We’re so thrilled to be able to share with you this two-part series of guest posts written by Dr. Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter. Dr. Groves teaches Shakespeare and Renaissance English Literature at Oxford University, and her blog Bathilda’s Notebook can be found over on Mugglenet. In this first part, Dr. Groves explores the connections between The Ink Black Heart and Milton’s Paradise Lost, as well as the parallels between Anomie and The Silkworm’s Elizabeth Tassel. We hope you enjoy!

In The Ink Black Heart we see the author – someone who sits at the heart of one of the largest fandoms in the world – enjoying imagining herself into the role of being on the other side for once. In the Wally Cardew YouTube video the (accurately placed) italics of a legal document cleverly express the disdain of the speaker:

‘intellectual property of Edie Ledwell and Joshua Blay, ‘ereinafter called the

‘Fuckin’ bullshit, man,’ said MJ, shaking his head. (p.111)

The fandom of ‘Ink Black Heart’ is outraged at Edie Ledwell and Joshua Blay being called ‘the creators’ and demanding creative control over what they have created. At the surface level Ink Black Heart deals with very modern tussles between fandoms and writers over creative ownership. At a deeper level it reflects on the concept of the ‘death of the author’ (famously trumpeted by Roland Barthes in 1967) by literalising it – but at its dark heart there seems to be something more theological going on. The hatred so many of the characters expend on Edie Ledwell for creating something they love reflects a reflex of ingratitude towards the creator, a refusal to acknowledge the innate human condition of being beholden to others.

Watching Time Bandits the other day (if you don’t know it, I thoroughly recommend – Sean Connery as Agamemnon is not to be missed!) I was reminded of how the idea of the Devil as sensitive of the idea that he might be a ‘creature’ (something created) rather than an Ultimate Being has permeated popular culture.

This idea (like so many theological ideas) can be traced back to Augustine, but one of its most well-known expressions is in Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. In this poem Satan defiantly declares that he is ‘self-begot’:

Remember’st thou
Thy making, while the maker gave thee being?
We know no time when we were not as now;
Know none before us, self-begot, self-raised
By our own quickening power, when fatal course
Had circled his full orb, the birth mature
Of this our native heaven, ethereal sons.
Our puissance is our own. (Book 5.857-64)

Anomie, like Milton’s Satan, has a certain charisma; but like him also he is fundamentally confused about being ‘self-begot, self-raised’ and The Ink Black Heart as a whole ruminates on some fairly Miltonic ideas about creation going wrong when it wanders too far from its creator. As Anomie pulls away from accepting the creativity of others, he grows increasingly monomaniacal: repudiating Edie, never fairly acknowledging Morehouse as co-creator of ‘Drek’s Game,’ and then murdering them both, along with his literal progenitor, by the end of the novel.

Anomie as both a character and an attribute is at the centre of The Ink Black Heart which Rowling calls ‘a novel about disconnection’ (discussed here). The animation of Anomie in ‘Drek’s Game’ as nothingness – an empty cloak – is a brilliantly Satanic touch, related to Augustine’s idea about evil as uncreated: an absence, not a presence. As I wrote in Literary Allusion in Harry Potter – discussing the influence of Paradise Lost on the presentation of evil in Harry Potter:

Augustine of Hippo, one of the most influential Christian thinkers, has argued that evil has no positive existence; that it is, rather, an absence of good: ‘what, after all, is anything we call evil except the privation of good?’ Rowling has commented that, for her, likewise ‘“evil” is something that exists in the negative – it’s the absence of the empathy and moral code that enables acts of kindness and love.’ This comment suggests that Rowling has been influenced by Augustine’s famous formulation of evil as something that ‘has no being’; it is ‘something that exists in the negative.’

I think Rowling’s attitude to evil as ‘something that exists in the negative’ has continued into The Ink Black Heart – a photo-negative novel of how this idea plays out in Harry Potter. Gus recognises this aspect of non-being in himself and actually calls Anomie ‘a void-like creature into which all unsatisfactory characters disappear’ (p.604). Strike has the revelation late in the book that Drek is Death. The unspoken corollary of this is that Anomie is Satan.

Paradise Lost is a submerged influence in a novel that – in its numerous epigraphs –wears a number of its literary sources in plain sight. In a question, posted by Nick Jeffrey and written by John Granger, during last October’s Twitter Q&A Rowling acknowledged that these literary allusions go deeper than might at first appear:

Marian Erle – the character in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s long blank verse poem Aurora Leigh (1856) on whom Rowling based Zoe Haigh – has read Milton’s epic. She learns to read from half-torn volumes given to her by pedlars and among the pages of Shakespeare, Bunyan, Thomson and Burns she learns of ‘Edens Lost’ (3.981) – Barrett Browning’s way of telling us that Marian has read Paradise Lost. And perhaps it is the poem, as much as the biblical Eden, that comes to Marian’s mind when she realises that she is shut out from the world to which she wishes to belong.

By slow degrees it broke on her slow sense…
That she too in that Eden of delight
Was out of place, and, like the silly kid,
Still did most mischief where she meant most love.
A thought enough to make a woman mad. (Aurora Leigh, Book 6 ll.942-46)

This is from a passage in which Marian Erle comes to the realisation that the man she is devoted to and engaged to marry – Romney Leigh – does not love her. It forms the epigraph to Chapter 33 of The Ink Black Heart (the crucial chapter in which we meet the murderer for the first time) and is that novel’s only use of the word ‘Eden.’ (For more on the importance of Aurora Leigh have a listen to the Strike and Ellacott Files special episode 12.5 ‘Ink Black Heart Epigraphs’ in which we discuss it in depth!)

The epigraphic use of ‘Eden’ here appears to reference the idyllic early life in North Grove and the creative love-affair between Edie and Josh, which Katya – like poor Marian Erle – is drawn to, but also feels excluded from. Katya goes to North Grove as an escape and finds a seemingly youthful simplicity there: ‘It was all… just rather fun. All their friends doing the voices… Tim’s a lovely man and… it was fun, that’s all’ (p.304). Katya’s devotion to Josh is clear in this chapter as are her husband’s insinuations that what she feels for Josh is not reciprocated: ‘If he feels sorry for anyone,’ said Inigo nastily, ‘it isn’t Kea Niven.’ (305). The Edenic space referenced by the epigraph – already irrevocably soured with sinning before the novel begins – is North Grove, with its temptingly vernal name, at the time when Edie and Josh are newly in love and enjoying their new creation of The Ink Black Heart, innocent of all that would follow.

It is only on a reread that it seems perhaps that there is a deeper meaning to the ‘Eden’ of this epigraph – the snake who hides in this chapter. In Milton’s poem Satan is jealous of God’s love for his new creation:

Of some new race, called Man, about this time
To be created like to us, though less
In power and excellence, but favoured more
Of him who rules above.

(Paradise Lost, 2.348-51)

Satan’s antagonism towards these ‘puny habitants’ (2.367) springs in part from embittered affection (what is God doing favouring someone more than me?). Gus is a fatal prey to jealousy likewise. Part of his warped incentive to murder Edie is his inability to cope with feeling as Marian Erle feels in this epigraph – a ‘silly kid’ rejected from the Eden of a relationship with her and her creative world, even if that relationship is a mere figment of his own imagination.

This Satanic aspect of Anomie – his jealous of the creativity and love of others – is the answer, I think, to Rowling’s slightly surprising answer to my question about the novel’s parallels with Silkworm which she gave during last October’s brilliant Q&A session (hosted by JKR’s Barmy Book Army). Nick Jeffrey very kindly posed her this question on my behalf:

Beyond the text-within-a-text parallel how do you see the links with Silkworm playing out in IBH? Were the choice of genre/time based epigraphs part of this?

Rowling replied:

It’s a reverse image of Silkworm in some ways. This time, the killer isn’t a creator, though we surmise they’d like to be.

I wrote this up at an earlier blog at Hogwart’s Professor (here) and it is a parallel that rests on John Granger’s early insights into the chiastic form of Harry Potter and the ways in which Strike appears to echo that. (How this plays out now that we know the series will have ten books remains to be seen, but up to this point the parallels, as discussed in the blog above, have been convincing – and, for any sceptics out there! – they have now been confirmed by Rowling herself in this tweet.)

But why does Rowling say: ‘this time, the killer isn’t a creator, though we surmise they’d like to be’? Gus is a brilliant artist and has drawn a beautifully rendered game creating, in ‘Drek’s Game,’ a deeply popular parody of ‘The Ink Black Heart.’ This would seem to justify him as a ‘creator’ far more than Liz Tassel (who has merely created a parody of Bombyx Mori out of a patchwork of Quine’s own novel and his previous works). The clue, I think, lies precisely in the word ‘parody.’

As Andrew Fichter has argued, in response to Augustine’s insight of evil as something that ‘has no being,’ in Milton – as in much Christian literature – evil ‘exists only as parody.’ 1 In Paradise Lost, for example, Satan’s incestuous relationship with Sin and Death is a parodic version of the Trinity. Liz Tassel’s first sin – the act which all her others are trying to cover up – is a brutal parody (which leads to Ellie Fancourt’s suicide). Parody forms the closest of parallels between the second and sixth Strike novels for in both there are two texts-within-the-text accompanied by a tussle over the authorship of these texts. The true author (Quine, Ledwell) is killed by the person who has also created a parasitic version of their text (Tassel, Anomie). In both cases the killer is the creator of the text-within-the-text which exists as a parody of the text of the author they destroy.

But a central difference between Tassel and Anomie lies in the motivation for this murder. Anomie – unlike Tassel, who is simply acting pragmatically to cover her tracks – is desperate to be considered ‘the’ creator. He wants to be a part of ‘The Ink Black Heart’ as a scriptwriter and for his creation (Anomie) to appear within it. He bombards Josh with DMs about it, DMs that speak to a narcissistic belief that he – not Edie or Josh – is the true creator of ‘The Ink Black Heart’s’ success.

The Ink Black Heart has no truck with fans who think they are the creator – Anomie’s fantasy leads to his descent into becoming a serial killer, but even Kea (who suffers from the same delusion without trying to act out the ‘death of the author’ in such painfully literal terms) is treated fairly mercilessly. Kea’s letter about her own sufferings written to Josh as he lies paralysed in hospital – someone she claims to love but whose unimaginable suffering she shields herself from attempting to imagine – drips with a self-pity which is difficult to read. Tassel and Anomie both create a parody of the original ‘text’ – an original which both, in their own way, admire (I like the detail of Tassel keeping the incriminating text of the original Bombyx Mori because she was enough of a literature-lover that, cold-hearted author-murderer that she was, she couldn’t destroy a text). But Anomie’s crime is bound up in his desire to be part of the original – he wants to write and star in ‘The Ink Black Heart’ itself, not just the spin-off game he has created. Anomie mistakes himself for the creator in a way that Tassel does not. As Gus writes to Josh, seemingly blind to the irony: ‘Your pretensions to being hero-creator are now utterly destroyed… There can be only one Ἀρχηγέτης’ (p.604). Strike explains this as relating ‘to the Archegetes heroes… Ancient Greeks who founded settlements or colonies’ (p.604). Archegetes means ‘leader’ or ‘founder’ – which in itself is self-aggrandising. But it is also interesting that this word derives not from heroes but from Apollo – ‘Archegetes’ is an epithet of Apollo, worshipped in his aspect of founder.

Gus’s view of himself as the creator god – the Apollo – of ‘The Ink Black Heart’ is perfectly in keeping with his narcissistic self-image. Gus, like the Satan of Milton and medieval mystery plays, covets the creator’s throne. His creation existing only as parody betrays the Satanic nature of his jealous self-delusion that he himself is the creator. Anomie ‘isn’t a creator, though we surmise they’d like to be’ in Rowling’s mind because she does not intend to give him that satisfaction.

1 A. Fichter, A. (1982) Poets Historical: Dynastic Epic in the Renaissance (New Haven: Yale University Press), p.59.


6 thoughts on “Paradise Lost and Recovering Eden in The Ink Black Heart | Part One: Satan

  1. Thank you for this, for linking that empty cloak to Augustine. It’s a powerful image, but I don’t have the background to know how absence and evil have been linked. It explains a lot.

    This entire discussion of creation is fascinating; the struggle of the creator to maintain control and also how the recipients of the creator’s vision, their own interpretations and wants, become the center by which the creation is judged. It’s quite a dance.

    Lastly, whether it is intended or not, the outward beauty of Drek’s Game and it’s inner rot, all of Anomie’s manipulations, remind me of Charlotte. Having her attention is very seductive, but if a person refuses to play by her rules, they’re banned. Cue Strike. I think he’s finally realized how empty she is and has finally left the game.

    1. Thank you so much, Karol, for this thoughtful comment – I am really glad you enjoyed my piece!

      And interesting re: Charlotte – I think the difference between inward and outward appearances is a strong theme in Strike (particularly Career of Evil), and I like that her metaphorical insistence on playing by her rules is codified in Anomie!

      I wrote up the idea about the importance of ‘the beast within’ to Strike a while back ( ) and I think IBH gives new resonance to some of these ideas!

      1. This is not on the on the topic of creator/creative, but I would love your take on my idea. TIBH was set in a cemetery, a very gothic setting. Do you think Rowling had other Gothic themes in mind? In the IBH cartoon, the idea of Dracula is dismissed by Edie as corny and the drawn character is “weak and weedy”. In Drek’s Game, Dracula is replaced by Anomie. So are the ideas that Dracula represented in Gothic literature and society, especially concerning women, being replaced by different questions about society? Or living side by side? Anomie’s view of women was certainly not enlightened and perhaps commentary concerning a woman’s place in society became outright misogyny in Anomie.

        Dracula might feel a bit “old news” in some sense, but have attitudes really changed, even in an enlightened Strike? Strike was blind-sided by Robin’s flirtatiousness and sexually-suggestive comments during her questioning of Pez. His reaction went beyond jealousy. And over the course of the books, in his mind, she’s a woman suited for marriage and motherhood. It reminded me of Mina in Dracula, how she embodied everything good in a wife and partner, but her sexual nature was not one of them. Robin has refused to be the damsel in distress, a common character in many Gothic stories, and worked hard to be an equal partner, like Mina. Is her sexuality the final frontier? And, as an aside, how did Leda’s style of motherhood and her promiscuity shape Strike’s attitude? Are these valid questions?

        1. Okay, I forgot. Strike tells Dave he doesn’t think Robin wants kids, because she is so focused on the job. Robin expresses her own doubts that she could both do her job and be a mother, because she wouldn’t want to leave her children to the care of others. So maybe the next frontier is Robin’s sexuality and the final frontier will address questions of motherhood.

  2. Thank you for these thoughts Karol! I too was intrigued by the vampire/Dracula reference in IBH and have written a few things about it – a blog at Bathilda’s Notebook
    and we dicussed it on this podcast too:
    I’ve also written an article about Dracula in Harry Potter in the forthcoming Potterversity Book
    – so as you can see this is a topic close to my heart!
    And I agree that IBH shows some nervousness about Robin’s sexuality (there is also that pull-back from the kiss at the beginning) – but I think we’re going to see her embracing it by having sex with someone she really loves (arguably something she’s never done before) later in the series, and I think the possibility of motherhood too.

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