Troubled Blood: A Jungian Reading

Before we begin any involved job, be it one of building a yurt or considering the work of a given author, we make sure we have the right tools for the job. As we continue our efforts to come to terms with Rowling-Galbraith’s longest and most involved work to date, Troubled Blood, it’s worth the time to ask ourselves if we are using the right tools, the appropriate methods for examining any of her work. In this post I want both to review the evidence within Troubled Blood and Rowling’s interviews that she wants us to be thinking about the interpretative perspective of Carl Jung, legendary psychologist and to suggest the value and limitations of this approach.

I have resisted believing or saying that this a valuable approach in the past for reasons I will discuss in my conclusion. It certainly is an approach others have used before with greater and lesser success.

Gail Grynbaum’s ‘The Secrets of Harry Potter,’ published in 2000 and revised in 2013 was the first, and, though incomplete, remains the best of the truly Jungian readings of the Hogwarts Saga.  Jordan Peterson, perhaps the most famous Jungian today, perhaps even the most influential psychologist, spoke about the archetypal qualities of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in one of his most popular videos. Fandom critics have tried to link Jung’s ideas on alchemy and the Shadow with elements of Rowling’s work (see here and here) and there are a slew of readers who have posted about the Hero’s Journey — Jungian elements via disciple Joseph Campbell — and archetypal characters in her work.

After the jump I offer seven reasons evident in the text of Strike5 for believing that Rowling-Galbraith is highlighting Jung, his signature tools, and suggesting that they are appropriate for a close reading of Troubled Blood. I’ll conclude with three take-home ideas about what this means for Serious Strikers and Potter Pundits, both more and les than you might think.

First, though, the seven reasons to believe Rowling has read Jung or at least wants her serious readers to think of him on their revisits to Troubled Blood.

Reason (1): Name Dropping. The student of psychology in the series, Robin Ellacott, mentions Carl Jung by name in Troubled Blood, a first for any psychologist I think in her frequent discussions of psychological theories and paraphilia kinks. It comes at Hampton Court just before Strike and Ellacott speak with Cynthia Phipps in the costume of Anne Boleyn (ch 35):

“Everything all right?”

“Yes,” she said. “Just thinking about star signs.”

“Still?” said Strike, with a slight eye roll.

Jung says it was man’s first attempt at psychology, did you know that?

“I didn’t,” said Strike, sitting down opposite her. Robin, as he knew, had been studying psychology at university before she dropped out. “But there’s no excuse to keep using it now we’ve got actual psychology, is there?”

“Folklore and superstition haven’t gone away. They’ll never go away. People need them,” she said, taking a sip of coffee. “I think a purely scientific world would be a cold place. Jung also talked about the collective unconscious, you know. The archetypes lurking in all of us.”

But Strike, whose mother had ensured that he’d spent a large portion of his childhood in a fug of incense, dirt and mysticism, said shortly, “Yeah, well. I’m Team Rational.”

Rowling-Galbraith embeds with this repeated mention of Carl Jung an obvious pointer to the psychologist and his theories. On to the not so obvious guiding references —

(2) Word Association: Archetypes and Symbols There are several signature words that anyone even slightly familiar with Jungian psychology recognizes as name-checks for the man and his theories. ‘Archetypes’ and even the much more general ‘symbolism’ work in this way for Jung.

Robin mentions “archetypes” at Hampton Court and Strike dismisses it at the time in his disdain for all things astrological. He recalls her mention of it, though, after the Kim Sullivan and Anna Phipps phone call to end the investigation. Strike is looking at the Talbot ‘True Book’s last page, the illustration of the she-demon he conjured in his home office (end, ch 62):

There was no pressure to understand any more. Strike defocused his mind as he’d have relaxed his eyes, the better to spot one of those apparently three-dimensional images hidden in what appeared to be a flat pattern. His eyes glided over the phrases and fragments Talbot had half-remembered from Crowley’s writings, and of consultation of the Thoth tarot. As he scrutinized the picture of the heavy-breasted demon, on whose belly the penitent Talbot had subsequently inscribed a Christian cross, he remembered Robin’s words all those months previously in Hampton Court Palace, about the allure of myth and symbol, and the idea of the collective unconscious, where archetypes lurked. This demon, and the disconnected phrases that had seemed pertinent to Talbot in his psychotic state, had sprung from the policeman’s own subconscious: it was too easy, too simplistic, to blame Crowley and Lévi for what Talbot’s own mind had chosen to retain. This was what it generated, in a last spasm of madness, in a final attempt at resolution. Seven veils, seven heads, seven streams. Lust and strange drugs. Seven around her neck. The poisoned darkness of the BLACK MOON. Blood and sin. She rides upon the lion serpent.

Jung’s theory of archetypes is spelled out in books he wrote on the meaning of mythology and symbolism. Two of his best known works besides the autobiographical Memories, Dreams, Reflections, are Man and His Symbols and Essays on a Science of Mythology. Jungian analyst Erich Neumann’s Amor and Psyche: The Psychic Development of the Feminine, as we shall see, is a core text for the mythological foundation of the Strike series. Rowling-Galbraith saturates Troubled Blood with astrological and mythological symbolism and has characters use the word ‘symbol’ 32 times and ‘myth’ 8 times. Her defamiliarizing effort here via symbol and myth is reminiscent of how she describes the paintings of Paul Satchwell in the Laemington Spa exhibit guide (end, ch 43):

Born in Leamington Spa and raised in Warwick, artist Paul Satchwell has spent most of his career on the Greek island of Kos. Working mainly in oils, Paul’s Hellenic-influenced exploration of myths challenge the viewer to face primal fears and examine preconceptions through sensual use of line and color

(3) Word Association: Coincidence (Synchronicity)

One of the first posts I wrote last year about Troubled Blood was ‘The Dead Among Us,’ in which I opened the conversation about the ghosts haunting Strike5. I raised the question there of Rowling’s repeated use of the word ‘coincidence,’ what moves Strike in the end to suspect Janice Beatty as the murderer, and that the word does not mean what Strike and Robin think it means the 25 times they use the word (!):

We were cued to the word “coincidence” at Broom House, when Robin and Cormoran discuss the influence all the astrological and mythological symbols in the Phipps living room may have had on Talbot. “You know,” said Robin, turning to look at the room, “people who’re manic often think they’re receiving supernatural messages. Things the sane would call coincidences” (422).

It is worth noting that what Strike describes as “coincidences” in the case are not properly coincidences at all; a coincidence per the dictionary definition is a “remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.” What Strike detects is not a coincidence, then, but a pattern of repeated events, here of people showing symptoms of having been drugged or poisoned, none of which are “concurrent” per se but which have the commonality of Janice Beattie’s presence. I will assume that Rowling-Galbraith makes this vocabulary error intentionally to make us think of synchronicity, Jung’s theory that seemingly arbitrary coincidences are meaningful. More on this at the end. <snip>

I’ll close with this question: ‘How many times in Troubled Blood is there a semi-miraculous discovery or appearance at just the right time, a true synchronicity or meaningful coincidence?’

Think of Strike’s seeing rabbit-eared Samhain Athorn walking in the rain outside the Clerkenwell Cafe window just as the detective hears Irene Hickson describe the man-child in a mobile phone call. About Gloria Conti contacting the detectives after finding a paper copy of an email in the trash. Of Strike figuring out Steve Douthwaite’s ‘Diamond’ name by listening to Pat’s ’70’s Hit Parade radio program. Of Anna Phipps seeing Strike in The Victory and acting on the medium’s “boilerplate” prompt to act on the “leading.” There is a pattern of poisonings in Troubled Blood that are not coincidences as such; the greater pattern, though, is of the coincidences and synchronicities, Dickensian in their unlikelihood, that suggest otherworldly guidance to those receptive to the dead, the ones we love who never leave us.

That “synchronicity” and “coincidences” are linked is evident in the explanation of the term to be had at

The term synchronicity is coined by Jung to express a concept that belongs to him: the acausal connection of two or more psychic and physical phenomena.

This concept was inspired to him by a patient’s case that was in a situation of impasse in her treatment. Her exaggerated rationalism (animus inflation) was holding her back from assimilating unconscious materials.

One night, the patient dreamt of a golden scarab – cetonia aurata. The next day, during the psychotherapy session, a real insect hit against the Jung’s cabinet window. Jung caught it and discovered surprisingly that it was a golden scarab; a very rare presence for that climate.

One generally speaks about coincidence in cases like this.

But this coincidence is not senseless, a simple one. By using the amplification method, Jung searches for materials in connection with the scarab and comes to the concept of death and rebirth from the esoteric philosophy of antiquity.

Thus the scarab is seen as a symbol of deaths and rebirth process that, in a symbolic way, the patient should experience for the realization of the completeness of her unilateral personality, the cause of the neurosis she was suffering from.

Finally, Jung talks about the significant coincidences of physical and psychological phenomena that are acausal connected.

Behind all these phenomena he places the constellation of an archetype which, in his view, engages equally objective manifestations – in the physical world – and subjective ones – in the individual’s psyche.

Rowling’s making “coincidences” the solution to the case of Margot Bamborough’s disappearance, not to mention her drawing a bug something akin to a beetle in Talbot’s ‘True Book’ and likening Shanker’s finger snapping to the “relentless progress of the deathwatch beetle” (311) in Troubled Blood, suggests that she is well aware of the place of synchronicity in Jungian thought and is drawing the reader’s attention to the “acausal links between psychic and physical phenomena.”

Back to the circumstance in which Robin invokes Jung, the interview with Cynthia Phipps at Hampton Court, Rowling-Galbraith gives us an in-your-face instance of synchronicity when she appears in the dress of Anne Boleyn. Roy Phipps’ first name means ‘king’ in French. Is it a meaningless coincidence that Cynthia Phipps meets Cormoran and Robin wearing the clothes and ornaments of Anne Boleyn, usurper of the position as wife and Queen to King Henry the VIII, a historical figure who met a miserable fate? This is not a coincidence that Robin and Cormoran note consciously but which Rowling-Galbraith plants as rewards to the Jungian reader.

(4) Word Association: Persona

Rowling uses the word “persona” three times in Troubled Blood and variations of “personal” sixty-six times, almost the equivalent of a ‘personal note’ being sounded in every chapter. “Persona” is the Greek and Latin word for “mask” and is an essential element in Jungian psychology. He wrote:

Persona… is the individual’s system of adaptation to, or the manner he assumes in dealing with, the world. Every calling of profession, for example, has its own characteristic persona. It is easy to study these things nowadays, when the photographs of public personalities so frequently appear in the press. A certain kind of behaviour is forced on them by the world, and professional people endeavour to come up to these expectations. Only, the danger is that they become identical with their personas – the professor with his text-book, the tenor with his voice. Then the damage is done; henceforth he lives exclusively against the background of his own biography. For by that time it is written: “… then he went to such and such a place and said this or that”, etc. (…) One could say, with a little exaggeration, that the persona is that which in reality one is not, but which oneself as well as others think one is. (From Carl Jung: The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Volume 9, part I of The Collected Works, Princeton University Press, 1990, p. 123.)

How important is this to the conclusions made about human psychology in Troubled Blood? Note this reflection of Strike’s about Janice Beattie at story’s end:

He was forced to conclude that, like the women who’d climbed willingly into Dennis Creed’s van, he’d been hoodwinked by a careful performance of femininity. Just as Creed had camouflaged himself behind an apparently fey and gentle façade, so Janice had hidden behind the persona of the nurturer, the selfless giver, the compassionate mother. Strike had preferred her apparent modesty to Irene’s garrulity and her sweetness to her friend’s spite, yet knew he’d have been far less ready to take those traits at face value, had he met them in a man (906, see also 375 and 820).

Just as Rowling-Galbraith uses “coincidence” for the Jungian “synchronicity,” she uses the word “identity” as a synonym for “persona.” The book begins, for example, with Polworth railing at Strike about ‘Cornish blood:’

“Fuck off!” yelped Polworth again, genuinely stung. “I’ve been here since I was two months old and my mum’s a Trevelyan. It’s identity —what you feel here,” and Polworth thumped his chest over his heart. “My mum’s family goes back centuries in Cornwall—”

The only psychological ideas Robin discusses that are not paraphilia ‘kinks’ are theories about identity:

He explained about Dave Polworth’s fury that goods of Cornish origin weren’t labeled as such, and his commensurate glee that more and more locals were putting their Cornish identity above English on forms.

Social identity theory’s very interesting,” said Robin. “That and selfcategorization theory. I studied them at uni. There are implications for businesses as well as society, you know…”

[Strike falls asleep. Robin continues when he awakes.]

“In essence, we tend to sort each other and ourselves into groupings, and that usually leads to an overestimation of similarities between members of a group, and an underestimation of the similarities between insiders and outsiders.”

“So you’re saying all Cornishmen aren’t rugged salt-of-the-earthers and all Englishmen aren’t pompous arseholes?” Strike unwrapped a Yorkie and put it into her hand. “Sounds unlikely, but I’ll run it past Polworth next time we meet.”

Robin all but quotes Jung’s definition of persona above when musing about Margot Bamborough’s identity as a doctor in chapter 14:

For the first time, looking around this quirky, characterful pub [The Three Kings], Robin found herself wondering exactly what Margot Bamborough had been like. It was odd how professional people’s jobs defined them in the imagination. “Doctor” felt, in many ways, like a complete identity.

I will be arguing in subsequent posts that the personae of masculine and feminine, animus and anima, are the psychological exteriorization via Robin and her partner in the Cormoran Strike series that is equivalent to the Soul Triptych of Harry, Hermione, and Ron in Harry Potter. For here, though, it is important just to note that it is the specifically Jungian idea of ‘persona’ that Rowling invokes repeatedly in Troubled Blood.

(5) Embedded Text: Bill Talbot’s ‘True Book’

There are four important embedded texts in Strike5 and a host of unwritten narratives (I neglect The Magus and Schmidt’s Astrology 14 that are of only tangential importance). Spenser’s Faerie Queen is the story scaffolding enveloping the players they cannot see but which informs the work. The three books that Robin and Cormoran read are The Demon of Paradise Park, Whatever Happened to Margot Bamborough?, and DI Bill Talbot’s unpublished ‘True Book.’ Of these four, the most important invented title is this ‘True Book,’ a tome which the detectives not only read but study closely throughout Troubled Blood. Strike admits at Hampton Court that he’d spent the better part of a month parsing the ‘True Book’ to create the guide he had sent Robin as a Christmas present. “If you’d spent three weeks wading through all Talbot’s bollocks, you wouldn’t be keen on the zodiac, either,” said Strike (392).

If it’s all “bollocks,” though, why spend so much time reading and re-reading it? Robin is a little more sympathetic to astrology than Strike per Jung as noted above and she is definitely open to the idea that truth might be revealed through a tarot card spread, something she does at Laemington Spa and again in her apartment at story’s end. Both she and Strike, however, are “Team Realist” in despising Talbot’s paranormal approach to the investigation. Why, then, is so much of Strike5 dedicated to their careful reading of the hypothroidism-afflicted investigator and his astrological speculation and illustrations in ‘The True Book’?

Their answer is that Talbot was a good detective so maybe there were clues in his secret notes, however esoteric, to whom his unconscious or subconscious mind thought the real killer was. Strike says as much to Janice in their last meeting:

“’Ow did you work all this out?” she demanded. “Talbot and Lawson never suspected.”

“Lawson might not have done,” said Strike, “but I think Talbot did.”

“’E never,” said Janice, at once. “I ’ad ’im eating out me ’and.”

“I’m not so sure,” said Strike. “He left a strange set of notes, and all through them he kept circling back to the death of Scorpio, or Juno, which are the names he gave Joanna Hammond. Seven interviews, Janice. I think he subconsciously knew there was something off about you. He mentions poison a lot, which I think had stuck in his mind because of the way Joanna died. At one point—I was reading the notes again, last night—he copies out a long description of the tarot card the Queen of Cups. Words to the effect that she reflects the observer back at themselves. ‘To see the truth of her is almost impossible.’ And on the night they hauled him off to hospital, he hallucinated a female demon with a cup in her hand and a seven hanging round her neck. He was too ill to string his suspicions together, but his subconscious kept trying to tell him you weren’t all you seemed. At one point, he wrote: ‘Is Cetus right?’—he called Irene Cetus—and eventually I asked myself what she could’ve been right about. Then I remembered that the first time we met the pair of you, she told us she thought you were ‘sweet on’ Douthwaite. (887)

That works as an after-the-fact rationalization for Strike’s close reading of ‘The True Book,’ but it does not explain why he put so much effort from the beginning into identifying all the suspects with their astrological signs and what Talbot, via Waite and Schmidt, made of each. Strike asserts repeatedly that astrology is for charlatans and fools. Robin and he get down to the level of moons and asteroids, though, in Talbot’s chart of the time and place of Margot’s disappearance. They seem as guilty of neglecting grunt detective work as was Talbot.

In Deathly Hallows, the four principal embedded texts are The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore and The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Skeeter’s Life and Lies, like The Demon of Paradise Park in Troubled Blood, is largely there for information dumps necessary to the plot and to which the players would not have access without the book. Beedle, though, and specifically the triangulated and bisected circle of the Deathly Hallows symbol, is a work the trio and other characters struggle to comprehend in the Hogwarts Saga finale. As I explained in Deathly Hallows Lectures and Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle, the various interpretations of the symbol serves as a key to how Rowling hopes her readers will be reading her work (the four interpretations given of the symbol correspond exactly with the four traditional levels of meaning — surface, moral, allegorical, and anagogical).

Talbot’s ‘True Book’ serves this purpose in Troubled Blood. Strike holds his nose and does a deep dive into the bollocks pit of astrology in search of clues about what happened to Margot Bamborough that may be hidden in the excretions of Talbot’s diseased mind and observant subconscious. He admits to Janice in the end that the answers indeed were in Talbot’s cryptic asides and he kicks himself for not getting there sooner (which he would have done, he thinks, if he had gone back and translated the astrological signs of suspects into the Schmidt system).

Astrology and alchemy were Jung’s playground along with fairy tales and mythology because he believes, as Robin explained to Strike at Hampton Court, that the archetypes of the collective unconscious, our transpersonal faculty for grasping wholeness and our means to individuation, are embedded in their glyphs, symbols, and stories. Rowling-Galbraith, by making an astrological and hermetic text the focus of Robin and Strike’s investigation of Margot Bamborough’s disappearance, a ‘True Book,’ is offering it and the necessarily symbolic if not Jungian reading of it as a model for readers of her own work.

If you doubt this, as you must I know, I offer as a further point of reflection the invisible embedded text, the scaffolding story that surrounds and shapes Troubled Blood, Spenser’s Faerie Queen. One need only reflect on the value of any interpretation of the only English verse epic of any merit that is not allegorical and hermetic. Between the readings of the ‘True Book’ by Strike and Ellacott, which all neglect every Tarot Card reading in Talbot’s work, the Celtic Cross as well as those embedded in his pictures, and the epigraphs from Faerie Queen, Rowling-Galbraith implicitly calls for a psycho-spiritual reading of the work as allegory.

(6) Jung’s Liber Novus, ‘The New Book’

The ‘True Book’ of Bill Talbot has a parallel in the life and work of Carl Jung, namely, the Liber Novus or ‘New Book’ that was published in facsimile only in 2009 as The Red Book (Jung wrote the book by hand with color illustrations in a large red leather-bound folio volume). Talbot’s ‘True Book’ and Jung’s ‘New Book’ have at least the following qualities in common:

  • Just as Talbot wrote his occult notes independently and in secret and then “transcribed” them “into the ‘True Book’,” so Jung wrote his observations first in a series of Black Notebooks which he later wrote selections from, annotations to, and illustrations for in the large red volume he called the ‘New Book;’
  • Talbot’s ‘True Book’ writing was dismissed by him and his family as a product of his illness and Jung concluded near the end of his life that his ‘New Book’ hinted of “madness:”

In 1959, after having left the book more or less untouched for 30 or so years, he penned a brief epilogue, acknowledging the central dilemma in considering the book’s fate. “To the superficial observer,” he wrote, “it will appear like madness.” Yet the very fact he wrote an epilogue seems to indicate that he trusted his words would someday find the right audience.

  • Talbot’s ‘True Book’s most interesting and revealing feature are the hand drawn pictures in it, most of which (see here, here, and here) are phrenetic versions of three card Thoth tarot spreads which, though borrowed, parallels the dream-vision illustrations of Jung in his ‘New Book’ in being heavy with archetypal imagery (all the pictures I have used in this post are from the 2009 facsimile edition);
  • Talbot’s ‘True Book’ only surfaced years after his death and was given to researchers only with great reluctance by the family (the son being struck by the ‘coincidence’ of Strike’s asking for it just as he stumbled across it during a remodeling). Jung’s ‘New Book,’ though the psychoanalyst told Aniela Jaffe in 1957 that “everything else [I wrote] derived from this [‘New Book’],” was zealously guarded by his family and only allowed to be published after selections from it were found independently by other researchers and the surviving grandchildren feared scandalous misrepresentations if a facsimile were not published.
  • Strike’s belief in the end which he expresses to Janice that the ‘True Book’ notes were Talbot’s “subconscious” gleanings of the truth (see point 5 above for quotations) echoes the aim of Jung’s ‘New Book,’ namely, his deliberate and daring exploration of his subconscious mind in the period of his loosest hold on identity and understanding post his break with Sigmund Freud. The ‘New Book’ is the hallmark it is in the history of psychology because it was the spring from which Jung’s mature beliefs all came. As he put it:

My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That [‘New Book’ material] was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then.

All my works, all my creative activity,” he would recall later, “has come from those initial fantasies and dreams.”

The differences between the ‘True’ and the ‘New’ books and their respective authors are as telling as their similarities.

  • Talbot’s professional life ends because of the writing of his ‘True Book’ while Jung’s begins in essence with the exploration of the subconscious he does in his ‘New Book;’
  • As Rowling-Galbraith tells the story, everyone in Strike5 believes Talbot’s hypothyroid illness was the cause of his “psychotic break” and decision to pursue the occult means recorded in his ‘True Book’ to solve the Bamborough missing-person case (read this post for an explanation of how this belief might not be what Rowling thinks is the case); Jung’s ‘New Book’ is the history of his deliberate exploration of his subconscious, which had the appearance of mental illness but which he found salutary. From ‘Carl Jung and the Holy Grail of the Unconscious:’

Had he been a psychiatric patient, Jung might well have been told he had a nervous disorder and encouraged to ignore the circus going on in his head. But as a psychiatrist, and one with a decidedly maverick streak, he tried instead to tear down the wall between his rational self and his psyche. For about six years, Jung worked to prevent his conscious mind from blocking out what his unconscious mind wanted to show him. Between appointments with patients, after dinner with his wife and children, whenever there was a spare hour or two, Jung sat in a book-lined office on the second floor of his home and actually induced hallucinations — what he called “active imaginations.” “In order to grasp the fantasies which were stirring in me ‘underground,’ ” Jung wrote later in his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections, “I knew that I had to let myself plummet down into them.” He found himself in a liminal place, as full of creative abundance as it was of potential ruin, believing it to be the same borderlands traveled by both lunatics and great artists.

This last description of how Jung wrote his ‘New Book’ should sound familiar to Rowling Readers and Serious Strikers. It has shared elements with how Rowling says she is inspired to write and the way she puts words to page.

(7) Rowling’s ‘Lake and Shed’ Writing Process

Reading the transcript of Rowling’s interview with the BBC’s ‘Museum of Curiosities’ (2019), the echo of Jung’s “induced hallucinations” and “active imaginations” he described as “diving underground” to get to his subconscious material is clear in Rowling’s metaphorical description of her writing.

I envisage my process thus: I feel as though I go through a lot of trees which are my day to day concerns, what we all deal with all the time, and those I see as trees inside my head and then I get to a place which is my work place where there is a lake and there’s a shed. And this is my process.

I feel as though the inspiration is the thing that lives in the lake that’s very mysterious, that I never see. But it hands me stuff. And then I have to take this unformed stuff – sometimes it can be reasonably formed, sometimes it’s very blobby like molten glass or something, and then I have to take it into the shed and there I have to work on it….

What I find fascinating about inspiration and I love hearing other creative people talk about their process… I’m always fascinated by it. I think that people who ask the question “Where do you get your inspiration from?” often don’t understand that it’s a process. So although I’m talking about the thing that lives in the lake as that’s where I get it from, I know the thing that lives in the lake is me. It’s just a part of me that deep down is subconscious, it’s my unconscious that’s processing things.

As explored in ‘Troubled Blood: Rowling Father Echoes,’ the Lake and Shed metaphor per Rowling is critical for understanding her work. She understands her creative process as her relatively passive encounter with her subconscious — the Lake gives her its “stuff” — followed by her deliberate and conscious Shed re-working of this subliminal processing of her issues into coherent stories.

Talbot’s ‘True Book’ with its transcriptions of his occult explorations, what Strike believes was his subconscious mind speaking, and Jung’s ‘New Book’ and its archetypal images mined from his “underground” mind are the equivalent of what Rowling draws from her Lake subconscious. Each of her ‘Good Books’ is the product of taking these “inspirations” from her inner self and its wrestling with her interior conflicts into the Shed and recasting them as archetypal or iconological lessons, transformative experiences, for her readers.

Conclusion: Three Notes

There is a lot more in Troubled Blood that points to Carl Jung which I neglect to restrict this already overlong post to seven suggestive points. If your attention-span wasn’t already strained to the point of snapping forever, I would continue with Jung and Alchemy, Jung and the Paranormal and Occult, Jung and Mythology, and Jung on Ghosts. I hope in future posts to discuss all of these subjects; I pass over them here with only a mention because my aim in this piece has only been to lay the foundation for future discussion, that is, that Rowling wants us to be thinking of Jung when reading Troubled Blood.

My three principal take-aways from the seven points above are:

First, Jung haunts Troubled Blood. Rowling-Galbraith mentions the psychologist in Strike5 by name, refers repeatedly to the core Jungian ideas of synchronicity, persona, and archetypes, and makes the most important embedded text in the mystery a feast of symbolic imagery taken from astrology and the Thoth tarot deck. This ‘True Book’ has numerous and qualitative pointers to the ‘New Book’ of Carl Jung and both books, in being subconscious material written up with illustrations, reflect the novel Troubled Blood specifically and Rowling’s writing process in general.

Next, Rowling is Not Necessarily a Jungian. A significant part of Strike’s transformation in Troubled Blood is his moving from ‘Team Reality’ and a profound skepticism about mediums. vicars, astrology, and everything paranormal to what is essentially the ‘Team Jung’ position, namely, that what seems otherworldly or spiritual exists but as either the personal or collective unconscious. The psychic realm, in other words, is definitive and the spiritual is delusion or psychic material.

As great a jump as this represents for Strike, Rowling-Galbraith in the text seems to be making the case for a much broader view with respect to the occult, the after-life, and a spiritual realm distinct from individual psychic material. That her characters are written in lock-step with the qualities their natal horoscopes say they must have, that the tarot card spreads in Troubled Blood all reveal the murderer, that ghosts permeate the work and influence the discoveries made by suggestion and coincidences, and that Rowling uses traditional symbolism of the transcendent realm, most notably the Cross and Water, make an orthodox Jungian reading of the book which would be blind to these points much too restrictive.

I have read and listened to the several attempts to squeeze Rowling into a Jungian Box and my own iconological reading of her work no doubt resembles an archetypal approach, especially relative to Critique and Marxist takes. I share the traditionalist reservations about Jung, however, that Titus Burckhardt explains in ‘Modern Psychology‘ and Harry Oldmeadow explores in ‘Jung and Eliade: Priests Without Surplices.’ Whether Rowling-Galbraith shares their view, of course, I do not know; I do see, though, that her books seem as much a critique of Jungian thinking as an example of it.

Last, I think Rowling Wants Us to Read Troubled Blood as Jung Might Have. Spenser’s Faerie Queen is the most important embedded text in Strike5 though it is one, unlike Rosmersholm in Lethal White, that none of the characters have read or are aware of. The greatest, perhaps the only epic poem of worth in English demands, frankly, an allegorical reading on multiple levels, to include the psychological and anagogical or sublime. Rowling uses Queen as she does, I think, not only because of the fun and meaningful parallels she makes between Britomart, Artegall, Una, and Duessa and corresponding Troubled Blood characters but to foster a broader view of her artistry than what we have seen to date. Jung, whatever his failings, is the closest thing to a traditional, polyvalent approach that Spenser and Rowling require.

Despite his putting a materialist’s low ceiling on human existence by eliding the spiritual realm with the psychic and his no-good-or-evil relativism, Jung insists on the primary importance of consciousness in human life. His work was less about healing the mentally unstable than it was a means for the reflective to achieve integration or wholeness with the invisible aspects of life. I think Rowling as an author shares his aims and, to a degree, his means of alchemical imagery towards personal transformation. 

I hope to explore two things in future posts about Troubled Blood and the Strike series in general, ideas that only a firm grasp of Rowling’s awareness of and pointing to Jung make possible. 

The psychological exteriorization of the Strike mysteries, for one thing, is of a specifically Jungian character. Rather than a Mirror of Erised in which characters (and readers) can see their heart’s desire, a shade-like monster that “sucks all the happiness” from a person, even devouring the soul, or a soul triptych of the soul’s body-mind-and-spirit faculties in the lead trio of characters, the Strike books as Jungian texts offer an exteriorized experience of the interior struggle in a man and woman to come to terms with the claims of their neglected anima and animus, a hallmark of Jungian psychology.

Much more fun and perhaps easier to grasp, Rowling embeds a retelling of the Eros and Psyche myth along the Jungian interpretative lines with Robin as Psyche, Strike as Cupid, Rokeby as Zeus, and Charlotte as Venus. From their first meeting on the stairs in which Strike saves her from a fatal fall by grasping her breast to Robin’s pulling a knife on Saul Morris, there are exciting correspondences between the hallmark events of this myth and the central pair of the Strike series.

Do you think Rowling is pointing to Jung in Troubled Blood? Let me know what you think in the comment boxes below!






  1. This is a very thought provoking post. I would like to make two remaks, though.

    1. When in the post you write “About Gloria Conti contacting the detectives after finding a paper copy of an email in the trash.” However, in the book the only thing that’s written is “I found your last email in the trash folder”, which I understood she found it in the trash folder of the email account.

    2. You also mention Waite. I take it that you mean Waite as in the Rider-Waite Tarot deck? Although Tarot has a part in the story, the only deck mentioned is the Thoth one, desingend by Alastair Crowley and, if I am not mistaken, the Waite deck isn’t mentioned at all during the story.

    I am looking forward to the next posts about Jung.

  2. Thank you, Bee, for reading the post above with such an eye for detail and for the two corrections.

    Waite does not appear in the text or in the True Book illustration marginalia, you are correct. Talbot seems to have referred only to work by Crowley, Adams, Schmidt, and Levi in his occult researches.

    That being noted, I suspect Rowling is hat-tipping occultist Arthur Edward Waite by giving Creed’s mother the name Agnes Waite and perhaps even in Douthwaite.

    Thanks again for your catching these two mistakes. Please do offer your thoughts, as well, if you have a moment, about the thesis and substance of the post.

  3. This has got to be one of the most impressive I’ve seen yet on this site. Perhaps the best link to be established is that between the True Book and Jung’s Liber Novus. I don’t think I ever could have made that connection as easily as was done here.

    What criticisms I do have are so minor as to amount to nitpicks. The biggest one I can think has to do with Jung’s own beliefs. When it comes to his thoughts about Ultimates, both as a man as well as a psychologist, my own constant inquiries just reveal a man who was raised as something of a religious outsider. However there always seems to have been this constant longing to find the way in.

    As for where Rowling herself might fit into all this, my best guess is that she finds his thinking on the matter to be convincing enough. That’s as far as I can go from an observational standpoint. Does this qualify her as a Jungian? My thinking is that her level of buying into it is enough to the point where she might have to qualify as one, at least of some kind.

    My own thoughts about Jung are that he is on to a great deal when it comes to theories of artistic creation. I find it worthwhile enough to consider myself a Jungian Coleridgian on the matter. As for Jung’s thoughts, or perhaps I should say series of trial runs at trying to tackle the subject, I tend to regard him in much the same way Lewis did Barfield. It’s precisely because he was intelligent about a lot of things that makes the noticeable moments when his thought goes off the rails all the more aggravating and ironic.

    For what it is further worth, Lewis himself seems to have found a lot of Jung’s thought congenial enough, bearing certain qualifications in mind. I think part of the reason why is because it is just possible to recognize the lineage of the psychologist’s thought. He ultimately seems to have derived al his theories from the history of Romanticism, for better or worse. In particular, Schelling seems to have been a big factor in his therapeutic model. A good book on the subject is S.J. McGrath’s “The Dark Ground of Spirit: Schelling and the Unconscious”, which demonstrates (convincingly enough, I think) that it was one of the Romantic wunderkind who first posited the key psychological existence of the unconscious in the human mind.

    In terms of his morals, I think it makes sense to view Jung not as a relativist, as much as someone whose concern with human suffering was enough to be almost painful for him. It lead him to what I have to regard as a few missteps in terms of theodicy, however it’s the mistakes of a moralist who cares, rather than a product of callous indifference. To me, it all makes Jung something of a wayward pilgrim inching his way back to a home he had just barely started to recognize before being shuffled off-stage.

    The key line in this entire article, however, has to be the one about how stories are made up of these glyphs and symbols. That, for me, has been pretty much integral to my thoughts on what stories are, and why they deserve a lot of respect. To put it in mythopoeic terms, Dorothy Sayers once opined that a Creative Idea has a value or integrity that shouldn’t be altered or messed with, at least not to much. To do so is to ruin the story in a way that spoils it for the audience. It’s a way of looking at writing and creativity that I don’t think gets enough currency or respect in this day and age.

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