Robin Ellacott and Reverse Alchemy: Transformation Through the First Three Strike Texts

Nearly a decade ago, William Sprague published a guest post here on Hogwartsprofessor, arguing for a type of reverse alchemy in the first three Harry Potter books. Given the parallels between the Cormoran Strike and Harry Potter series, and the evidence that Strike’s nigredo is the principal theme of Troubled Blood, shouldn’t we also expect to see reverse alchemy in the first three books?  I’m going to argue that we do; furthermore, that the subject of the process is not the title character, but the series’ co-lead. Robin Ellacott.

In this model, the reverse-rubedo would would be the first volume, The Cuckoo’s Calling. As a reminder from our Headmaster, in the traditional rubedo

a wedding has to be revealed, contraries have to be resolved, and a death to self must lead to greater life. We should expect to see a philosopher’s stone and a philosophical orphan, as well.

Reverse Rubedo in The Cuckoo’s Calling. The wedding reveal happens literally in the first sentence of the series, so at the start of the rubedo phase, not the end.  Robin, whom we meet before Cormoran, enters the book deliriously happy and focused exclusively on her future nuptials, having been, the previous evening, the recipient of “the most perfect proposal, ever, in the history of matrimony.” As she relives the experience, she revisits the sapphire in her engagement ring, which keeps capturing her attention with its sparkles; Robin expects to “watch that stone glitter all the rest of her life.”  We can therefore think of the oft-mentioned sapphire as a kind of philosopher’s stone, albeit the wrong color,* that opens the book as harbinger of her new identity as the future Mrs. Cunliffe.

*Dammit, Matthew, why couldn’t you pick out a ruby?”

The stone may be blue, but  the rubedo colors of red and gold are present elsewhere in the first meeting of Robin and Strike. The Tube commuters are described as “gilded by the radiance of the ring.” There is also Robin’s red-gold hair, and her face is described as first being colored pink by the chilly weather, and then as blushing bright red both after her near-knock down the stairs, and in response to Strike’s unfortunate “Robin red-breast” allusion. As for the philosophical orphan, we see an inversion of that concept as Robin visualizes telling her and Matthew’s future children the story of the proposal at the faux-Eros statue. This is, best I can recall, the only time Robin is shown thinking about potential motherhood until Strike asks her if she is pregnant in Lethal White; it is not until Troubled Blood, after the marriage is over, that we learn she had envisioned having three children with Matthew. Looking back we can see her reflections as foreshadowing not about a child without parents , but the hypothetical children our quarreling couple will never have. 

Robin will spend the next three books moving toward the fairy-tale wedding that she is so eagerly anticipating in the opening scenes of The Cuckoo’s Calling. However, through her work with Strike–the job she initially believes “did not matter in the slightest”–she undergoes a transformation into the polar opposite of the giddy bride-to-be, as her dream wedding becomes a nightmare and leaves her unable to even muster a smile. Robin does not to “die to herself” to become the Flobberworm’s wife; she evolves into her authentic self, which means pursuing her dream of detective work, even at the cost of her marriage. This transformation takes her through a reverse alchemical process, with the (literally) white and snowy adventures of The Silkworm forming the albedo, and the (figuratively) dark and gory Career of Evil as the nigredo. Let’s continue the rubedo journey with her after the jump. 

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Roger Scruton: On Harry Potter

A friend in Dallas sent me a url to this video in 2017 inviting my response. I had only just learned of the remarkable Roger Scruton through conversation with a brilliant University of Oklahoma Honors College student and was intrigued to learn that the English philosopher had condescended to discuss the Hogwarts Saga. My comments below to the friend in Dallas at the time (and my decision not to post it here then?) reflected my disappointment about Scruton’s conclusion that Rowling is an advocate of a “soft socialism.”

I hadn’t seen this video. Thank you for sending! My first thoughts while listening to it was his theory, that reading the Hogwarts Saga induces “Potterism” or childish and magical thinking (“soft socialism”) alongside his contrasting “magic” with “prayer” and the will-to-power of alchemy with the love of knowledge of scientists, untainted by ambition or any fallen human motivation, reflects a profound ignorance of children’s literature, the history of science, and Harry Potter.

I did think his BBC English and soft reading of his piece were very effective rhetorically, even if I winced each time he mispronounced Rowling’s name.

The real shame is that he is more right than wrong about Rowling’s politics and her Twitter pronouncements, which are, alas, of the same value as our President’s [Trump] in the end. Scruton was right at the start in wanting to separate Rowling’s literary accomplishment from her liberal ideology; he failed in the end by arguing incredibly that her stories induce irresponsibility and a penchant for the sentimental socialism of the author.

An English friend last month sent me the link to this same video and asked what I thought. How things have changed since 2017, no? Certainly my thoughts on this video have.

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Troubled Blood Wins Nibbie!

What Happened in Norfolk? Speculations about the “Worst Place” of Strike’s Childhood.

Cormoran Strike no doubt has multiple traumatic memories of his childhood. He recalls the squalor of multiple squats where he lived as a child, including one that was so bad that his gentle Uncle Ted threatened violence to get him out. But, as reader share glimpses of Strike’s memories, one place stands out as the worst place of all: a commune in Norfolk where Strike lived at age 8.
Over two years ago, in my post “Piecing Together Cormoran Strike’s Childhood: Could Jonny Rokeby be the Snape of the Series?” I reviewed the information we had at the time about the Norfolk Commune, speculated that it was an end-times cult of some type, and that accusations of child abuse may have gotten the attention of Ted and Joan, Papa Jonny, or both. We learned a bit more about the commune in Troubled Blood, which opens up some new possibilities. After the jump, I will sum up the total known facts about the notorious Norfolk Commune, and speculate more generally about what we may eventually learn about this phase of Strike’s life.     [Read more…]

Guest Post: Rokeby Redux – Is Strike’s Father More Snape than Lord Voldemort?

Rokeby Redux by Kurt Schreyer

I’ve long admired this site, but I’ve never commented before. I’d like to propose an alternative theory to your account of Jonny Rokeby as the arch villain of the Strike series (‘Heroin Dark Lord, 2.0‘). As Beatrice Groves succinctly summarized when I ran it by her: “Rokeby is the Snape and not the Voldemort” of this story. All citations below are from the Kindle edition.

Our initial impression in Cuckoo’s Calling is that while Peter Gillespie is a jerk, Rokeby may be the real villain. “Got you working weekends now, has he?” Strike asks the first time we meet the lawyer over the phone (p. 346). Before hanging up, Strike rebuffs the demand for repayment of what is often and clearly called a “loan” in this novel (p. 347). Before this conversation, Lucy tells her brother that she finds it “outrageous” that Rokeby is using Gillespie as a cat’s paw. She says that he’s never given her brother a single penny and that “he ought to have made it a gift” ( p. 130). At the end of the first novel, there’s a hint that in fact Rokeby wishes to make a gift of the money. When Gillespie calls this final time, Robin replies to an offer we aren’t privy to: “Mr. Strike would rather pay.” (p. 549). Did Rokeby tell Gillespie that he wanted Strike to keep the money? The reader is left to decide whether this is a sincere offer or a cynical ploy to share the limelight with the now-famous detective.

But in Troubled Blood, these matters are presented rather differently. We learn that Rokeby’s money was not a loan until Strike made it one: “My mother got a letter…reminding her I could use the money that had been accumulating in the bank account” and Rokeby repeated this offer when he learned that Strike was out of hospital and trying to start a detective agency ( p. 723). Robin replies in disbelief, “That money was yours all along? … Gillespie acted as though—” (p. 724). But Strike interrupts her and we’re given a crucial piece of information from Strike himself: [Read more…]