By Marty Ellacott


Welcome back to my analysis of parallels between The Ink Black Heart and the opera Tannhäuser by Richard Wagner. In yesterday’s Act 2, I discussed Strike’s and Tannhäuser’s search for true love.

Banishment and pilgrimage

Assassination of Reinmar III. von Brennenberg, Codex Manesse, around 1275.

After Tannhäuser, through Venus’s influence, lets slip that he has been in the Venusberg, his former friends turn against him and shout “Steep your swords in his blood!” (act 2, scene 4).

Charlotte telling Robin about Madeline does not endanger Strike’s life, but her deliberately letting her husband find the nude she sent Strike, which leads Ross to try and draw Strike into their divorce battle, threatens the agency:

 “‘I think you made bloody sure Jago found that nude’ […] ‘If I’m named in your poxy divorce, my business will be fucked. It’ll mean paps following me, my face all over the papers—’” IBH chapter 25.

In addition, Strike’s fall, which keeps him from work, potentially “made the agency the target of a far-right terrorist group” (IBH chapter 43). When the subcontractors are angry about this, it’s Robin (although hurt by hearing about Madeline), “who absorbed most of their resentment”, and tries to pacify the arguing staff (IBH chapter 43). And she seems to succeed: “‘Nothing serious,’ said Pat, pausing in the doorway. ‘Robin’s handling it.’” (IBH chapter 46).

When the knights / minstrels threaten to kill Tannhäuser for having been with Venus, he is saved from immediate death by Elisabeth who, in spite of the hurt she feels, courageously throws herself in front of him, risking her own life (“What is the wound dealt by your swords to the death blow I received from him!”) and demands that he be given a chance to repent and achieve salvation (act 2, scene 4).

Robin, too, has received a death blow with the news about Madeline, feeling “as though all [her] intestines had been seared with dry ice” (IBH chapter 26).

Elisabeth’s pleas for him make Tannhäuser come out of the “fearful mighty magic [that] holds [him] captive” and (again according to the German stage directions) he ‘sinks down in contrition’ because he hurt Elisabeth and alluded to having sex with her / drinking from the well (see “Tannhäuser in The Ink Black Heart, Act 2”): “But, oh, to touch her wantonly I raised my dissolute gaze to her!” Strike has a similar attitude after the Ritz: he is “full of self-recrimination. He shouldn’t have made that foolish, unconsummated move” (IBH chapter 2).

Touched by Tannhäuser’s remorse and feeling obliged to Elisabeth’s wishes, the Landgrave sends him on a pilgrimage to Rome to “atone for your sin!” from which he must “nevermore return” without the pope’s blessing. (act 2, scene 4).

With the agency under threat, Strike is banished from the security he felt before, like Tannhäuser is banished from the Wartburg to pray for forgiveness. The extra load of work in order to get something on Jago feels like his own repentance trip: “’Sorry,’ said Strike. He felt so guilty at the moment he was developing a tendency to start all verbal exchanges with the word” (IBH chapter 43).

In order to atone for his sins and especially the hurt he has done Elisabeth, Tannhäuser deliberately seeks more pain than his fellow pilgrims suffer because “[their] way appeared to me too easy” (act 3, scene 3), his main wish being to “sweeten for her the tears she had once shed over me, a sinner!” (act 3, scene 2).

When Robin doesn’t want to go to a hotel after the death threat she’s received by phone and Strike senses her fear, he is ready to endure more pain to his stump by coming to her “‘Sorry. OK, well – if you don’t want to come back into town, I’ll come to you.’” (IBH chapter 93).

Tannhäuser denies himself a cooling drink and a comfortable rest: “When at the spring [the pilgrim] would allow his lips to taste refreshment, I would imbibe the scorching glow of the sun; […] when the weary pilgrim would refresh himself at the hospice, I would bed down my limbs in snow and ice” (act 3, scene 2).

Strike also denies himself comfort: “Given that he was to blame for adding an extra job to the agency’s workload, he was trying to cover as many hours as possible”, which makes it “impossible to remove his prosthesis and rest up with an ice-pack pressed to the end of his stump”. By working this much, he also deprives himself of leisure activities with Madeline, Lucy, Ted and Jack (IBH chapter 32).

Whitstable, Google Maps from

Tannhäuser ignores the beautiful landscape on his journey: “With eyes fast shut, their beauty not to see, I dragged myself, blind, through Italy’s fair pastures” (act 3, scene 2).

At the hotel in Whitstable, Strike, although Robin has switched rooms with him to do him a favour, “instead of enjoying his sea view, […] was now watching his stump twitch uncontrollably inside his trouser leg”, which seems part of his punishment. In that same scene, he decides to apologise to and end the relationship with Madeline: “he thought he should have seen from the first that his and Madeline’s lives were fundamentally incompatible“ (IBH chapter 79). This is also a form of atonement, to free himself of one of the Venus’s in his life.

“When [the pilgrim] devoutly offered up his prayers to heaven, [Tannhäuser] would shed [his] blood to the glory of the Almighty”(act 3, scene 3).

Strike, though involuntarily, also sheds blood when he is attacked by the bird in Sara Niven’s house: “Blood now trickling down the side of his face, Strike wrenched open the door and stepped outside” (IBH chapter 49). 

I might be over-analysing this, but I see a connection to “Dame Holda”, whom the shepherds sing about announcing spring, after Tannhäuser comes back from the Venusberg (act 1, scene 3) and who is identical with “Frau Holle” from Grimm’s fairy tales. She is also known as “Perchta”, who, according to Jacob Grimm, was “thought to be a white-robed goddess who oversaw spinning and weaving”, which made me think of Sara Niven’s white umbrella cockatoo, and the fact that the “baggy dress she wore was made of a sludge-green Liberty print that matched the cushions in the sitting room”, which gives the impression that she made both items herself (IBH chapter 48).

Perchta “appears as [a] little old woman […], her hair is dishevelled, her garments tattered and torn”. She ”was often described as having “one large foot, sometimes called a goose foot or swan foot”. Sara Niven is “a middle-aged […] woman with untidy grey hair” and has “a hole in the left foot of her thick black tights, through which her big toe was attempting to poke” (IBH chapter 48). – Birds, CC BY 2.0

According to the German Wikipedia page, Perchta is almost always described as having a large nose, which can be interpreted as a bird’s beak and presumably refers to an old bird goddess who was worshipped in numerous variants in South Eastern Europe. This fits in with Sara Niven keeping all those birds in her house and being “vaguely bohemian-looking”.

And to bring things back to Strike’s and Tannhäuser’s endeavour for forgiveness: “In contemporary culture, Perchta is portrayed as a ‘rewarder of the generous, and the punisher of the bad, particularly lying children”. Well, Strike has been bad, lied a lot and definitely been punished by this bird.

While the pilgrim is walking on “the soft sward of the meadows”, Tannhäuser “sought thorn and stone for [his] bare feet” (act 3, scene 3). 

Strike’s way back from his interview with Yasmin looks very similar: “He now felt as though splinters of glass were digging into his stump” (IBH chapter 93). And just like Tannhäuser is praying to God for redemption and promising to better himself, Strike is “mentally offering bargains to a God he wasn’t at all sure he believed in. I’ll lose weight. I’ll stop smoking. Just let me get home. I swear I’ll take better care of myself. Just don’t let me collapse in the fucking street.”

In the opera, the pope denies Tannhäuser forgiveness (“As this staff in my hand no longer bedecks itself in fresh green, so from the burning brands of hell deliverance can never blossom for you!” (act 3, scene 3). After all his efforts, this leaves him in desperation and leads him to say he might just as well go back to Venus.

For Strike, it’s Madeline ranting at him shortly before he reaches his flat that does it: “In spite of every resolution he’d made on the journey, Strike pulled his cigarettes out of his pocket. If God wanted to mess with him this badly, all deals were off” (IBH chapter 94).

Tannhäuser resists this last temptation because he thinks of Elisabeth, who was his advocate the whole time, although Venus tries to lure him back. 

Strike eventually resists the temptation at the end of IBH: he stops smoking, having “vowed to kick [the habit] for ever”, and eating too much unhealthy food, all with the help of Robin (IBH chapter 107), whom he has consulted about food and weight loss throughout the book (“‘Calories? You?, IBH chapter 75). And as “he made very few vows, because he trusted himself to keep them” (LW chapter 24), I think he will succeed.


Eternal Salvation

Before Tannhäuser comes back from Rome, Elisabeth’s prayer for her death in exchange for his redemption, is fulfilled. When Tannhäuser resists Venus’s temptation by thinking of Elisabeth, Wolfram tells him: “Your angel is praying for you at the throne of God, she has been heard: – Henry, you are saved!” The knowledge that Elisabeth died for him is too much for Tannhäuser. He dies as well, crying out: “Holy Elisabeth, pray for me!”.

Elisabeth keeps saving Tannhäuser throughout the opera: She is the reason he agrees to go back to the Wartburg; she risks her own life to save him from the knights, thereby breaks Venus’s spell and allows him to go on the pilgrimage; in order to atone for the hurt he has done her, he repents much more than the other pilgrims; the thought of her saves Tannhäuser from Venus’s final temptation and when the pilgrims come back from Rome and Elisabeth doesn’t find him among them, she prays for her own death which finally brings redemption to Tannhäuser.

Robin also saves Strike a lot: The thought of her saves him from Madeline, as the latter’s jealousy after Strike declaring Robin room service is the beginning of the end of that relationship.

Having physically stopped Strike from going after Charlotte in CC part 1, chapter 1 (see “Tannhäuser in The Ink Black Heart, Act 1”), Robin seems to indirectly save him when Charlotte comes after Strike outside Jago Ross’s place. When Charlotte reveals her lack of protective instinct towards her children, Strike experiences a reverse moment to the one he had with Robin in front of the Ritz: 

“With those words, the busy night seemed to slow again around Cormoran Strike, and the constant growl of traffic seemed suddenly muted. This time he wasn’t staring down into Robin’s face, full of alcohol and desire: the seismic change had happened inside him because he felt something break and he knew, at last, that there was no putting it back together” (IBH chapter 87).

Now, the charm is breaking. “The old power” has stopped (IBH chapter 87). The familiarity is gone: there is no smelling Charlotte’s perfume any more, when earlier in the book he “hated the fact that he recognised it” (IBH chapter 25). Strike stops claiming to know her but has “come to believe that there was no single, static truth about any human being”, when during Charlotte’s row with Ross, he “could have predicted” her behaviour. Instead, Strike seems immune to her drama and, when he sits in the taxi, he doesn’t think of her as “the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen” any more, but he’s just “leaving one of the most beautiful women in London staring blankly after him” (IBH chapter 87). 

The comparison of this moment with the one between Strike and Robin in front of the Ritz points, in my view, at the influence Robin has, indirectly, on Strike’s reaction here. Even though Charlotte’s selfish attitude towards children was the reason for Strike leaving her, over the years, he has ignored further signs of it: wanting to abandon her twins at birth (“‘I don’t want to be needed’”, LW chapter 50), trying to kill herself without thinking of them – at least, if this was an act of manipulation (TB chapter 54 and 72) and talking of them as if they were her possession in the divorce battle (“James is the heir to the title and he’s my bloody son and they’re not having him – they’re not having either of them”, IBH chapter 25). 

Without Robin’s influence, including her constant efforts and risk-taking to save children (SW chapter 28, COE chapter 55, IBH chapter 106), I don’t think Strike would have finally seen through his delusion that Charlotte’s “own vulnerability meant an instinctive rapport with other vulnerable people“ (IBH chapter 87).

The Z Hotel,

This impression is confirmed by the scene directly afterwards: back at the Z Hotel, in Robin’s room, the great discrepancy between Charlotte’s indifference towards her children and Robin’s empathy for them seems to complete Strike’s recovery from the “virus in his blood” as which he had come to see Charlotte (SW chapter 23): “talking intelligently about the case and expressing compassion for children she’d never met, she couldn’t have presented a greater contrast to Charlotte” (IBH chapter 88).

Robin defends Strike against the subcontractors’ anger (see above), helps him eat more healthily (“‘Why haven’t you got chips?’ Strike asked, […] ‘Solidarity,’ she said, smiling”, IBH chapter 90), and against her inclination, agrees to go to a hotel after the death threat, when Strike offers to come to her and she hears the pain in his voice: “‘Yes. I’ll call a cab, I’ll ask for help with my bags – everything’” (IBH chapter 93). 

Though Midge and Dev do the legwork in the Ross case, Robin is the one who, on her own initiative and in spite of her own hurt, finds out about Ross’s violence against his older kids, which ultimately saves the agency: “‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘Christ. I should’ve – of course he’s knocking his daughters around” (IBH chapter 54). Finally, Robin risks her life to save Strike’s: “Robin saw a raised machete. She jumped from the fourth step, landing on Gus’s back, arms around his throat” (IBH chapter 106).


Saint and Sinner

Saint Elisabeth of Thuringia by Hans Holbein the Elder, ca. 1516

Elisabeth praying for Tannhäuser throughout the whole opera in spite of being hurt by him, throwing herself in front of Tannhäuser to protect him from the knights and praying for death in exchange for his redemption, her being compared to the Virgin Mary and Tannhäuser calling her “Holy Elisabeth” when he dies, are all signs that she is supposed to be the actual Saint Elisabeth of Thuringia (although the latter was Landgrave Hermann’s daughter in law, not his niece and was not even born yet at the supposed time of the contest). In IBH, the saint-motive is already introduced in the Ritz-chapter with the “glittering halo” around Robin’s opal and the “misty aureole” around each crystal of the chandelier.

Robin, in addition to the saving she does for Strike and Ross’s daughters, also shows saint-like tendencies when jumping on the railway tracks to save Oliver Peach (IBH chapter 56) and running into the Upcotts’ house to save Flavia (IBH chapter 106). And even though hurt by Strike, Robin always feels for the women in his life: She deflects Ilsa’s deprecating remark about Madeline (“’You don’t know she’s a bloody woman’”, IBH chapter 28); she doesn’t even seem to be jealous: “she’d never felt more sympathy for the women who, in Ilsa’s words, he pissed off” (IBH chapter 32).

Being a woman of the 21st century and not a medieval maiden though, Robin also has a different side: Unlike Elisabeth, she is not only hurt by Strike seeing Madeline, but angry and resentful, even cold towards him for a while (chapter 26, 32). And when Pez Pierce first texts her after their drink, he sends her “a drawing of a naked brunette, one arm placed coyly across her breasts, the other hand hiding her pubis” (IBH chapter 79). Which is supposed to be her, or rather Jessica Robins. Apart from the hair colour, this looks like a reproduction of Sandro Botticelli’s picture “The Birth of Venus” . 

Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus (c. 1484–1486)

It also fits in with Strike discovering this whole new side in Robin when he listens to her recording with Pez: “He’d never heard Robin talk like that, never imagined she could flirt that well. He’d thought… what? That she was some innocent schoolgirl?” (IBH chapter 68). This last description echoes Elisabeth’s as a “pure maid” and brings the conflict between sacred and profane love back to friendship vs. sex between Strike and Robin. These two opposing images for her also reflect the fact that in some productions of the opera, the two female characters, Venus and Elisabeth, are interpreted as two aspects of the same woman and are played by the same singer. Just like the solution of the conflict for Robin and Strike is not either friendship or sex but both: a serious relationship.

Indeed, in spite of Strike’s entanglement with Madeline and Charlotte, throughout IBH, whenever he feels temptation, it’s just as likely to come from Robin: Before the Ritz, “he’d assumed her slight awkwardness […] had the same root as his own: a determination not to succumb to temptation” (IBH chapter 2). After his final scene with Charlotte, he leaves Robin’s hotel room because he ”feared loss of control – not some clumsy physical overture, […] – but a caving-in to the temptation of talking too personally, of saying too much” (IBH chapter 88).

The flirty, Venus-side in Robin that surprises Strike so much, is new to herself. It has already been foreshadowed in the Ritz scene (IBH chapter 1), when, feeling intimidated by the story about Charlotte’s stepmother’s sexual advances on Strike, she sees the “murals of nymphs”, of which there are also a lot in Venus’s cave (stage directions of act 1, scene 1).

And, as if they were the two female opera-characters, Robin treats this side like a separate person, her undercover alter-ego: when Pez first kisses her on their fake date at The Gatehouse, “for a fraction of a second she tensed, but Jessica Robins wasn’t Robin Ellacott: she’d had all the boyfriends Robin hadn’t“ (IBH chapter 67), which seems to enable her to act ‘in character’. Probably to her own surprise, she realises that “Pez Pierce, a man with […] an extensive sexual history, didn’t seem to have detected […] a lack of experience” (IBH chapter 68) and that “if this were a genuine date […], she’d be doing exceptionally well” (IBH chapter 67). 

She realises, too, “half-guilty”, that although “Pez Pierce wasn’t the kind of man she generally found attractive”, and “she didn’t particularly like him”, she actually enjoys that snog: “her body, which had forgone any form of sexual contact for three years, hadn’t much cared what her brain was up to” (IBH chapter 68). 

Robin finds herself here in a similar situation to Strike with petite Nina Lascelles, whom he uses for help with the case and distraction from Charlotte (see “Tannhäuser in The Ink Black Heart, Act 1”). Strike knows it would be a bad idea but sleeps with her anyway even though he doesn’t fancy small women (SW chapter 13 and 15).

Although Robin uses Pez as well, and however badly her body might need it, she does not go as far as Strike, as “she didn’t think sleeping with Pez Pierce lay within the scope of duties” (IBH chapter 68). And in any case, she sees very clearly that Pez tries to use her, too: she “suspected that she was being used, like the lager, to distract Pez from his worries” (IBH chapter 67), parallelly to Strike with Coco in LW (see “Tannhäuser in The Ink Black Heart, Act 1”). She has a greater sense of self-preservation and self-esteem than Coco or any of the other women, as “Jessica Robins didn’t like being treated as though she ranked only slightly higher than a pint of lager in terms of distractions” (IBH chapter 67), which is the reason for her “no” in front of the Ritz, because she doesn’t want to try and “fix down this man who clearly doesn’t want to be fixed down” (IBH chapter 28).

Robin feeling “inexperienced and unworldly compared to other women her age” (IBH chapter 1), which she emphasises throughout IBH (chapters 1, 26, 28, 67), and her experimenting with her alter-ego Jessica, which, by a “residual recklessness” encourages her to take back her rejection of Ryan Murphy (“‘I’m not used to people asking me out’”, IBH chapter 72), feels a little as if she goes through a very late adolescence. I think JKR also means this, when she talks about “the real sort of coming-of-age novel for Robin”, which, in her Q&A about IBH, she applies mainly to the job and the fact that Robin “takes charge of things in a way that she has never really done before”.

Robin’s search for a new scent in TB is another symbol for her wish for growth and change after her break from Matthew, experimenting with different fragrances as if trying on different personalities (“Robin, breathing in heady, luscious, oily tuberose, had been seduced by the idea of becoming, in her thirtieth year, a sophisticated woman”, TB chapter 12), but it also shows how much she has already changed since the beginning of the series, in contrast to Charlotte wearing her perfume “ever since she was nineteen” (LW chapter 50), which suggests that Charlotte is not interested in change, or growth.

Aphrodite Torso, 200-1 BC, Greek, Hellenistic, perhaps Tarentum, Thasian marble – Cleveland Museum of Art – DSC08229.JPG|Aphrodite Torso, 200-1 BC, Greek, Hellenistic, perhaps Tarentum, Thasian marble – Cleveland Museum of Art

By “taking charge” in the job, Robin grows even more into herself, which Strike’s ego doesn’t feel threatened by but which makes him “[see] her as a true partner, an equal” (IBH chapter 82). Her row with him about him not taking care of himself (IBH chapter 100), is another sign of how much confidence she has already gained.

Shortly afterwards, during her fight with Gus, there is a symbolic moment, where Robin grabs “the foot-high marble torso of a woman” (IBH chapter 106), that she’s already seen at her first visit in the Upcott’s house (IBH chapter 33). “She swung it into the window, which shattered: the marble slipped through her hands and fell with an echoing bang onto the path” (IBH chapter 106). 

In ancient Rome and Greece, the transition into womanhood was marked by girls sacrificing their dolls to one of the goddesses, among others – Venus or Aphrodite, which is also a reference to the two different aspects (Venus and Elisabeth) in Robin. Of course, this sculpture is way too heavy to be a doll, as “she could barely hold it” (IBH chapter 106), and doesn’t have a complete body, only a torso. But then Robin’s childhood has been over for a while in many respects, and the part of the symbolic doll that she has not yet given away, has had time to gain a lot of weight. 

The chapter ending with the renewed mention of that ‘doll’ seems to me to underline the symbolism of this moment. Its description as “the fallen sculpture of the woman’s torso lying in broken glass” (IBH chapter 106) suggests the end of a chapter in Robin’s life: 

“She understood her mother’s panic and pain, but she was a grown woman of thirty and she was going to make her own decisions now, no matter who it upset, after long years of doing what other people – her parents, Matthew – wanted her to do: the safe, dull and expected thing” (IBH chapter 75). 

By throwing out her insecurities and her conformity to others’ wishes, she shatters their expectations about the woman she is supposed to be.


Death and Redemption

After Elisabeth’s and Tannhäuser’s deaths, the younger pilgrims return from Rome and bring with them the pope’s staff in full bloom as a sign for Tannhäuser’s redemption: God has forgiven him although the pope has declared it as impossible as his staff coming to leaf again.

Their deaths could be reflected in both Strike and Robin being physically hurt during the showdown with Gus, Robin because she wants to save Flavia, Katya – and Strike, Strike because he wants to save Robin (IBH chapter 106). Or, more metaphorically, in Robin and Strike being disconnected again through her date with Ryan Murphy: Robin is lost to Strike romantically because she goes out with someone else, and Strike has “suffered a blow to the heart” (IBH chapter 107) which, as we know from the epigraph to the prologue, is “often fatal”. In that respect, one could argue that redemption has been denied to Strike (like the pope did to Tannhäuser) even after all he has suffered and all the resolutions he has made.

And he has tried. Not with Madeline, as he keeps telling himself, but with Robin: Throughout IBH, Strike redeems himself with regard to Robin’s complaints during their Valentine’s Day row: when she offers him her sofa-bed, she is astonished that “atypically for Strike, he arrived exactly when he’d said he would” (IBH chapter 75), addressing her reproach of never showing her “the common fucking courtesy of turning up on time—’” (TB chapter 41). 

During their interview with Josh Blay, Strike, by wiping the former’s tears away, surprises Robin with an “unexpected display of empathy”, having formerly “[foisted] what she’d sometimes heard him call ‘touchy-feely’ stuff onto Robin” (IBH chapter 64), which also came up in the Valentine’s Day row (TB chapter 41). 

Strike coming to help Robin with her move (IBH chapter 60), is so unexpected for her that she cries, her former complaint “What do I matter?” (TB chapter 41) still in mind. 

Robin’s accusation that Strike takes her for granted (TB chapters 41 and 43) has no longer any grounds in IBH either: Throughout the book, he’s worried she might be too bored by playing Drek’s game (IBH chapter 46), compliments her several times on her cooking (IBH chapter 75), on her work, and it doesn’t even seem to take him much trouble (“‘just thinking, you’re good at this detective shit’”, chapter 38).

Finally, after Robin’s angry demand “‘don’t […] buy me any more fucking flowers!’” (TB chapter 41), he arranges a thoughtful and beautiful birthday gift with the perfume and the drinks at the Ritz (TB chapter 73, IBH chapter 1). On her move, he anxiously tells her of his worry about the philodendron, which she answers with a laugh: “‘No. A plant isn’t flowers‘“ (IBH chapter 60). And he does all this not in order to get something in return (like the sex he gets from Madeline), but because he wants to make Robin happy.

So in terms of their friendship, there has been a lot of redemption. Robin’s tears when seeing the new name on the agency door (“’I am pleased – but why did you have to spring it on me?’”) and her squeezing Strike’s hand (“She didn’t dare hug him in case she hurt him”), seems to confirm this, as well as her indulgence with Strike lying to Lucy because “the resolutions to stop smoking, lose weight and exercise were enough personal improvement to be getting on with” (IBH chapter 107).

As for the women he hurt or “pissed off” (IBH chapter 32), Strike seems to me to atone as well: As I have pointed out (see above), Robin’s “date” with Pez Pierce mirrors Strike using Nina and Coco (see “Tannhäuser in The Ink Black Heart, Act 1”). So to me, Strike’s sleepless night of jealousy over the recording is like a kind of punishment for his treatment of both women. The kick in his stump and the fall he suffers after his interview with Yasmin (see above), remind me of Strike’s fall in LW (chapter 22), where he calls Lorelei for help even though he knows this means trouble (see “Tannhäuser in The Ink Black Heart, Act 1”), which leads to her unrequited declaration of love (LW chapter 24). The second connection between these two incidents, the two women’s identical Veronica Lake hairstyles (LW chapter 7; IBH chapter 55), makes me think of Strike’s fall in IBH as a punishment for his actions after his fall in LW. And in the same logic, Strike being spattered in blood after the bird attack (IBH chapter 48), could be a punishment for Elin being spattered in red wine after Strike learning about Robin’s visit at Alyssa’s and Brockbank’s (COE chapter 55). 

Aronstab Björn S…, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

I found some other things on redemption, but the first one only counts if you translate it into German: I was wondering about the philodendron that Strike gives Robin for her new flat and Robin waters with such dedication. Apart from the undeniably symbolic heart-shaped leaves, this plant, (like the monstera deliciosa in North Grove, incidentally), belongs to the family of Araceae, which in German is called “Aronstabgewächse”. Aronstab, English: Arum, which means “Aaron’s rod”, is so called because of its similarity with the walking stick of Moses’s brother Aaron. 

This stick miraculously sprouted overnight by which God showed that he chose Moses and Aaron’s tribe for priesthood. And, of course, it reminds me of the pope’s blooming staff symbolising Tannhäuser’s redemption. If at some point in a future book, Robin’s philodendron begins to develop flowers, I will know that not only Strike and Robin are finally getting together, but also that JKR knows German very well, and/or knows a lot more about plants than can be found on Wikipedia. Or the plant might be a sign that redemption has already been granted.

The Ink Black Heart cartoon is also in a way a story of redemption. According to Josh and Edie, Harty “knows he’s bad but he’s trying to be good.” and “he isn’t really bad, though. Or he wouldn’t be trying to be good” (IBH chapter 15). In the video of Josh and Edie’s first interview, Edie explains how she got the idea for Harty, having been “told a story of somebody swapping their heart with a stone” (IBH chapter 14).

Heart of Stone, Peter and the Glass Man, by Carl Offterdinger

This is most probably the fairy-tale “Heart of Stone” by Wilhelm Hauff (1802-1827, German poet of the romantic era). It is about (among other things) – redemption. In this story, which is very well known in Germany, Peter Munk (Peter Marmot in the English version) exchanges his heart with a stone in order to get riches and status from the Holländermichel (Dutch-Mike), an evil spirit of the forest (or the devil). 

Now he has all the money he wished for, but he can feel neither joy nor pain nor compassion. Consequently, he lets his mother live in poverty and strikes his wife Lisbeth dead when she gives a little old man food and drink. The little man turns out to be the Glass man (glass imp), a benign forest spirit who earlier has denied Peter the last of three wishes because his first two were foolish. For the sake of Lisbeth and her kindness, the Glass man gives Peter eight days to repent his sin and threatens to crush him down otherwise. 

As Peter has no heart, he is unable to repent for himself but, like Tannhäuser – and Strike – he is saved by a woman: In the fairy tale, which, literally translated, is called “The Cold Heart”, the ghost of Peter’s wife keeps telling him: “Peter, get yourself a warmer heart.” Only this induces Peter to ask the Glass man to help him get his heart back as a reasonable third wish. The Glass man grants it and also brings Lisbeth back to life, which is quite some redemption for Peter, who then comes to be a kinder and wiser man.

Peter in the hand of the Holländermichel, by Bertall

“Heart of Stone” is part of a frame-story called “The Spessart-Inn” (The Spessart is a low mountain range in Germany). This could explain Madeline’s computer-password “spessartite19” (apart from spessartite being a gemstone), and maybe even Madeline’s profession. Her heart might not be entirely of stone, but there is a definite lack of empathy in her behaviour (see “Tannhäuser in The Ink Black Heart, Act 1).

Strike’s heart could also be meant by this reference in that he himself wonders several times “whether Charlotte had not stunted his ability to feel deeply” (TB chapter 22).

In psychoanalysis, the Holländermichel is seen as the “wrong father” Peter goes to, which leads him to make the wrong decisions. Whereas the Glass man stands for Peter’s conscience or the (Jungian) positive archetype of the father, which makes me think of Strike’s negative and positive father figures, Rokeby and Ted: he sees Ted as his true father but, against his will, is greatly influenced by Rokeby.


Another Tannhäuser

Without appearing directly, Jonny Rokeby has been very present throughout IBH. The images of Leda and the swan, him being the thing that connects Strike with Prudence, and Madeline’s constant comparisons between father and son suggest that his influence on Strike’s self-destructive habits are probably as big as Leda’s. As I have identified Leda with Venus before (see “Tannhäuser in The Ink Black Heart, Act 1”), and he has wrecked a marriage by their affair, it’s only logical to imagine him as another Tannhäuser. This gives additional meaning to both their presence, as Leda and the swan, in the Ritz and Annabel’s chapters. And Strike’s lie to Midge “‘Met an old friend of my mother’s’” (IBH chapter 3) could actually be the truth in that he met his mother’s fellow Venus, Madeline.

At the end of his life, according to his wife Cosima, Wagner said  “I still owe the world a Tannhäuser.” In fact, he constantly revised the opera and left 3 different versions of it.

The Historical Tannhäuser By Master of the Codex Manesse / Darth Vader at Comic Con Pikawil from Laval, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0 

Which might be the reason why, apart from Rokeby and Strike, whose impersonation of the former Jedi Knight Darth Vader at Comic Con is not dissimilar to the medieval knight of the opera, I can detect a third Tannhäuser in IBH: Nils de Jong, who even has a sword (IBH chapter 66), and whose life-partner is called Mariam, which is another form of the name Mary and a possible hint at the Virgin Mary. According to Josh, Nils also sleeps with a woman called Freyja (IBH chapter 63), who is a Germanic version of Venus. There is even a green pope’s staff in the form of the gigantic monstera deliciosa (see above) in North Grove. This might either mean that Nils has achieved redemption from something very big or that he still needs a lot of it.

Jonny Rokeby, the promiscuous singer, is perfect for the part of Tannhäuser, although I don’t know if he’s a tenor or if he plays the guitar to match Tannhäuser’s harp. But once I saw the similarities, I came to believe that JKR might have created the character already with Tannhäuser in mind. His redemption will be Strike’s forgiveness and if my theory is correct, he will also achieve it with the help of a woman, as this is a recurring theme in Wagner’s work. This could of course be Prudence, who has already talked about forgiveness for Rokeby, and who is very likely to suggest therapy to Strike. But perhaps Strike will also remember the prophetic words of his aunt Joan from TB (chapter 31): ”‘I think your father’s at the heart of … of a lot of things’”.



I have wondered why in IBH, there is a coda instead of an epilogue, as I have not found one in Tannhäuser. The function of the coda is usually explained in connection with a sonata: two opposing musical themes (thesis and antithesis) are introduced and developed, then brought to a conclusion in the coda. According to Wikipedia, the musicologist 

“Charles Burkhart suggests that the reason codas are common, even necessary, is that, in the climax of the main body of a piece, a ‘particularly effortful passage’, often an expanded phrase, is often created by ‘working an idea through to its structural conclusions’ and that, after all this momentum is created, a coda is required to ‘look back’ on the main body, allow listeners to ‘take it all in’, and ‘create a sense of balance.’” 

As there is so much music in this book, I try to apply this theory to IBH: In the Ritz chapter (thesis), Robin and Strike mainly talk about 5 subjects, that come up again, reversed, in the Annabel’s chapter (antithesis): Current cases, family, women in Strike’s life, men in Robin’s life and the agency (see “Tannhäuser in The Ink Black Heart, Act 1”).

All these subjects have been “worked through”: several cases have been closed, two of which having greatly challenged Strike’s health and given Robin the opportunity to take charge more; Strike has been texting back and forth with Prudence, coming to like her in the process; there has been drama with Strike’s women, leading to separation from Madeline and, more importantly, disentanglement from Charlotte; Robin has been courted by Hugh Jacks, Pez Pierce and Ryan Murphy, which helped her trust more in her flirting abilities; and through her initiative Jago Ross is no longer a threat to the agency nor, hopefully, to his older kids.

There has been a “particularly effortful passage” with Strike and Robin’s row about him not looking after himself, followed by the show-down with Gus (IBH chapters 100 and 106), during both of which Strike has been forced to accept his limits and Robin gained yet more confidence in herself. All of these themes are looked back on and find their conclusion in the coda.

When Robin visits Strike at the hospital, they discuss the solved Anomie case (and Robin laughs about Gus wanting to rape a live woman), they talk of Prudence finally coming to see Strike (after missing each other for the whole book), Strike asks Robin to bin Madeline’s card as a symbolic way to tell her about the break-up (Charlotte not even being mentioned), Strike has given up smoking and shows Robin their joint names on the agency’s door as a sign for them being equal partners. Finally, Robin tells him about her date with Ryan Murphy, which, although hurting Strike, opens his eyes about his feelings for Robin; it helps Robin to feel more sure of herself, and, in reversing Strike’s and Robin’s roles, creates “a sense of balance”.

Scherl: Von den Bayreuther Festspielen 1930. Tannhäuser Schlusszene.

Although many readers desperately wanted Strike and Robin to get together in IBH, in a way, this outcome is as inevitable as the opera’s. In both cases you could say that it was just bad timing. If Tannhäuser had come back from Rome earlier, if Strike had talked to Robin about the Ritz, if Strike had told her right away that he left Madeline… But none of this would have helped. 

Only on Tannhäuser’s return from Venus does Elisabeth become aware of her feelings for him, and only her death (and his own) brings Tannhäuser redemption. Just as only the painful knowledge of Madeline and Ryan Murphy makes Robin and Strike aware of their feelings for each other, which is redemption in itself.

— Curtain —

End of Act 3

End of the opera

I hope you enjoyed my analysis and welcome any thoughts about it!


5 thoughts on “Tannhäuser in The Ink Black Heart – Act 3

  1. Wow. I have to tell you IBH was not my favourite in the series, but this coupled with a re read has made me see it a new light. Half of these I didn’t even realise, probably because I was reading it in such a state of anxiety and stress! The reason why they didn’t get together makes a lot more sense now. Even though I still reserve the right to shake my fist at the Ritz scene and Ryan Murphy. This was a great analysis.

    1. Hi Lucy, I’m so glad my analysis changed the way you see the book! Actually, IBH was my instant favourite because I agree with Ilsa that Robin’s rejection in the Ritz chapter was good for Strike. I was always annoyed by the way Robin felt inferior to the women in his life while he and even his friends never once seemed to doubt her attraction to him: it was all about him making up his mind. Even if, on his side, this was because he thought he was good at reading people, as we now know.

  2. I loved your analysis! Hope you can come back another time for more insights into this great series. Thank you!

    1. That’s so kind! Well, I’ve tasted blood now, so it’s very likely I will come back. It’s great discussing these books with people who love them as much as I do.

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