Pentagram Predictions III: Troubled Blood as Alchemical Twin to Deathly Hallows

This is the last, at least for now, of my Pentagram Predictions Posts.  As I stated in the introduction to this series, this model has a serious weakness; a 5-part structure messes up the Parallel Series theory: the idea that the Cormoran Strike books are written in parallel to the 7-part Harry Potter series. My tentative solution is to propose that JKR/RG wrote Troubled Blood not just as a counterpart to Order of the Phoenix, but as a combined counterpart to the last three Potter books. In that case, we should be able to see not only echoes to Order of the Phoenix, but to Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows.

Fortunately for me, two-thirds of this post has already been covered. Hogpro regulars were expecting OotP links, and started compiling a list in a Placeholder Post as soon as Troubled Blood was published. Then, I was struck by the number of parallels for Half-Blood Prince that seemed to be in Troubled Blood, starting with the common “Blood” in the title. This is part of what let me to speculate that TB might have been originally planned as the 6th book in the series. You can find the rationale behind that idea, and the list of Half-blood Prince connections here. 

I’m not going to try to recap every OotP and HBP connection to TB here, but refer readers to the earlier posts.  (Read the comments, too, as some of the best ideas came from our readers!) I also want to stress that Troubled Blood is not the three Potter novels in sequence; there is no moment when TB ceases to echo OotP and starts being more like HBP. Rather, we see themes and echos of all three books woven throughout the text.  Lethal White had a specific storyline connection to Goblet of Fire; “Unpleasant government minister in charge of pulling off a successful major sports event is murdered by the son that he got out of jail early” could be a Cliff Notes plot summary for both books. For Troubled Blood, I see more isolated thematic and character echoes. For example:

  • Anna’s leading = Trelawny’s prophecy:  Both OotP and TB were set into motion when a medium went into a trance and made a prediction to a skeptical listener.
  • Talbot’s “True Book” = The Prince’s Potions text: Both are old volumes, covered with handwritten notes suggesting atypically approaches to problem-solving. Harry and friends spend most of the book wondering who the Prince was; Robin and Strike have to figure out what Talbot was actually thinking, and who the mysterious “Schmidt” was.
  • Witness interviews = Pensieve memories. In both HBP and TB, the protagonists are depending on decades-old memories to answer the current questions, and review a series of them over the novel.  Hence the long, narrative monologues by characters like Gloria Conti and the Bayliss sisters, rather than the typical Q and A of an interview.
  • Charlotte’s texts = Harry’s mental link to Voldy: Unwanted communications in both TB and OotP let our hero know what their nemesis is thinking. At one point, the connection alerts the hero that someone is near death, and he saves their life. The connection is cut at the end.
  • Steve Douthwaite = Horace Slughorn: the cowardly figure who tried to rewrite his past to hide a guilty secret and had to be strong-armed into revealing it.
  • Disaster at Madame Puddifoots = Dinner Party from Hell:  Valentine’s Day just never quite works out right, does it?

Interestingly, some characters do double-duty, pointing us to both OotP and HBP.  For example:

  • Saul Morris = Delores Umbridge and Cormac McLaggen.  I think JKR was misdirecting us a bit by introducing a grouchy older lady as the new agency secretary; my knee-jerk reaction was “aha—  Umbridge counterpart.” But Delores, our least-favorite toad-faced DADA teacher turned out to have her homolog in the handsome new sub-contractor Morris; notice how the names rhyme? Saul Morris arrives at the agency with a similar level of arrogance that Umbridge brought to Hogwarts: undercutting Robin’s authority in the same way Umbridge undercut Dumbledore’s, while sucking up to Strike in the same way Delores did to Fudge. Just as Harry would not tell Dumbledore about Umbridge’s hand-cutting quill because DD was away a lot, concerned with more important matters, Robin did not tell Strike about Morris’s inappropriate texts, because she did not want to add to his worries in St. Mawes. Just like Umbridge was foolish enough to insult the centaurs, Morris was foolish enough to “joke” with the woman who fought off the Shacklewell Ripper by grabbing her from behind. Both found themselves physically trounced, then run out of the”castle”–and not a soul was sorry. Morris also reminds us, more directly, of the vain and womanizing Cormac McLaggen of HBP; even playing a similar role as the target of a little fake holiday “dating” our brainy heroine does to save face after being dumped, and which prompts some jealousy in her actual love interest.
  • Joan Nancarrow = Sirius Black and Dumbledore. Joan, like Sirius, was a surrogate parent to Strike, and he certainly felt guilt, not for causing her death but for not being as attentive to and appreciative of her as he should have been. As Dumbledore was weakened by Voldemort’s potion, Joan was weakened by chemotherapy. Like Dumbledore, Joan had an elaborate funeral, a non-traditional burial and a beautiful white container for her earthly remains.

But what of Deathly Hallows? Can we find echoes of that book in Troubled Blood? Find out after the jump.

I’ll be the first to admit that, even after mulling this over for several days, I am not seeing the same level of connection to DH as I saw for OotP and HBP.  This is not unexpected; even if the series was originally conceived as a five-parter, by the time TB was written it was clear that Rowling expected the series to continue for longer. Whatever traces of Book 7 themes remain, would not be expected to be as prominent as Book 5 and 6. Nonetheless, I see three major connections in the overarching story.

1. The most obvious parallel to the horcrux hunt is Robin’s and Strike’s search for the unusually high number of missing witnesses: Carl Oakden, Paul Satchwell, Gloria Conti and Steven Douthwaite, plus Creed, whose location (like Nagini’s) is known but who is under Gringott’s-style security. While our heroes have, at times, had trouble persuading witnesses to talk (e.g. Freddy Bestigui) they have always been pretty successful at physically tracking down the people they were searching for within a few days or weeks. In the Bamborough case, witnesses elude them for the better part of a year. It takes almost unbelievably lucky breaks to secure both horcruxes and witnesses.

The hunt for witnesses, in particular, has the same unbalanced pacing as the hunt for horcruxes. Deathly Hallows started in early July. It took the Trio until September to find the locket horcrux, and until late December to destroy it. The remaining three (cup, diadem, snake)* were found and destroyed over the course of a day or so (May 1-2), and their quest is brought to a quick end.  So it was with the last three Bamborough witnesses: Strike locates Douthwaite on August 28th (two weeks after the year-long case had officially ended) and Robin receives permission for him to interview Creed on the same day. They track down Douthwaite in Skegness on the 29th, and immediately after speaking with him, Gloria Conti makes contact, having located the deleted emails in the computer trash file and, contrary to her husband’s expectation, eager to talk.  They speak with her the next day. Immediately after, they recognize the clues of the phone boxes, and Strike deduces the killer.

Another similarly I see is between 2. Strike’s showdown with Dennis Creed and Harry’s final duel with Voldemort. Strike and Creed battle each other with brains and bluffs, rather than spells, but, in both cases it is a one-on-one duel–or chess game–observed by others who do not interfere. Harry could be said to have opened a “King’s Gambit-” like move, by surrendering in the forest and giving Voldemort an apparently easy path to his destruction, but one which backfired on Voldemort by destroying the soul fragment in Harry. Like Voldemort, Creed is ultimately defeated by his own “rebounding spell.” He describes just how he lured women into his clutches:

“So I say, ‘Well, I got to go now, sweetheart, you be careful.’ ‘Be careful!’ It always worked.” Creed affected squeaky tones to imitate Gail, “‘Aw, don’t go, have a drink!’ ‘No, darling, I need my beauty sleep.’ That’s when you prove you’re not a threat. You make as if you want to leave, or actually walk away. Then, when they call you back, or run into you ten minutes later, when they’re starting to feel like shit, they’re relieved, because you’re the nice man who’s safe…”

The Silkworm told us that Strike also knows this trick, as he advised Robin before sending her to Kathryn Kent’s, “Once you’ve laid it out for her, act like you can take it or leave it. You’re there when she starts chasing you.” He manipulates Creed into giving up the clue to the location of Louise Tucker’s body–one that turns out to be easily decipherable thanks to Brian Tucker’s years of research and Robin’s ability to Google–with this exact ploy.

“You go and tell the newspapers I’ve decided to confess to killing Louise, and that I’m sane, and I should be in Belmarsh, and if I’m transferred, I’ll tell old Brian Tucker where I put his little girl. You go tell the authorities, that’s my offer…You never know, I might even feel up to talking about Margot Bamborough when I’m out of here. Let’s get these drugs out of my system, and maybe I’ll remember better.”

“You’re full of shit,” said Strike, getting to his feet, looking angry. “I’m not passing this on.”

“Don’t be like that, because it’s not the one you came for,” said Creed, with a slow smile. “You’re coming across like a proper narcissist, Cormoran.”

“I’m ready to go,” Strike told Dr. Bijral.

“Don’t be like that,” said Creed. “Oi!”

Strike turned back.

“All right… I’ll give you a little clue about where I put Louise’s body…”

Hoist on his own petard. Like Voldemort, Creed was convinced of his superiority right up until the end, and dead wrong.

“Sorry not to be able to help with Dr. Bamborough!” called Creed, and Strike could hear his pleasure at the idea that he’d thwarted the detective. Strike turned back one last time, and now he stopped pretending to be angry, and grinned, too.

“I was here for Louise, you silly fucker. I know you never met Margot Bamborough. She was murdered by a far more skillful killer than you ever were.”

Strike’s advantage in the encounter came from his knowledge of who Margot’s actual killer was.** Thus, those last two interviews, and resultant deductions, were like the horcrux destructions that made Voldemort mortal. Creed’s dismayed face, once he realized he’d been had, was described as “slack” while the defeated Voldemort’s was “vacant and unknowing.”

But, the clearest connection between DH and TB is, to me, the fact that 3. both novels are structured as year-long alchemical cycles, with the nigredo nadir occurring at Christmas, the transition to albedo occurring at Theophany/Epiphany and the transition to rubedo heralded by an Easter burial. To understand this, I suggest you read Headmaster John’s explanation of the alchemical cycle in DH and the way the holidays of Christmas, Theophany and Easter mark the black, white and red phases. Or better yet, read Chapter 2 of The Deathly Hallows Lectures.  Even before I did, John had noticed that Troubled Blood followed a very similar calendar, with Strike in a dark and miserable place at Christmas, and Joan’s Easter burial marking a transformation in both him and their case. Many thanks to John for sharing the notes from his still-in-progress dissertation to help me down this pathway.

Harry had a miserable Christmas and Boxing Day in DH. Christmas Eve found him estranged from Ron, and pondering his parents grave, wishing he had died with them. Things get worse as the battle with Nagini costs Harry his wand and Rita Skeeter’s vile biography shatters his faith in Dumbledore. Likewise, Strike spends the holidays in his dingy attic flat, missing the family gathering in St. Mawes and throwing up his guts thanks to a combination of flu, poisoned chocolates and a snuff film. Robin, though not as bad off as Harry and Strike, is having a “pretty shit” Christmas in Masham that isn’t improved by the Boxing Day photographic token from Morris. Thus, Christmas marks the nigredo in both books.

For Harry. the story shifts to albedo with the appearance of the Silver Doe, leading both him and Ron to the frozen pool, the silver sword of Gryffindor and reconciliation. I’ll refer you to John’s posts for a more in-depth discussion of the “Ron the Baptist” scene, its connections to the Christian holidays of Theophany and Epiphany, and why he calls “Ms. Rowling’s single finest chapter.”  As for Strike, he makes it to Cornwall (bearing Christmas gifts, like the Magi) shortly before the floodwaters cut off rail service; historically, this storm happened on Jan 3-4.  While there is no explicit “baptism” of Strike, the circa-Epiphany rains serve a cleansing function for St. Mawes and its inhabitants.

All the gaudy prettiness of summertime St. Mawes was wiped away and, like an actress when the stage-paint is removed, the town’s true self was revealed, a place of hard stone and stiff backbone.

As the days went by, Strike noticed another change in his aunt that surprised him. Just as her storm-ravaged birthplace had revealed a different aspect in adversity, so an unfamiliar Joan was emerging, a Joan who asked open-ended questions that were not designed to elicit confirmation of her own biases, or thinly veiled requests for comforting lies.

Forced into long hours of company with his surrogate parents and Kerenza (Cornish for “love”) the nurse, Strike is able to bring comfort to Joan through honest conversation and a promise to carry out her wishes for a cremation and burial at sea.

Just as white, light, water and other albedo images dominate in chapters 19-30 of DH, they dominate TB from Strike’s circa-Epiphany (Jan 4-19, according to the timeline) visit until the time Joan’s ashes are carried to sea in their white-lily urn.  For example:

  • Robin identifies Shifty’s “blonde friend,” Elinor (“light of God”) Dean.
  • The initial refusal of the authorities to let Strike interview Creed is leaves Robin feeling like they were, “pointlessly searching rockpools, while yards away the great white slid away, untouchable, into dark water.”
  • Amanda White reconsiders her monetary demands for her story.
  • Robin determines that the “white van” was not Creed’s
  • Robin takes a bubble bath, then toasts Max’s new job with him with champagne on his creamy white sofas.
  • Strike and Robin make a rainy-day visit to Hampton Court, to meet Cynthia (a.k.a Artemis, Goddess of the Moon, literally dressed as a Queen).
  • Strike and Robin visit Broom House with rain beating on the surface of the koi ponds. How alchemical is this?
    • The surface of the long, formal koi pond outside, with its stone pavilion at the end, was now so densely rain- pocked that the vivid red, white and black shapes moving beneath the surface were barely discernible as fish. There was one particularly big creature, pearl white and black, that looked as though it might be over two feet long.
  • “Everlasting” rain continues as February starts, preventing a visit to Cornwall.
  • Polworth rows across floodwaters to take Joan and Ted food.
  • Robin learns of Julie Wilkes’s death by drowning.
  • By near miracle, Strike locates  a rain-soaked Samhain Athorn.
  • Strike reflects on Talbot’s notebooks, repeating the phrase, Water everywhere.
  • Strike speaks to the alleged Clare (“bright”) Spencer.
  • Strike calls bleach-blonde Irene, who rambles about Bognor Regis, Clacton-on-sea and Leamington Spa, and gushes about her love of watery vacation spots.
  • Robin and Strike have their Valentine’s Day fight on a rainy street.
  • Robin locates online information about Satchwell’s exhibit in Leamington Spa.
  • Strike and Lucy journey to St. Mawes amid rain and floods to be at Joan’s deathbed. “To Strike’s grateful surprise, the crisis had revealed a different Lucy, just as illness had uncovered a different Joan.” The siblings are able to focus on their common goal rather than squabble.
  • Robin travels to Leamington Spa and does a tarot reading, drawing cards with water and moon images. She meets Satchwell at the exhibit in the Pump Rooms, amid old fountains that once held the “health-giving spa waters.” She discovers the “pillow dream” refers to the possible smothering of Satchwell’s disabled sister, Blanche (“white.”)
  • Joan’s funeral takes place in a white church, with sea-themed stained glass scenes and concludes with an ocean-themed  “hymn most beloved of sailors.” At the wake, one of Polworth’s daughters falls into the surf, and Strike notes a white seagull flying out to sea.
  • Amanda White finally tells her story.
  • Strike visits Janice, interrupting her viewing of a program about white bridal gowns, “with bling.”
  • On the way to interview the Bayliss sisters, Robin makes a stop at Alexandra Lake and sees waterfowl.

In both DH and TB, the shift to rubedo is marked by the blending of red into the white-dominated chapters. As John tells us, signs of this include the juxtaposition of Dobby’s white headstone against the red earth, and the milky-pink eyes of the Gringott’s dragon. In TB, Strike draws comfort from Joan’s favorite pink roses, sent by Robin to the funeral. The sky is “coral pink” when he returns to Cornwall for the Easter scattering of ashes, and more pink roses follow the lily urn into the sea, even as Polworth’s daughter Rozwyn (“white rose”) breaks down in tears. By the time Strike ducks into an “old-fashioned red telephone booth” to save Charlotte from her suicide attempt, the transition to rubedo is well underway.

The incident at the American Bar in which Strike “saw red,” blood from Robin’s nose sprays a kind bystander’s white shirt and and her eyes are reduced to “red-purplish mounds” certainly heralds a transformation in the detectives’ relationship. Strike opens up emotionally, acknowledges her as his “best mate” and agrees to try “that talking thing.”  Punctuating the evening with Morris’s blood glistening on the carpet and his unceremonious departure is icing on the cake. Thanks to this change in perspective, the partners are are…eventually… able to talk through their disagreement about Robin’s visit to Mucky Ricci, so that it does not rupture the partnership, the way the CoE visit to Brockbank had.

What finally solves the case of Margot Bamborough is the conversation after the Gloria Conti interview, when our heroes discern what Ruby Elliot saw at those red telephone boxes. The final confrontation occurs in Janice’s “red sitting room, with its cheap crimson Turkish rug.” At the final meeting with their client, the detectives are able to see the resolution of antagonism between Roy and Oonaugh, and Anna reconciled with her father, secure in her certainty of her late mother’s love, and grateful to the stepmother who raised her. Quite a contrast to the earlier scene in Broom House. And, although there is no formal alchemical wedding, Strike’s transformation is displayed in his thoughtful and effortful birthday gifts: the playful balloon donkey and the perfume he helps select. As they walk away to in the “golden glow” of the evening, heading towards a champagne toast at the Ritz, is it any wonder Strike is thinking of Mazankov and Krupov, the names that convince skeptics they might be the marrying type after all.

In sum, three different models give us three different predictions for The Ink Black Heart.

  1. Under Parallel Series Theory: we should see a volume with very clear parallels to Half-Blood Prince, and associated albedo imagery
  2. Under the 5-6 Flip corollary of Parallel Series Theory, we will see a book originally planned as book five, which, like Troubled Blood will have clear links to both OotP and HBP, and a mix of nigredo and albedo.
  3. Under the Pentagram Proposal, the first sequence has ended, with The Ink Black Heart opening an entirely new cycle, perhaps with a new nigredo volume.

Unlike a lot of scientific models, literary models aren’t mutually exclusive. A newly discovered four-legged critter will be classified as an amphibian, reptile or mammal, depending on its traits, and is not going to be considered a weird hybrid of all three. In the imaginative world of literature, however, the bonds are loosened and we could see any combination of the above, or some idea that hasn’t occurred to any of us yet.  That’s part of the fun.  Accio August 30!


*The purist in me is trying to match the horcruxes up one-on-one with the witnesses: Creed is certainly snake-like (and was the last witness secured) and Douthwaite (aka “Diamond”) could be linked to the jeweled tiara. But “cup” keeps taking me back to Queen of Cups Janice, which doesn’t fit.

**Strike apparently deduced the killer on August 30th, but he and Robin appear to have kept quiet about it until the Creed interview on September 19th. The next day, they immediately take off for the Athorn’s and Janice’s and wrap up the case. This is understandable; the clients had already terminated the job, so there was no time pressure. If the story of Margot’s body and killer being found had broken before the Creed interview, Strike would have lost his leverage and Creed presumably would have had no reason to confess about Louise Tucker.  Still, it must have been a long three weeks for them. Do you think they had Janice under surveillance to make sure she didn’t poison anyone else in the interim? What if she had been seen taking a big box of dates or chocolates over to Irene’s?

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