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.

Stranger than Fiction? Recent Case with Similarities to Troubled Blood

Last week, as I was perusing my local news, I was shocked by a recent case, not just because it is a horrible crime in my very peaceful rural community, but also by the eerie similarity to the events of Troubled Blood. I’ll save specifics until after the jump to avoid spoilers foranyone who has not yet finished the novel (probably none of our crowd here, but just in case).

To set the scene, I must stress that Avery County, North Carolina, is not London, England, or even Charlotte, North Carolina. If Cormoran Strike were looking for work in my neck of the (literal) woods, he’d have trouble making a living. Certainly, we have our fair share of the usual rural stories, the sort of sad situations created by tragic choices, like drug and alcohol abuse or domestic violence. I must confess that I own a police scanner, and I am friends with many members of our small troop of law enforcement heroes (the K9 officer who patrols the high school when I teach embedded college courses there is one of my favorite officers, and his human is ok, too!), but our “big crimes” are often more comic than tragic. Two years ago, we made national news when pranksters stole the huge carved wooden Sasquatch who stands out in front of my favorite garden center. He was later found in the woods, of course.

But last week, when we first heard of the terrible story out of the Linville Falls community, it was a different situation from the start, a situation unfamiliar to us, but very familiar to Strike and Robin.

[Read more…]

Guest Post by Beatrice Groves Part 2: The Beast Within: Shakespearean Clues in Strike

As promised, here is part two of Bea Groves’s brilliant look at the clues hidden in the very walls of the watering holes visited by our favorite Denmark Street detective! Enjoy, and please join the conversation in the comments!

In yesterday’s post I discussed @zsenyasq’s find of a Leda mural at the Rivoli Bar in the Ritz, and noted that if Strike does comment on this image, it will not be the first time he has been paying attention to symbolic images in drinking establishments.

Strike visits The Tottenham early in the opening novel of the series and ‘examined the painted panels on the ceiling; bacchanalian revels that became, as he looked, a feast of fairies: Midsummer Night’s Dream, a man with a donkey’s head’ (Cuckoo’s Calling, 49-50). The painted roundel is indeed a little difficult to decipher and it seems highly likely that we see in this description of Strike’s dawning comprehension, Rowling’s own realisation of their Shakespearean source as she looked at these scenes – either as she scouted London in preparation for writing Cuckoo’s Calling, or perhaps earlier, drinking in this pub when she was herself a temp in Denmark St. [Read more…]

Guest Post by Bea Groves: Leda and the Swan Mural at the Ritz: A Clue to the Opening of Strike 6? Part 1

Fasten your seatbelts for a fabulous two-part adventure from our brilliant guest contributor Bea Groves! Here is the first installment of a wonderful analysis of the murals that adorn Strike settings and may provide complex and captivating clues for what is to come! Enjoy part one, and stay tuned for part two tomorrow!

In Shakespeare and Jane Austen (two of J.K. Rowling’s greatest literary loves) there is a failsafe clue about whether two characters are in love without knowing it themselves. Which is that they pay attention when the other person speaks. And Strike has been listening to Robin. When Strike takes Robin to the Ritz for champagne at the end of Troubled Blood, he is not just giving a true present (something that appeals to the recipient not the giver), he is also remembering something she had once said:

            ‘I want you to give me something to eat and a strong drink.’

‘You’ve got it,’ said Strike, glad to have a chance to make repa­rations. ‘Will a takeaway do?’

‘No,’ said Robin sarcastically, pointing at her rapidly blackening eyes, ‘I’d like to go to the Ritz, please.’

Strike started to laugh but cut himself off, appalled at the state of her face.

(Chap 58, p.719)

At the end of the novel Strike turns Robin’s joke into reality:

‘So where—?’ asked Robin.

‘I’m taking you to the Ritz for champagne,’ said Strike…

‘Thanks, Strike. This really means a lot.’

And that, thought her partner, as the two of them headed away toward the Ritz in the golden glow of the early evening, really was well worth sixty quid and a bit of an effort…                                                                                     (Chap 73, p.926-27)

[Read more…]

Hidden (and obvious) Treasures on the Robert Galbraith Website

One of the great benefits of the sales numbers of the Strike novels, including Troubled Blood, is that there are some nice resources available for both casual fans and serious readers. And one of the wonderful aspects of the “old days” of Harry Potter excitement was the delightful Rowling website where we discovered her inspiration sketches and outtakes by watering virtual plants or making calls on avirtual flip phone and where forthcoming books titles were revealed in Christmas decorations. While the “grown-up” Robert Galbraith website does not have quite as many (literal) bells and whistles (really, I tried my best to make those R and G type pieces spin or turn into something else), it does have some nice little tidbits that are both fun and useful for our serious reading adventures. If you have not already, you can sign up for the newsletter here as well. Join me after the jump for a review of some of the site features as well as a few wishes for forthcoming offerings at the online home of our Denmark heroes and their pseudonym-wielding creator.

[Read more…]