Strike & Ellacott Files: ‘Epigraph Misattribution in Ink Black Heart’

Louise Freeman has her finger on the pulse of Cormoran Strike fandom and relays on the HogwartsProfessor staff backchannels news of any important discoveries out there. Today she wrote us a note with the subject line ‘Some Gaffes We Never Caught’ about a post by Lindsay Land at the Strike and Ellacott Files. That post, titled ‘Epigraph Misattribution in Ink Black Heart.’ reveals they “found five misattributed epigraphs. Four of them are the correct author but the wrong title, while one has the incorrect author and title.” The article does not discuss the meaning (or lack of meaning) in these “misattributions” but it very helpfully details the mistaken allusions and provides links to the poems and authors in play.

Professor Freeman’s subject line is in reference to the HogwartsProfessor staff and readership collective collection of mistakes in the Strike novels, mistakes we usually call “gaffes” or “Flints.” The thread of finds for Ink Black Heart is a long one (you can check it out here), but it, as Louise noted, does not include the epigraph mistakes that the ‘Strike and Ellacott Files’ podcast crew has found. Lindsay Land wrote in response to Prof Freeman’s comment after the post that “I guess with so many, it’s going to happen.” The six mistakes — Beatrice Groves had found another misattribution in the epigraph to chapter 51 – are indeed six out of one hundred and eight, but isn’t a 5.5% error rate still extraordinary, as Louise Freeman put it, “with a writer as meticulous as Rowling”?

I don’t know if she is being sarcastic given her awareness of Rowling’s many mistakes in continuity and finer points (as in the difference, say, between Iraq and Afghanistan, etc.), but it’s still a question worth asking: “What, if anything, are we to make of these mistakes?” Join me after the jump for some shameless brainstorming and speculation consequent to this great find at Strike & Ellacott Files.

I asked three questions to the HogwartsProfessor staff and adjuncts in response to Dr. Freeman’s ‘Some Gaffes We Never Caught’ email:

(1) Does it merit a re-examination of her other epigraphs to see if they are gaffe laden as Ink Black Heart’s seem to be?

I asked this question in large part because, after I posted on the Nabokovian spectral presence in Troubled Blood (see here and here), Louise Freeman had gone back and found significant evidence that Charlie Bristow’s ghost was active in Cuckoo’s Calling and Freddie Chiswell in Lethal White

Faculty response? “Not really.” The assumption (egad!) is that it was easier with Rosmersholm and Faerie Queen to get this right, as opposed to twenty one authors and an indefinite number of poems. I think the S&E Files find, though, invites another look at the equally varied epigraph sources in Cuckoo’s Calling from Classical literature and, most especially, the Jacobean Revenge Dramas mined for the epigraphs used in The Silkworm, a parallel text to Ink Black Heart. More on that possibility in a second.

(2) As mentioned in one of the posted comments, this is bizarro-land for an OCD writer like Rowling. What could have been the cause of these misattributions?

The most interesting response from a HogwartsProfessor writer (who shall not be named) was:

At the very least, it suggests she is not poring over these sources in-depth herself because she adores the texts (the way she claims to love and regularly re-read Emma, for example) but is handing the task of finding appropriate quotations off to assistants.

Ouch! I wince at this possibility both because it has the sting of an unpleasant truth, something you hope is not true but suspect is more than credible, and because it calls into question something I discussed in ‘Epigraphs 101,’ my first review of the Ink Black Heart epigraphs. There I pointed out just how many of the chapter headings were focused on the heart and vision, and, of course, discussed how important this was for understanding the novel (in brief, Strike6 is about Cormoran’s painful awareness at last of his love for Robin Ellacott and the spiritual allegory involved vis a vis the ‘eye of the heart’). If Rowling just asked her PA to look up some “appropriate quotations” in the Blackwell anthology to Victorian Woman Poets, so much for all the intentional artistry I “misattributed” to her.

My counter-guess to this hypothesis is equally flattering and insulting to The Presence, if perhaps not as disparaging as suggesting she subcontracted the task to an understudy. I imagine she found the poems and lines herself; she claims, after all, to have immersed herself in the genre during her Barmy Army interview online, not to mention affirming that the source most referenced in the epigraphs, Aurora Leigh, acts as something of a template for the novel. I do not think she is a liar, though she has been strategically dishonest in the past and this seems too much effort with too little reward for her to be that dishonest. And, again, the heart and vision theme in the epigraphs almost demands serious auctorial intention.

But it’s not very hard to think up a scenario in which she jotted down the line without noting the specific poem from which it was taken. That would require her going back pre-publication and finding the source, say, online, where she has been known to make gaffes. I’m referring, of course, to her most famous “misattribution,” one she made in her Harvard Commencement address, in which she quoted psychologist Otto Rank but cited Plutarch, a mistake she made because she misread the source on a page of online quotations.

Could history be repeating itself here? Why not?

(3) So what? Are these mistaken attributions meaningful in any way beyond pointing to what we already knew, that Rowling needs a better fine points/continuity editor?

The HogwartsProfessor team drew a blank here at ‘So What?’, except for the consensus view  to which I alluded in the question, namely, that this S&E Files find has only re-affirmed our belief that Rowling, Inc., needs to hire Louise Freeman to act as Galbraith’s emergency back-up continuity and fine points editor before the author takes a Strike novel to press. That way, each and every gaffe in the novel that readers find and report here, Prof Freeman will have to explain or confess was something she wishes she had caught. I’m confident there would be far fewer mistakes, period, full stop.

The only other ideas I have had are that the mistakes were intentional. That’s a real stretch, I know, but there are two quick checks I’d make if I weren’t working on two other projects.

First, I’d look at the six Ink Black Heart chapters in which the epigraphs include mistakes (29, 34, 37, 51, 63, and 76) and look for anything that connects them. Are there mental errors, for example, in each? Look for anything that might make the misattributions a fun clue to spur the Serious Reader or OCD sufferer to look at those chapters again as a unit.

Second, and last, at least for my list (I hope you’ll have other, better ideas), return to The Silkworm and look for mistaken attributions in the interior series parallel novel. It won’t be the same chapter numbers; Silkworm only has fifty chapters. This will require a lot of work, of course, relative to checking the Ink Black Heart epigraphs because searching the Jacobean Revenge Dramas for stray lines isn’t a straightforward google search. Especially as it may be a Ring Composition wild goose chase.

Imagine, though, if six mistakes are found in The Silkworm epigraphs. That would be funny.

Anyway, hat’s off to the S&E Files podcast crew for finding and chasing down in such helpful detail the misattributions in Ink Black Heart. It seems an open question about whether this set of mistakes means anything beyond further testimony to Rowling’s carelessness about distracting gaffes (not these distracted anyone!) while planning an intricately involved story scaffolding with alchemical touches, traditional symbolism, ghosts, psychomachian allegory, playful references to the book’s apposite number in the Potter series as well as echoes of its chiastic twin in the Strike series. 

Let me know what you think of the S&E Files find in the comment boxes below. A hat tip again to Louise Freeman for sharing this find!



  1. Hi John. I’m glad you found this as interesting as we did. The reason we didn’t elaborate on what this could mean is simply because we don’t really think it means anything other than some editing errors. They’re certainly fun to find, though!

  2. Evan Willis says

    Just Googled my way through the epigraphs on Silkworm and Cuckoo’s Calling after seeing this.

    No unambiguous errors. However, the references to “The Little French Lawyer” (chapters 2+10) and “The False One” (chapters 20+40), which come to us from the same folio, are cases where there has been some debate as to which of the three authors (Beaumont, Fletcher, and Massinger) each play is to be attributed to. “The Little French Lawer” is attributed to Beaumont and Massinger in Silkworm, but is by general consensus by Fletcher and Massinger. “The False One” is attributed to Beaumont and Fletcher in Silkworm, which used to be scholarly consensus, but which is now attributed to Fletcher and Massigner. That there should be some playing around with somewhat uncertain attribution of collectively written texts plays well in the context of Silkworm.

    For Cuckoo, I couldn’t find the quotation for the Prologue in Accius’s Telephus, and the quote is widely attributed on the internet to Varus.

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    “The only other ideas I have had are that the mistakes were intentional.”

    My first thought was Danny waiting for the deliberate mistake in Chaim Potok’s The Chosen (the movie, at least)… (though I don’t contend that’s weighty!)

  4. Hi Evan – love your point about shifty/shifting attributions of authorship being a lovely early modern context for Silkworm!

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