Spenser and Strike Part Seven: Changes for the Better

Troubled Blood - StrikeFans.comLong overdue, but here, at last, is the seventh installment in our series on Edmund Spenser’s Strike influence. As we The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spensersuspected from the first preview peeks at the Table of Contents for Troubled Blood, The Faerie Queene’s influence for this installment of the Denmark Street mysteries goes far beyond catchy little opening quotations to get the reader’s attention at the beginnings of sections and chapters. Rowling-Galbraith has skillfully woven in connections with Edmund Spenser’s grand epic poem, and delightfully mirrors the structure of the poem with the structure of the novel. As we’ve now reached the end, that brings us to Part Seven of Troubled Blood and the (sadly) incomplete Book VII of The Faerie Queene, so join me after the jump for seven thoughts about the great connections between these short ending pieces of really long texts!

  1. Beware of Mutabilitie

The two cantos that we have of Spenser’s projected seventh book are actually ones that would have been placed later in the book had Spenser been able to complete it. Mutabilitie is a Titanesse who seeks to overthrow and pervert the natural order, as represented by the The Personification of the Human Subject in Spenser's The Faerie Queeneclassical gods and the celestial bodies with which they are identified (more about that in a bit). As far as we can see from the pieces we have, and as one might guess, the natural order is restored, and the forces of Mutabilitie–changeable, unpredictable, capricious–must bow to the forces of Nature, to order. The idea of nature being upended by chaos is not unique to Spenser, of course. His contemporary, Shakespeare, very eloquently reflected the disharmony of his own Fairy monarchs in the perversion of nature that causes natural disasters and convoluted seasons. Since Titania and Oberon are nature spirits, when they are out of sync, so is nature. Usurpation of accepted hierarchies also reflects the influence of Mutabilitie, herself an usurper (One of Spenser’s many contemporary touchstones was the endorsement of the rightful monarch, Elizabeth I, against the claims of the flashy usurper, her cousin Mary).

Clearly, Troubled Blood  illustrates the dangers, both of mutabilitie in action and of our inability to recognize it because we sometimes see the ordered world we expect to see instead of the danger and disorder at work right in front of us. Janice Beattie, a nurse, a mother, should be a caring person who helps and nurtures. Even her astrological information in Talbot’s mad notes leads us to that image:  “Ceres is nurturing and protective. Cancer is kind, instinct is to protect” (876). But she is the opposite, or, as Spenser writes: ”And Death in stead of life haue sucked from our Nurse” (VII.vi.6.9). Janice the nurse is a mother who poisons inconvenient or annoying children, a healer who kills, a kindly-looking natural smiler with a kitchen cabinet full of death, a perversion of nature who causes others to ingest death instead of life when she nurses them.

  1. But Change is Good (sometimes)

While Nature, both in Spenser and in life, may seem unpredictable, that glorious pageant of the seasons  in the second of the Mutabilitie Cantos, source of many of the epigraphs Galbraith/Rowling uses as scene-changing cards, stresses that the changeability of nature, is orderly, structured. Yes, nature does change, but in a fashion that makes sense.  That same sense of structured change resonates in those last two lovely chapters of Troubled Blood. We do see some real change here, both in our protagonists and the people they have helped, but at the same time, there is a constancy underlying the change, and the changes we see are positive ones: Anna has answers about her mother, whom she now refers to as “Mum”; the relationships within the Phipps family are improved, even bringing  Oonagh into the SVS: Moon Phase and Libration, 2020circle; Robin’s thirtieth birthday is a stark improvement over her twenty-ninth; she and Strike are comfortably ensconced in a healthy friendship; and most importantly for issues of mental health, Strike cuts ties with Charlotte, herself a capricious figure of Mutabilitie. All of these changes are natural, helpful ones, rather than the dangerous ones embraced by Charlotte, whose whims are often both unpredictable and harmful to herself and others.

These changes are, like the phases of the moon, the changes of the tides, or the turning of the seasons, logical, orderly, and harmonious, reminding us why, as humans, we might be tempted to look to those forces to make sense of what seems to be chaotic.

  1. Written in the Stars

As Robin sets out on her thirtieth birthday, she lays out three Tarot cards that seem nicely apt. Reinforcing the ideas of positive changes, she turns up the cards for Peace (a general shaking up), Adjustment, and Love. Although she is a rational, intelligent person, she finds Star Facts: The Basics of Star Names and Stellar Evolution | Spaceinterest in the astrological threads woven through the story. Unlike mad Talbot, she can distance facts from astrological curiosities, but these last two chapters remind us both of the power of natural forces and of the novel’s strong ties to The Faerie Queene.

As he often does in The Faerie Queene, Spenser draws in elements of myth and astrology with his stories of personified Christian virtues. While we have certainly seen plenty of astrology in Troubled Blood, thanks in part to poor Talbot “going off his onion” as Strike says, we have also seen “water, water everywhere” in a literal sense, as well as with water signs like Capricorn. That emphasis on water has been a thread all the way, from the rainy night of Margot’s 1974 disappearance to the (actual) catastrophic flooding in Cornwall in the winter of 2013-2014. It Is an emphasis that continues in Part Seven, particularly during our detectives’ concluding meeting with Margot’s family. Rain spatters the window of the spare room at Nick and Isla’s where Strike is lying low, it pours down outside the window behind Roy Phipps, and it soaks Oonagh when she fetches cake for tea. Anna and Kim’s house is ocean-oriented, with its white and gray color scheme, the monochromatic prints, and the single sitting room art piece depicting the sky and sea. Poignantly, Strike’s wish that his aunt Joan could see the results of the Bamborough case, could tell him one more time that she was proud of him, comes to him with a memory of her lily urn bobbing away over the sea.

This water theme is also strongly exhibited in Canto vi of Spenser’s incomplete Book VII, which features an interesting side story about the nymph Molanna and the stream that bears her name. This is just one of Spenser’s wonderful “bodies of water personified as people/classical gods” episodes in The Faerie Queene. In this one, he apparently renames the stream of Behanna, and he has a fascinating story about how the stream was punished because the nymph Molanna conspired with  Faunus so he could take a naughty peek at the Diana | Myth, Goddess, & Cult | Britannicagoddess Diana while she bathed in the waters of the stream. The angry goddess, called by Spenser “Cynthia” in her role as moon-figure, at the end of the canto, punishes Faunus by making him the target of her hunt, but she also interrogates him about his accomplice. Although the nymph gets her wish of “marrying” the Fauchin as their streams unite, she is abandoned by Diana/Cynthia.

Interestingly, Spenser’s speaker begins Canto vii by expressing his regret that the “greater Muse” pulls him away from woods and forests (and streams, obviously) to instead focus on “heaven’s King” (Jove) and his victory against the upstart Mutabilitie. The assembly of the gods, held on Arlo Hill, is a whos-who of classical divine luminaries, including those we associate with heavenly bodies, like Mercury and of course, the Moon herself. (Nature, interestingly, has her face covered, so that it is impossible to see if she is actually male or female. That should sound familiar.)

Rowling/Galbraith doesn’t let this element slip by in the last chapter/canto of her own story. When Robin awakes on her birthday, it is to “sunshine,” and there is a starry sprinkle touch on the card sent by Strike with its glittery 30 and a celestial glimmer in the opals and diamonds on the necklace from her parents (which does look nice with the blue dress she wears out, but I am still hoping to see her wear it with the green one. THAT green one!). The theme of the heavens continues with Robin’s real present from Strike, perfume from the Liberty room whose ceiling is adorned with moon and stars (it really is. It’s a very Hogwarts-esque ceiling!). Of all the nice places in London to buy perfume, we go to the shop with this very ceiling, which nicely hat tips the one Harry knows and the celestial flavor of Spenser’s last verses.

  1. Saddle up your Donkeys!

Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream - (Dover Fine Art, History Of Art) By William Shakespeare (Paperback) : TargetOne of my other favorite multi-text hat tips is connected to the business next to Liberty, The Shakespeares Head Pub in Soho | Greene King Local PubsShakespeare’s Head Pub, where Strike has Robin meet him, ostensibly for work, but really to take her for perfume and champagne. The name, of course, is embodied by the sign that has a bust of The Bard himself, but literature nerds, including myself, may make another snap connection upon hearing the words “Shakespeare” and “head” together. After nearly twenty years of teaching A Midsummer Night’s Dream and getting plenty of mileage out of my reminder to sniggering college students that “a good ass joke never goes out of style,” I immediately think of Bottom the Weaver, he of the unfortunate head-swap thanks to the meddling of fairies (a few of my less stellar students have thought that his head was an actual rear end, sigh) . With his donkey head and his apropos name, poor Bottom is, in every sense, an ass.

Of course, at this point, Robin has already received her preliminary present, the Donkey head balloon, so there’s Bottom already, but Strike’s remarkably thoughtful gift is actually meant to refer to the donkeys at  Skegness which had been so important to Robin’s childhood memories.  Having failed to find a stuffed donkey in the bins of souvenir unicorns, our surprisingly birthday-savvy detective makes up with the balloon.

Illustration by Trina Schart Hyman from St. George and the Dragon

Trina Schart Hyman’s beautiful illustration of Una and Redcrosse in St. George and the Dragon.

The other wonderful allusion here, is pure Spenser. In Book I, when the Redcrosse Knight and Una first appear, Una, covered in a black stole, is riding a donkey (a white one, not a black one like the favorite of the Ellacott kids), but the donkey reference here is not just an indication that Strike is improving as a gift-giver, as it comes right after the chapter in which we have seen Oonagh (Una) Kennedy again. It is a clear connection back to The Faerie Queene.

  1. Coming ‘round full circle—

Interestingly, the donkey (which Una subsequently loses) is a piece from the beginning of The Faerie Queene, and we are at the end of Troubled Blood, so that little element is another reminder of the wonderful way in which both of these texts  work as rings, as our illustrious Headmaster has often shown. Unlike The Faerie Queene, Troubled Blood is a completed text. Therefore, our author can use the seventh part to create an incredibly satisfying conclusion. Even though Spenser was unable to complete his projected twelve books, he did work toward a cohesive text, rather than six (and a bit) unconnected books of epic poetry. Each of the books does function somewhat independently (hence the fact that generations of English Lit students have read only Book I), but characters and other elements cross over into different books than their own. Of course, Troubled Blood  follows a much more interconnected, direct narrative, but it is also one that brings pieces back in at the end that we should recognize from the beginning.

Just as Spenser weaves pieces from the beginning of the epic into later episodes, following winding paths of setting and narration, Robin and Strike walk back over familiar ground in these last two chapters: we have her asking, “Am I late?” when she meets him for their trip to see Anna and her family, just as she did a year earlier when they met to go through Margot’s presumed last steps in Clerkenwell, only to be told, again, that he was early; we visit Anna and Kim at their home, as we did at the beginning (a different home, but decorated the same); Robin shops (successfully, this time) for perfume on her birthday; and most amusingly, Strike mentally re-visits Polworth’s crass Tolstoy thoughts, but with a much greater degree of understanding of both literature and women than poor Chum can muster. Interestingly, each of these events is much more positive this time around, evidence again of the Spenserian reminder of the power of pattern and the triumph of virtue. Although Spenser did not get to complete his planned books, the idea of completion lingers and influences the actual completion achieved by our detectives.

  1. But still there are loose ends…

Although this particular episode of the Strike story does have a satisfying conclusion, it, like Spenser’s epic, also leaves open ends, as we hope for more (two, we’re betting) installments. Thus, although the story has concluded, just as Spenser’s knights each complete their quests, there are still quests remaining to be completed. Robin is finally out of her unhappy marriage, but her relationship with Strike just The illustrated Faerie Queene: Douglas Hill, Edmund Spenser: 9780882252971: Amazon.com: Booksseems to be moving forward. Cormoran has finally cut Charlotte loose, but she could return. His odd relationship with his father continues, and his mother’s death remains unresolved. And, of course, there are still crimes that will require the razor-sharp skills and wits of our heroes, just as there are wrongs to be righted by the sharp swords and pure hearts of Spenser’s knights.

  1. Assembled Luminaries—

Like a cast taking bows at the end of a show, many of the members of our illustrious troupe parade by in these last two chapters. The agency staff–Barclay, Hutchins, and Pat–shed of obnoxious Morris, get a mention at the beginning of chapter 72, along with soon-to-be team member Michelle, as do pals Vanessa, Nick and Ilsa in the explanation of where the partners are kipping to avoid the press. Victims like Margot and Louise, as well as villains like Janice and Creed, all receive a curtain call, Polworth calls in to circle back to the beginning, but also to take his own bow, and even horrible Charlotte chimes in via text. We get to visit with Anna and Kim, Roy and Cynthia, Bunny Girl-turned-Vicar Oonagh, and even cats Cagney and Lacey, and Robin’s mom calls in as well.

In the two stanzas of  Book VII, Spenser also brings out a troupe of luminaries, from the entire classical pantheon, to streams and planets, to the seasons, to the months, Day and Night, and even Life and Death, just as our Troubled Blood  cast marches by in those last two chapters.

I have come to the conclusion that this is, hands down, my favorite installment of the series so far, an impression cemented as I re-read. The Spenser elements are probably one central reason for my enthusiasm. In addition to appreciating Rowling’s artistry and the powerful development of her characters, I have great hopes that Troubled Blood may solve the Mystery of the Missing Spenser Fans and bring more readers to Faerie Land. There is plenty of room here; come on over!

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Comments

  1. Typo? Water everywhere… “water signs like Capricorn” did you mean Water signs like Cancer-Again, for the nurse? Because Capricorn is an earth sign. One of three: Capricorn, Taurus and Virgo. The three water signs are Pisces, Cancer and Scorpio.

  2. Not a type-o but an interpretation of the image, rather than the traditional astrological designation. The Capricorn has a fish tail. Being a Capricorn myself, I have always found that interesting!

  3. Strike Fan says

    Hello Ms Elizabeth Baird Hardy,

    Could you please help decipher the epilogue of the final chapter 73, from the day of Robin’s 30th birthday.

    Here is the relevant text:

    For naturall affection soone doth cesse,

    And quenched is with Cupids greater flame:

    But Faitfull friendship doth them both suppresse,

    And them with maystring discipline doth tame,

    Through thoughts aspyring to eternall fame.

    For as the soule doth rule the earthly masse,

    And all the seruice of the bodie frame,

    So loue of soule doth loue of bodie passe,

    No lesse then perfect gold surmounts the meanest brasse.

    Is this text encouraging for Stike/Robin Shippers indicating strong friendship could lead to a better and greater relationship between them?

    Your thoughts please.

  4. Welcome, Strike Fan! You are in the right place to have serious conversations about our favorite Denmark Street Detectives!

    Indeed, the passage Galbraith/Rowling has used for this, the last piece of her Spenser-shaped puzzle, is very encouraging for those who hope that the Robin and Cormoran relationship is heading into more encouraging territory.

    This is the second stanza of Canto IX of the Fourth Book of The Faerie Queene. In Book Four, we have the Legend of Cambel and Triamond (called Telemond in the opening of the book), or Friendship. The passage that opens the last chapter of Troubled Blood, indeed, praises the virtues of friendship. Of the three kinds of love: natural affection, passion, and friendship, Spenser contends that friendship is superior, because it “masters” our feelings and our lust. Friendship is the truest pinnacle of love, because it steers the other types of love, just as the soul steers the body. As our clever author has told us before in another story, our souls survive without our bodies, but, without our souls, our bodies are useless. In like fashion, the love between souls, friendship, is superior to mere physical love.

    This epigraph is extremely encouraging regarding our protagonists, indicating that their relationship, because it is rooted in friendship (he has finally admitted she is his best friend!), is superior to other relationships. That friendship does not preclude a romantic relationship, but rather it indicates that any romance that blossoms will have a real future, unlike the failed ones in the pasts of both Robin and Strike.
    Book Four also has other elements that you should find hopeful. While each of the other books has a single thematic virtue and a single knight who embodies it, this book has two central knights. However, the knights of the other books are just as active in Book Four as Cambel and Triamond, maybe even more so. Two of the knights who are active in this book are Britomart, Knight of Chastity and Hero of Book Five and her intended husband, Artegall, Knight of Justice and central figure of Book Five. In a great tourney, Britomart whallops a horde of (male) knights, including Artegall, but later, she unhorses him and also undoes him. They fall in love, as she knows they are intended to do (she has seen him in Merlin’s magic mirror, not unlike Robin’s encouraging Tarot cards!). Robin as Britomart and Strike as Artegall are themes that are used throughout the novel, so that bodes well for their future.

    Don’t be expecting wedding bells in the first chapter of our next installment, however. Although Book Four sees Artegall win Britomart’s heart “So well he woo’d her, and so well he wrought her” (IV vi.41.1), he still has his own quest to pursue, so they promise to wed, but then separate to (presumably, because Spenser didn’t get to finish) marry in a later book. Chances are, our detectives’ relationship will grow into a solid, healthy romantic relationship, but it may be a while until we see them get the happy ending Britomart and Artegall are denied by Spenser’s death.

    I hope that wasn’t more than you wanted, but I hope, like me, you are delighted by the promise the Spenser passages provide!
    Thanks for reading with us!

  5. Strike Fan says

    Many thanks for the reply Elizabeth, it was great fun to read your analysis on Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and its relation to Troubled Blood.

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