Strike-Potter PSI: Silkworm and Chamber

‘PSI’ stands for ‘Parallel Series Idea,’ which, as explained yesterday, is the thesis generated at HogwartsProfessor in 2014 that Rowling-Galbraith is writing the Cormoran Strike novels in parallel with their respective numbers in the Harry Potter seven books. PSI has become something of a ‘given’ or premise in speculation about what is coming in the series; it is assumed here, for instance, that Ink Black Heart will echo in important ways Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (see Louise Freeman’s first efforts along these lines, First Flip of the Tarot Cards: Louise’s Predictions for Strike 6) and Strike7 will be something of a finale for the first seven Strike books akin to Deathly Hallows.

The challenge before us is that the PSI thesis has only been demonstrated or even explored in any depth with respect to the parallels in Lethal White to Goblet of Fire and those in Troubled Blood to Order of the Phoenix. Yesterday I posted six parallels between Cuckoo’s Calling and Philosopher’s Stone, today I hope to write up the parallels first spotted in 2014 between The Silkworm  and Chamber of Secrets, and deo volente we will soon after have a third post about Career of Evil and Prisoner of Azkaban.

When these posts are up, I will create a PSI Pillar Post for ease of access and referencing as Serious Strikers prepare for the release of Ink Black Heart. If you think, as several writers here do, that Charlotte Campbell is the Strike series Voldemort and Jonny Rokeby either the Dumbledore stand-in, the Severus Snape parallel, or both, previous PSI study will be an important touchstone and starting point for your speculation about Strike6.

After the jump, then, a listing of the parallels between The Silkworm, easily Rowling’s most self-consciously literary or ‘meta’ work to date, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, my favorite stand-alone novel in the Hogwarts Saga. This list will be woefully incomplete and is written largely to serve as an invitation to you to jump in via the comment boxes and share all the parallels I missed — or parallels with other Potter books or to question the entire Parallel Series Idea. Let the conversation begin!

(1) The Book Within the Book

Louise Freeman wrote in 2019 that the most important parallel between Chamber and Silkworm is that they are both “centered on the havoc wreaked by a mysterious autobiographical book.” 

In Chamber of Secrets this is Tom Riddle, Jr.’s diary. Lucius Malfoy surreptitiously gives it to Ginny Weasley, Harry and Ron find it in a Hogwarts bathroom, and the shade of the Man Who Became the Dark Lord creates a deceptive Pensieve like experience for the Boy Who Lived in its pages. The narrative misdirection is so successful that Harry emerges from the reading experience all but convinced that Hagrid is the person responsible for the monster inside the castle. The novel’s Big Reveal in Slytherin’s actual Chamber is that Riddle is the young Dark Lord and the diary is a Horcrux, if we are not told that’s what the soul-fragment holder is called until Half-Blood Prince.

In The Silkworm, author Owen Quine is missing and his wife Leonora hires Strike to find him. The Peg-Legged PI soon learns that publishers in the UK are in a kerfuffle about Quine’s latest book, Bombyx Mori, that his agent, Elizabeth Tassel, has been shopping. As with the diary, the manuscript has been let into the world mysteriously, its author is not who it seems to be, and the real writer is deliberately misleading its readers with its presentation of the original ideas. As noted above, this is Rowling’s most intensively self-referential book because the reader of The Silkworm is reading about the reading of Bombyx Mori, the Latin words for ‘silkworm,’ and the murder of the suffering artist who dies, as the book title suggests, for his art as the insect is killed for its silk.

(2) The Imprisoned Innocent

Leonora Quine is arrested and charged with the murder of her husband, imprisonment which separates her from her special-needs daughter Orlando. She is a heart-warming character in her naivete and simplicity; her love for her daughter, however frustrated she can become with the young woman, is the only unalloyed relationship in the book which is filled with seedy, self-interested, and swinish citizens of the British publishing world. Leonora’s release consequent to Strike’s exposure of the murderer is the great joy of the book.

Similar to Leonora’s imprisonment, Rubeus Hagrid, maternal lover of magical beasts, is set up by the real author of the Bad Book Within the Book to take the fall for the author’s crime. The Ministry of Magic proves as eager to throw the Hogwarts Gamekeeper into Azkaban, just to be seen to be doing something, as the Metropolitan Police or ‘Met’ was to imprison Orlando’s mum. Hagrid’s re-appearance at novel’s end and his gratitude for his release reflects as a mirror image the reader’s feelings for the Leonora-Orlando reunion. 

(3) The Gross Injustice of Institutional Authority

Harry and friends simply cannot believe that their beloved friend has been arrested. They rage against the injustice which largely drives their efforts to find the monster beneath the castle. When neither school nor Ministry will help after Ginny is taken prisoner, Harry and Ron throw caution to the winds and enter the Chamber.

Strike is furious with the Met policeman who is in charge of the Quine murder case, Richard Anstis. He gives the man whose life he saved in Afghanistan solid evidence from Polworth and the Quine typewriter tape of whodunnit that means Leonora could not be the murderer and the policeman refuses it. Strike after letting loose a few capslock epithets about Richard’s head (426) elects to catch the killer himself with a bold and dangerous confrontation, one akin to Harry’s face to face conversation in the Chamber with Riddle, Jr.

(4) The Ridiculously Self-Important Author

Gilderoy Lockhart enters the Wizarding World stage in Chamber of Secrets. He is the author of a series of autobiographical fictions that are a clever set of self-serving lies, which series has made him fabulously famous. He is, alas, a disgusting person, pre-occupied with self-promotion and elevating himself over more worthy others (with wonderfully comic results when the balloon of his preening pretense is popped). He is convinced that Hagrid is guilty, that Harry is in need of his mentoring (and medicinal magic!), and he is the unwilling escort of Ron and Harry on their descent miles beneath Hogwarts to rescue Ginny.

Michael Fancourt, literary author extraordinaire, plays this role in The Silkworm. As with Owen Quine, his novels are pretentious fictional representations and reflections of his own life experiences, rewritten in self-flattering fashion. He wins a rich new contract, patronizes Strike shamelessly though Cormoran with some deft Latin quotation from memory proves he the author’s intellectual superior, and Fancourt is present at Strike’s take-down of the killer, the magnet Strike uses to draw the murderer into his trap. Lockhart’s name strongly suggests that he is modeled on Philip Pullman who wrote a series of books whose heroine is named Sallie Lockhart; Fancourt hints only at his being an artist playing to the crowd.

(5) The Embedded Morality Play

As I wrote twenty years ago, the Chamber of Secrets climactic scene in the second Harry Potter novel is an anything but opaque masque of Christian symbols with a soteriological message, i.e., Everyman in the sub-lunar world confronts the Evil One with testimony about the True God. He is blessed with a Symbol of Christ and a weapon to slay the Evil One’s Serpent. The tears of the Resurrection Bird heal Everyman’s wounds from the Serpent and the hero and his loved ones rise from their Cave to the presence of the True God where Truth is revealed. I was astonished when I learned that Christians in Houston, where I lived in 2000 when I first read Chamber, were arguing that Harry Potter was not edifying reading; this was the most transparent allegory I thought since The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardobe.

Bombyx Mori is anything but a Christian allegory but it is a thinly-veiled autobiographical re-write of the author’s life in perverse postmodern images that was meant to be read as a contemporary version of A Pilgrim’s Progress. Strike and the other readers of the dead man’s work in Silkworm labor to connect the dots of story figure and real-life referent and to understand the meaning of the usually demeaning representation.

Two markers about this parallel: (1) If Rowling is writing the second series as a commentary on how to read and understand the way to grasp her first series, Silkworm, the first of the Strike novels in conception, suggests that she understands her work as allegorical at its root. (2) As hesitant as I am to embrace reading any author’s work through the filters of his or her biography, Rowling seems to be insisting here that her work is fundamentally autobiographical in nature at least with respect to inspiration, as she asserted in her 2019 Lake and Shed interview.

(6) The Disappearing Back Story (With Embedded Big Clue to Over Arching Mystery)

When I am asked which of the Harry Potter novels is my favorite, I respond that Deathly Hallows is the best of the series because it ties together the seven book set’s themes and plot points brilliantly but that Chamber of Secrets is my preference as a stand-alone work, that is, a story unattached from the larger Hogwarts Saga. This is usually taken as a contrarian’s characteristic coveting of controversy to inspire conversation — especially because Tom Riddle, Jr., plays such a big part in Chamber — but my point has some relevance to this PSI post on the two Book 2s.

Each of the Harry Potter novels involve the investigation and solving of a core mystery in that year’s adventure with the release along the way of critical information for the Over Arching Mystery of Harry’s relationship with the Dark Lord. Though Tom Riddle appears in the diary and in the Chamber in Harry’s second year, we really learn very little about why the Dark Lord hates Harry so much or the circumstances of the Potter murders. The Riddle-Shade himself is clueless about this and trying to figure out how his future self had been defeated by the Boy Who Lived. We learn next to nothing about Voldemort in the book beyond that he was a student at Hogwarts (surprise!); contrast this with the data dump in Philosopher’s Stone and the big reveals of Prisoner of Azkaban and all subsequent series entries.

What we do get in Chamber, as mentioned above, is exposure to the Diary-Horcrux, the importance of which of course is only fully explained in Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows. The relative eclipse of the larger story in Book 2 highlights the annulus or brilliant smaller coronal ring of what we can see, what will take over the story in Books 6 and 7, Prince’s Horcrux reveals in the Pensieve and the Hallows Horcrux Hunt.

We don’t have Strikes 6 and 7 so this Chamber-Silkworm parallel is necessarily a work-in-progress. What we do find in The Silkworm is a disappearance of the two over-arching mysteries of the Strike novels, namely, ‘Who Killed Leda Strike?’ and ‘When will Robin and Cormoran be conjugal partners as well as business partners?’ There are no clues or discussion of the Leda Strike suicide in Silkworm that I remember without checking (insert link to inevitable incipient correction in comments below) and the only progress in the Strike-Ellacott relationship is that Charlotte Campbell gets married. Strike, though, far from looking for a rebound relationship with Ellacott, is devastated and sorely tempted by these nuptials. Robin, if anything, becomes closer to her fiancee Matthew consequent to their coming to terms about her vocation as a detective.

If you read Charlotte Campbell as the series parallel to the Dark Lord in Harry Potter, however, the primary doppelganger or mirror reflection confrontation with him serves as a catalyst to the hero’s chrysalis around his right identity, Robin’s best mate, then her off-stage cameo appearance that throws Cormoran for a loop in The Silkworm is right in line with Diary-Riddle in Chamber. Look for elucidation and remarkable expansion of Strike’s history with Charlotte in Ink Black Heart, if this is the case, in parallel with the multiple trips into the Pensieve Harry makes with Dumbledore in Prince to learn Riddle’s history. With Rokeby playing the role of the Headmaster? That would be fun, for Robin at least.

(7) Invitation to Comment

There have to be seven parallels, so I leave this one open for you to share your discoveries, your objections (e.g., isn’t the allegorical reading of the book in Chamber much more akin to the point-to-point exegesis of the astrological chart with characters-suspects in Troubled Blood?), and your thoughts about this pair in the scale of PSI comparisons — stronger or weaker correspondences than in the other book pairs we have examined? I look forward to reading your finds and analysis!

Addendum: Please see Patricia Baker: Chamber-Silkworm PSI for a list of reader generated links between the Book Twos of both the Potter series and the Strike novels!


  1. Louise Freeman says

    A quickie: Both feature an unexpected rescue involving a car. The Ford Anglia arrives just in time to save Ron and Harry from the spiders; Ron is amazed that the car has gone wild and is now driving itself. Robin reacts with her advanced driving skills just in time to save them from crashing on the motorway. Strike is amazed that she drives better than his Army colleagues.

    I think I remember a list of parallels from our first Strike podcast on Reading, Writing, Rowling.

  2. The car! Even better than the Swerve in the Snow car-save, though, is Robin’s driving in the finale as a taxi driver in disguise. She is in a borrowed car a la the Weasley’s Anglia and crashes it to bring the automobile to a full stop, akin to the Whomping Willow brake.

    Matt’s being called to the hospital and subsequent brief exchange with Strike there might be a weak parallel with the Weasley appearance at Hogwarts after Ginny’s disappearance.

    Here’s a challenge: who is the Dobby character of ‘The Silkworm’? There has to be one if the series segments are written as literary analogs.

    The best I can come up with is Leonora Quine though I’ve already said she is the Hagrid equivalent. Maybe Dobby is the better parallel: Leonora initiates the Silkworm investigation the way Dobby’s visit to the Dursley’s home on Privet Drive is the inciting incident of Chamber, she has a fawning relationship and trust in Cormoran Strike consequent to his success in the Landry case akin to Dobby’s fealty to The Boy Who Lived, and her liberation from prison at Silkworm’s end is as clear an echo of Dobby being given clothes by Malfoy as it is to Hagrid leaving Azkaban.

    Is Richard Anstis the Silkworm echo of Lucius Malfoy in this regard? He is furious with Strike at story’s end for solving the case because it reveals that he had imprisoned an innocent woman on weak evidence. Malfoy is in parallel with this in his hatred of Harry Potter for exposing his machination with the Riddle diary, resulting in Ginny’s suffering a la Orlando/Leonora and the freeing of his suspect, that is, subject house-elf.

  3. I’m really enjoying these PSI posts John! To me the crucial importance of the ‘book within a book’ aspect (which I wrote up in my first posts on Silkworm ) makes this one of the most convincing pairings of the series so far! In both cases this book-within-the-book has been written by the Big Bad (Voldemort; the murderer) although neither the hero nor the reader realise that for a long time; and in both cases this author uses the unquestioning acceptance of this text to set up someone else for the crime (in Silkworm’s case, not a specific someone, but the spurious text is used to give all kinds of people a motive for the murder).

    And what about the hidden crime – the death of young woman long ago – which holds the crucial clue? Ellie Kerr’s suicide over 25 years before is the cause of everything that is happening now, just as Moaning Myrtle’s death is the clue to where the Chamber of Secrets is.

    And I very much like your Leonora/Hagrid wrongful imprisonment link (in both cases the authorities commit an unjust act because they feel they ought to be seen to be doing something) because it strengthens the maternal aspects of Hagrid’s role (‘Bless him, he knows his Mummy!’) something we talked about on Beyond Belief – – and of which I’m very fond as it underlies the final Pieta of Hagrid carrying Harry (which as we know was one of Rowling’s strongest images of where the series would end).

  4. That ‘Hidden Crime’ parallel is a great one, Professor Groves! Thank you for adding it to this list.

    The maternal love piece is important, too, because [cue idee fixe comment of Rowling’s use of mother’s love symbolism in her work].

    On to the final PSI post in this short series…

  5. Louise Freeman says

    I love the idea of Anstis = Malfoy, especially given the fact that he has a wife who is both unpleasant and very class-conscious. They alone among Strike’s friends seemed to like Charlotte, and I could very well believe that it is because they enjoy rubbing elbows with the rich and famous.

    I don’t see Helly having an opportunity to save anyone’s life in Book 7, though. And Anstis is, so far as we know, not in jail.

    Had we met Draco Malfoy at age three, I suspect he would have been a bit like young Timothy Cormoran. In other words, a spoiled brat.

    Given that there are, overall, fewer characters in the Strike series than in Harry Potter, I don’t see why Leonora could not incorporate both Hagrid and Dobby elements. There are other character that do this, too. Robin often seems like a hybrid between Hermione and Ginny, and Shanker seems a mishmash of Sirius Black and Mundungus Fletcher.

  6. Elizabeth S. says

    A couple of thoughts on who might be “Dobby” in Silkworm. One thought that comes to mind is Pippa who stalks Cormoran and attacks him several times. She has a moment of “wailing and sobbing”, which reminds me of Dobby as the abuse she endured. The other thought was Orlando as she is viewed as “less than” like Dobby. She is over-looked/unseen, but she helps solve the mystery because she snitches here Dad’s typewriter tapes and keeps them in her toy Monkey. Thoughts?

  7. Louise Freeman says

    Another potential parallel: Both have killers with connections to the eyes of a cold-blooded animal. The basilisk, of course, kills through eye contact. Strike muses about Owen Quine’s killer being like a the blacktip shark that mauled Polworth, and, when he confronts Liz Tassel, he notes she has the “cold, dead eyes of a shark.”

  8. Louise Freeman says

    One more follow-up to the car parallel. The protagonists get into trouble for their car-related actions at King’s Cross. Harry and Ron are disciplined for stealing the car from King’s Cross and driving it to Hogwarts. Strike has to pay a hefty fine for abandoning his rental at King’s Cross after Robin catches the sleeper to Masham.

  9. I’ve just finished Silkworm.

    It’s funny that in both instances of outdoing a self-important writer, Latin is used.

    Snape proves to be superior to Gilderoy Lockhart while teaching a Latin spell (“Expelliarmus!”).

    Strike proves to be intellectually superior Michael Fancourt while quoting Catullus.

Speak Your Mind