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Running Grave, Part Nine: A Ring Reading (A)
The Final Interior Ring of Strike7 and Its Meaning In The Middle
What a great finish! Let’s jump right into the Running Grave Part Nine ring reading with a breakdown of how the final Part works as a ring. Tomorrow I’ll do a deep dive into the last Part’s connections with Parts One and Five in the whole-novel ring and then I’ll close this series with my first thoughts at the end of this marathon structural analysis of Rowling-Galbraith’s latest effort. To show my hand in advance, I’m pretty sure the author’s ring writing in the Parts as well as the book as a whole explains in large part the chief criticism of the more recent Strike novels made by newspaper reviewers and Amazon readers alike.
Today, though, we have to close out the study of Running Grave’s nine Parts with an examination of how its 12 chapters work together as a ring with its requisite latch, turn, turtleback lines, and the meaning in the middle, that mother-of-pearl fish pendant, believe it or not.
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Part Nine: The Ring
With twelve chapters, the final Part of Running Grave does not have a ‘natural center,’ a chapter with the same number of chapters before it as after. A first glance at the hand-written chart, too, doesn’t reveal how the ring works; it seems to have two unequal halves: the first four chapters in which Strike and Company lay their traps for Abigail and Becca and the last eight chapters in which Robin and Cormoran spring them on their respective targets in an antiphonal coordinated blitz.
What I’m calling the last eight chapters’ “antiphonal” quality is that the action shifts back and forth between Robin at the Rupert Court Temple in London and Strike at the firehouse with Abigail Glover. My first thought in seeing this finale layout and its relation to the first four ‘set-up’ chapters was that Rowling had forsaken the ring structure for the much more dramatic effect of this tennis-match back-and-forth scene-shifting.
Maybe she did! I’ll leave that for you to judge. The evidence that she continued to write the book’s Parts as rings is in, as always, Part Nine’s latch, turn, and turtle-back lines.
The Latch: Chapters 122-123 and 133 The opening pair of chapters follow Strike’s epiphany at the end of Part Eight about whodunnit and how they did it. His focus is gathering the necessary proofs and evidence for his thesis to make sure the police will have no choice other than to make the arrests and shut down the Universal Humanitarian Church. Every member of the Agency is dispatched — to Norfolk, the Glover roommate, to the UHC operation in Birmingham, to Chapman Farm — in chapter 122 and Robin prepares Will and Flora for a presentation to those Met officers friendly to Strike and Ellacott in chapter 123. The eyewitnesses testify to UHC crimes at Chapman Farm, Robin confirms their testimony, and Ekwensi and Wardle are convinced; the Metropolitan Police are engaged and ready to take action.
There’s a backdrop to these chapters, too, of ill feeling with respect to Ryan Murphy. Strike calls him a “prick,” if only in his thoughts, at the end of 122, Wardle is clearly unhappy and uncomfortable with Murphy’s presence at the meeting in the Flying Horse, and Robin shuts down his accusation that the Agency is using the Press as a threat to get the Met to act.
All this latches with chapter 133, the closing confrontation Strike has with Abigail Glover, in which he finally drops his feints and misdirection to lay out how she murdered Daiyu Graves and indirectly created the fiction of the Drowned Prophet. All the set-ups of the first chapter pay-off in the finale — and it is a disgruntled Murphy who appears to make the arrest. Strike warns Glover in Part Nine’s last lines that she is about to be arrested by “Detective Inspector Ryan Murphy of the Metropolitan Police. I wouldn’t make too much trouble when he arrests you. He was supposed to be having dinner with his girlfriend tonight, so he’ll be in a bad mood already” (p 924).
The Turn: Chapter 128 The turn of the Part One ring in Running Grave is Robin’s first entry into the Rupert Court Temple, an entrance she makes in her blue-haired, upscale Rowena disguise (chapter 10). The turn of the Part Nine ring, in correspondence, is the two page chapter 128 which, discounting the three chapters of the latch, has four chapters before and after it. In it, Robin enters the Rupert Court Temple surreptitiously with her skeleton key set, not in disguise as such, but in secret and to lay in wait for Becca Pirbright.
The brevity of the chapter makes it relatively easy to see how it works as the turn. Robin enters the Temple, which is relatively dark, reflects on the Temple’s dome iconography, the UHC circle equivalent of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, of the Five Prophets, and hears a baby crying. She breaks off her study of the Drowned Prophet when she is startled by that noise, which cry moves her to find a hidden door in “a gold temple wall,” behind which are stairs that she climbs to locate and presumably succor the child. She hadn’t noticed this door on her previous trips to the Temple because she had been “distracted… by the images of Gods, and of the church’s charitable work, shown” on the now dark “gigantic cinema screen” (p 894).
Brief as it is, this is a summary of the whole book or at least the UHC plot. The iconography, especially that of the Drowned Prophet, is a great lie rather than an opening to spiritual reality, as are the screened images that dominate services in the Temple and the public-face of charitable efforts qua ‘Humanitarians.’ There is a hidden door in the “gold Temple wall,” however, behind which lies the suffering child, the reality of the UHC and its trafficking in children and cult mind control of the idealistic believers deceived by the Cave wall “images of Gods, and of the church’s charitable works.” Robin opens this door to rescue the child and bring down the cult and its leaders.
The link between this turn and the latch, the axis of the Part Nine ring, is that it is an allegorical representation of what the Agency partners and contractors are doing in the opening, i.e., gathering evidence to expose the cult, especially with respect to their abuse of children, and what they accomplish at the close, the arrest of the woman responsible for murdering the child who was mythologized as the Drowned Prophet. The lies are revealed in the alchemical finale as the good guys pass through the hidden “gold door.”
The Meaning in the Middle of Part Nine: The Mother of Pearl Fish Pendant
I am more than half-obliged at this point to discuss the meaning-in-the-middle, what this iconographic moment means not only for an understanding of Running Grave but Rowling’s work as a whole. This brief chapter highlights in its brevity what moves Robin Ellacott to action, namely, a mother’s love for her child even any child. Robin hears a baby crying and only then does she look for and find the hidden, golden door, a door which when opened reveals the means to discovering the reality behind and above the surface story, the public narrative of the UHC cult.
Mother’s love as a cipher for and symbol of the love of Christ — life-giving, selfless, sacrificial, and unconditional —is to be found in everything Rowling has written, from Lily Potter, Narcissa Malfoy, and Krystall Weedon to Leda Strike, Mum in Christmas Pig, and, yes, the not-sure-she-even-wants-a-baby Robin Ellacott. As I wrote in a post about the Blue Bunny in Christmas Pig:
The principal discovery or revelation in Christmas Pig for this reader, something akin in my mind to literary alchemy, ring composition, and psychomachia in importance with respect to grasping the artistry and meaning of Rowling’s work, is her use of maternal love as a symbol of our metaphysical origin in God’s Love, the Logos, our hope of victory over death. This selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, typical of that between mother and child, is tied in Rowling’s work, from Philosopher’s Stone to Christmas Pig, with symbols of Christ and triumph over evil and over death. By “tied” I mean it generates these things, just as Jack’s thoughts of his Mum and reaching out to CP as the touchstone of that love create by iconological correspondence the Johannine light breaking through the finding hole in Bother-Its-Gone that saves the boy and his toy from certain death.
The Boy Who Lived, of course, is protected by his mother’s love and sacrificial death from Voldemort’s death curse in the Godric’s Hollow Potter home. Harry’s love for his parents moves him to pursue the Philosopher’s Stone in his first year at Hogwarts – and it is the maternal love that suffuses him so entirely that it burns Quirreldemort as he attempts to kill the boy before the Mirror of Erised which saves him again. His mother appears to him in the Goblet series pivot and in the Hallows finale in the Forbidden Forest walk to his own sacrificial death with similar effects with respect to Christian symbolism – the Stone, the Phoenix Song cage-generation, and the Via Dolorosa markers – and Harry’s rising from certain death or something like death against all odds.
Mum is not so much in visible evidence in the other four books that she is in the series axis of Stone, Goblet, and Hallows, but Harry’s taking the part of the Logos Heart in the soul triptych in those novels, his “saving people thing,” is the exteriorization of his mother’s love, of which love he is the living symbol. As Dumbledore insists over the boy’s objection, this is his unique power and one that the Dark Lord “knows not.”
Re-read the opening of the Hallows dialogue between Harry and the Dark Lord in the Great Hall as they circle each other in their duel to the death. Harry mentions his mother’s three appearances in Stone, Goblet, and Hallows and that it was his intentional doing “what my mother did” that protects everyone fighting Voldemort (738). Poor Tom Riddle, Jr., of course, who never knew a mother’s love, still doesn’t understand; he derides “Dumbledore’s favorite solution, love, which he claimed conquered death” which power “did not prevent me from stamping out your Mudblood mother like a cockroach, Potter” (739).
The “life and light” that “blazed” in the Great Hall after Harry’s victory, the Paschal sunrise at death’s symbolic and salvific death, is the “life and light” of the world, the Johannine Logos. “In [the Logos] was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:4-5). Maternal love, the purest correspondent, symbol, and vehicle of God’s love in human experience, in Rowling’s work is life-saving and death-destroying when a character identifies with it entirely, to the point of the “accidental” ego-self’s extinction.
In the middle of Part Nine, Robin discovers the truth about the UHC, especially with respect to its abuse of children, after hearing a baby’s cry. She told Emily in their Part Five Norfolk encounter “There is truth,” period, full stop.
‘“A single event, a thousand different recollections. Only the Blessed Divinity knows the truth,”’ said Emily, quoting from The Answer.
‘But there is truth,’ said Robin firmly. ‘It’s not all opinions or memories. There is truth.’
Emily looked at Robin with what seemed to be frightened fascination. (p 508)
In the Temple, Robin is inspired to find the real truth beyond “opinions and memories,” the subjective things “in my head” Harry discusses with Dumbledore at King’s Cross, when her maternal love is triggered.
If you doubt the Logos-Christ connection here, skip to chapter 132, the finale confrontation with Becca and Anti-mother Mama Mazu upstairs at the Temple:
The door banged open as Mazu raised her hands to her bleeding nose.
‘Jesus Christ!’ shouted Midge.
Panting, Robin scrambled off Mazu, holding the rifle. Only now did she realise she was holding part of the black cord of Mazu’s pendant in her hand. The mother-of-pearl fish lay broken on the floor. (pp 907-908)
The invocation of the Lord has become almost a commonplace in the Strike novels, with the ‘Jesus’ count now at 42, ‘Christ’ at 50, and the full ‘Jesus Christ’ at 25, with 7 in Running Grave alone. Almost always it is used as an expletive; see Strike’s prayer-shout during the chase scene in chapter 118 for a good example of that. Jonathan Wace likes to drop the name, too.
But in this scene, Midge’s invocation is more than just her shock in seeing Robin busting Mazu’s nose repeatedly with a rifle butt (definite Cuckoo’s Calling finale-flashback here). Unlike all the other mentions of Christ in Strike7, this one comes in a to-the-death fight between women, think Molly-Bellatrix in Hallows or better, given the fight over a gun, the archetypes of opposing feminine roles, and the protection of a beloved child not her own, Miss Pross and Madame Defarge in Tale of Two Cities.
And, at least as important, there is a symbol of Christ, the mother-of-pearl fish pendant that is a relic of the Drowned Prophet. In Part Four, chapter 69, when this pendant is supposedly lost, Jonathan Wace tells the community to inspire them to search for it:
‘My friends,’ said Wace, with a sad smile, ‘my beloved wife has suffered a loss. Some of you may have noticed, she wears a special pendant – a mother-of-pearl fish. It once belonged to Daiyu, the Drowned Prophet. The fish was found in Daiyu’s bed on the morning of her ascension.’
Mazu is rarely mentioned without this token of her child Daiyu and of her grief as a mother and faith in her daughter’s divinity. (We’ll have to explore in the future whether this “found in Daiyu’s bed” pendant story is pure fiction or meaning-laden; who would have left it there? Abigail after the butchering?) My favorite? The Stolen Prophet Manifestation:
Robin now stopped writing. She hadn’t had time to fully process what had happened in the temple and with her fingers numb with cold she doubted she could convey to Strike just how frightening the Manifestation had been: the pitch darkness pierced by two spotlights, one trained on Mazu, in her blood red robes, the mother-of-pearl fish gleaming on its cord around her neck, the other on that towering straw figure. Mazu had commanded the straw figure to give proof that the Stolen Prophet lived on in the spirit world, and a hoarse shout had issued from the figure, echoing around the temple walls: ‘Let me stay in the temple! Don’t let them take me, don’t let them hurt me again!’ (p 458)
Robin’s winning of this self-defining pendant in her final battle with this “fairy-tale witch” who haunts her thinking even after her escape from Chapman Farm is no small thing. The key to its meaning is in the words “mother-of-pearl” and “fish.” The connection with Christ, beyond again a mother’s love, is in the pendant itself and the symbolic meaning of “mother,” “pearl,” and “fish.”
The fish has been a symbol of Christ since the Apostolic era, being a glyph of two intersecting circles representing heaven and earth, the seamless conjunction of which spheres is the incarnation of the Logos as Jesus of Nazareth, perfect God and perfect man. On the horizontal, this intersection is the Vesica Piscis “fish vessel” or Mandorla “almond” so important to Christian iconography and vertically it is the ICHTHYS, Greek for ‘fish,’ that was and remains a token of recognition between Christians (the Greek word is an acronym for ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior’).
Pearl is as laden as fish as a symbol and as linked with Christ, the Pearl of Great Price and Light of the World. From a post on the literary alchemy of the Hunger Games in which series this symbolism is key:
“Pearl,” like the swan, silver, and the moon, is a traditional alchemical symbol representing the white work or albedo of transformation (see Abraham’s Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, page 142). It is especially apt because a pearl’s beauty is in its whiteness, certainly, or purity, but mostly in its luminescence. When Peeta gives Katniss the pearl before the crisis of the Quell and after promising to die for her greater life, we have the gift of love and light that is only the Christ figure’s to give — and a sign of her eventual divinization if she can retain the purification she has experienced there.
And pearls are life-savers in Catching Fire. Madge brings the pain-killers that make treatment of Gale’s shredded back possible. Mags sacrifices herself into the mist in the arena so that the others won’t die trying to carry her. Both these characters’ names are derived from ‘Margaret,’ the Anglicization of the Greek word for Pearl. Gold is the solid light of material metals that is the universal symbol in traditional cultures of God’s Glory; the pearl is the solid light of the seas and is considered invaluable and beautiful for the same reason.
From an early Hunger Games post on its four layers of meaning:
A pearl, traditionally, has the meaning, too, of “genius in obscurity” because of this white light being created and hidden in the secret chamber of an oyster (see Cirlot’s A Dictionary of Symbols, page 251). Again we have the image of light shining forth out of darkness that we would expect at the close of the albedo in the alchemical work, but we also have a marker that there is a hidden light or “genius” in the story which pearl will be revealed in the story rubedo.
And we have the Pearl of Great Price parable from scripture, which unites these meanings in pointing to the Kingdom of Heaven:
Matt 13:44 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found, and hid. In his joy, he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.”
Matt 13:45,46 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who is a merchant seeking fine pearls, who having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”
These parables of hidden treasure and singular pearl of value are the teachings of Christ Who is this Kingdom of Heaven within you (Luke 17:21), the hidden light we all experience to varying degrees as conscience. Katniss’ spiritual transformation, even her theosis, is dependent on her “finding herself” and it is this “pearl of great price” she has been given by the Boy With Bread that is her “hidden treasure” and the pure light that will save her.
Rowling’s making Mazu’s pendant a fish made of mother-of-pearl, emphasis here on the mother, ties this together. Mazu and Becca used the pendant to try to frame Rowena at Chapman Farm by “hiding” it under her bed before announcing the search for it; this represents their use of authentic spiritual images, tropes, even scripture to advance their ego-centric (Egomotivity!) and demonic desires, the furthest thing from maternal love. That Robin wrests this from Mazu in the novel’s climax speaks to the world being made right and the anti-mother being stripped of her false claim to anything divine. This stripping is in conjunction with the rescue of the baby Mazu had taken from its true mother.
That finish to the UHC story-line in Running Grave is fore-shadowed in the chapter 128 turn in which Robin’s heart is her guide to the hidden door, a guide who is all but required to find the crying child.
How does this turn link up with the Big Reveal in the last chapter of Part Nine, the stunning revelation that Abigail Glover was the evil genius behind Daiyu’s death, the cover-up at Comer beach, the murder of Kevin Pirbright, and the suicide of Carrie Woods? Abigail grew up without her mother and with Mama Mazu, the “fairy tale” witch of a step-mother, one who abused her step-daughter and got away with it because of Jonathan Wace, the negligent “Popsicle” father (see Rowling on ‘Bad Dads’ — scroll down to  — and my thoughts with respect to Divine Moms and Bad Dads as the core theme of the Strike novels).
How many of the murderers in the seven Strike novels are either (a) men who were hated or neglected by their fathers and mothers or (b) women who were deprived of a mother’s love and father’s attention or their own ability to marry and have children? That would be exactly 100% of the murderers.
The meaning in the middle is that Robin follows the cry of the baby to find the “hidden door” to the wicked step-mother that created the psychopathology of Abigail Glover, the killer behind the murderer. Abigail’s decision to stage Daiyu’s death by drowning on the beach where her own mother died was her unconscious signaling of the second crime’s point of origin in her psychology.
On to the chapter parallels across the latch-turn story axis —
The Turtleback Lines:
Chapters 124 and 132 Strike tells Robin at the opening of 124 that Becca has been spotted at the Temple and 132 features Becca’s arrival in the Temple’s upper room and Robin’s revelation to her and Mazu that Daiyu didn’t drown so the Drowned Prophet myth is nothing more than a fantasy. The greater part of the first chapter in this parallel is Robin’s meeting at Wandsworth Prison (“Accio Explanation!”) with Isaac Mills, during which she convinces him to testify about what Cherie Gittins’ story of how she had fooled everyone with her straw doll trick at the beach. This is what gives Robin the confidence to blow up Becca’s and Mazu’s mythology of the Drowned Prophet in 132, not to mention her making her claim as the rightful owner of the mother-of-pearl fish discussed above.
Chapters 125 and 131 Chapter 125 opens with Strike confronting Robin at the Agency office door in a near panic about her safety; her phone had died as she left Wandsworth and he had been worried that she had been re-captured or killed by the UHC. The parallel with chapter 131 across the ring’s axis is that Strike’s conversation with Abigail Glover in that chapter turns on his theory that Daiyu survived and, during Becca’s three year absence from Chapman Farm, assumed her identity. Strike offers this bogus theory because he needs to delay Glover in the farmhouse until he hears from Barclay about what he’s found in her flat and from Robin or Midge that they have successfully confronted Becca. He is, in brief, anxiously waiting to hear about his partner’s safety in each chapter.
Chapters 126 and 130 These two Robin at the Temple chapters, checking in at one page and two pages respectively, the shortest chapters in the novel, have one decent connection. Robin notes the animals represented over the Temple exterior doors in the front chapter with the last words, “and, of course, the pig” (p 887). In the back chapter she discovers Mazu Wace consulting the I Ching with her yarrow stalks. The only I Ching reading we have been told about that Mama Mazu does is #29, the Abysmal, which features the pig. That passage from the oracle, “the image of the Abysmal,” is the epigraph for the next chapter with Robin and Mazu (p 905).
Chapters 127 and 129 The two chapters bracketing the story turn are Strike’s meeting with Abigail Glover in the firehouse. Both are delaying actions in which Strike talks to her about the UHC center in Birmingham, her time there, and her memories of Becca. She is about to leave, endangering both Barclay and Ellacott, so he plays the Polaroid card and Drowning Prophet disappeared-not-died gambit and convinces her to stay and learn more of what he knows. He discusses Birmingham in each, but the point is to keep her talking and in-place.
Part Nine, as noted, can be read as a simple ‘set-up’ of four chapters with the ‘pay-off’ being the last eight see-saw Robin-then-Strike-then Robin, etc. chapters. It is that — but Part Nine also conforms to ring composition formula in having a latch of beginning and end chapters, a turn that echoes the beginning and foreshadows the finish, and chapters in “reverse echo” parallel across the ring’s axis. Rowling once again has written an individual Part of the novel, a set of chapters, as a ring.
I am out of space, according to Substack, for a single post to be sent out as an email. Tomorrow I’ll follow up on this analysis of Part Nine as a ring with a discussion of how it works as part of the novel ring: its connection with Part One as a latch, how Part Five foreshadowed the action of Part Nine, the several reasons to think of the Epilogue as an addendum to Part Nine because of its connections with the first and central Part, and my first conclusions from this prolonged structural analysis of Running Grave. Do the meanings-in-the-middle of each Part look different after finding out whodunnit?
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the internal ring of Part Nine above!
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