Point-Counterpoint: Conceivability — Thoughts on the Strike Daddy Theory — Is Madeline a Spurgler-Burglar?

Four weeks ago J. S. Malekson laid out the evidence from her first readings of Rowling-Galbraith’s Ink Black Heart that Madeline Courson-Miles was pregnant with Strike’s child when he broke off their relationship. See Ink Black Heart: Has Strike Conceived a Child? for that. This exciting possibility, one sure to shake up the relationship of the detective agency partners if true, was met with both support and skepticism from readers. Those who dismissed the idea argued that Strike was much too careful a fornicator to have let this happen.

There is a way, though, that Madeline Finch-Fletchley, I mean ‘Courson-Miles,’ could have become pregnant without alerting Strike to what she was doing. It’s fairly outlandish and has a relatively high ick factor so I wrote the HogwartsProfessor scientist-in-residence, Louise Freeman, to see if this idea was, well, conceivable. I post our discussion after the jump for proof of, if nothing else, that we will consider outrageous possibilities here and we’re not writing for the Nutter File, not yet at least.

My note to Louise Freeman:

Dear Louise,

Apologies in advance for asking a question with a relatively high ‘ick’ factor. I ask you because of your expertise as a Serious Striker and as a scientist.

Rowling-Galbraith in previous novels has not been reticent in sharing details of gruesome attacks and murders. Career of Evil shared the mind of a psychopathic killer in the conception of these deeds, his recall of them, and the description of his crimes and those of others. Troubled Blood, especially in the murders and torture shared via The Demon of Paradise Park, was at least as close to what the author said she tried to avoid, namely, “violence porn.”

We’ve been spared this kind of detail with the sexual lives of the Strike dramatis personae. Fornication, adultery, kinks, rape, and recall of faked orgasms are mentioned frequently but the reader is not given a Tropic of Capricorn description of the experience per se.

Rowling-Galbraith departs from this twice in Ink Black Heart: Robin’s snogging with Pez Pierce and Madeline’s pleasuring Strike via fellatio. The reader learns what Strike and Robin are thinking during the snogging and oral sex respectively (sic).

There is something of a debate going on at the ‘Gaffes’ post’s comment thread about Robin’s kissing a suspect to get information. I’m of the mind that this is Rowling-Galbraith’s re-write of the Psyche-Cupid myth’s journey to Hades and the feminine soul hardening itself to transcend the bounds of empathy, nurturance, and vulnerability.

Strike’s first detailed sexual act seems more mysterious. After sex with a super-model, a reporter’s cousin, a radio personality, Lorelei, and recall of nights with Charlotte/Venus, the reader is suddenly presented in Strike6 with the scene of Strike in bed with Madeline performing a specific act, her specifically performing and his receiving passively.

I think the obvious interpretation is that the scene is meant as something of a tableaux of Strike’s relationship with his sexual partners and especially this particular sexual partner post Charlotte. He is only, per the activity described, being ‘serviced,’ not truly engaged.

There is also, however, a more exotic way of understanding this exception-to-the-rule description of Strike in bed. I’m just not sure the possibility is scientifically correct or credible, whence this question to you. I assume if you don’t know the answer, you know the biologist who does.

When a woman performs oral sex to climax on a male partner, she has three options: to remove her mouth as he ejaculates, and, failing that, to swallow the semen or to spit it out. The reader is spared what Madeline does in this scene.

The principal objection to the ‘Daddy Strike’ theory is that he is a very prudent fornicator, something of a ‘square circle.’ Over his several decades of sexual activity, the reader is told that only once has his partner become pregnant. That partner was Charlotte, whose claims of pregnancy with him, incredible to him for reasons not yet explained, were the final cause of his break with her. Strike believes in casual sex, certainly, but not unprotected sex, whence the objection to the idea that Madeline is as undone as she is by Strike’s dumping her at the end of Heart because she is pregnant with his baby.

I suppose you see where this is going.

If Madeline, coached I suppose by the maleficent Charlotte, performed fellatio on Strike and captured a mouthful of semen she did not swallow or spit out and flushed away, could that semen be used for in vitro fertilization or some other form of artificial insemination? 

I have tried a simple internet search to learn what I could about fellatio in Greek mythology; nothing there. I don’t recall anything Biblical, either, in which a man is robbed of his virility or virtue via oral sex as Samson is with a haircut.

If it is literally conceivable for a woman to use ejaculant from her mouth to become pregnant, then there is a pathway for Madeline to be pregnant at the end of Strike6 despite Strike’s care in not having unprotected sex. Rowling-Galbraith, then, in the one scene she details explicitly of Strike and Madeline in bed, may have revealed how that could have happened, something of an echo of the Merope Gaunt story revealed in Half-Blood Prince.

I will add, though, that we have been promised since Cuckoo that Charlotte knows no limits in her desire for revenge on a man who has wronged her. It seems more than likely to me that the seemingly impromptu New Year’s ‘introduction’ of Madeline to Strike via Valentine-Cupid was a Charlotte-Cupid design, at least as much as was Jago ‘finding’ the phone with the birthday birthday-suit nude-sext which requires the Agency’s deployment to save her.

Strike repeatedly tells Madeline that Charlotte is “shit stirring” and a pathological liar. This repetition has no effect; again and again, Mads confronts Strike with what Charlotte has told her about him, his lovers, and Robin. She is almost “mad” in this regard. She could be Charlotte’s succubus-agent for the destruction of her ex’s relationship with Robin.

Her name, like Valentine Longcaster, suggests she is another agent of Venus; ‘Madeleine’ derives from Mary Magdelene, the repentant prostitute among Christ’s disciples according to one tradition, and a tempting taste treat, and ‘Courson-Miles’ from the Old French and Latin words for “short” and “soldier” (see Reaney, 121-122), i.e., ‘Cupid,’ vagent of Divine Love. Any name with a hint of ‘cor’ in it, too, points to the heart — and Mads is certainly an arrow aimed straight at Cormoran’s vulnerable heart post Ritz-rejection.

This being the case, if Mads complained to Charlotte-Venus that she was losing Strike and wished she could get him to commit to her, a believable possibility, why wouldn’t Charlotte relate that the only sure way to nail him down would be via pregnancy — and “here is how you could manage that.” Leda’s ploy — albeit with a turkey baster-syringe rather than sex-in-public. It’s positively Olympian-esque in its bizarreness, something akin to Leda’s conception of twins twice with different fathers, human and divine, simultaneously.

I did learn online that semen that is collected at home, if it is to be used for artificial insemination, must be deployed within the hour. Oral ‘collection’ is not mentioned in the laundry list of possibilities of how to gather it. Forgive me for guessing that the chemicals secreted by salivary glands in the mouth for the digestion of foods is not an especially hospitable environment chemically for semen.

So I ask. Is it possible? Even for Venus’ little soldier?


Clueless John

Louise Freeman’s Response:

Dear John,

Check this article out:  


This was the only case of sperm saved from oral sex resulting in pregnancy I could find in a quick search, and, as you can see, the exact circumstances are in dispute. I don’t imagine the circumstances of conception could be proven after the fact so I guess this is a he-said/she-said situation, even if the court found the possibility credible. 

The Wiki4 men site (which looks like it is run by the Carl Oakden/Gus Upcotts of the world– likely not the most credible of sources) also claims pregnancy can result from this type ofspurglingbut provide no evidence other than a link to the same court case cited above. 

I also read elsewhere that people are supposed to avoid cunnilingus when trying to conceive, because saliva enzymes deposited in the vagina aren’t good for sperm,  so I would guess this particular method of collection would not be ideal. 

So, your idea is theoretically possible.  But it would be a pretty bizarre thing, and assuming Mads is planning a pregnancy trap, it would seem to be a rather complicated procedure with less likelihood of success, compared to just lying about being on the pill and having regular sex. 

But then again, JKR/RG gave us Raff’s rather overly complex plan to steal “Mare Mourning” in Lethal White, so I suppose anything is possible.

I don’t think it’s the “ick” factor that puts me off this theory so much as the ick-to-likelihood ratio, which is pretty high.

Most “sperm theft” (aka “spurgling”) situations happen when the woman saves the condom — undoubtedly an easier task than the oral collection route.  I’d be willing to bet Strike carries condoms and uses them religiously, since, in addition to never worrying about pregnancy, he also seems unconcerned about STDs. 

First, are you saying that Charlotte deliberately sent Valentine to Annabel’s, with the intention of setting Strike up with Madeline?  That seems pretty impossible, unless Charlotte has a PI on Strike himself—  he didn’t know he was going to the club himself until a few days before and would certainly have done all he could to keep it quiet, given he was on survelliance.

Second:  If a woman is planning a pregnancy trap, the easiest (by far) way is to sleep with the prospective baby-daddy, in the absence of birth control, as often as possible.  So, it would have been much easier for Madeline to lie to Strike, saying she’s on the pill or had her tubes tied after Henry. 

The next choice would be stealing sperm from a condom.  This would require intenstive planning, both for sex, for seeking out and substituting spermicide-and- lubricant-free condoms for the guy’s usual brand (this would probably involve a lie about a suddenly developed allergy) and arranging the opportunity to immediately employ the turkey baster, in secret, while the little swimmers are still fresh.  You can’t just pop them in a home freezer and try later–freezing and saving sperm requires a tank of liquid nitrogen. The sex and spurgling would need to be timed with the peak fertility period (maybe 4 days a month); which means tracking the cycle for several months and taking regular ovulation home tests. 

Third choice would be the oral collection method, which requires all the planning of saving the condom, but is much less pleasant and almost certainly less efficient. As I said, I see only one example of such a paternity claim in court, and even that is in dispute: Ms. Irons says she became pregnant after vaginal sex while Mr. Phillips says he never had intercourse with her. 

In short, I don’t think many women are going to resort to Option 2 unless it is clear Option 1 isn’t working, and option 3 is only going to happen if her stud muffin simply refuses vaginal sex, or to use any condoms he did not purchase himself, or insists on flushing them immediately afterwards. 

With some help from the Strikefans timeline, I checked the timing. It appears that Madeline’s wake-up present to Strike comes (no pun intended) on the morning after Comicon— so May 24th.  We saw no real indication of her neediness/ desperation/jealousy until her jewelry launch, which was only 10 days before.  This is about a month after she first asks him when he broke up with Robin. 

Presumably Madeline would want at least a few weeks dating Strike before deciding she is fond enough of the guy to have his baby. Keep in mind that her last diaper-changing was some 15-16 years ago, that a baby would disrupt both her business and her partying, and there is no indication that she wants another child. 

Madeline has had a maximum of five fertile periods since she met Strike at New Year’s. It’s hard to see how she could fall for Strike, decide (even with Charlotte’s encouragement) that a baby trap is the way to snag him, and put the full, maximally complicated plan in place in the time frame we see.  Even if the plotting began fairly early (say, February or March), she has only had, at most, three opportunities to try. 

Finally, the presumed sperm theft would have happened May 24.  Madeline physically attacks Strike on June 10 —  far too early to have any real confidence she was pregnant if she conceived via the fellatio sample.  Even at book’s end, (June 21) her unread card (presumably written and mailed a few days before) would be reporting the results of only the earliest possible pregnancy test.  It would have to be a case of the stars aligning perfectly, yet again. 

The final argument against this?  It was likely Lucy who arranged the cards on his bedside table, when she brought the tokens from her boys. What are the odds that she could have resisted reading  a card from a suspected girlfriend?  If there were a pregnancy announcement, she presumably would have said something.  Quite loudly. 

Conclusion: What Do You Think?

I think the mythological backdrop makes this possibility one Serious Strikers playing with the Daddy Strike idea have to take seriously. Louise allows that it is “theoretically possible” but so highly unlikely in terms of the book’s timeline and real-life considerations, beyond the science, that it is not.


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