Running Grave: Finale, Albedo, or What?

In my flash poll of HogwartsProfessor readers of the post they are most interested in reading, the consensus pick has been the Elephant in the Room of Running Grave speculation, namely, “Will it be the series finale, the seventh of ten or more books, or both somehow?” We’ll know the answer soon enough, it seems, so this guesswork is only an amusing distraction as we wait on Strike7, but it does provide an opportunity to reflect on what we know about the author’s artistry and meaning. As that is the heart and soul of what we do here, let’s have a look at the three possibilities for Running Grave’s place in the Cormoran Strike mysteries. After the jump!

Strike7 is the Series Finale: The evidence that The Running Grave is in some sense the end of the Cormoran Strike series is the publisher’s testimony, the Parallel Series Theory, Literary Alchemy, and Ring Composition.

When Rowling was out’ed as the author-behind-the-pseudonym Robert Galbraith, someone who shall not be named at her publisher told The Times that it would be a seven book series. Rowling, Inc., was at least as upset about this “fake news” as they were about her cover being blown and her several lies about “not writing a detective series” and Ian Rankins’ wife not having seen her writing a detective novel being exposed as ‘strategic disinformation’ or whatever. She denied she was even writing anything that could be called a “series,” really, another fib she has had to walk back. Repeatedly, however, she has said that the series will be more than seven books, maybe fourteen, she has three plotted beyond number seven, it can go on indefinitely, et cetera. Just. Not. Seven.

But someone at her publisher told The Times with no little confidence that the Strike novels were going to be a seven book series. Why would she or he have said that if it weren’t true, or, at least, something she or he had heard someone who would know had said? Given Rowling’s admitted serial deception bordering on dishonesty about Galbraith and the series of Strike novels, why do we believe her on this point without checking out the textual evidence? The books, it turns out, suggest rather strongly that The Running Grave will be a finale to the series, one in which the several core mysteries of the books are resolved.

The first and perhaps most persuasive evidence is what we call the Parallel Series Idea or PSI, which theory holds that Rowling-Galbraith is writing the Strike novels in parallel with their analogue numbers in the Hogwarts Saga. The evidence for that can be found at the PSI Pillar Post, which needs to be updated to include the Half-Blood Prince echoes in Ink Black Heart (see here, here, and here for those). The obvious conclusion from this remarkable exercise in self-referencing and intratextuality is that Strike7 will echo Potter7 which was that series’ finale, ergo The Running Grave will be the end point of the Cormoran cum Ellacott run.

Rowling has been asked repeatedly by the StrikeFans twitter writer, someone she reads faithfully and sometimes responds to, if there is anything to PSI (check out the Barmy Army exchange for a notable example). The Presence has refused to date to acknowledge the question and, of course, none of the reporters who interview her are even aware of this idea. She was quick to deny the 5-6 Flip Idea during Barmy Army, so denying Serious Striker theories isn’t beneath her; her ignoring questions about PSI almost becomes what Michael Ward in Planet Narnia called the ‘Argument from Silence,’ i.e., a secretive person’s silence about an issue can be understood as a positive suggestion that what he or she does not say aloud is indeed the case.

I’ve always thought that was the weakest of Ward’s arguments with regard to C. S. Lewis’ intentions for The Narniad, but I’m obliged to list it here, I think, if I’m going to make the best case I can for the finale possibility. PSI, however, is not the only textual evidence for the ‘Strike7 is the End’ idea.

There is the literary alchemy, for one thing, if, again, this plays into PSI. The last three Potter novels were representative of the three stages of metallurgical alchemy: Order of the Phoenix was the series nigredo or Black stage, Half-Blood Prince was the albedo or White stage, and Deathly Hallows was the rubedo or Red stage (see the Literary Alchemy Pillar Post for links to HogwartsProfessor alchemy posts through the years). If the Strike novels are in parallel with the Potter books, the last three novels should also have the signatures of the Great Work’s colored stages. I discuss Strike5 as the series nigredo in Troubled Blood: Strike’s Transformationand notes about Ink Black Heart  as the albedo  can be found here.

Another PSI link is that, according to William Sprague, the first three Potter novels are “reverse alchemy,” that is, the three stages of alchemy — black, white, and red — in reverse, the chiastic parallels of the last three books. Louise Freeman has argued cogently, I think, that the same pattern is found in the Strike series, but with Robin Ellacott not Strike as the Philosopher’s Stone work-in-progress. Read her ‘Robin Ellacott and Reverse Alchemy: Transformation Through the First Three Strike Texts’ for that fascinating possibility.

If either or both of these theories are true, we have another suggestion-not-quite-demonstrative-evidence that The Running Grave will be the series rubedo and finale a la Deathly Hallows.

The “reverse alchemy” idea, of course, segues nicely to the Ring Composition piece of the argument for Strike7 as the series finale. If you’re not familiar with Ring Composition, check out the HogwartsProfessor Pillar Post dedicated to that subject. In a nutshell, Rowling is a chiastic fanatic, whose story scaffolding of choice is a turtle-backed ring, whose beginning and end acts as a latch, whose center point or story turn reflects that latch, and the chapters of which after this turn reflect in reverse order those that come before the turn. She uses this traditional structure not only for the individual books in the series and the chapter set Parts of those books, but for the series as a whole as well.

In the Strike series, this means, if the set is a seven book ring, we should see strong parallels in the books we have between Strike1 and Strike4, the opening and story turn respectively, and between Strike 3 and Strike 5, the books just before and after the turn, and between Strike 2 and Strike 6. To date, we have very strong parallels Between Cuckoos Calling  and Lethal WhiteThe First Look and Twenty-Five More Echoes, not to mention a compelling possibility that Rowling signaled the middle of Lethal White was the series turning point. There are fascinating parallels between Troubled Blood and Career of Evil, too, and, if you’re really into PSI and Ring Theory, between Troubled Blood and Cuckoo’s Calling. The first rushes here about Ink Black Heart included a significant list of The Silkworm echoes in Strike6.

All of that, again, suggests heavily that the Strike series is a seven book ring — which means that The Running Grave as the seventh installment will be the finale. QED.

Sort of.

Strike7 is the Seventh of Ten or More Books: Against all that is Rowling’s repeated assurance that the Strike series is not seven books in length; she told the actor in the teevee adaptations that it has as many as fourteen books, more recently she has said she has three more plotted or ten, and early on she shared that one of the rerasons she loves the genre is because series can go on indefinitely. Asserting that The Running Grave is the finale is to argue that The Presence is ending the series as she began it, that is, with a gross deception and a series of lies, a latch, if you will, of deceit.

That’s a very big ‘ask,’ frankly, and, as naive as I think readers are who believe that Rowling is above such things, I’m very skeptical that she would intentionally invite the wrath of loyal readers and Serious Strikers by ending the series at seven. Fortunately, there are alternative scenarios to “it’s the finale” and “its not the finale.” The three we have discussed here are Louise Freeman’s Pentagram Theory, Kathleen’s Extended Play or ‘How a Seven Book Series Can be Stretched Into Ten,’ and Robyn Gomillion’s Sonnet Theory.

Each is an offspring of close reading, of ring composition thinking, and of PSI awareness with the advantage of not ignoring contrary evidence; Prof Freeman’s discoveries of parallels between books for the Pentagram Theory not noted in previous ring searches, most notably, all but explodes the contention made above that the ring parallels found demonstrate the series is a seven book ring. ‘Extended Play,’ too, just by imagining the alchemical sequence of the last three novels as the last six novels, with two books per alchemical step, creates a bridge to a ‘seven book’ series and ring that is hermetically correct and ten books long.

All that to say, The Running Grave does not have to be the series finale in light of Rowling’s structural choices and alchemical sequencing. Those theories can line up nicely with the ten book series Rowling, as of this writing, says that it is.

Strike7 will be the Series Finale But Not the Last Book: Rowling’s insistence that the Strike books are not a seven book series and all the evidence that it is do not represent the only possibilities, of course. To argue that it must be one or the other is a false dichotomy; the series can ‘end’ at seven and have many more episodes. It’s just in what meaning we give to ‘end.’

One meaning of ‘end,’ naturally, is the final mystery, the closing of the latch, the last piece of the set. Deathly Hallows was that kind of ending, whatever one chooses to make of Cursed Child and the prequel series Fantastic Beasts.

Another meaning, just as rich, is the ‘end’ of a series’ primary questions, closure with respect to the central mysteries established in the opening book. For this series, those questions are ‘Who Killed Leda Strike?’ and ‘Will Robin and Cormoran become a Couple?’ There are additional questions — I think immediately of the mystery of Charlotte’s lost child, how Strike ‘knew’ that an IED was about to blow up the troop carrier he was in (and why he chose to grab Anstis), and the relationship of Rokeby, Whittakers, Strikes, and Nancorrows, not to mention the Norfolk commune nightmare — but the Over-Arching Puzzle is Leda’s suicide-murder and the partners’ romance.

If The Running Grave closes off those series through-lines, which is to say, if we learn the circumstances of Leda Strike’s death and if Robin and Cormoran at last profess their love for one another, I think Strike7 can be considered both the series finale and be ‘only’ the seventh novel in a series of indefinite length.

Conclusion: One reader who voted in my flash-poll of post topic preferences, ‘Horatio,’ included in his or her comment that the subject above was best.

As we will in the foreseeble (sic) future, probably during 2023, be able to partake of the actual Book 7 and – I think – be in position to judge for ourselves, your development of this project would serve as an excellent measure of your analytic capabilities and to gage (sic) your other wrting (sic) accordingly.

I love it! If my “development of this project,’ by which I’m guessing ‘Horatio’ means the conclusion I reach and how I came to that answer, is right, then my “analytic capabilities” and my “other wrting” can be taken seriously. If I am wrong, however, everything I’ve written and my approach to reading can be safely ignored. Forgive me for being pretty confident that ‘Horatio’ has already made up his mind about my “capabilities” and “wrting.” The “gage” he sets up is guaranteed to fail my predictions because who other than Rowling can predict with any surety what Galbraith will write?

The language and typos of this comment reveal that ‘Horatio’ is an academic and English is not his or her first or second language (the email address included in the post was from a Swedish site). I should be flattered that such a person has condescended to read my weblog and has taken the time to dare me to take the test of writing this post — and expose myself forever as a fraud!

I’m not an academic and, though English is the only language which I can write, my posts are also full of typos, Malapropisms,  syntax errors, and misspellings. I hope, though, if I fall to the error in logic that ‘Horatio’ does in his challenge that you will jump on me (well, on my argument) in the comment boxes below.

Thinking about Strike7 and its place in the Strike series, whether it is the finale, the seventh of ten books, or somehow both, is an exercise in reviewing what we know about Rowling’s writing and applying them to each of the possibilities. It turns out, mirabile dictu, that the Parallel Series Idea, literary alchemy, and ring composition have something to say in support of all three based on the six books we have in hand. The choices one makes, consequently, between the three doors does not constitute a gauge of anyone’s acumen or previous work.

If I had to bet the farm (or buy it, per Thoreau), though, and choose only one of the three options I’ve laid out here, I’d go with ‘both.’ Write me down, ‘Horatio,’ as predicting that we’re going to see the resolution of the Leda Strike mystery in The Running Grave and a confession of love between Robin and Cormoran. I hope everyone reading this, to include ‘Horatio’ of course, will let me know in the comment boxes below your choice as well as your reasoning so we have “an excellent measure” of all of our “analytic capabilities”!



  1. Brian Basore says

    Regarding the author’s guesses as to the number of volumes in the Strike series, she’s keeping company with Edmund Spenser and what he said about in regard to The Faerie Queen. If it’s good enough for Spenser, it’s good enough for JKR/RB.

    I’m rooting for you, John.

  2. Brian Basore says

    Sorry, “RG”, not “RB”. I’m also not fussy about JKR/RG using traditional Queen of Fairies lore in her writing alongside Spenser’s Elizabethan allegory. After all, Spenser said one of his knights was stolen by the Fay and raised in Fairy Land.

  3. Horatio N says

    Dear John,

    It’s fun to be a polyglot (try it you’ll like it) but it’s hell on spelling and I don’t ask my research assistants to proofread my social media posts.

    Should you embark on a study of foreign languages, you could do worse then taking on Swedish. The word ”snarstucken” springs to mind as a useful addition to your expanded vocabulary. I’ll save you a google (test results are unsatisfactory): it translates literally as ”quick-stung”, colloquially as ”easily set off”.

    A newcomer to the Hogwarts Professor site, I actually have not as yet formed any particular opinon of your capability or writings. Some conclusion may be drawn, I suppose, from the fact I was moved to engage with the site and to opine in the poll.

    Not sure of the course of deduction that leads you to believe your entire legacy range of predictions would be seen as nullified, should your forecast of the Strike Saga as hepatology rather than the decalogue proclaimed, be falsified. My off-hand, on the fly, not peer reviewed, contribution to the poll was more meant to stoke you into your best game rather than to provoke the Angst your response indicates.

    Looking forward to reading the findings from whichever project avenue you eventually choose to pursue, and to keep acquiring new insights. I’ve been told before there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in my philosophy.

  4. Okay, I’m going to need some help on this one. I know for a fact that I’ve read a twitter thread in which “Mr. Galbraith” herself talks about her plans for the Strike – Robin relationship. The one element I can recall with more or less exact clarity is that she replies to a question by a fan, the basic gist of which is asking will – they – won’t – they in terms of where the Super Sleuths of 221D Denmark are going in terms of their relationship? Rowling’s reply (I’m going by pure memory here, so bear with) is to claim that she has definite plans in store on that line, and that she asks the fan for either “patience”, or else she said something like “be patient”, or “So until then, I implore to be patient”. Or maybe it was something like “just hang on”, or else, “I’d ask you to please bear with me a little while longer”.

    Yeah, as you can tell, the old memory theater was never really kept in peak condition. What I do know for certain is three things. The first is that this is a Tweet exchange that I’ve seen with my own eyes, and that is bound to exist somewhere out there. This isn’t a case of the Mandela Effect, or anything like that. The second is the real crux of the problem. I’m having trouble tracking down this possibly vital exchange on my own. So, any help in looking this up would be appreciated. Finally, there’s the meaning behind the author’s words. While I apologize for the lack of total recall, what I am certain of is the basic gist of her reply. It was Rowling saying that she had at least a bit more in store for “Artegall and Britomart” going forward. For the record, her statement was also either at, near, or after the completion of “The Running Grave” manuscript, as the comment date was very recent. It’s just these small details that escape the palace data banks. The upshot, however, is that her reply is a case of Rowling confirming that we can discount “TRG” as the “Book 7” of this series, as there’s more in store.

    What this means for the series going forward and as a whole? Who can say. We’re sort of edging into a blind track as far as any fan is concerned. And so I find the best rule of thumb for the moment is to let the book do the talking, as it eventually will, sooner or later. If this is the case where the main plot of Leda’s death is sown up, then I guess that’s that. However, it will seem odd to me if she plans more books for the series after tying up all the main threads that she started out with. This is not to object to such an idea, however, especially since it can be argued there are ways to do this in which the heroes are allowed to complete their arc, and then the rest is a Mystery – of – the – Week type deal. To be fair, that does not sound like an unpleasant compromise of any sort. Indeed, it can even make a certain amount of sense if handled correctly. All “Galbraith” would have to do is switch the focus to be less on the detectives, and more on the victims and suspects of each case, giving the series this anthology like feel, with a unified Strike and Robin now serving as background host characters, like in Agatha Christie.

    At least there is one way of sowing everything up in the best possible package. Does this mean I think “Strike 7” will be the “final” book? The prospect sounds doubtful, if I’m being honest. It seems more likely that we’ll get a bit more info on Strike’s counterculture background (fingers crossed) and then things will move on from there as the next few cases afterwards develop. Like I’ve said, it’s that missing comment by Rowling to one of her fans addressing the “Elephant” (or Hippogryph) in the room that convinces me of this. It’s just tracking it down that’s been a problem. So I’ll leave off with the request for whoever can help out there, whether HogPro alumni or its readers, and Rowling fans to see if it’s possible to put in a helpful effort in tracking down these elusive comments by the Presence, as I think she can help clarify a sense of how further up and in she intends to take things with this series.

    I just hope this bit of news is able to help in some way down the line.

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Might another question be, what if there is a seven-books ‘series’ that is also a ‘unit’ – cf. perhaps the Books of the Faerie Queene – with one or more additional analogous ‘units’ (of whatever, possibly varying, ‘structure’-with-respect-to-their-‘components’)? Here “the prequel series Fantastic Beasts” – however sadly not (yet?) novels, nor complete – might offer an example, at least in principal.

  6. I don’t think there will be prequels because she said the tenth novel will be in 2019 (inner timetable). The question is that she will write an epilogue in present day, like in Harry Potter, where they will be married and have a baby ( a baby girl, I suppose)

  7. ChrisC: Not sure if I’m allowed to post youtube links (if I am, here it is:, but I believe this is what you were referring to. This interview was from February 2021, before Ink Black Heart’s title was announced.

    As for the continuity of the Strike series, I do believe that the alchemical journey of Robin (and also of Strike in a sense) must culminate in book 7, as there have been SO MANY signs pointing to this fulcrum point. But I think if there is a marriage, and/or conclusion to the Leda mystery, then it can have a finality, but also sprout a new beginning, inasmuch as she no longer needs to build towards that coda. Subsequent novels can simply move forward with books 1-7 as the foundation. I think many longer series have this sort of structure – there’s often an “original trilogy” or quartet that tells the focal narrative, but once a universe exists, anything can happen.

    I know at some point Rowling also expressed apprehension about writing COVID-19 into fiction. If she were to continue chronologically, she’ll either have to (1) depart from history by depicting a world in which COVID-19 never happened, (2) slow the pace down and/or go back in time (war-time Strike narrative anyone?!), or (3) face her fears and be creative with it, since it’s going to enter the world of realistic fiction at some point anyway (and if anyone could pull it off, it’s JKR).

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