The Origin and Meaning of ‘Voldemort:’ Allingham’s ‘The Tiger in the Smoke’?

Can it really have taken us twenty years to track down the origin of the name and the essential meaning of J. K. Rowling’s pathological villain, Lord Voldemort?

I read a mystery novel yesterday, Margery Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke, that seems to have a passage that satisfies the several tests I’ve been able to come up with for verifying a true Voldemort source. Let me share those tests or metrics, the passages in question, as well as the several competitors for the title of ‘Original Dark Lord’ all of whom I think Tiger in the Smoke trumps.

First test: The Presence Herself has to have said she read (and enjoyed?) the book which is being cited as a possible source for Voldemort’s name.

The most frequently cited source for the name on the Internet is “Voldemortis,” a supposed wizard who battled Merlin. Sadly, this idea seems to have appeared out of thin air in 2004, the earliest source I found for it, and you can tell it has been cut and pasted in every names meaning list since because they all begin with “In another language, Voldermortist means “Lord of Evil” or “Dark Lord”. Legend has it that Voldermortist once tried to destroy Merlin…” I kid you not. MuggleNet, Korean Potter fan sites, the whole spectrum.

Rowling never mentions ‘Voldemortis’ or the Arthurian legends as a Dark Lord point of origin. I was a little disappointed that she hasn’t discussed The Master and Margarita, either, because the plot of that book — not to mention ‘Woland De Mort‘ (?) –is a great match for Lord Thingy, too.

Edgar Allan Poe’s “M. Valdemar“? This is the best name reference match-up, hands down, and the gruesome finish of The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar corresponds with the Dark Lord’s (sort of). But we have no comments by the author about loving Poe…

Second Test: Lord Voldemort is a psychopath, full stop. The Original Can’t Be Mister Rogers.

He is “a raging psychopath, devoid of the normal human responses to other people’s suffering” (EW). “If you are writing about evil, which I am, and if you are writing about someone who’s, essentially, a psychopath – you have a duty to show the real evil of taking human life” (BBC Christmas). “If a psychologist were ever able to get Voldemort in a room, pin him down and take his wand away, I think he would be classified as a psychopath” (Radio City).

Third Test: The Name Itself — French, Fictional, ‘Invented’

Rowling has said publicly that the name ‘Voldemort’ is French (not Latin, Lexicon!); that she made it up, and that she pronounces it sans final ‘t:’  “Vol-de-mor.” And, no, “I didn’t base Voldemort on any real person!” (Though what about all the men named ‘Tom Riddle’?)

She is sometimes cited as the source of the translation from the French, “flight from death.” I could not find verification of this ‘internet-fact,’ i.e., a seeming-truth that is believed because it is repeated in thousands of places. It is not in the index of Rowling quotations about Voldemort.

How does The Tiger in the Smoke stand up to these tests? Answers after the jump!

First Test: Do we know the author has read and admires the source?

Rowling likes Allingham’s Tiger in the Smoke. A lot.

Referring to the “golden age”, she said she was a fan of authors Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh, who wrote in the mid-20th Century.

“My very favourite of those four is Allingham, and she’s the least known,” she said. “The Tiger in the Smoke is a phenomenal novel.” (BBC)

Several sources including Wikipedia cite a Twitter link to ‘The Crime Vault’ that no longer exists for another even more enthusiastic recommendation: “In talking about her absolute favourite crime novel, JK Rowling went for The Tiger In The Smoke by M Allingham.” Maybe she said that, maybe not. In light of the BBC quotation, it is credible but unverified.

Beatrice Groves, Oxford Don and author of the just published Literary Allusion in Harry Potterwrote something here last week, though, about Rowling’s relationship with Tiger that can be taken to the bank: 

Rowling mentions her love of Margery Allingham in the 2014 interview which she did as her alter ego Robert Galbraith. In this interview she says that she read Allingham’s ‘phenomenal’ novel The Tiger in the Smoke ‘one fraught Christmas when I had a new-born baby.’ It seems highly likely that she is referring to Christmas 1993, after the birth of her first child, when she was just beginning to write Harry Potter and may well have been looking for names….[G]iven that we can pin-point her reading of [Tiger in the Smoke] to the moment she was starting Potter, it gives more evidence for Allingham as a source for Rowling!

It doesn’t get much better than that. On to the second test —

Second Test: Lord Voldemort is a psychopath, full stop. The Original Can’t Be Mister Rogers.

The villain in The Tiger in the Smoke is no run-of-the-mill baddie. ‘Jack Havoc,’ for starters is not his real name but one Chief Inspector Luke thinks “is too suitable. I should say he invented that, as a boy might, trying to sound big” (p. 193; his real name we learn later is ‘Johnny Cash,’ which in 1952 was not yet a ‘Man in Black’ reference). But that Voldemort echo in having given himself a fearsome moniker is nothing compared to Havoc’s psychological frame.

In the first of three rather long citations I’ll be making to give you a flavor of Tiger, the Superintendent of Police in the story, Oates, tells Chief Inspector Luke and our man Campion the back story of the black hat they’re chasing. They don’t use the word ‘psychopath’ (which term wasn’t in usage with its current meaning until the 1970s) but it’s hard to miss the diagnosis:

Meanwhile Oates leant back in his hard chair, his legs stretching out across the room.

“I received the two reports side by side, and then I had a word with Yeo and he told me what had come through from here on your interview with Duds this afternoon. I thought it over and presently I thought I’d come down myself. Havoc, I remember Havoc. Everyone is looking for him, and the chances are that he’ll be pulled in in two or three hours, but if he’s not, then I think you’ll be finding traces of him here in your manor, and I thought I’d like to talk to you about him. Both you and Campion were overseas when we jailed him last and so you missed him. You missed quite a phenomenon.” He repeated the words softly: “Quite a phenomenon.”

Mr. Campion found himself fascinated. Oates was stepping right out of character. No one in the world had spoken with more force or at greater length on the stupidity of creating a legend round any wrongdoer. It was a creed with the old man and he preached it freely. His theory was that every crook was necessarily a half-wit, and therefore any policeman who showed more than a kindly contempt for any one of them was ipso facto, very little better. This was a new departure with a vengeance.

Oates caught his expression and met it steadily, if not with ease.

“Havoc is a truly wicked man,” he said at last. “In all my experience I’ve only met three. There was Harris, the poisoner, a fellow called Timms whom I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of, and this fellow Havoc. I thought of one time that Haigh was going to qualify, but when I met him and talked with him I decided he didn’t, quite. He was mentally deformed. There was a sense missing there. The thing I’m talking about is rather different. I can’t describe it, but you’ll recognise it when you see it, if you have time. It’s like seeing Death for the first time. Even if it’s quite new to you, you know at once what it is.”

He laughed to and also at himself. “I know what I’m talking about,” he added, and Campion, who had never known a time when he did not, was prepared to believe him.

Charlie Luke had not known his chief so long. He was far too intelligent to appear sceptical, but he hastened to bring the conversation on to a more specific basis.

“Are you saying he’s a born killer, sir?”

“Oh yes.” The heavy lids flickered up and the old policeman’s chilly glance rested on his subordinate for a moment. “He kills if he wants to. But he’s not casual about it like your gangsters. He knows exactly what he’s doing. For a crook he’s unusually clear-sighted. Take this latest performance of his. If Sir Conrad Belfry is dead —“

Campion sat up. “C.H.I. Belfry?”

“That’s the man. Distinguished doctor. About half-past six tonight Havoc throttled him and slid off down the fire escape without the warder, who was sitting outside the door of the consulting room – strictly against regulations, by the way – hear a sound.” (Chapter 4, ‘The Joker,’ pp 64-65)

“Truly evil” is the way Havoc is described later more than once but “truly wicked,” “like Death,” and “a born killer” should suffice. When we meet Havoc for the first time in person (rather than finding bodies he has knifed here and there), he explains his “philosophy” or way of understanding the world. He calls it ‘The Science of Luck,’ what we recognize as the anti-social, amoral, egocentric nihilism of the psychopath. Havoc spells it out to a gang of WWII veterans turned criminal toughs in their London cellar lair. They call him ‘Gaffer,’ pre-Hamfast Gamgee:

“What makes you so certain the stuff’s going to be there after all this time, Gaffer?” he asked.

“Because it’s waiting for me.” The conviction in the tone was absolute and it impressed them. “I’m meant to find it. I knew that as soon as I heard of it, that night on the cliffs.” He laughed softly. “You won’t understand this, but I’ll tell you. Elginbrodde had to confide in me, and probably the blasted moon had to come out just at that moment to make him do it. We had to go on the trip together in the first place, and you can tell that’s true by the queer way it happened. I was special, see? There were half a million other sergeants in the Army who might have been chosen, but they had to find me for the job, and do you know how they did it?”

He drew them closer to him, pouring out the essence of his belief into their uneasy ears.

“You’ve never heard of a Hollerith, have you? It was a thing they had in the Army, based on an American business invention. I can’t explain it to you, but it was a great room-sized machine, like a glorified cash register, I’ve heard. They decided on the things they wanted in a chap – athletic, combat-trained, been in a few scrapes, reckless, able to climb and if necessary carry someone who couldn’t, age twenty-six, not particular, not known to have a family or a woman, good with men, or anything else they thought of right down to the colour of his eyes. Then they pressed all the buttons and up came his card with his name and number on it. If there were two or three chaps there were two or three cards. Sound like magic to you, Corporal?”

It sounded like something else to the man from Tiddington. He licked his dry lips.

“Go on, Gaffer.”

“I was found by that matching,” said Havoc earnestly. “Mine was the only card that turned up, and do you know where I was? I was under guard waiting for court-martial. It was looking as though I’d come really unstuck at last. But suddenly I was fetched out, all forgiven, rank restored, allowed to volunteer, trained and paired with Elginbrodde. They wanted me. I was the one. It was a tricky time and they were in a jam and I appeared.”

He leant back on his box and Geoffrey’s bed shook a little as he touched it.

“You’ll say there’s nothing in that,” he went on. “What’s a straight invention by a scientist? But the rest isn’t. While I was training with Elginbrodde I took the trouble to enquire about him, and do you know what I found? I found I knew the people he knew, and that he was a man I could always keep my eye on. He was the one and only officer in the whole Army who I was in a position to watch all the time. I knew someone who was close to him, see? And they were as close to me as anyone has ever been. That’s why, as soon as he spoke to me on the cliff, I knew that what he said was important to me and part of my life.”

He waited for their reaction and when they merely shuffled uncomfortably he laughed again.

“I told you you’d never understand it. It’s when you’re alone hour after hour in a cell like a monk that you see these things. To you it sounds like a coincidence, but there aren’t any coincidences, only opportunities. Keep your feet on the ground and you’ll see that.”

“Sounds like a religion to me,” said Bill, and he giggled because he was thrilled and drawn by the emotion ruffling the smooth voice.

Havoc regarded him sombrely. “Religion nuts! This is the thing religion goes soft on. Call it the Science of Luck, that’s my name for it. There’s only two rules in it: watch all the time and never do the soft thing. I’ve stuck to that and it’s given me power.” (Chapter 11, The Tiddington Plan, pp 160-161)

We don’t learn about “the people he knew” who “were as close to me as anyone has ever been” until the climactic confrontation In France that is the thriller’s finale, but I think we can accept that, if Havoc is the model in some sense for the Dark Lord, he’s convinced of his own destiny to power over others and that all his “science” requires is watchfulness and ruthlessness, i.e., indifference to other people.

Third Test: The Name ‘Voldemort’ is French, Fictional, and ‘Invented’

We have a pathological villain, then, in a book much admired by J. K. Rowling that she read and thought “phenomenal” at a nadir in her personal circumstances and the beginning of her Hogwarts writing. On to our third test. What is there in The Tiger in the Smoke that connects ‘Jack Havoc’ with the “invented” or fictional French word that Rowling gives to Harry’s arch-nemesis as his do-it-yourself elevation to aristocracy and Pure Blood status?

The connection  appears in a scene reminiscent both of Dumbledore’s DADA professor interview with Tom Riddle, Jr., in his Hogwarts office from Half-Blood Prince and Harry’s Deathly Hallows meeting with the late Headmaster at King’s Cross. Hounded by the police and the underworld, Jack Havoc is stealthily searching late at night the church where he grew up for a letter revealing where in France Major Elginbrodde hid his family treasure. The Canon or priest of that Anglican church and of the community of homes around it in London is a saintly man named Avril, who is the embodiment of selfless wisdom in the thriller.

Though he knows it means his almost certain death, Canon Avril enters the dark church himself rather than notifying the police in order to confront the wayward child he knew, the ‘Johnny Cash’ who has become ‘Jack Havoc.’ Havoc sits in a pew behind the Canon and they have a conversation for the ages, the killer holding a knife to the old man’s throat. The highlighting is mine.

“Cut it out. Look, time’s short. This is an unhealthy place for me and you’re wasting my time.”

A hand was biting into Avril’s shoulder now and the stink of terror was enveloping him.

“Why are you here? You’re not trying to save my soul by any chance?”

“Oh, no,” Avril gave the little grunting laugh which showed that he was genuinely amused. “My dear boy, I couldn’t do that. The soul is one’s own affair from the beginning to the end. No one else can interfere with that.” The idea interested him and in spite of himself he went off a little intellectual digression, knowing quite well how absurd it was. “What is the soul?” he enquired. “When I was a child I thought it was a little ghostly bean, kidney-shaped. I don’t know why. Now I think of it as the man I am with when I am alone. I don’t think either definition would satisfy the theologians.”

“Then for God’s sake,” said the agonised voice behind him, “why the hell did you come?”

“I don’t know,” said Avril, and struggled on, making the truth as clear as he could. “All I can tell you is that, greatly against my will, I had to. All today every small thing has conspired to bring me here. I have known something like it to happen before, and I believe that if I have not been misled by some stupidity or weakness of my own I shall see why eventually.”

To his amazement, the explanation, which to himself sounded utterly inadequate and unsatisfactory, appeared to be understood. Behind him he heard the man catch his breath.

“That’s it,” said Havoc, and his voice was natural. “That’s it. The same thing happened to me. Do you know what that is, you poor old bletherer? That’s the Science of Luck. It works every time.”

Now it was Avril’s turn to understand and he was frightened out of his wits.

“The Science of Luck,” he said cautiously. “You watch, do you? That takes a lot of self-discipline.”

“Of course it does, but it’s worth it. I watch everything, all the time. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve got the gift. I knew it when I was a kid, but I didn’t grasp it.” The murmur had intensified. “This last time, when I was alone so long, I got it right. I watch for every opportunity and I never do the soft thing. That’s why I succeed.”

Avril was silent for a long time. “It is the fashion,” he said at last. “You’ve been reading the Frenchmen, I suppose? Or no, no, perhaps you haven’t. How absurd of me.”

“Don’t blether.” The voice, stripped of all its disguises, was harsh and naïve. “You always blethered. You never said anything straight. What do you know about the Science of Luck? Go on, tell me. You’re the only one who’s understood at all. Have you ever heard of it before?”

“Not under that name.”

“I don’t suppose you have. That’s my name for it. What’s its real name?

“The Pursuit of Death.”

There was a pause. Curiosity, fear, impatience bristled behind Avril. He could feel them.

“It’s a known thing, then?”

“You did not discover it, my son.”

“No, I suppose not.” He was hesitating, a torn and wasted tiger, but still inquisitive. “You’ve got it right, have you? You have to watch for your chances and then you must never go soft, not once, not for a minute. You mustn’t even think soft. Once you’re soft, you muck everything, lost your place, and everything goes against you. I’ve proved it. Keep realistic and you get places fast, everything falls right for you, everything’s easy. Is that it?

“That is it,” said Avril humbly. “It is easier to fall downstairs than to climb up. Facilis descensus Averni. That was said a long time ago.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The Science of Luck.” Avril bent his head. “The staircase has turns, the vine climbs a twisted path, the river runs a winding course. If a man watches, he can see the trend and he can go either way.”

“Then you know it? Why are you soft?”

Because I do not want to die. A man who pitches himself down a spiral staircase on which all his fellows are climbing up may injure some of them, but, my dear fellow, it’s nothing to the damage he does to himself, is it?

“You’re crazy! You’re on to a big thing, you can see what I see, and you won’t profit by it.”

Avril turned round in the dark. “Evil, be thou my Good – that is what you have discovered. It is the only sin which cannot be forgiven because when it has finished with you, you are not there to forgive. On your journey you certainly ‘get places.’ Naturally; you have no opposition. But in the process you die. The man who is with you when you are alone is dying. Fewer things delight him every day. If you attain the world, you cannot give him anything that will please him. In the end there will be no one with you.”

“I don’t believe you.” (Chapter 17, ‘On the Staircase,’ pp 218-219)

Havoc’s consumption with authenticity and with “not being soft” reminds me of three characters in Rowling’s work: Stuart “Fats” Wall in Casual Vacancy, Donald Laing of Career of Evil, and, yes, both Voldemort and his Death-Eaters because they take the Dark Lord as their role model. This is a recurring, baseline idea of human failing, sin, and evil in her work.

Before we go into the content of this passage to find the root of the name ‘Voldemort,’ though, I’m obliged to touch on at least the resonance of this moment with Harry’s farewell at the otherworldly King’s Cross in Deathly Hallows, the exchange Rowling has said is the key to the whole series.

Canon Avril’s definition of the soul as “the man who is with you when you are alone” and his diagnosis of Havoc’s condition as the near-death of this inner man, the noetic new man of spiritual life, is the substance of the Dark Lord’s destruction of his soul in pursuit of immortality in the Horcruxes. When Dumbledore answers Harry’s final question at King’s Cross, “Of course it is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean it’s not real?” he is saying, in Canon Avril’s language, “Here you are the soul, the man you are with when you are alone, or that aspect of the soul which is most real, even immortal (that shade of a child over there under the bench is the Dark Lord’s soul).”

The Avril-Havoc conversation is what Dumbledore talking to the Dark Lord fragment at King’s Cross might have sounded like, or, better, the heart of their actual exchange during their battle at the Ministry in Phoenix.

Back to the name.

Rowling apologized to the Frenchmen who gathered to present her with the Legion of Honor for tagging Voldemort with a French name. 

Rowling reassured French readers that she had nothing against their country, as she received one of the country’s highest awards, the Legion d’honneur.

“I want to thank my French readers for not resenting my choice of a French name for my evil character,” she said in fluent French at a ceremony during which she received the award from President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“I can assure you that no anti-French feeling was at the origin of this choice,” she said. “As a Francophile, I have always been proud of my French blood. But I needed a name that evokes both power and exoticism,” she said of Voldemort, Harry Potter’s nemesis in the seven episodes of the bestselling series.

“Voldemort himself is 100-percent English,” she added.

That’s pretty thin on the explanatory side, unfortunately. There is very little that is “exotic” about French as a language in the UK; every college graduate seems to more than capable in the language and there are more French speakers in the United Kingdom than there are in any other country in Europe outside the Low Countries (see here and here). By giving himself a French sounding name, Riddle was only putting on airs of wealth and education rather than “exoticism.”

And “power”? It has been a very long time since France as a country or their language has been considered “powerful” or “threatening.” [Insert joke about what going to war without the French is akin to.] German is that language, right? Or Russian?

I think Rowling chose French for the Dark Lord’s self-anointed title for the same reason that Canon Avril, hearing Jack Havoc’s godless solicism, his ‘Science of Luck,’ says, absurdly (Havoc is essentially illiterate), “It is the fashion,” he said at last. “You’ve been reading the Frenchmen, I suppose?” The fashion he refers to — this is 1952 — is almost certainly the atheistic authenticity of Jean Paul Sartre and the French existentialists.

Canon Avril calls this trendy egocentrism it’s “real name,” i.e., “the Pursuit of Death.” I think that is a very good translation, if only in part, of the remarkably polyvalent ‘Voldemort.’

The problem in translating the name is in the ambiguity of ‘de’ in French. It means simultaneously ‘out of, from’ with respect to place or just relative position in space and ‘of” with respect to a quality. ‘Vol’ means ‘flight’ and ‘theft’ and ‘willing’ in French. I think from this confusing medley of possibilities we’re meant to come up with the meaning Tom Riddle wanted people to think of, an ironic and telling opposite, and a third even closer to the truth.

“Flight of death” would be the impressive aspect. “Death descending from on high!”

“Flight from death” would be the telling contrary, what Tom Riddle was really doing in his seeking an immortality built on the murder of others.

And, last and nearest the reality of the Dark Lord’s self-destructive because ego-preserving vision, “Desiring death” or, folding-in motion because of the resonance of flight, “the Pursuit of death.” “The descent into hell is easy,” says Canon Avril, quoting Virgil (facilis descensus Averno), because there is no resistance to the efforts of a person only pursuing their desires and advantage, no pull or restraint of conscience, no concern for the opinion of others.


Literary influence is a prickly subject. What is J. K. Rowling’s relationship with her best loved authors and books? If we don’t get that right, this exercise in exegesis of The Tiger in the Smoke was wasted effort.

Finding echoes of author’s works in later works invites the insinuation of something that is worse in a writer’s mind than theft or plagiarism, that is, “being derivative.” Critical games of what Samuel Beckett called “spot the style” or “spot the source” as Wendy Doniger writes tend to shut down author’s openness in discussing the intertextualty and, inherent to that, the meaning of their work. Rowling is no exception; witness here about-face with respect to C. S. Lewis when she heard her work compared to the Narniad a thousand times too many times.

Rowling’s Hogwarts Saga, in essence, is best understood in two ways, mutually complementary: the story of (1) an abused and neglected gothic heroine in flight from evil and doubt and in pursuit of an elusive and sure faith (2) wrapped inside an intratextual and Intertextual masterpiece about reading and writing. This last makes Rowling’s relationship with her sources, the books and authors she is writing about, so important; her influences are subject and substance of her artistry.

The trick is to remember that Rowling is much less the object of her favorite authors’ influence, them shaping her stories through her subconscious recall, than she is the subject of this influence, writing about them, subverting and stretching them, making a knight’s move a la Shklovsky and Nabokov of parody and defamiliarization to separate her meaning from theirs. She is not passive with respect to her influences but active and innovative.

She does not “steal” anything from Allingham, in other words. Far from it. Rowling the alchemist grasps the essence or prime matter of a brilliant author’s depiction of the postmodern condition — the psychopathology of Johnny Cash/Jack Havoc versus the sacrificial love and selfless wisdom of Canon Avril — and distills and recasts it with respect to genre, depth, and meaning in her Dumbledore, Harry, and Riddle/Voldemort. Thinking of this artistry as “derivative” or of this story-telling as somehow “second-hand” is to confess to missing the point.

It is in that light that I offer for your consideration that Margery Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke, a book beloved by Rowling and one she read at the beginning of her writing work, includes the source material for and perhaps the most profound translation of the name “Voldemort.” I look forward to your comments and corrections.

Three quick after-thoughts on Allingham, Voldemort, and gratitude:

(1) Which came first “I am Lord Voldemort” or “Tom Marvolo Riddle”? The Dark Lord’s given name is rich in meaning as well, after all. Judging from translations into French, German, and Spanish, ‘Voldemort’ is the chicken that laid the egg and not born from an egg. The given names translating ‘Tom Riddle’ in the target languages are all chosen (they are all different) to be anagrams that will yield ‘Voldemort’ when unscrambled. Check them out.

(2) Margery Allingham’s Mystery Mile, the first real Albert Campion thriller,  deserves its own HogwartsProfessor post because the story turns on the right interpretation of a children’s book with an embedded clue no one can identify and decipher. Sound familiar?

And —

(3) Thanks to Dolores Gordon-Smith who first urged me to read The Tiger in the Smoke and to T. M. Doran and Beatrice Groves for seconding that recommendation after my Allingham ‘Dawlish’ post last week.



  1. This post caused a series of thoughts in my mind. To arrange them in some sort of order, I’d start with.

    The main contention of “The Tiger in the Smoke” as a source name for Voldemort. On the whole, I’d say the theory more or less holds water. It’s highly doubtful that there are that many other alternative places to look for as an origin point for both the name and character. What I didn’t expect was to see the character brought up in connection with Sartre.

    Still, even this makes sense when given careful examination. What makes it sort of amusing is that there is a rumor that even Sartre made a death-bed concession to Theism, if nothing else.

    “The Master and Margarita”. I was pleasantly surprised to find this here. It’s an even better when you can admit you really do know an author long before being introduced to him via Rowling. It was written by a man named Mikhail Bulgokov. He was a Russian dissident during the Cold War, who was woken up in the middle of the night by a phone call. The caller on the other line was Joseph Stalin. Literally. He was calling Bulgokov in person to tell him he was granted a pass to leave the country, or else. I have no idea why he was so merciful, and I doubt the author ever really knew, either.

    As for “TMAM”, it’s about guys like Stalin, only it features a giant demonic talking Cat stalking the streets. I’ll leave that as a nice appetizer. Another book worth checking out by Bulgokov is “The Fatal Eggs”. Imagine, if you will, the entire world overrun by Giant Mutant Killer Naginis. Yeah, throw in a William Shatner somewhere, and you have a pretty good Bug-Eyed Monster novel.

    Samuel Beckett. This is sort of off track, yet its something that I can’t help but wonder about. In 1965, Beckett produced an actual movie, with silent film star Buster Keaton, no less. The title of the film is just that, “Film”. According to the movie’s Wikipedia page:

    “Film takes its inspiration from the 18th century Idealist Irish philosopher Berkeley. At the beginning of the work, Beckett uses the famous quotation: “esse est percipi” (to be is to be perceived). Notably, Beckett leaves off a portion of Berkeley’s edict, which reads in full: “esse est percipi aut percipere” (to be is to be perceived or to perceive). Beckett was once asked if he could provide an explanation that ‘the man in the street’ could understand:

    “It’s a movie about the perceiving eye, about the perceived and the perceiver – two aspects of the same man. The perceiver desires like mad to perceive and the perceived tries desperately to hide. Then, in the end, one wins.”

    The idea that Beckett might have been a closet Berkeleyan is something of a jaw-dropper when you consider it. At the very least, it makes one wonder just how his entire oeuvre should be read.

    “Thought you ought to know”.

  2. Suzanne Lucero says

    Running to Amazon right now to see if Tiger in the Smoke is available as an eBook. If not, I can always rely on my library for a hardback or paperback copy. I’ve never been sharp when it comes to sleuthing out clues in mysteries, whether in books, movies, or real life forensics, but I like to follow the trail that others have found. Thanks for your careful presentation of clues and the conclusions you’ve drawn from them.

  3. Brian Basore says

    Bravo! Keep on like this and you’ll never be stale.

    From the Lewis Carroll corner I salute you irreverently:

    “You are old,” said the youth; “one would hardly suppose
    That your eye was as steady as ever;
    Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
    What made you so awfully clever?”

  4. waynestauffer says

    and THIS is why we all hoist a pint in homage to the Dean Of Hogwarts Professors.
    and why we respect and aspire to this level of literary analysis and scholarship.
    Excellent modeling of how to investigate a work!!
    Thank you!!

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Very interesting! And persuasive.

    Your chapter 17 quotation made me think of Charles Williams’s Descent into Hell (1937) – do we know if Allingham knew it? (Or Rowling, for that matter?) Fascinating matter for contrast as well as comparison, in any case, from the look of that chapter 17 quotation and your discussion.

    The exoticism of French – cf. Simon Leclerc in Williams’s All Hallows’ Eve (1945)?

    Does ‘the pursuit of death’ have anything to do with Freud’s ‘Todestrieb(e)’?

    How’s the movie (from which you include such striking photos)? The book”s Wikipedia article says, “The story was adapted for a 1956 film Tiger in the Smoke starring Donald Sinden and Muriel Pavlow, but omitting the central character of Campion and handing his dialogue and scenes to other characters, particularly Inspector Luke.” (!) I see it is available in One of the Usual Places (for those who feel they can’t wait to get a copy of the book, like me, I’m thinking…)

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Wow, what an enjoyable film (in a nearly full-length cut, assuming IMDB got the original length right)! In his script, Anthony Pelissier certainly seems to have stuck close to the book in the passages you quote (though much abbreviated).

    Curiously, Julian Symons in Bloody Murder (1985 rev. ed.), calling it “the best of all her books”, “a thriller of the highest quality”, adds “one feels in these books […] that good as they are they would have been better without the presence of the detective”, Campion!

    The film reminded me of Charles Williams further, including of War in Heaven – with Canon Avril reminding me in various particulars of Archdeacon Davenant, and the ending (no spoilers!) having the potential of being similar to part of the end of that novel (if her novel is less open-ended than the film, in one particular – to avoid spoilers by vagueness).

    And, a resemblance in the end to the end of The Greater Trumps also suggests itself (to go on vaguely avoiding spoilers).

    The whole ‘luck’ theme in the film also reminded me of Williams’s various treatments contending ‘all luck is good’.

    Lucy in the film reminded me a bit of Lily in Descent into Hell, too – which, with an eye to “the pursuit of death”, includes the consecutive chapter titles “Via Mortis”, “Quest of Hell”, and “Vision of Death”.

  7. David Llewellyn Dodds says


    Not so long ago, when I was leading a study session on Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, one of the other participants asked me if I knew Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Heart of a Dog, which she was reading just then – and which sounds very interesting – and a copy of which I was unable to run down on my most recent visit to the big city in a single-minded search in a goodly round of bookshops – though a couple had TMAM – which you’ve now got me wishing I’d bought!

    I should probably just try any and everything of his I encounter, from what you say!

  8. D.L. Dodds,

    Well, hey, perhaps all it takes is one effort to start a whole avalanche!

  9. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Hmm… I see there are scans of translations of some of Bulgakov’s works (including The Heart of a Dog) and an audio dramatization of his story, ‘Flight’, in the Internet Archive: maybe these should be my first step…

  10. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    I now see that the first item in David Bratman’s ‘The Inklings in Fiction: An Annotated Bibliography’ (in the 28 Jan. 2017 update, online) is “Allingham, Margery. More Work for the Undertaker. London: Heinemann, 1949. Eric Routley (The Puritan Pleasures of the Detective Story [London: Gollancz, 1972], p. 151) suggests that Inspector Charles Luke in this mystery novel is based on Williams.” (!)

    And, that the Wade Center online listing of Williams’s correspondence includes a letter from her to him of 25 July 1940, and his reply of 30 July!

    (And, with no books yet to hand, am pleasantly embarked upon getting acquainted with the 1989-90 BBC dramatizations of several of them, with Peter Davison as Campion – five years after he finished playing Dr. Who.)

  11. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Grevel Lindop has kindly said I could pass on a couple things he told me. One is, that, like Routley, John Heath-Stubbs was convinced that Inspector Charlie Luke in Tiger in the Smoke was based on Williams, though Grevel Lindop does not think he had any evidence for this apart from intuition – though he said, “I can see what he meant.”

    He also shared his notes on Williams’s letter to Margery Allingham of 30 July 1940 with me. Among interesting details are that she seems to have begun the correspondence, and he does not seem to know her well, personally. And that he replies to various things she has raised about “the young” and about prayer, including a striking observation (which reminds me of an earlier poem of his) about how he agrees with her “that if one prays one has got the consequences of prayer coming to one. And they may not be what one has contemplated.” He also adds a ‘shy’ remark about how much he like her “Murders”. (An interesting glimpse into his prolific reading – though he reviewed scads of detective stories, he seems never to have reviewed any of hers, yet here proves to have been an avid reader of them, in fact.)

    Doing some quick checking, I find the Wikipedia article, ‘List of recurring Albert Campion characters’, reporting, “Charles Luke (normally called Charlie) is introduced in More Work for the Undertaker” – which was published after Williams’s death. Might he have been a sort of homage to Williams? (Indeed, the more I think of the film of Tiger in the Smoke, I wonder if the whole story might be a sort of homage to Williams and his work – and, in some ways, perhaps a distillation and recasting of him and them analogous to what you write about Rowling and her work.)

  12. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    I’ve now read and thoroughly enjoyed More Work for the Undertaker, and am inclined to echo Grevel Lindop, “I can see what he meant.” I’m not sure I would have thought of it myself, and there seem a lot of differences, and yet… It leaves me wondering if Margery Allingham had met Williams as well as corresponding with him, or seen him lecture, or perhaps talked to people who knew him or had seen him. (I’m not sure of any written descriptions of him that are early enough – would Lewis’s preface to Essays Presented to Charles Williams have been available in time?) It’s portrait of a street reminds me of Williams’s sketch of one in War in Heaven. And there is perhaps an important thematic connection with various of Williams’s works, which I don’t know I can point out, for fear of spoilers.

  13. Bonni Crawford says

    Superb analysis, thank you John!

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