J. J. Marsh’s ‘Behind Closed Doors:’ Did Cormoran Strike Begin as a Bet that Rowling Made with Two Old Friends?

Rowling tweeted last month that “one of my best friends, who lives in Spain,” had sent her a video of an accomplished guitarist.

I asked Nick Jeffery who this “best friend” of Rowling might be and he, as always, had a good guess:

My guess (and it is a guess) is Aine Kiely, one of the Godmothers of Swing from the Prisoner of Azkaban dedication. She fits the bill as ‘one of her oldest friends’ and is currently working and living in Spain. The other Godmother of Swing, Jill Prewett, writes detective fiction under the name J J Marsh and lives in Switzerland. Both have holidayed with JKR in recent years.

I was struck by Nick’s aside that one of Rowling’s oldest and dearest friends writes detective fiction. I had read Prewett-Marsh’s 2013 interview with Rowling, one of the best, but hadn’t known the journalist here was a writer, too. I see now that Rowling mentions Ngaio Marsh twice in that very bookish discussion, the most frequently cited interview, I think, in our list of Rowling references to books and authors she likes.

I ordered, consequently, an omnibus or Box Set edition of J. J. Marsh’s first three Beatrice Stubbs novels: Behind Closed Doors, Raw Material, and Tread Softly. My thought was to check if these books, written by Jill Prewett and published at the same time as Rowling-Galbraith was planning and writing the Strike series, had any obvious over-laps with the more famous Cuckoo’s Calling and subsequent four books.

I read the first Stubbs book, Behind Closed Doors, last weekend and think there may indeed be a connection, a fun one.

Three notes before I connect those dots, all after the jump: [Read more…]

Beatrice Groves: John Donne, The Beast Within, and Who Killed Leda Strike

Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of  Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, has written a HogwartsProfessor Guest Post to mark the publication of Rowling-Galbraith’s Troubled Blood as a paperback. In it she discusses what Nick Jeffery’s discovery of a possible future Strike novel title and ‘The Beast Within’ theme of Rowling’s recent work tells us about who is the most likely suspect in the “Who Killed Leda Strike?” sweepstakes. Enjoy!

When thou hast done, thou hast not done:’ Rowling and John Donne?

I first entered the Harry Potter on-line fan world in 2017 (invited here by the generous welcome of the Hogwarts Professor, John Granger, upon the publication of my Literary Allusion in Harry Potter). That meant that I was a decade late to the party of predicting how Harry Potter might end. So, for me, Strike and Fantastic Beasts have been the first time I’ve experienced the pleasure of sleuthing together. And it has been an absolute ball. By following Rowling’s tempting line of breadcrumbs, and building on the insights of many Potter fans and pundits, we’ve hit the odd bullseye – my favourites being guessing the murder location in Lethal White and the Spenserian epigraphs in Troubled Blood.

While following the clues Rowling leaves about future Strike novels may be a rather minority sport compared to following her Harry Potter breadcrumbs, in some ways these clues are likely to tell us more. For Rowling has taken a new turn in the Strike novels. In these novels the titles, and the epigraphs, have a much more complex relation to the plots of the novels than they did in Harry Potter (which did not, of course, have epigraphs at all until the final novel). This means that with Strike such guesswork might not just tell us what the title is but also something about the novel. When Rowling laid on a game of Twitter hangman to guess the title Lethal White, for example, the equine hint of the title (first pointed out by Louise Freeman) – just like the other clues that pointed towards the White Horse at Uffington – turned out to play a central role in the plot.

This blogpost is written to mark the paperback publication of Troubled Blood (coming out 22nd /24th June) – a novel which demonstrated Hogwarts Professor’s most successful title-sleuthing to date. When the title Troubled Blood was released on 20 February 2020, Nick Jeffery accurately guessed that Rowling had drawn the phrase from Edmund Spenser’s epic sixteenth-century poem The Faerie Queene.

 Now, to be honest, when Nick first suggested this, I was sceptical. Not because Rowling choosing an early modern text was inherently unlikely – it was of a piece with the epigraphs to Silkworm – but because The Faerie Queene is one of my favourite poems. So, it simply seemed too good to be true. But this does mean that now that Nick has once again suggested another early modern writer as the source for the title of Strike 6, and I am once again thinking this seems too good to be true, the déjà vu makes me feel hopeful….

The combined sleuthing of Patricio Tarantino of The Rowling Library and Nick Jeffery have turned up what sounds like a highly plausible title for Strike 6: The Last Cries of Men. John Granger has written up Nick’s suggestion that this title points us towards Donne’s Devotion Upon Emergent Occasions – the source of Donne’s most famous quotation, as well as the phrase ‘the last cries of men.’ 

There are lots of caveats here – The Last Cries of Men may be something else entirely, after all – but if it is a Rowling novel, it certainly sounds like a Strike novel. The phrase (found in Meditation VI from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions [1624]) is Donne’s evocation of the most heart-rending noise of the battlefield: ‘the sound of drums and trumpets and shot and those which they seek to drown, the last cries of men.’ Donne makes a bitter observation about the pragmatic reason that armies make such a clamour with the noisy pomp of drums and trumpets. It is in order obscure their real business: the business of killing.

There are a number of reasons that this sounds like a Strike title. [Read more…]

Michael Ward on CSL’s ‘Abolition of Man’

Fr Michael Ward’s book Planet Narnia, a book which explores the astrological artistry of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, has been the subject of several HogwartsProfessor posts and the inspiration of many more. He has written a new book, this one an ancillary text to Lewis’ Abolition of Man, Ward’s book being titled After Humanity.

I confess that I have not yet read it. I have no doubt, nonetheless, that Fr Michael’s gloss on one of if not the most important of Lewis’s books is an invaluable guide to that work’s historical context, its meaning, and its continuing relevance today.

Chris Calderon sent me these helpful links to sites and online events that Lewis and Ward fans will enjoy:

November 1999: When Harry Met Sally

Yesterday an old friend sent me a copy of the Peanuts comic strip from 8 November 1999 (above). I confess to having been astonished and skeptical. “No way,” I thought, “was Charles Schulz still drawing dailies in late 1999.”

Turns out, of course, that he was. This must have been one of his last comic strips; he suffered a series of strokes in early December of that year and retired.

I remember as a high school student not only being surprised but being thrilled when I learned that Mohandas K. Gandhi had corresponded with Leo Tolstoy. I was interested in both writers, especially Gandhi, and had mentally filed each in a water-tight compartment that shared no space with the other, that is, ’19th Century writer’ and ’20th Century writer.’ Discovering that their lives over-lapped and that they had actually exchanged ideas was a delightfully defamiliarizing and exciting moment, something akin to studying Coleridge and Blake and then finding out that the two actually met one afternoon and had a long conversation over tea (alas, no record of that exchange survives, but Malcolm Guite does a wonderful job at recreating what might have been said).

Charles ‘Sparky’ Schulz was a great favorite of mine growing up; I spent a great deal of time as a young boy reading comic strip anthologies, huge books that collected daily and Sunday strips, and Peanuts with Dick Tracy and Buck Rogers was an especial favorite. Charlie Brown, of course, had the virtue of also being still published on a daily basis. There is no record of his having corresponded with Rowling before he died in 2000, but it cheers me no end to know that it is possible that he had read a Harry Potter book and felt inspired to share his approval of them in having Sally, Charlie’s younger sister, write him a note.

Please share your unlikely meeting discoveries in the comment boxes, especially if they involve celebrity encounters with J. K. Rowling before she became The Presence. I know that Ian Rankin and the Cursed Child playwright met Jo back in the day; any others?

The Tweet Heard Round the World, Part 2

As you may recall, Rowling’s cancellation for her supposed “transphobia” by the elite of Harry Potter fandom came as a consequence to her full throated support of Maya Forstater in a tweet on 19 December 2019. My longest publicly shared view of this controversy is, in brief, that it was a deliberate act of self-destruction and recreation, her intentional solve et coagula reinvention of her public persona. That remains very much a minority position, which, of course, you’d expect if I am right. Rowling is the master of media manipulation and even features it in her novels. Can you say “narrative misdirection”? We’re not supposed to see it.

Yesterday Rowling returned to the scene of her self-demolition with a re-tweet (see above) of Maya Forstater’s twitter note claiming victory in her appeal of the 2019 Tribunal’s finding that she was not the victim of unlawful dismissal. The Summary of ‘Maya Forstater vs CGD Europe and Others‘ from the court (posted after the jump) makes me wonder if the celebrations are in order for such a Pyrrhic Victory, but I think Rowling is correct in noting in her re-tweet to a social media platform exponentially larger than Forstater’s – with something of a thumbing of the nose at her detractors? — that free speech has not yet been entirely cancelled in the UK.

Again, though, as ardently as The Presence holds her convictions about feminism and transgender issues, I think the major take-away from the controversy is less about those beliefs than about Rowling’s changed status because of the uproar. She is no longer the media go-to diva for progressive causes or the sock-puppet quoted by adolescent fans of all ages in support of their political Fascination Du Jour. She is under no obligation to share her thoughts on every news item via Twitter. I think it more than credible, arguing backwards from effect to cause, that this transformation suits her fine, so well that it may have been her aim in the first place.

If you doubt that Rowling may be delighted to be free of the mad-house PC/CRT factions of Harry Potter fandom — can you say ‘Fandom Forward,’ the former ‘Harry Potter Alliance’ that jettisoned their name less they be tainted by association with Rowling? — please re-read Gloria Conti’s recall at the end of Troubled Blood of her youthful dream-world fantasy life within her obsession about The Godfather. If that isn’t Rowling-Galbraith’s portrait of the Potter Crazies whose lives turn in large part on their Walter Mitty imagined existence and how she hopes they will come to understand themselves in years to come, i.e., growing up and being ashamed of their selfish nuttery, I’m totally misreading it.

Not enough? Read the conversations at the Valentine’s Day Party from Hell with special attention to the arguments of Kyle and Courtney vis a vis ‘changing the world by reclaiming language’ and by exhibitionist demonstrations (‘Slut Walk’). Rowling-Galbraith gives us a word picture of her fandom detractors, young and old, in that back-and-forth. That she inserts a very sympathetic character named ‘Maya,’ one of the Bayliss sisters, in Strike5 is a pointer to her not being above inserting caricatures of and name-checks to real people or a type of person.

I doubt that the Forstater Saga is over but I’m pretty sure Rowling’s reinvention and rubedo, a public metamorphosis achieved through it, are complete. Your thoughts?

[Read more…]