Rowling, Dylan Thomas, and the I Ching: Three Thoughts on Strike7’s Epigraphs

We learned yesterday that all of the epigraphs in The Running Grave will be from the I Ching: Rowling Reveals Running Grave Epigraphs will All be from the I Ching. This was not a total surprise because of a previous twitter homepage header that featured the hexagrams and the manuscript’s cover page and its I Ching epigraph, but it was a break with the customary link of title author and book epigraphs that we have had in five of the six Strike novels. Chris Calderon responded to my post on this subject with an excellent review of articles written here and at StrikeFans about the relationship of Dylan Thomas with the Galbraithian themes of ‘morality and mortality’ as well as a possible link between the poet and the Book of Changes. I had three thoughts inspired by Mr Calderon’s notes which I share after the jump. See you there!

(1) Rowling-Galbraith is releasing more information about The Running Grave than she has about any other novel she has written. We know its location to include specific sites, we know the title and its source for discussion of its link to themes and plot points in Strike 7, and via the announcement yesterday, we know the source for the book’s epigraphs, every single one of them. This is a significant break with all precedent in terms of Rowling’s marketing. The question is “Why?” Is it simply that her advisers think she needs to be more pro-active in priming the book sales pump for her titles in general (see the fun faux-twitter accounts she converses with, voices that appeared in the months before Ink Black Heart; is Pat Chauncey tweeting as Rowling’s ventriloquist dummy or what?)? Or is it something about this book, the seventh in a seven book ring ring that has been written in parallel with the Hogwarts Saga numbers? It could be both, I know. I suspect, naturally, given my investment in the Parallel Series Idea and the series-as-seven-book-ring, that it is because Running Grave is something of a finale to the series with respect to various story-lines, particularly Leda’s supposed suicide, Charlotte’s supposed miscarriage, and the Robin-Strike relationship.

(2) The I Ching or Book of Changes is a manual that guides reflection on the present as much as it is a tool for divining the future, the one in most cases gives you the other. Whatever Rowling’s skills with stalks and coins, however, it seems clear consequent to study of her previous use of such an art, the tarot card spreads in Troubled Blood, that the author will not be casting for epigraph choices for each chapter and writing in light of what the Oracle tells her, but carefully choosing them to fit the story she is writing. It can be argued that Rowling wrote Troubled Blood using an astrological chart for a specific place and moment; she couldn’t fake that or ‘choose’ a chart for that place and time; this isn’t the case for the Celtic Cross spread, embedded True Book spreads, or Robin’s two three-card spreads in Strike5. As with those divinatory ‘readings,’ it seems obvious that Rowling has chosen the I Ching passages she wants to match her story. By showing her hand, as she did yesterday, she clearly wants her serious readers to pay more attention to the I Ching than we did to the tarot card pieces in Troubled Blood.

(3) I wonder, for all my investment in the Dylan Thomas connection for the title and epigraphs-that-aren’t-happening, if we need to read translations of the I Chingthere are a boatload of them, to include one for Talbot fans by Aleister Crowley — to see if any of them include a phrase suggestive of ‘Running Grave.’ It is curious, as you suggest, that we have a title from one author and poem, that has no ‘in your face’ connection with the source of all the epigraphs, as did Lethal White and the white horses of Rosmersholm and Troubled Blood with Faerie Queen. The only novel, in fact, whose title was from a poem that had no connection with the other epigraphs in the book, was, fittingly, ‘Cuckoo’s Calling,’ which Rossetti poem did not match or cync with the classical epigraphs of Strike1. That’s an important precedent, of course, the first and seventh books being a ‘latch’ for the ring, but it still is only one of the six Strike stories we have. It’s worth checking the I Ching for a phrase suggestive of ‘Running Grave.’


  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Might Dylan Thomas’s verse be turning up ‘non-epigraphically’ as a feature of the novel – quotations, visual images recalling verse details, etc.?

  2. Of course! We don’t have a precedent for that in the first six novels, but it is an intriguing possibility.

  3. Louise Freeman says

    Or, it could supply the section epigraphs, as Gray’s Anatomy did from IBH.

  4. Oh, I like that! But it does mean that Rowling was less than honest in saying that all the epigraphs will be from the I Ching,’ no?

    And, BTW, do we have any confirmation from The Presence Herself that the Running Grave title is from the Dylan Thomas poem? We’re going to feel pretty silly, I think, if Thomas is not part of Strike7’s creative fabric.

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