Farewell to Alastair Fowler, Mythopoetic Scholar Extraordinaire

On October 9, a bright scholarly light left the world, with hardly a whisper in the press or online. Alastair Fowler, CBE, FBA, and distinguished literary critic and poet, studied under C.S. Lewis at Oxford and received his degrees from there before going on to teach at universities in his native Scotland, England, and the United States from the early 1960s until the late 1990s. Our readers here have surely felt the influence of Fowler, whether or not they realize it. He edited Lewis’s brilliant Spenser’s Images of Life, and, since he extrapolated upon Lewis’s notes and lectures, Fowler’s input upon this brilliant volume, published four years after Lewis’s death, was vital. He made numerous contributions to literary scholarship, particularly upon the works of John Milton and Edmund Spenser.

His edited volume of Paradise Lost, along with his Spenser and the Numbers of Time both made important additions to scholarship in the 1960s, but he was still publishing in the early 2000s, producing How to Write and often criticizing the growing influence of new historicism. Considering Lewis’s abhorrence of “the personal heresy,” it is not surprising Fowler was suspicious of a critical trend that often focuses less on texts and more on the author’s personal life and issues of power and culture.

His scholarship on Spenser provides vital tools for understanding some of the crucial symbols that come into play in Troubled Blood: ChrisC mentioned Fowler in our comments here as Louise Freeman pondered possibilities prior to the novel’s publication two years ago and a few months ago as John Granger speculated on Ink-Black Heart before its release. Thank you, Chris, for making that great connection! A brief Google search reveals no other articles linking Fowler to the Strike novels, but it would certainly have been interesting to hear his take on Strike and Spenser.

Although it is unlikely that any of us who study Lewis, Milton, and Spenser have not, somewhere, used or been influenced by Fowler’s scholarship, his death has not received much public attention. A brief obituary in the Times gives his honorifics but none of his publications or other literary achievements, simply listing his family. Since he and his wife, who passed away three years ago, were married for 68 years, and he was apparently loved by his children and grandchildren, his personal achievements were pretty spectacular. Sadly, his tremendous academic impact, which should continue upon the printed page for many years to come, does not have the interest of an internet trend or celebrity scandal. However, we here at Hogwarts Professor will continue to be grateful for his contribution to the study of important authors and for the tools he has given us.

Thank you, as well, to ChrisC for those great comment shout-outs and for letting us know of the passing of this brilliant scholarly voice.

“Spenser Strikes Again!” at Virtual Voices Event this Saturday

Since so many authors have not been able to make the usual circuit of events this past year, seventeen of the authors who publish with McFarland (including yours truly) will be speaking this Saturday at a virtual event from 1-5 EST. My McFarland book is Spenser, Milton, and the Chronicles of Narnia,  but it came out a while back, and these days, when I talk about Spenser, I like to talk about Cormoran Strike, so I’ll be giving a short talk highlighting some of the great Spenser/Strike connections that we have enjoyed exploring here. I hope you’ll join me, and some of the other interesting folks who will be speaking on topics as diverse as Terry Pratchett, Women in Sci-fi, Horror Movies, and everything in between!

“Nae Problem:” How Career of Evil Should Have Ended 15 Chapters Earlier.

Robin Ellacott has certainly made some questionable decisions: sneaking off to warn Alyssa about Brockbank, letting sentiment over the Royal Wedding dupe her into resuming her engagement to the Flobberworm, trying to grab Strike’s arm when he’s throwing a punch, not dumping the Flobberworm at the wedding reception, drunk-texting Saul Morris on Boxing Day, not dumping the Flobberworm on the honeymoon, visiting Mucky Ricci without telling Strike and not dumping the Flobberworm when he ripped her gorgeous and expensive green dress. But, I would argue, her most foolish lapse of judgement came in a scene I’ve never seen discussed: Chapter 47 of Career of Evil.

The somewhat disgruntled Robin has been observing young Stephanie, believing, quite rightly, that Strike has intentionally put her on their least likely suspect to keep her out of harm’s way. Once Stephanie takes off in a van with Whittaker’s henchmen, she heads over to Wollaston Close to monitor Donald Laing’s apartment. Although neither she nor Strike ever seemed to realize it, she makes one of the most boneheaded moves of her career on this stakeout. Startled by Laing’s curtains being open, and trying to fake a phone call while searching for a better spying position, she slips on some spilled curry and falls. Guess who arrives to assist?

Somewhere in her vicinity a man burst out laughing. Cross and humiliated, she tried to get up without spreading the muck further over her clothes and shoes and did not look immediately for the source of the jeering noise.

“Sorry, hen,” said a soft Scottish voice right behind her. She looked around sharply and several volts of electricity seemed to pass through her…

“Ye’ll need a tap,” he said, grinning broadly as he pointed at her foot and the hem of her dress, “and a scrubbing brush.”

“Yes,” said Robin shakily. She bent to pick up her mobile. The screen was cracked.

“I live up there,” he said, nodding towards the flat she had been watching on and off for a month. “Ye can come up if y’want. Clean yerself up.”

“Oh no—that’s all right. Thanks very much, though,” said Robin breathlessly.

“Nae problem,” said Donald Laing.

Oh yeah, it is a problem. More  on why this is indicative of a sudden drop in Detective Ellacott’s IQ after the jump. 

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The True Taxonomy of Leda-Killer Suspects: Why Sir Randolph Whittaker is a Likely Culprit.

A few posts back, I made a case for Dr. Nick Herbert as the Leda-Slayer. My goal was not so much to convince the world that Nick Did It and to point out that a very similar case can be made for Nick as for Dave Polworth. 

The flip side of that is, the same arguments against Dave also apply to Nick— with the possible exception of Nick being more likely to know how to give an injection. 

Truthfully, I don’t really think either Nick or Dave did it. I am not by nature a betting person, but if someone forced me to put down a fiver on someone, my top suspect would be a character who has so far gotten exactly one mention by name in the series: Sir Randolph Whittaker, also known around here as Grandpa, or Old Man Whittaker.  Here is my reasoning.

Assuming Leda was, in fact murdered, the suspects for the dirty deed  fall into two broad categories.  

Bad People We Are Supposed to Suspect:  (AKA Black Hats) This list includes Jonny Rokeby, Jeff Whittaker, Charlotte Campell, Jago Ross, Shumba-the-Rastafarian-Who-Was-Nasty-Enough-to-Make-Uncle-Ted-Want-to-Punch-Him, Some-Yet-Unknown-Person-from-the-Worst-Place-Ever-Norfolk-Commune-That-Keeps-Getting-Mentioned, and all of the Whittaker Extended Family.

Good People We Are Not Supposed to Suspect (AKA White Hats): Uncle Ted, Aunt Joan, Sister Lucy, and good friends Nick Herbert, Ilsa (maiden name unknown at time of murder), Dave Polworth and Shanker. I will also include two Associate White Hats, not because Strike is particularly close to them, but because, if they were involved, it would have been for White Hat Lucy’s sake:  Her biological father Rick Fantoni and her now-husband Greg (whom she may or may not have known when she was nineteen). 

Following the jump, I’ll look closer at my classification system and explain my reasoning. 

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Leda Strike’s Death: Murder by Action… or Inaction?

Multiple Hogpro regulars have been speculating on the identity of Leda Strike’s killer recently, and cases have been made for pretty much every one of Strike’s family members, close friends and lovers (except Shanker–  I don’t think he’s been pegged yet…) The focus of this post will not be so much on the who, but on the how.

So far, Leda’s death as been speculated to be

  • suicide
  • murder
  • murder faked as suicide
  • suicide faked as murder, and even
  • suicide faked as murder faked as suicide.*

I am going to propose it is none of the above, but an accident. But, an accident that Leda could have survived, except that someone deliberately declined to summon help, and let her die.

Headmaster John and Beatrice Groves have already written, at length, about the influence of P.D. James on Rowling/Galbraith’s work. Robin’s origin story, for instance, was clearly inspired by James’ creation, Cordelia Gray, who comes to work for a private detective as a secretary, and winds up as a sleuth herself. In another one of James’ novels, Devices and Desires, a character is haunted by the death of her father. The father was working in a garden when he accidentally cuts himself badly in the thigh. His two teenage children witness the accident, but, after years of abuse, including the implied sexual abuse of the daughter, the son refuses to let his sister summon help, and allows Daddy Dearest to bleed out, even though some basic first aid and rapid medical attention could have saved him. The daughter lives in fear that her brother will one day be found out as a murderer, albeit a passive rather than active one.

Could something similar have happened to Leda? We know the squat was a communal living situation, with other residents besides Leda, Whittaker, baby Switch and occasionally Shanker. Yet, conveniently there were no witnesses to see who gave Leda the fatal dose of heroin, even though it sounds like a roomful of the “raggle-taggle,” most of which would eventually testify against Whittaker at his trial, arrived shortly thereafter.

While Shanker had been negotiating a good price on a kilo of premium Bolivian cocaine in Kentish Town, Leda Strike had been slowly stiffening on a filthy mattress. The finding of the port-mortem had been that she had ceased to breathe a full six hours before any of the squat-dwellers tried to rouse her from what they thought was a profound slumber.

But suppose there was someone who witnessed the injection and discerned that Leda’s life was in imminent danger, but chose to walk away and let the drug run its course?

More on this hypothesis after the jump.

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