Troubled Blood: Robin’s Two Perfumes The Meaning of Philosychos and Narciso

Robin Ellacott-Cunliffe’s perfume of choice until the dissolution of her marriage was Philosychos by Diptyque. Strike and Matthew both liked it, perhaps their only point of agreement beyond loving Robin herself. As much as perfumes play an outsized role in Troubled Blood, the name of the perfume is worth a moment’s reflection because its meaning is suggestive of Robin’s role in the allegorical drama that the Cormoran Strike mysteries are. 

The various perfumes mentioned in Troubled Blood have been catalogued at the always helpful StrikeFans website. The anonymous compilier notes on that page without further elucidation that “Perfumes appear to be an important and recurring theme in Troubled Blood, emphasizing identity and how we want to be seen versus how other people see us.”

What is left unnoted, beyond the connection to be made between the perfumes mentioned and the identity of the person who wears it, is the importance of the perfume names. Strike, it must be recalled, balks at buying Robin a perfume for Christmas, not only because his flu bug prevents him from being able to smell anything (or think clearly), but also because the names of scents recommended to him mean “In Your Arms” and “Ravishing Musk.” Strike tells Robin in the last chapter trip to Liberty’s perfume counter that these names sounded to him like “Shaggable You,” which idea makes Robin laugh out loud.

The names of Robin’s baseline perfume, Philosychos, and the one she and Strike choose at story’s end, Narciso, both point less to the bedroom than to Robin’s allegorical, psychological, and mythological role in the series. More after the jump! [Read more…]

HBO Max: ‘The Harry Potter Quiz Show’

I was contacted last week by a Casting Associate for a business that finds candidates for reality television programming. The show in question is HBO Max’ ‘Harry Potter Quiz Show’ and I received a message via the Contact page here at HogwartsProfessor because of my unofficial status as ‘Dean of Harry Potter Scholars.’ In a nutshell, they wanted me to name names of the Best and Brightest in Hogwarts Saga fandom who would be great on a five episode trivia contest game show.

Which was fun! After I’d given him my Top Ten choices, I asked for permission to post here about the Quiz Show and the website at which anyone and everyone can apply. Permission was granted — which shouldn’t have surprised me because, as is not unusual in this sort of thing, the programing and application site have been public knowledge for several weeks.

WizardingWorld.com, for example, announced the project and encouraged everyone to explain why they are the world’s greatest Harry Potter fan in an article titled, Celebrating 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter film: A quiz show and retrospective TV special to launch later this year.

We know you love a Harry Potter quiz – so get ready for something really special. Later this year, an epic quiz competition series will be launching in the US from Warner Bros, challenging wizarding world fans to prove their knowledge. You’ll be able to tune in and join in with the upcoming quiz competition series across HBO Max, Cartoon Network and TBS, with international viewing plans to be announced at a later date.

The as-of-yet untitled quiz will feature four one-hour quiz challenges across four consecutive days and will finish with a retrospective special, all celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone’s film this year. So, get ready for a host of magic and challenges, and a celebration of that first film that introduced us to the wizarding world for the first time.

The quiz series itself will be celebrate the incredible fandom and their love of the Harry Potter films and stories – and will be open to contestants who are 14 years old and over, with fans of all ages able to join in from home. So, many generations of wizarding world fan can get involved!

The link embedded in that last paragraph takes the Willie Wonka Wanna-Be, the Charlie/Charlotte Bucket Brigade, to ‘HarryPotterQuizShow.CastingCrane.com,’ a site at which he or she makes their elevator pitch to the casting mavens about “why I would be a great contestant on this show.” Questions include:

  • What is your favorite Harry Potter film and why?
  • Who is your favorite Harry Potter character and why?
  • Why are YOU Harry Potter‘s biggest fan?
  • Do you have any Harry Potter hobbies, traditions, memorabilia, or collections?
  • Which Hogwarts house do you belong to? 

They also ask for pictures and a video clip, and, my favorite, a space for applicants to “List all past TV shows in which you have appeared (Name, Network, Year, Role, # of Episodes).”

Hollywood Reporter jumped all over this with an article that opens with the prediction, “The era of the Harry Potter TV series is officially beginning.”

The untitled competition quiz show, which is now casting via WizardingWorld.com, will feature super fans competing to answer trivia questions with special guests set to also be featured in the four-episode series. The show will lead into a retrospective special. An online play-along component will also be part of the game show.

The game show and retrospective are the first official TV offshoots of J.K. Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter franchise and come after WarnerMedia tapped Warner Bros. Global Kids, Young Adults and Classics president Tom Ascheim to oversee the Harry Potter franchise for the studio. Both the series and special are exec produced by Warner Bros. Unscripted TV and Warner Horizon. Robin Ashbrook and Yasmin Shackleton will exec produce the hourlong quiz show, while Casey Patterson (A West Wing Special, VAX Live) will oversee the retrospective. Sources say that while Rowling is not directly involved in either production, Warners collaborated with her team on the content….

The decision to expand the franchise for television comes as NBCUniversal in 2016 inked a rich seven-year rights deal with Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution that included U.S. broadcast, cable and streaming rights to the Wizarding World franchise. That deal, which ends in April 2025, included digital initiatives as well as theme park content and events. The pact also meant Warners execs had to make a side deal that allowed all of the Harry Potter features to briefly stream on HBO Max when the service launched last year. The films left HBO Max after three months and recently returned to NBCUniversal streamer Peacock.

The decision to launch the quiz show and retrospective across HBO Max, Cartoon Network and TBS arrives as WarnerMedia continues to look for synergy across its portfolio in a bid to expose programming to a larger audience.

The Quiz-Show-Not-Yet-But-Soon-To-Be-Named, in brief, is the “first official off-shoot” into the television medium, an opening shot in the long term battle plan to create more excitement in younger fans about the Potter franchise and to revive enthusiasm in the Old Guard. This last challenge is especially significant in light of the Tweet Heard Round the World and Rowling’s subsequent cancellation by the Twitterati.

The good news? This is all in the hands of Rowling, Inc., so it will be done professionally and without sly sarcastic digs at The Presence and her feminism.

The better news? While no great fan of the medium and the sub-genre of programing here, a show of this kind will generate fresh interest in Rowling’s first series of novels, and (he writes hopefully), via trickle-down effect, more interest in her more recent writing, the Cormoran Strike novels.

The most exciting possibility? That one of my recommendations for Quiz Show Contestant or, best of all, a HogwartsProfessor.com Serious Reader is chosen and wins! Please take the fifteen minutes the application takes to fill out, young and old, to win a chance at stepping up to the Big Stage!

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…]