmic look it is possible that we may be looking at an animated film ready for Christmas 2023.

In a comment on another thread I mentioned that Rowling tweeted about this pig before: https://twitter.com/jk_rowling/status/727407744161071105?s=20, she was replying to her friend Jenny Colgan who had lost her daughter’s toy puffin called Neil at an airport. Ms Colgan is a very accomplished author of both romantic fiction and science fiction writing for the iconic Dr. Who series. She is also a member J.K. Rowling’s circle of friends within Edinburgh. Neil the Puffin first appears in Jenny’s romantic fiction book The Little Beach Street Bakery, published in 2014 and set in fictionalised Marazion and St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. In 2015 she began publishing a spin off series of children’s books based on the characters she had created, principally the daughter Polly and the Puffin Neil. This series is Jenny’s first foray into children’s stories and seems to be very successful. Neil now has his own twitter account which consists principally of tweeting “eep!”, so much more tolerable than most celebrity accounts.

As a post script the original Neil the Puffin was never found, but a replacement miraculously appeared to take his place. Could J.K. Rowling be planning a similar series of adventures for the Christmas Pig? let me know in the comments.

Happy 24th Birthday, Harry Potter!

Hat tip to Patricio Tarantino at TheRowlingLibrary.com and to Beatrice Groves for sending me a reminder that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published on this date in 1997. Much more than Harry’s fictional birthday of 31 July, one he shares with The Presence, the date of his first adventure’s publication marks his true entry into the real world.

Many thanks to the midwives at Bloomsbury that made the birth and the subsequent births so eventful — and congratulations to Harry’s real mum, the author, for all she overcame to carry the Boy Who Lived to term and to his final victory over the Dark Lord!