‘Your Nine Guides to Ink Black Heart’ and ‘The First Week at HogwartsProfessor’

At last we have reached the publication date of Ink Black Heart! Whether you have been enjoying the excerpt-teases provided by the publisher or puritanically abstaining (and, no, to me at least, ‘puritan’ is not necessarily pejorative), today we all enjoy Strike6 at last. Rejoice!

If you are still waiting for your copy to arrive in the mail — Amazon had by far the lowest price for the book — I offer today a list of nine things to keep in mind as you read Ink Black Heart and a description of how HogwartsProfessor.com will discuss Rowling-Galbraith’s longest novel to date in the coming week. I’ll also throw in the three best list of predictions for you to reflect on in the few hours — minutes! — before you can dive into a reading at long last. All after the jump!

Three Best Predictions Lists

The three best predictions list I have read are those by StrikeFans, by Louise Freeman, and by Beatrice Groves. StrikeFans offered up a checklist last December that you might want to print out and keep by your reading nightstand to ease a periodic review of how many of the guesses there turn up.

Louise Freeman was the first out of the gate with her predictions in November 2021 in a post here titled, ‘First Flip of the Tarot Cards: Louise’s Predictions for Strike 6.’ She works in this post from the guides of literary alchemy, the ring structure of the Strike series, and the Parallel Series Idea (PSI), namely, that the Agency mysteries are written in parallel with their apposite numbers in the Harry Potter books. Louise’s thoughts on the memory idea from Chamber of Secrets and Half-Blood Prince I think especially promising.

As much fun and potentially spot-on as these predictions were and remain today, Professor Freeman’s brilliant detective work on the Strike series structure she has done since, the 5-6Flip Idea and the Pentagram Model challenging the seven book series idea deserve your attention today if you’re still waiting for your copy to arrive or the book store to open. Each is sure to be the subject of our discussion here in the coming weeks because Ink Black Heart will provide a flood of evidence for or against Professor Freeman’s informed speculations as surely as the plot points will match or not match her predictions in that regard.

Professor Freeman has also revisited the alchemy ideas of the series and detailed the ghosts that haunt it, which posts I will be referring to later. A lot of serious work has been done, in other words, on the Strike series since Louise’s first predictions, much of it done by the prognosticator herself. I suspect her Best Guesses of 2021 will have their bullseyes and near misses; I hope, regardless of her batting average, to mix sporting metaphors, that readers will be keeping Professor Freeman’s contributions to Strike Studies in mind as they read Ink Black Heart. I certainly will.

This last week has been a real treat here at HogwartsProfessor because Beatrice Groves has contributed three posts to prepare us for Ink Black Heart: Ink-Bottles, Anodos, and Anomie, an introduction to Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, Ink-Black Corvids: Magpies, Alchemy, and Ink Black Heart, a review of the alchemical meaning of Rowling’s crows and ravens, and yesterday’s Ink Black Heart Predictions., in which the Oxford University Research Fellow, specialist in Early Modern Drama, and author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, spelled out her last minute Best Guesses, a wonderful bookend to Louise’s long-ago list.

These four predictions are a lot of fun and spring, like Louise’s, in large part from alchemical, ring, and PSI ideas. The death of Rokeby in Strike 6 has been predicted at HogwartsProfessor at least four times (see here, here, here, and here or just search the site for ‘Rokeby prostate cancer‘) because the PSI parallels between Rokeby and Dumbledore were so strong in Troubled Blood but the way Professor Groves introduces the idea, along with Strike vaping and making a spot-on joke, makes it seem totally fresh and exciting. I’m almost looking forward to the Rocking Prune’s death now.

Her most challenging and interesting prediction, though, is that ‘Gender-fluidity will be both an important topic and a vital clue’ in Ink Black Heart. She argues from the ring premise of parallels with Silkworm but with her signature genius about this subject in Elizabethan-Jacobean literature and drama as well as Rowling’s work that make this subject the highlight and keeper of her predictions. Many readers will be reading Strike 6 through transgender controversy lenses; they would be much better served by understanding the transgender controversy and Rowling’s ideas of sex and gender by means of the author’s texts and Groves’ exegesis.

Nine Guides to Reading Ink Black Heart

I wrote a post six months ago in which I spelled out How to Think About ‘The Ink Black Heart’ – Seven Guides for Making Predictions. It holds up pretty well, frankly, though it has been overlooked for the most part, and, as noted, several of the ideas listed there largely inform Professor Freeman’s and Groves’ prediction lists. Let’s review that list, add two, and then close this Day of Publication post with an explanation of how we will be discussing the new novel in the first week after it becomes available.

I think the best way of thinking of the seven plus two guides to Ink Black Heart is as a list of ‘things that will happen in Strike 6 because they have appeared in and are the most important aspects of the previous Strike novels and even everything Rowling has published to date.’ Those nine guides are:

(1) Psychomachia 

Rowling is best understood, I believe after twenty plus years of studying her work, as a writer of allegory, specifically of the soul’s journey to perfection in spirit or psychomachia. In Cormoran Strike, unlike the Hogwarts Saga’s soul triptych, this is represented as a Shakespearean soul-spirit male-female pairing a la Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Desdemona, and Antony and Cleopatra in which each is a suffering soul to which the other is spirit. Robin, who plays the part of Psyche or ‘soul’ to Strike’s Anteros and Castor in the mythological drama (see 5 below), is the smaller bird for the most part to her partner the sea-giant Cormorant, but also is Una or spirit to his Red Crosse Knight.

Given the heavy Jungian pointers in Troubled Blood (see ‘Troubled Blood: A Jungian Reading’ for that), it will be tempting to read Ink Black Heart  as a Jungian might — and perhaps this is exactly what Rowling is hoping we do. The psychomachia can be a Jungian anima-animus allegory of archetypes and I will be reading Strike6 with one eye focused on seeing if this is where she goes.

Jung’s idea of archetypes, however, is so upside-down in being unconscious rather than super-conscious and his psychology consequently so pedestrian and superficial, even anti-spiritual in being psychism in the Perennialist use of that word, namely, study of the soul that excludes an authentic ego-transcendent dimension, that I will be very disappointed (and surprised) if Rowling ‘goes there.’  I recommend, if you are interested in the traditionalist reservations about Jung, two monographs: Titus Burckhardt’s ‘Modern Psychology‘ and Harry Oldmeadow’s ‘Jung and Eliade: Priests Without Surplices.’ 

Rowling describes herself as an “intensely spiritual person,” her core belief is in an “eternal soul,” and her obsession is with “mortality and morality.” Psychomachia, the soul’s preparation for death and eternal life in the spirit, consequently, is what she writes. Look for it in Ink Black Heart.

(2) Literary Alchemy 

Rowling is a writer with the hermetic formula solve et coagula tattooed to her right wrist. It’s there as a reminder that her personal and professional aim is self-transformation and re-invention in her own life and to foster the same in the reader’s experience of her stories. She does this in large part through her deployment of alchemical sequences and symbolism, most notably the black-white-red stages of metallurgical alchemy. Strike’s agony in Troubled Blood was his dissolution or nigredo akin to Harry’s in Order of the Phoenix. The events of Ink Black Heart will be the ablutionary albedo or ‘white stage,’ in which he will be cleansed of delusion and prepared for the final chrysalis and revelations of the rubedo or ‘red stage.’ Harry Potter learned about the Horcruxes which set him up for the challenges of Deathly Hallows; my bet is that Strike discovers in his conversations with or reading of Rokeby and interviews with others, especially Peter Gillespie, what he needs to know to begin solving the mystery of Leda’s demise. There will be swans, albedo standards, silver, moonlight, water, rain, snow, and booze galore. The mystery of Charlotte Campbell’s lost pregnancy I have to think may be in play, too.

Louise Freeman and Beatrice Groves have taken this idea in new and exciting directions in their predictions posts and other work. I’m curious, because of Louise’s 5-6 Flip idea how much nigredo we’ll get in what should be albedo, and I’m excited by Beatrice’s find about Robin’s golden head of hair. I’ll stand by this overview from six months ago, though, and celebrate the new stuff as well. There’s just no reading Rowling at depth without literary alchemy.

(3) Ring Composition 

Rowling, as is fitting given the pronunciation of her maiden name and principal pseudonym today, writes in rings. If you are unfamiliar with ring composition or chiasmus, I wrote a brief introduction to Mary Douglas’ work and its relevance to reading Rowling right here. The neat thing we learned in the Hogwarts Saga was that not only are the individual books written this way, the series is a turtle-back structure, too. We’ve seen that Lethal White echoed Cuckoo’s Calling (herehere, and here for refreshers), as should happen in a seven book series in which the fourth piece will be the ‘turn,’ and that Troubled Blood corresponded with Career of Evil in detail resonances and thematic points. The Ink Black Heart, on this model, should have a host of meaningful parallels with The Silkworm, as Half-Blood Prince did with Chamber of Secrets. 

If Rowling’s previous work is any signification, Strike 6 will be a ring unto itself. It will be fun to see if she writes a ‘rings-within-rings-within rings’ master puzzle as she did in Troubled Blood, six of whose seven parts were rings themselves, inside a seven part ring, in the ring of a seven book series. Regardless, if you’re not reading Ink Black Heart in light of Silkworm, you’ll be missing a lot of Rowling’s artistry and meaning; again, see Freeman and Groves for examples of what we might expect in light of this idea.

(4) Parallel Series Idea (PSI)

Louise Freeman likes to call this a “theory” in keeping with scientific nomenclature, but I’ll hold on to ‘Idea’ both because ‘PSI’ is a fun acronym and because the impulse to use scientific jargon and methods in the arts is as lamentable as systematic theology has been to Christianity. Whatever you call it, though, that Rowling is writing the Strike novels in parallel with her Harry Potter books is a pretty sure guide to reading the current series. See the Parallel Series Idea Pillar Post for links to all those discussions at this site.

Here is what predicted per PSI for Ink Black Heart six months ago:

Louise Freeman has already made predictions along these lines. I think the most credible is that Rokeby, who was off-stage and the cause of Strike’s anger in Troubled Blood the way Dumbledore was to Harry in Order of the Phoenix, will be center stage in Ink Black Heart, perhaps through his autobiography, perhaps in Pensieve sessions with his petulant off-spring, talking about the core mystery of the book, “Who Killed Leda Strike?,” and that he will die by the story finish. Insomuch as Charlotte is the Strike series equivalent of the Dark Lord, I’m obliged to guess her history will be revealed in Strike6 as well. The story won’t lack drama if we head into the Pensieve with Strike’s memories of and discoveries about Charlotte’s past.

(5) Mythic Templates

Since Joanne Gray broke the mythological code of the Cormoran Strike series — see the post she and I wrote in 2017 about Rokeby and Leda as the Swan and Zeus as well as Cormoran and Robin as Castor and Pollux, the semi-divine boxer and the all-too mortal driver — we’ve known that this is the core myth of Galbraith’s books. See the @zsenyasq find about the Ritz paintings of the rape of Leda by the Swan we are almost sure to see in the first chapters of Ink Black Heart.

Rowling has a concurrent myth being re-told in the series, namely, that of Cupid and Psyche. As explained in my A Mythological Key to Cormoran Strike? The Myth of Eros, Psyche, and Venus and Troubled Blood: Robin’s Two Perfumes The Meaning of Philosychos and Narciso, psychologist-wannabe Robin plays the part of Psyche, Strike of Eros, and Charlotte as the furious Venus in Strike5 especially but in all the books so far. If she continues within the template of this myth in Ink Black Heart, having in the ‘Best Mate’ office scene in Blood reproduced Psyche’s exposure of Cupid with light and knife, we should see the trials of Psyche by Venus in Strike6. See Mythological Key and Robin’s Two Perfumes for the impossible tests the Goddess of Love sets for her rival in the myth and how they might be reproduced in the next novel.

Alchemy, Ring Composition, and PSI have traveled Walker Percy’s three steps of scientific discovery to arrive in Strike Studies at “We’ve Always Known That” status. It remains something of a mystery to me that Psychomachia and Rowling’s mythic templates in Strike, especially the myths of Psyche and Cupid and the folk stories of The Fisher King and Handless Maiden, are still controversial or just neglected as another one of John’s hobby horses. Robin will be wearing ‘Narciso’ perfume in Ink Black Heart and I will be very, very surprised if we do not see her pass through Hades successfully — estrangement from Strike? return of Charlotte-Venus? — because of her emotional hardening or putting off her feminine empathy. The mythic templates of Venus’ tasks for Psyche and the Handless Maiden’s victory all but demand it.

(6) Literary Allusion/Intertextuality

The epigraphs will be essential to understanding Ink Black Heart. This achieved “We’ve Always Known That” status due to Professor Groves’ explanations in 2017 and 2018 of the poetic bookends of Cuckoo’s Calling and of the Jacobean Revenge Drama pieces introducing each part and chapter with Silkworm. Rowling’s use of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm and Spenser’s Faerie Queen in Strikes 4 and 5 were only confirmation of Groves’ ground-breaking work with Cuckoo and Silkworm. Prof Groves is already on the job with the epigraphs for Strike 6, for which see her Ink-Bottles, Anodos, and Anomie.

I have purchased three books and pulled one from the shelf in anticipation of Rowling using women poets of the Victorian era for the new book’s epigraphs, namely, Braun’s The Lady on the Drawing Room Floor with Selected Poetry and Prose by Mary E. Coleridge, Blain’s Victorian Women Poets: An Annotated Anthology, and Breen’s Victorian Women Poets: An Anthology 1830-1900. Already on my shelf but sure to be an important reference, perhaps even the reason Rowling chose this group of writers for the sixth Strike novel (it’s sufficiently ‘landmark’ that it has its own Wikipedia page), is The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination. These are all relative pricey texts; be sure to use bookfinder.com to find an affordable copy. 

(7) Lake Elements

I haven’t got anything to add to what I wrote six months ago on this subject, which speculates about how Rowling’s personal struggles inform the Strike series, her ‘Lake’ inspiration, and specifically the Robin story arc:

Rowling has invited her readers more than once, most notably in her ‘Lake and Shed’ 2019 interview, to read her books as having at least been inspired by the personal crises of her life. Six of these are public knowledge and one I think is evident in the Strike books, Christmas Pig, and the transgender controversy; see Christmas Pig 1: Jack Jones, Peter, John for that list of crises and their relevance as “pain to brain” starting points in Rowling’s artistry and meaning. Jonny Rokeby is almost certainly a Good Guy and Peter Gillespie a villain, we learn through this reading, and that negligent fathers are the origin of evil or tokens of Satan and the unconditional love of a mother the symbol of Christ in Rowling’s work. Violence against women is the theme it is because of Rowling’s experience of same as well as her exploration of sex roles in relationships and the burden of vocation have their beginnings in Rowling’s Lake of inspiration and the Muse who lives in it.

What we’re seeing in the slow-release development of the Strike-Ellacott relationship in this series I think is Rowling’s Shed artistry transformation of her personal struggle in her second marriage between her vocation on one side and her life as Mrs Murray and the mother of her Murray children on the other. It is her story depiction cum resolution of this conflict between a calling or logos “inner essence,” biological demands to include the Christic experience of love between mother and child, and the challenge of marriage as a spiritual union and the consequent male-female roles, traditional and conventional, that foster that theophanic union.

Robin experienced some relief in Blood from these three agonies, though still unmarriedwhen Strike confessed she was his “best mate.” I expect, along with the Trials set by Venus-Charlotte, that Ink Black Heart will feature the former Mrs Cunliffe’s continued struggle with her biological clock, her feelings for Cormoran as mate and man-demigod deliverer, and her awareness that she was born to be a detective.

In addition to these seven guides, I want to add two more:

(8) Christian Symbolism

Rowling is not a Christian by any orthodox measure, as evident in her interview discussions of the subject and her texts. Outside of her disdain for “church-goers” as almost always “fundamentalists,” she thinks pre-natal infanticide is a ‘woman’s right’ and that sodomy is not a sin but a life-style to celebrate. There are people who self-identify as Christians who hold these positions, of course, especially in “large umbrella” Reformed Church communions like the Anglican Church of which Rowling is a member; these positions, however, put any believer accepting them outside the faith which has been held “always, everywhere, and by all,” rather than in keeping with fashionable opinions about “diversity, inclusion, and equity.”

Having noted that, Rowling’s work is suffused with esoteric Christian symbolism and laden with Christian content and meaning that is not just a function of her using and adapting English literature templates for her stories. Her use of water and the cross as her repeated and baseline symbolism in Troubled Blood only confirmed what was evident in the Harry Potter novels; Rowling hates authority — political, media, and ecclesial — but adores the spiritual essence-kernel of her faith divorced from its church-shell, namely, transformation of ego to one’s inner and encompassing logos identity, Love’s victory over death in transcendence of self.

I will be astonished if Ink Black Heart does not in large part depend, then, at least with respect to its symbolism, on the Estecean and hesychast understanding of ‘heart’ as the spiritual organ and vessel within the human person. Harry Potter the character in that series was the ‘heart’ of the soul-triptych there and the literary alchemy was about the enlightenment or illumination of his leaden heart, the sacrificial love of his mother being key to the boy’s victory over the Dark Lord, the shadow who worked to achieve immortality by a psychopathic disregard of others.

This is the heart and soul of English High Fantasy and much of the other literature post Coleridge, a teaching that Lewis has from Barfield as well as the Bard of Ottery St Mary, that Tolkien had through Newman and the fathers at the Birmingham Oratory, and that Nabokov has from Dodgson-Carroll, the Cambridge Platonists, and his training in iconography. Nabokov like Rowling was no churchman but, as with her other influences, his work and hers delivers a powerful spiritual message that is simultaneously and more importantly an imaginative experience of transformation all but essential to overcoming the obstacles to spiritual life today.

Look for the enlightened heart as well as the ink black ones in the albedo of Strike 6, the alchemical stage in which the transformation revealed in the rubedo crisis actually takes place.

(9) Ghosts

Everyone who has read Harry Potter is familiar with the ghosts of the Hogwarts Houses, the madcap riders of the Headless Hunt, and the presence of the dead everywhere around us that the Resurrection Stone reveals. The survival of the human soul after death in relatively mutilated or radiant form is a strong message underpinning the Hogwarts Saga, especially, say, at Harry’s meeting with Dumbledore in the other-worldly King’s Cross, a dialogue Rowling has said is “key” to understanding that work. As I wrote in ‘The Ghosts Haunting Troubled Blood:

This pre-occupation with ghosts is something Rowling has honestly. If you are at all aware of her admiration for and imitation of Vladimir Nabokov (see herehere, and here for that), you won’t be surprised to learn that ghosts haunt his novels. Read W. W. Rowe’s Nabokov’s Spectral Dimension for a book-length treatment of this subject and Brian Boyd’s brilliant Nabokov’s Pale Fire for the importance of ghosts in VVN’s best work.

You don’t hear so much about the ghosts of Cormoran Strike, though, right? Which is a shame. Ghosts are a big deal in these mysteries and are all but certain to play a role just out of sight in Ink Black Heart. In addition to The Ghosts Haunting Troubled Blood, see Louise Freeman’s posts on the Ghost of Charlie Bristow in Cuckoo’s Calling and the Ghost of Freddie Chiswell in Lethal White. I have to think the cartoonist that is murdered in a cemetery will be haunting the investigation of her death — and inspiring the detectives with a nudge here and there. Given the meaning of Vanessa Ekwenzi’s first name vis a vis Nabokov (the “black Vanessa” butterfly), I’ll be especially attentive to her inputs if any on this case.

I concluded my ‘Seven Guides’ post last February with the thoughts below on the allegorical element of the Strike books and I think they act well as my primary pre-publication prediction about Ink Black Heart, namely, that it’s going to be the most deeply disturbing, even depressing book we’ve had so far, at least with respect to Strike-Ellacott:

I have argued since the 2007 publication of Deathly Hallows and, truthfully, it’s in my 2002 Hidden Key to Harry Potter, that the heart of Rowling’s writing is in her allegorical content about the soul’s journey to perfection in the Spirit and the obstacles along the way. For my most recent explorations of this subject, see Christmas Pig 3: The Quadrigal Reading and Christmas Pig 5: The Blue Bunny. In the Strike series, Rowling has dropped the soul triptych allegorical trope she used so effectively in Harry Potter for the Shakespearean romance model, in which the man and woman in love represent the soul and Spirit to one another in reflection; cf. Martin Lings’ work on the anagogical depths of Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra, and even Othello. You’ll note the all the couples in these plays die by suicide (well, Desdemona is murdered…), which, as Lings explains, works as allegory for absolute transcendence of ego-existence and self even in mystery plays in a Christian culture for which self-destruction is a mortal sin. We must expect profound solve et coagula in The Ink Black Heart and Strike 7 akin to that we saw in Troubled Blood.

Strike is a skeptic about all things religious and spiritual; his Team Rational posturing is pedestrian agnosticism rather than the examined life he projects contra The Believing Horde of Church-Goers (TM). Rowling-Galbraith, with the host of ghosts active in the Strike books (see here, here, and here for that), are setting the table for a feast of his having to come to terms with spiritual reality. Troubled Blood was his immersion in astrology and the occult use of tarot cards.

I think Louise Freeman is right in her exploration of and predictions about the Norfolk Communethat they created the negative mindset the detective has about immaterial realities, the soul especially and its surviving bodily death, and that this will come into play in Ink Black Heart or Strike7. I suspect Strike6 will set up this revisiting of Boy Strike’s critical experience in the series finale, a set-up involving Rokeby giving him clues or paying for him to investigate the background to his mother’s death. The Deadbeat may have had this in mind in his Troubled Blood Valentine’s Day conversation with his son, an idea of “help” that Strike misread as a bribe.

Regardless, I’m confident that Ink Black Heart will be the nadir story in the series for those hoping for PDA and not so public displays between Robin and her partner. The union finale all but requires the penultimate story or scenes be separation and differences, the agonies of Psyche in Hades on Venus’ impossible task, the misunderstandings between Montagues and Capulets, the secret purification of the albedo. I dread Ink Black Heart in this regard but look forward to the experience Rowling will deliver of the soul’s passage from ephemeral to eternal concerns.

The First Week of Ink Black Heart Posting at HogwartsProfessor

We try to post here on a daily basis and we certainly will be continue in that effort in the coming weeks. There will be plenty to write about, right? Here’s the problem:

Beginning today, the global audience of Rowling’s work  to include all Serious Strikers will be reading this 944 page novel as fast as possible, at leisure, or with a snail’s progress in order to try to figure out before the big reveal the fabula hiding beneath the author’s syuzhet. We don’t want to spoil anybody’s experience of Ink Black Heart, we don’t want to be writing brilliant posts that readers aren’t reading because they’re still working their way through the book, and we don’t want to neglect those readers who finish the book in a day and want to discuss Strike 6 and their discoveries right now.

My solution to this, in light of the nine guides above, is to post what Louise Freeman called ‘Placeholder Posts’ at the publication of Troubled Blood. With a ‘Gaffes’ post for readers to share the name, continuity, and time mistakes Rowling’s editors will have missed, this series will hold us for ten days, when we will resume our regular style of posting here with the best interpretative analysis of Rowling novels available anywhere.

Thank you in advance for your patience while the HogwartsProfessor faculty, tenured and adjunct, read and begin to digest Ink Black Heart over the next week or so. Thank you, too, for jumping on the Placeholder Posts and sharing your finds and thoughts with respect to the gaffes, the ghosts, the albedo, the allegory of soul seeking spirit, and all the rest in the appropriate spot — by which I mean, please don’t post your alchemical insights on the gaffe post thread because we haven’t put the alchemy post up yet.

I will not begin reading Ink Black Heart until this afternoon because this morning I have a date with the external readers of my PhD thesis, the so-called Viva Voce oral examinations. Of course, the end of my fifty-five years of formal education has come on the day of Rowling’s longest novel’s publication. Thank you, gentle readers, for all this forum has done in the years of writing my thesis to prepare me for this day, both with respect to the viva and to reading Ink Black Heart.

Happy reading! I’ll see you all in ten days, sooner if I want to venture a guess about the killer based on his or her appearance in the central chapters. “It’s Switch LaRue Bloom Whittaker disguised as an online game moderator!” (I love that guess, one Louise Freeman shared with me via email.)


  1. Bonni Crawford says

    I hope your viva is enjoyable and fulfilling, John! Are you in Swansea for that (I seem to remember your PhD is at Swansea Uni)?

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