Strike-Potter Parallels: Cuckoo & Stone

In my second post about The Silkworm post-publication in 2014, I launched the idea that Rowling-Galbraith was writing her Cormoran Strike series in parallel with the seven Harry Potter novels. I wrote:

Reading The Silkworm, consequently, it’s only natural that we serious readers of the Hogwarts Saga be sensitive to what we hear or experience in this detective novel that seem to be echoes from the Boy Who Lived’s magical adventures.  I want to make three observations for your comment and correction here, thoughts that will not include a list of fun correspondences (did you flinch when you read that you can “hear the rumbling of the traffic on Charing Cross Road’ from Strike’s flat? Me, too), but all of which, I think, put the Cormoran Strike novels in a new light.

First, as noted in my ‘first thoughts’ post that I put up after reaching the half-way point of Silkworm, there are several rather jarring correspondences between this mystery and the second novel of the Harry Potter series, Chamber of Secrets. The key to the case, as Strike observes more than the once, is the book within the book, namely Bombyx Mori, and its transparent depictions in story of the suspects in the murder of the book’s author.

Along the way to discovering whodunnit, we are given a short course in the difficulties and inevitable mistakes to be made in drawing dot-to-dot correspondences that seem obvious and are not. Readers of Chamber of Secrets, perhaps the best stand-alone Potter novel, will recall a similar book-within-a-book experience there with Riddle’s diary and how we are to understand what we learn from reading or entering into it. Hagrid is sent to Azkaban because of what is misunderstood about the events depicted — and the woman whose “purity of desire” makes Strike sure she is not guilty, an echo of Harry’s surety about the Gameskeeper, is also jailed unjustly and then liberated.

My first idea for your consideration is this: Ms Rowling is writing this seven book series in parallel with her previous seven book series. {emphasis in original}

My second and third points in that post were that she was doing this so “this parallel series can act as the key to a right understanding of the first series, the Hogwarts adventures” and, that in doing this, she “invites her readers to understand her fiction as a psychological distillation of her experiences, which is to say, we are to read them through the filter of her biography if we are to get at the heart of their meaning.” The second point, like the first, has been confirmed by each new book, and the third, which seemed a stretch even to me at the time, has been supported by the author in her remarkable contribution of “inspiration” to the Museum of Curiosity in 2019.

The idea of a Parallel Series has become something of a touchstone or premise here at HogwartsProfessor. Louise Freeman predicted years before Strike4 was published, for instance, that Lethal White would take place against the background of the 2012 London Olympics just as Goblet of Fire used the TriWizard Tournament even though this seemed unlikely given the time spacings between the books, Cuckoo to Career. Beatrice Groves, similarly, guessed that the ‘Trelawney’ song would be sung in Troubled Blood because of the important place of Professor Trelawney’s prophecy in Order of the Phoenix. The Parallel Series idea (hereafter ‘PSI’), in other words, not only has interpretative value but can be and has been used to predict future book plot points.

Here’s the problem, or, as the self-help gurus and positive thinking savants like to say, the challenge.

We have an excellent collection of the Goblet of Fire and Lethal White parallels. In fact, there are two PSI posts about this pair: Does Lethal White Echo Goblet of Fire? and Lethal White: Every Goblet of Fire Link. Be sure to read the comment threads on those posts because some of the best parallels are reported by readers there. We haven’t been as thorough about Troubled Blood and the Order of the Phoenix echoes embedded in Strike 5, but Louise Freeman posted her first finds the day of publication and invited Serious Strikers to write up their catches at her Parallel Placeholder Post. As recently as last week, we had a major parallel discovery put up on that thread by Michelle about Harry and Cormoran’s respective daddy issues in Phoenix and Troubled Blood, a subject I wrote about at length yesterday.

What we don’t have are collections of the parallels for the first, second, and third books of each series: Cuckoo’s Calling to Philosopher’s Stone, The Silkworm to Chamber of Secrets, and Career of Evil to Prisoner of Azkaban. I think PSI as a hypothesis is on pretty strong footing already based on the extensive work and findings for the Book4 and Book5 pairs that has been done. I’m curious, though, whether the first books are as laden with references to the Hogwarts Saga as are the most recent.

Today, then, beginning with this post, I want to put up three placeholders where Serious Strikers can list their PSI finds for the first three book sets. When each of those is up, I will create a PSI Pillar Post where all will be collected in one place for ease in searching and for reference purposes. Join me after the jump for my list of seven parallels between Cuckoo’s Calling and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and invitation to you to share the echoes you heard on your repeated trips through each of those books!

In my 2019 list of ‘Three Things About J. K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike Novels Every Harry Potter Fan Should Know,’ the second point was  “The Seven Books Run in Parallel with the Hogwarts Seven and Act as Commentary on Them.” I wrote there that “Cuckoo’s Calling a la Philosopher’s Stone was about Cormoran Strike’s coming into his own, his ‘becoming a name,’ and his escape from a relationship and living situation that was more a prison than a home.” That listing is as good a place to start as any.

(1) Coming Into His Own

In Stone, Harry Potter learns on his eleventh birthday celebration at midnight with Hagrid that he is a wizard. The rest of the book are his discovery that the bizarre things that had set him apart as a Muggle were not quirks but features of his magical life. In the classrooms and sanctioned and unsanctioned extra-curricular activities of Hogwarts, Harry Potter at last has full-play for his inner capabilities and feels a great liberation and relief in this.

Cormoran Strike in Cuckoo’s Calling is on his own and at a personal nadir at the story start. He believed that he had a vocation to be a private investigator based on his experiences in the British Army but he was having no success in his efforts to act on this calling and put his abilities to their proper use. The only cases he has are trivial and he is on the verge of bankruptcy. By story’s end, he has demonstrated his skills, even a certain genius, in solving the Lula Landry case and his suspected identity, like Harry’s, has become he and the world both recognize.

(2) Becoming a Name

Harry Potter learns from Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of the Keys, in the House on the Rock and on their trip to Diagon Alley that he is famous among wizards. His fame, of course, is consequent to his surviving the Death Curse of the Dark Lord, a miraculous and mysterious event that earned him the sobriquet, ‘The Boy Who Lived.’ Harry is naturally uncomfortable about this reputation because he cannot remember the event and has no better understanding of what happened than anybody else. By book’s end, he has intentionally sought out a confrontation with the Dark Lord and survived it, again, if still in mysterious fashion, vanquishing Lord Voldemort. He is famous now on his own merits rather than just because of his parents. 

Cormoran Strike is famous as well at the beginning of Cuckoo’s Calling. He does not have his own Wikipedia page but he is mentioned on his father’s, rocker Jonathan Leonard Rokeby, lead singer of The Deadbeats. Strike is the illegitimate son of Rokeby and Leda Strike, a celebrity fan-girl who died a mysterious death when Strike was in his late teens. Like Potter, Strike finds no reason in his inherited celebrity to take pride himself. In the epilogue to Cuckoo, however, in the wake of his solving the Landry case, Strike remembers Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Ulysses and exults in the fact “I am become a name,” his own not just his parents. Tennyson almost certainly meant “name” in the ugly sense of “becoming a proverb or joke punch-line” but Strike’s interpretation parallels Harry’s.

(3) “Escape from a relationship and living situation that was more a prison than a home”

Harry begins the story in a cupboard beneath the stairs in the home of the Dursleys on Privet Drive. He is the proverbial unwanted step-child and the object of remarkable abuse and neglect by his Aunt and Uncle care-givers. Philosopher’s Stone signals Harry’s escape from these confines, and, though he must return to Privet Drive at story’s end, he does so as a new man and not as a prisoner to their understanding of him.

Strike breaks up with Charlotte Campbell as Cuckoo’s Calling begins and he struggles throughout the first book to throw off the mental and emotional spell the Venereal witch has cast over him. In agonizing catharsis consequent to her engagement and remarriage to Jago Ross, by book’s end he is a new man if he still feels the infection of her curse of attachment.

Three parallels between these books are just functions of there being the first book in series:

(4) Introduction of Mysterious Handicap

Harry Potter has a bizarro scar on his forehead we learn in the first pages of Philosopher’s Stone, a scar he received the night he became ‘The Boy Who Lived.’ This scar can be a real head-ache to Harry, figuratively in that people are forever noticing and commenting on it, and literally when it explodes with pain at moments Harry does not understand.

Cormoran Strike lost the lower part of his leg — right leg in the books, left on the teevee adaptations (or is it the reverse?) — in an IED explosion that rocked the troop carrier he was in during an investigation in Afghanistan. Strike’s survival of this blast is as mysterious as Harry’s surving the Death Curse; he jumped out the vehicle back with Anstis in hand just before the blast earning him the nickname ‘Mystic Bob.’ Strike is handicapped by the injury, to say the least, and, when he falls or neglects the stub, can be debilitated.

(5) Introduction of Over Arching Mystery and Villain

Harry learns about the Dark Lord in his first meeting with Hagrid and actually meets Voldemort face to face in the story finale. We don’t learn why the Big Bad Wolf wanted to kill infant Harry, of course, but the mystery is introduced in engaging fashion. The next six books in the series include more and more clues and their climactic confrontation in Deathly Hallows when all is revealed. Harry carries a token of the Dark LKord, a fragment of his soul on his forehead, as talisman and torture-device.

Cormoran Strike does not have a Dark Lord stand-in villain  who fights him a la Moriarity and Holmes. He does have a core mystery, however, and an interior spectre with whom he wrestles. The mystery is the seeming suicide of his Murder, Leda. The Dark Lord Horcrux Strike carries in his heart is the incapacity to love consequent to his years of attachment with Charlotte Campbell. We suspect his final; victory over this inner demon will be his marriage or engagement to Robin in Strike 7 but that’s a long way off.

(6) Introduction of Scene and Major Players

We don’t meet everybody who will play major roles in the Harry Potter novels in the first book of the series, but most are there. Among Harry’s friends, only Luna, Cho, and students not yet admitted are in the cast, the faculty are all there except the DADA professors that rotate in and out,  and some actors, most notably Sirius Black, are given name checks or hints in Stone. The Muggle-Wizarding world divide, Hogwarts and its grounds, it’s all there.

Similarly in Strike and his world in Cuckoo’s Calling. We get new characters in each book with the new murder, of course, and more people at the Agency as it expands with success, Sam Barclay being the most important, but the office and its environs, Strike’s favorite pubs, and his friends — Shanker is not named but makes a cameo phone appearance — are all presented in the first book.

(7) There Have To Be Seven Parallels

It’s the most magical number, right? I’m leaving this number as a blank, consequently, for you to fill in via the comment boxes below. What parallels did you note in Cuckoo’s Calling and Philosopher’s Stone? Please forgive me if you have shared them previously in other posts on this subject through the years; I’m sure I will do this again and again in the three posts on Strike-Potter parallels covering the first three books. Thank you in advance for sharing your finds and reminding everyone of previous catches! The chase is on!

Comments

  1. I see a parallel between Quirrellmort and John Bristol. With both, you have the book’s villain hiding in plain sight. Both present timid exteriors, but hide a killer on the inside.

  2. Louise Freeman says

    The word “magic” is mentioned four times in CC. Once in regard to Robin and her new job:
    She had never confided in a solitary human being (even Matthew) her lifelong, secret, childish ambition. For this to happen today, of all days! It felt like a wink from God (and
    this too she somehow connected with the magic of the day; with Matthew, and
    the ring; even though, properly considered, they had no connection at all)

    Early in PS, it is mentioned that Harry “had dreamed and dreamed of some unknown relation coming to take him away,” Both Robin’s and Harry’s “childish dreams” come true “by magic” when they are least expecting it.

    The other magic mentions are all in a very similar context: relating to the “different world” (as Wardle called Lula’s opulent flat) of the uber-rich-and-famous.

    First: the 2000+ pound dress that no one but a millionaire would normally consider buying:
    The green dress was magically constructed to shrink her waist to nothingness, to carve her figure into flowing curves, to elongate her pale neck.

    Second: the expensive treats Lula offers Rochelle.
    Strike noted how very little Rochelle had told him about Lula the person, as opposed to Lula the holder of the magic plastic cards that bought handbags, jackets and jewelry, and the
    necessary means by which Kieran appeared regularly, like a genie, to whisk Rochelle away from her hostel.

    Third: Strike and Ciara being pursued by the paps on their way to VIP treatment as Uzi’s. Their entry is a bit reminiscent of the entry into Platform 9 3/4.
    He ducked his head, his hand closed instinctively around Ciara Porter’s slender upper arm, and he steered her ahead of him through the black oblong that represented sanctuary, as the doors opened magically to admit them. The queuing hordes were shouting, protesting at their easy entry, yelping with excitement;

    This “different world” is the “magical” world of Strike’s father– as people like Guy and Ciara who drop his name keep reminding him. Later, we learn, it was at least occasionally that of Leda too, as she jetted off to concerts, fancy hotels and limos while leaving her kids behind without coats and in too-small shoes, spending the child support on herself rather than them. Strike, like Harry, encounters this magical world regularly in his work, though, unlike Harry, he has no aspirations to live there himself, despite the fact that it could be considered his birthright as Rokeby’s son. But there is definitely a theme of the orphan making his way through an unfamiliar world. And I have to think that Rowling, who went from the dole (despite her great education and intelligence) to one of the wealthiest women in the world in a relatively short time could relate.

    So, both Strike and Robin encounter a “magical” new world: Robin the detective career that takes her away from the tedious office jobs (and eventually the increasingly Dursley-ish Matthew” and Strike the would of preposterous wealth that his father (and ex) belong to.

  3. Louise Freeman says

    Another very minor point: both Harry and Robin receive a green piece of clothing: Harry his green Christmas sweater, Robin the Green Dress In both cases, the gift is emotionally significant: for Harry it is the first sign that he is going to be all but adopted by the Weasleys; for Robin…. well, its pretty loaded with meaning, perhaps most importantly because it elevates conflict between her and the Flobberworm.

  4. Patricia Baker noted a ‘wow’ Stone-Cuckoo connection in 2014 when I first floated the Parallel Series Idea:

    Similarities between Sorcerer’s Stone and The Cuckoo’s Calling are less easy to find [than those between Chamber and Silkworm]. The primary one that stands out to me is both books focus on orphans (Lulu and Harry) who are trying to figure out whether they are who the people who have raised them think they are or someone far more powerful and interesting. For both Lulu and Harry, learning about their birth families helps them make life changing but dangerous choices.

  5. Mark Zajac says

    To me, it is “Ink Black Heart” and “Goblet of Fire” that run in parallel. Each culminates the “differentiation” or “rite of passage” stage in Jungian analysis.

    There are so many “Ink Black Heart” / “Goblet of Fire” parallels. In the former, everybody struggles to register for Drek’s Game. In the latter, everybody tries to put their own name into the eponymous goblet. Harry is too young but gets into the tournament, whereas the older Weasleys do not. It is Robin who get’s into Drek’s Game, although Cormoran and the police are more experienced investigators. Robin’s naïvety about dating mirrors Harry’s anguish over finding a date to the Yule ball. In both books, the “game” turns deadly and a grave-yard figures prominently.

    In each book, the final showdown had a “rite of passage” vibe. The death of Cedric Diggory was like Cormoran being out of commission, leaving Harry and Robin to face the “bogey man” without the support of a true friend.

    In the earlier books, we saw quidditch as a pass-time for children but “Goblet of Fire” opens with the world cup, an event for adults, where Harry first mingles with adult wizards who are not teachers. The death of Cedric Diggory signals the end of care-free child-hood games and the start of adulthood, with life-and-death consequences.

    Likewise, the “Ink Black Heart” scene on the subway platform, after Comicon, was a metaphor. Anomie was dressed as Batman when Robin thwarted his plan. So, it was a contest of Robin vs. “Batman” and Robin won. This mirrors Robin Ellacott emerging from her usual side-kick role. In the end, Robin gets her name on the door, an explicit acknowledgement of her maturity as an investigator — she’s “fully fledged” and “all grown up” now.

    Note the difference between “private investigations” and “agency” on the office door. That marks the transition from “differentiation” to “individuation” (in Jungian terms), which Harry and Robin achieved in “Goblet of Fire” and “Ink Black Heart” respectively.

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