From the beginning J.K. Rowling has encouraged readers to find parallels between Strike and Harry Potter. There was the initial announcement of a new seven book series (since quashed – I’m delighted to find that she’s now planned out ten1 and hopefully we’ll get even more). There was also the arch description of her inspiration for Strike – ‘Strike was a very vivid character who came to me, in the best way, he just walked into my head’2 – a conscious echo of the way in which Rowling has spoken for over two decades of Harry as ‘the hero who had walked into my head.’3 I’ve written up some of the previous connections between the two series here4 and here5 and this piece will look at the extent to which Ink Black Heart continues these connections.
A small, but pleasing, link is that our heroes are about to become godparents. Overt Christianity plays a small but important role in both series – and the significance of godparents in Harry Potter (like the importance of Christmas) is a subtle marker of the cultural Christianity of the Wizarding World. Being a godparent in Harry Potter, however, is a somewhat lonely role – it seems that each child only has one, and each god parented child is swiftly orphaned, leaving that godparent in the sole parental role. When, however, it is revealed in The Ink Black Heart that Strike and Robin are about to be asked to be joint godparents of Ilsa’s unborn child, it as a sign of the way that the lonely heroism of being the Chosen One (for all that Harry is ably supported by Hermione and Ron) has shifted to a heroic partnership. Strike and Robin are from this point forward not only partners, but declared as such, engraved in the agency door’s glass. Their shared god parenthood is another connection formed along the road before they become partners in another sense.
Another of my favourite Harry Potter connections in this novel is that those of us who paid attention to Hermione’s Study of Ancient Runes will steal a march on Strike who is ‘no expert on the Futhark.’ The first rune of the story turns up in a conversation between LordDrek and Vilepechora – when the former says ‘I’ve just been talking to Eihwaz.’ I knew immediately that this was a rune, because it turns up in Hermione’s O.W.L. exam in Order of the Phoenix:
‘How were the Runes?’ said Ron, yawning and stretching.
‘I mis-translated ehwaz,’ said Hermione furiously. ‘It means partnership, not defence; I mixed it up with eihwaz.’
‘Ah well,’ said Ron lazily, ‘that’s only one mistake, isn’t it, you’ll still get –
‘Oh, shut up!’ said Hermione angrily.
‘Ehwaz’ literally means ‘horse’ and its esoteric meanings include teamwork, trust and love. Its shape can be understood as two horses’ heads touching and it has been linked to the mythical horse-riding twins so common in European folklore – from the Greek Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux) to Hengist and Horsa6. The Ehwaz rune, therefore, represents both the helpmeet steed and the divine twins so Hermione’s rendering as ‘partnership’ is fair enough. ‘Eihwaz’, meanwhile, literally means ‘yew’ and its esoteric meanings are linked with the yew’s fatal symbolism – associations which, of course, are the reason that Voldemort’s wand was made of yew. Eihwaz’s esoteric meanings include death, endurance, transformation and protection. Once again Hermione’s ‘defence’ seems a fair translation. It would, indeed, be satisfying if someone were to repeat Hermione’s mistake and confuse the rune name ‘Eihwaz’ (death) with the more touchy-feely ‘Ehwaz’ (love).
Those readers who remembered Hermione’s exam and recognised ‘Eihwaz’ as a rune, had a strong clue about what kind of organization LordDrek and Vilepechora are part of – and soon after we meet Ultima Thule’s enforcer Thurisaz (with this rune he tattooed on his Adam’s apple) which makes the link clear. There is another rune clue for those paying attention – as Vilepechora’s rune name ‘Algiz’ is hidden in plain sight in his Twitter handle ‘Al Gizzard.’
All three types of aliases, of course – runic, inkhearted and on twitter – underline the way in it is possible to present yourself as someone entirely ‘other’ on-line. This idea is central to the novel’s central concern with disconnection – one of the morals of the story is that if connectedness only takes place between fictitious avatars then no true bulwarks against anomie can be formed. But the aliases also form vital clues and create one of the most thoroughgoing Harry Potter connections – for these on-line personas (especially if supported by stolen photos, as with Paperwhite) enable a real world version of a Polyjuice-transformation. And, as in Harry Potter, false identities are used both by the bad guys to evade capture and the good guys trying to elicit information. Robin taking on someone else’s online persona in order to inveigle her way into the mods chatroom felt very Harry and Ron Polyjuicing their way into the Slytherin Common Room. (And indeed the parallel is particularly pointed given that we know that when Rowling herself strolled into MuggleNet’s chat room she was ‘concerned to find that many of the moderators feel their spiritual home is Slytherin’7).
In Harry Potter, Polyjuice Potion is first taken in book 2, pivoting round the murderer using it book 4 to lure our hero to his destruction, which (given the chiastic structure) provides the clue that someone will be using Polyjuice to hide their identity in book 6. In Strike, likewise, secret on-line identities first appear in book 2, pivoting round the use of electronic text by the murderer to lure our hero to her destruction in book 4, which (given the chiastic structure) provides the clue that the murderer will be using an on line alias to hide his identity in book 6 (a clue not simply to the importance of Anomie, but to his on-line alias as Paperwhite).
This creates a four-way link between Chamber of Secrets/Half-Blood Prince and Silkworm/Ink Black Heart but the main one of these is, of course, the text within-the-text. It is notable in this regard that what Rowling has said interview about Riddle’s Diary finds its strongest parallel in the text-within-the-texts of Ink Black Heart. She has discussed the diary twice in interview:
My sister used to commit her innermost thoughts to her diary. Her great fear was that someone would read it. That’s how the idea came to me of a diary that is itself against you. You would be confiding everything to pages that aren’t inanimate.8
Now, the diary to me is a very scary object, a really, really frightening object. This manipulative little book, the temptation particularly for a young girl to pour out her heart to a diary, which is never something I was prone to, but my sister was. The power of something that answers you back, and at the time that I wrote that I’d never been in an Internet chat room. But I’ve since thought “Well it’s very similar.” Just typing your deepest thoughts into the ether and getting answers back, and you don’t know who is answering you.9
This idea – and this fear – clearly stayed with Rowling and she succeeds brilliantly in capturing that frisson again for an adult audience. It is a deeply unnerving moment in the chatroom conversations when we realise that Morehouse is confiding in a false, Tom Riddle-like persona, who will murder him.
Both the Polyjuice/on-line avatar and the text-within-the-text ideas are examples where the specific connections we were expecting between Ink Black Heart and Half Blood Prince holds up well10, Ink Black Heart, indeed, opens with an opal necklace which felt like a knowing wink to Half-Blood Prince and while there was one big miss in the expected parallels (no important death) it has worked well in other instances (see the discussion at Hogwarts Professor for more11). The text-within-the text parallel, indeed, came true beyond our expectations – not simply ‘The Ink Black Heart’ but also Drek’s Game and the transcripts of the moderator chat within that game. It was Snape’s annotations on his Potions’ Textbook squared. As Amelia has pointed out12 there is also neat connection between Anomie’s game and Snape’s marginalia, in that in both cases the in-text ‘author’ improves the original text. (And, of course, in both cases the author of this creative and satisfying marginal text will turn out to be a murderer).
Likewise, the situation between Robin and Strike – in love but not together – had strong parallels with the central love-story of Half Blood Prince. The scene between Ilsa and Robin, in particular, had strong overtones of the conversations between Ginny and Hermione on the same theme:
‘Hermione told me to get on with life, maybe go out with some other people, relax a bit around you, because I never used to be able to talk if you were in the room, remember? And she thought you might take a bit more notice if I was a bit more – myself.’ ‘Smart girl, that Hermione,’ said Harry, trying to smile. — Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Ilsa, likewise, advises her friend that a bit of redressing the relationship power imbalance and the odd pang of jealousy might help things along:
‘How are you going to get past the “I’ve only ever been with one man” thing unless you actually date some other people? It’s only a drink. You aren’t risking much with a drink. You never know what might come of it.’
Robin looked at her friend, eyes narrowed.
‘And I’m sure making Strike jealous is the last thing on your mind.’ ‘Well,’ said Ilsa with a wink, ‘I wouldn’t say it’s the last.’
My favourite Half-Blood Prince/Ink Black Heart parallel, however, was one that we should have predicted, for (just as with the Goblet of Fire/Lethal White parallels) it would have helped in identifying the murderer – but I don’t think anyone did.
Reading Ink Black Heart it seemed clear that the murderer would be young and male and a violent misogynist: in short, we were looking for an incel. A man whose sexual frustration finds an outlet in abusing women on line, building up to such a pitch of hatred that is spills into real-life femicide. Gus Upcott was one of the few suspects who might fit this profile; and he was also instantly suspected by Strike. So, of course, I as immediately discounted him – falling again for the trick Rowling played in Half-Blood Prince.
As John Granger has argued, after getting suckered in by Harry’s point of view in each Harry Potter novel and believing that Snape or Malfoy are up to nefarious deeds when they aren’t, by book 6 the reader has learnt their lesson. They may have thought Snape was the bad guy in book 1, that Malfoy was up to no good in book 2, that Sirius Black was the murderer in book 3 etc – but by now they’ve learnt caution:
We begin the sixth story as careful readers who had been duped by and large five times. We’d all taken oaths, publicly and privately, not to be fooled a sixth time. Everyone else in the book was on our side. ‘Sure, Harry,’ pat on head, shared glance with Dumbledore and Hermione, ‘we know. Draco’s the youngest Death Eater ever and you know best about Snape – like all the other times you’ve been right about Snape.’ (John Granger, Harry Potter’s Bookshelf, 32)
Book 6 in both series is the first time that all the signs are pointing the right way, but by now we’re firmly refusing the read them the right way up. In Ink Black Heart we’re told right from the start that the murderer is Anomie (just as Draco’s mission to kill Dumbledore is made abundantly clear at the beginning of Half-Blood Prince) and Anomie is precisely the lonely young man we’d naturally assume he would be (just as Snape is – according to the denouement of this novel at least – finally the bad guy he’d always appeared to be).
The signs were all pointing to the Upcotts as the source of Anomie’s knowledge (and the parallel with Silkworm made me suspicious that the solution would lie with the agent). The taser meant that anyone could be the killer (they needn’t have been confident of being able to physically overpower Josh) – which meant I was busy suspecting all the other Upcotts – Inigo, Katya and Flavia – and dismissing the obvious Upcott candidate precisely because he fitted the profile of the killer to well. (Troubled Blood, indeed, had lured me into a strong sense that we weren’t looking for a young, virginal male killer whatever the ambience of the book might suggest). But the lack of a twist was the twist – and it made a perfect link between Ink Black Heart and Half-Blood Prince, but one which I don’t think anyone thought to look for. For all the accuracy of (some) of our predictions, Rowling has tripped us up once again.
You are reading an article from The Rowling Library Magazine Issue 69 (September 2022).
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