Will Prudence in 'Running Grave' Suffer a Fate Similar to Charity's in 'Deathly Hallows'?
A Look Back at a Neglected Aspect of Psychomachian Allegory in Harry Potter
Nick Jeffery began our discussion this week of ‘Prudence’ in Cormoran Strike with an excellent critical survey of depression in the writing of J. K. Rowling, a review that closes with the suggestion that Strike may need some psychological guidance from his half-sister due to his several challenges of the moment. I pick up the ball today with a post about the psychomachian aspect of ‘Prudence’ and hope to write later in the week about the possibilities of Prudence as an allegorical marker of what the Strike series is all about. I’ll begin with a defense of sorts, an apologia if you will, for this focus.
I use the word ‘psychomachia’ a lot here at HogwartsProfessor. The reason is that I believe that Rowling’s most important work, by which I mean her Hogwarts novels, Strike mysteries, and Christmas Pig, are best understood as allegories of the soul’s journey to perfection in the Spirit. ‘Psychomachia,’ which literally means the ‘soul-battle,’ is an umbrella term for the various ways the soul’s faculties can be depicted on this journey, to include the Christo-Platonic soul triptych of body-mind-spirit of Ron-Hermione-and-Harry, the Shakespeare-Spenserian soul-Spirit of Cormoran-and-Robin, and the Toy Transference of Love in Jack Jones and his beanie-pigs.
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Rowling’s use of traditional alchemical symbolism and sequences are her subliminal artistry in depicting the transformations of the soul on its journey; her epic and mythological templates, from Orestes in Harry Potter and Theseus in Fantastic Beasts to Cupid and Psyche, Leda and the Swan with Castor and Pollux in Strike (and The Divine Comedy in Christmas Pig!) are all depictions of this psycho-spiritual transformative journey; and her ring composition structures, her signature story scaffolding, are the iconic representation in form of the noetic experience the reader is meant to have of his or her soul’s return to the ontological Origin or Center.
So ‘psychomachia’ is a big deal. If you ‘get it,’ you understand the nigh on invisible traditional artistry of Rowling’s writing as well as the popularity of her work. Per Eliade in The Sacred and the Profane, readers in a secular culture, in a world where the self-transcendent has been chased to the periphery of the public square, story serves a mythic or religious function; i.e., people read, watch movies, and obsess about movie stars and teevee programing the way we do today because it is the only sanctioned means for us to escape our ego-identities and experience greater-than-time-and-space archetypal Reality. Rowling is the best selling author of our time because her core beliefs are about the immortal soul, her education was focused on myth, her focus is on archetypal story telling, and she delivers the psychomachian allegories of the soul’s journey that readers in the 21st century most want to read (despite themselves!).
‘Psychomachia,’ however, is a term that only over time came to be used to describe ancient and early modern psycho-spiritual allegories. The word itself, as Faerie Queene scholar Hankins wrote in the ‘Psychomachia’ entry for The Spenser Encyclopedia, comes from the poem of that name by Prudentius (remember that name):
The ‘battle within the soul’ between personifications of the vices and virtues was a favorite subject of medieval allegory and a method used extensively by Spenser. It may be traced to Peter’s reference to ‘fleshlie lustes, which fight against the soule’ (I Pet 2.II). In the fourth century, the Christian poet Prudentius formalized these ‘lustes’ as specific vices in his Psychomachia, a poem which presents a series of battles between Fides and Cultura Veterum Deorum (Faith and worship of Old Gods), Pudicitia and Libido (Chastity and Lust), Patientia and Ira (Patience and Wrath), and so on. Each pair takes the field in turn, until the virtues finally overcome the Vices. After the battle, Discordia (also called Heresy) slyly attempts to wound Concordia. After the virtues tear Discord apart, they unite under the direction of concord to construct a magnificent jeweled temple in which Sapientia (Wisdom) is enthroned. The poem concludes with a recognition that the rebellious side of man’s nature, the flesh, can be controlled only with the aid of Christ. Elements of the Psychomachia, such as the battlefield descriptions, look back to Virgil’s Aeneid. Prudentius’ strongly Christian theme of soul warfare, however, lays a basis for a tradition of depicting allegorical conflict which descends through Martianus Capella and the scholastic epics of the twelfth-century Chartrians to renaissance poets such as Petrarch, Boccaccio, Landino, and Tasso. It was also kept alive in morality plays, in the battles of virtues and vice found, for instance, in The Castle of Perseverance.
Hankins goes on to say that the term ‘psychomachia’ eventually is used to describe the much older Platonic, Christian, and Hindu conceit of the soul triptych as it begins to show itself in Everyman dramas and like soteriological allegories of the soul. “As the tradition of the psychomachia developed, the conflict between vices and virtues was depicted as an internal struggle among the three faculties of the human soul: concupiscible, irascible, and rational.” From 2002’s Hidden Key to Harry Potter until the present, I have focused on this ‘faculties of the soul’ in conflict aspect of Rowling’s writing and only used the term ‘psychomachia’ for it consequent to my Spenser studies while reading Troubled Blood.
What I have neglected is Prudentius’ psychomachian allegory, which is to say, the battle or conflict between the vices and virtues per se rather than as reflected in the soul’s faculties or aspects. Four other Potter exegetes, however, have attempted to explain the seven book Hogwarts Saga as book-by-book trials of single combat adventures Harry experiences between specific virtuous and vicious qualities. No one to my knowledge has attempted to make these connections with the Cormoran Strike novels, which I will try to amend here, largely because of the overdue appearance of the character Prudence in Running Grave in parallel with Charity Burbage’s tragic cameo at the start of Deathly Hallows.
First, though, let’s review the four readings of Harry Potter through the Prudentius rather than the Platonic allegorical lens.
‘The Battle for the Soul:’ Lady Alchymia, 2005
The first was by a fan who wrote under the name of ‘Lady Alchymia’ at MuggleNet in 2005 (the current version reports misleadingly that it was “published” in 2013; a reading of the piece reveals that it was written before the release of Half-Blood Prince and never updated). It’s a shame that ‘The Battle for the Soul’ was not drawn through the finish of the series because the article serves as a fun introduction to Prudentius, if remarkably dismissive of the poet’s genius and merits, and its possible deployment in the first five Harry Potter novels. Here is the Lady’s explanation of the allegorical premises of the genre, for example:
So what’s [Prudentius’] poem about? “The Psychomachia” uses a bulldozer to ram home the message that for every sin (e.g., pride, envy, gluttony), there is a Christian cure (e.g., humility, kindness, abstinence). The seven vices and seven virtues are neatly paired off, but they also tend to gang up on each other as well. The battle is a metaphor for the turmoil within a person when they are sorely tempted to do the wrong thing – so in a sense, the poem is all about making the right choices in life in order to preserve the purity of your soul.
For Prudentius, victory occurs when, the battling spirit has overcome with great slaughter the monsters in the enslaved heart, which is a little melodramatic but you get the idea. The battle is won when you have conquered the darkness within yourself – when you have embraced virtue and goodness over vices and evil.
So what has all this got to do with Harry Potter?
Ah, well, if Jo was looking for a few ideas in orchestrating a seven-year plan for defeating evil then she might have drawn on a few ideas that originated with good old Prudentius.
But it’s not just the vice/virtue model that she might have used, she may have also drawn upon “The Psychomachia”‘s battle scenes representing warfare of the soul. In a broad sense, Harry is actually fighting two “battles for the soul.” One is the battle for his own soul, this is the personal battle that every person faces in trying to grow up to be a good person. The second is more unusual, in that in HP it is a literal battle between souls that have managed to get linked up together courtesy of Harry’s scar connection.
But it goes even further than that, with “soul battles” scattered all over the place. Each of the five HP books to date has had important battle scenes involving the “souls-on-the-rampage.”
Lady Alchymia then presents the first five books in light of their backdrop psychomachian battle of a specific virtue and vice.
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, greed is defeated by liberality (largesse). Harry saves the day by not wanting Flamel’s Stone for himself (even though he and Ron daydream about what they could do with it).
In Chamber of Secrets, Voldemort’s lust for Ginny’s soul is defeated by Harry’s chastity (chivalry). Voldemort is defeated by Harry’s fidelity to Ginny by the mechanism of his loyalty to Dumbledore (via Fawkes and Gryffindor’s sword).
In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry elects to show mercy to Pettigrew.
In Goblet of Fire, Harry demonstrates the virtue of abstinence in declining Cedric’s offer for him to take the Triwizard Cup alone. Harry thinks about it, he pictures himself striding out of the maze victorious and impressing Cho, but he ends up saying no and suggests instead that he and Cedric share the prize (come to think of it, that didn’t turn out very well, actually!).
In Order of the Phoenix, we see Harry’s pride defeated by humility when he realizes he led everyone into a trap at the Ministry. He learns that Hermione was right (if tactless) and that he had fallen into the vice of false pride when he couldn’t credit the idea that he could be wrong. The vice of pride is also well situated in Goblet, with Harry being all huffy and not coping at all well with Ron’s jealousy over him being selected as one of the Triwizard Champions.
So, according to Lady Alchymia, the first five books are depictions of the struggle between the virtues of liberality, chastity, mercy, abstinence, and humility and their opposite numbers, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, and pride respectively. The argument’s evidence is remarkably thin, unfortunately, if the Lady’s assertion sans discussion that Harry and Voldemort make contrary choices, the one choosing good, the other the evil option of the virtue-vice pair, deserves serious consideration if the Prudentius psychomachian model is the one in operation.
In addition to not including the last two books of the series and its insubstantial demonstration of links between the virtues and vices supposedly in play in each book, the chief fault of ‘The Battle for the Soul’ may be its misrepresentation of Prudentius’ allegory. The Lady reports that the battles are between these virtues and vices:
Liberality (largesse) cures Greed
Chastity (chivalry) cures Lust
Kindness (mercy) cures Envy
Abstinence cures Gluttony
Humility cures Pride
Diligence cures Sloth
Patience cures Wrath
A simple check of the Wikipedia entry for ‘Psychomachia’ reveals that Prudentius’ Christian allegory features different qualities in a different sequence:
We’ll have to come back to what these differences may mean in trying to trace dot-to-dot allegorical reference to Harry Potter book events.
‘The Peasant, the Tramp and Hepzibah Smith: A Horcrux Case Study,’ WaggaWaggaWerewolf, 2008
The next virtue and vice allegorical reading was another one I missed, this one published at TheLeakyCauldron (Scribbulus, vol. 22). It isn’t a Prudentian allegorical reading or a Platonic one, but it does focus on cardinal sins and their corresponding virtues, here in relationship with Harry Potter’s shadow or opposite number, the Dark Lord, and his Horcruxes. The author’s thesis in brief was this:
[W]hen Voldemort killed Harry's parents, his soul was so unstable that a Horcrux was produced accidentally. Although we aren't told the complete sequence of how to make a Horcrux, both Hermione and Slughorn mention the corrupting Horcrux spell, which could be used to deliberately direct a torn off piece of soul into a suitable container. Clearly all murderers tear their soul, like a rip in a gown. What irritant or extra pressure would force a piece of soul to tear off, like a scrap of cloth from a ragged garment?
I believe that this extra pressure is exerted when, in murdering his victim, Voldemort, having judged his victim guilty of a grievous sin ’ like one of the Seven Deadly Sins ’ then outdoes the victim in committing that sin, whether or not Voldemort is aware of what he is doing. Thus the significance of each of the seven victims he kills to make a Horcrux is a relationship with one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
The Seven Deadly Sins of lust, anger, greed, sloth, envy, pride and gluttony were first listed by Pope Gregory the Great. They are opposed by such virtues as chastity, patience, liberality, diligence, kindness, humility and abstinence. By examining the circumstances of the people killed for each Horcrux, what the artefacts represent, and where they are concealed, case-by-case, I will demonstrate why each significant death matches a deadly sin. Then I will show how the various people who successfully destroy each Horcrux fit into the pattern by overcoming that particular sin or because of their opposing virtues.
I include this cataloging of Horcruxes with their attendant sins and the corresponding virtue that destroys the soul-container in my list of Prudentian allegorical readings of Harry Potter because, stretch that it might seem, it highlights one essential point that no one denies; the idea of a soul as being one’s inner essence, something to safeguard and protect, a substance only madmen or psychopaths would divide or project onto earthly things, is central to the story. Harry Potter on one level simply does not make sense outside of the belief in an immortal soul; both Harry’s ‘pure heart’ and Voldemort’s Horcruxes, the weapons and shields in play in all their battles, are soul-conditions.
I’ll leave it to the reader to judge the value of WaggaWaggaWerewolf’s taxonomic exegesis of Horcruxes, sins, and virtues, classifications that seem arbitrary or forced at points and very compelling at others. What is relevant to my catalog of Prudentian readings is how this dot-to-dot interpretation rests on an allegorical vision of the septology based on the souls in conflict, virtues, and vices. The points made may be hits or misses but the idea, given the soul content of Horcruxes, makes sense. See Hilde Pols’ ‘What is the Crux of a Soul?’ also on Scribbulus for another seven point allegorical reading of Harry Potter.
‘The Cardinal and Theological Virtues in Harry Potter,’ Christina Semmens, 2010
My first encounter with a ‘virtue’ reading of Harry Potter came years after Lady Alchymia’s piece on MuggleNet, which I do not remember reading at the time (which is odd, given MNet’s dominance in Potter fandom at the time and how this allegorical reading would have been an excellent support for my ‘Harry is Everyman’ argument). I first heard a Potter Pundit discuss the Hogwarts Saga as an allegory of the virtues at the first LeakyCon in Boston, the nightmare 2010 trial run of what has become a successful fan convention business.
There I met Catholic apologist and catechist Christina Semmens, who, in addition to saving a talk I was scheduled to give in an airplane shaped room — a central aisle with three chairs on either side and about forty yards long (I kid you not) — that did not have audio (and for which the organizers had posted two different start times), gave a ‘Wow’ talk herself later in a different room on the soul’s journey as depicted in each of the seven virtues’ victories in one of the Harry Potter novels.
Unfortunately, Christina never wrote this presentation up for publication. She did summarize for me the argument she made in Boston in an email she wrote right after the conference:
The Harry Potter series stacks up very nicely when it comes to a discussion of the virtues within the seven volumes. And when you take into account that Harry's ENTIRE tale comprises a microcosm of the virtuous journey of life, the evidence becomes even more compelling for the virtues being present.
When you take a brief look at the virtues (four cardinal--temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice, and the three theological--faith, hope and love/charity), each of them is present within the series.
When I talk with people, I discuss that Harry's journey toward becoming a virtuous person (which results in his finally being ABLE to combat AND defeat the personification of evil--Voldemort), is a continuous one, each story/year results in his MASTERING a particular virtue. This is how I break down Harry's virtuous development in the seven books:
Philosopher’s Stone -- Temperance
Key moment--not constantly returning to the Mirror of Eristed and thus preparing himself for the confrontation with Voldemort where he does not want the stone for himself and thus gains it.
Chamber of Secrets -- Hope
Key moment -- retaining hope when all seems lost--resulting in Fawkes bringing Harry the Sorting Hat and the sword of Gryffindor with which he defeats the Basilisk.
Prisoner of Azkaban -- Justice
Key moment -- TRUE justice is not possible without mercy, so it is when Harry shows mercy to Peter Pettigrew and doesn't allow Sirius or Remus to kill him
Goblet of Fire -- Fortitude/Courage
Key moment -- when Harry decides to fight Voldemort although he believes he has no chance to defeat him; to die fighting rather than cowering in the face of evil.
Order of the Phoenix -- Prudence
Key moment -- Harry's realization that his imprudent choices and decisions (not practicing Occlumency, his rushing to the Ministry to save Sirius) had put people in danger and resulted in Sirius' death.
Half-Blood Prince -- Faith
Key moment(s) -- Harry choosing to continue with Dumbledore's plan despite his not understanding it, AND his faith in his friends exemplified in his acceptance of Hermione's and Ron's help to do so.
Deathly Hallows -- Love/charity
Key moment -- Harry's decision to face Voldemort and allow himself to be killed in order to save those he loves.
As for the vices, I haven't sat down and tried to match the virtues with specific vices "defeated" in each book, BUT the vices are MOST definitely present with the Harry Potter world. Jo Rowling has them appear as their current postmodern manifestations, though, so you have the following vices addressed throughout the series:
Sloth--Sense of Entitlement
We’re a long way from Prudentius’ Psychomachia, obviously, because this allegorical reading involves the Roman Catholic church’s cardinal and theological virtues rather than the Roman poet’s catalogue of virtue and vice antagonists. Justice and Fortitude-Courage did not make the original list. Still, there is a lot of overlap, and, even without a stirring Vice antagonist in each novel, Semmens’ reading, as limited as this representation of her argument is, includes a ‘Key Moment’ in each book where the reader does not have to strain to see the alieniloquium, the archetypal quality represented in each story.
‘Harry Potter and the Battle for the Soul: The Revival of the Psychomachia in Secular Fiction,’ Rita Singer, 2011
The third and by far the best argument for Rowling’s use of Prudentius’ allegory in her Harry Potter series is an essay by Rita Singer of Aberystwyth University that was published in 2011’s collection, Heroism in the Harry Potter Series (Studies in Childhood 1700 to the Present), edited by Katrin Berndt and Lena Steveker. I bought a copy of the book, ten years overdue, last month and it is something of a hidden treasure. You can read Singer’s essay without forking out for the academic publishing house’s edition by clicking on this link to the page where the article has been posted at ResearchGate.
Please do read the whole thing. Here, though, is Singer’s summary of the various virtues and vices Rowling represents in conflict within each Harry Potter novel:
[T]he whole novel series is based on the structure of the psychomachia.
In Philosopher’s Stone, largesse cures greed as Harry resists the monetary temptations of the Philosopher’s Stone and prevents Voldemort from regaining a body (PS, pp.209-14).
Harry’s chivalry cures Voldemort’s lust for a pure, virginal body in the second part, Chamber of Secrets (CoS, pp.226038).
Patience cures wrath in Prisoner of Azkaban (PoA, pp.251-303), where the virtue of patience, symbolized in the deer-imagery of Harry’s Patronus,  conquers the vice of anger, which is embodied in Sirius’s Animagus form of a dog.
Abstinence cures gluttony in Goblet of Fire when Harry has to resist the lure of fame represented by the Triwizard Cup (GoF, pp. 169-70). In a moment of weakness, however, Harry is unable able to withstand that temptation completely and Voldemort is ultimately restored to a body (GoF, pp.550-8).
In the next part, Order of the Phoenix, Harry’s teenage angst has him descending into the depths of vice. In the end, humility cures pride because he recognizes that, despite his special status, he is merely a vessel and not the driving mechanism through which the battle between good and evil is fought, because it was Voldemort who chose Harry as his opponent, not the other way around (OoP, p.742).
In Half- Blood Prince, diligence cures sloth. At first, Harry claims other people’s work as his own (HBP, p.184) and, deliberately ignoring Dumbledore’s clear orders, does not focus on the important tasks he has been given, such as procuring the missing memory from Professor Slughorn (HBP, pp.400-2). In time, however, Harry understands that the most crucial results can only be obtained with effort and sometimes even involve defeat, as he comes to realize through Dumbledore’s leading example (HBP, pp.519-69).
In the final part of the heptalogy, charity cures envy, as will be illustrated in greater detail in the following discussion (DH, pp. 559-96).
 In the instance of Chamber of Secrets (1998), Rowling deviates for one time only from a more or less conventionalized list and combines loyalty and chastity into one chivalric virtue. She refrains from also including a second counter-vice, but instead emphasizes the many implications of lust.
 In this part of the series a strong connection between the psychomachia and animal symbolism can be observed. Medieval woodcuts, such as the psychomachia series by Johann Baemler of Nuremberg (1476), show the allegorical figures embodying the virtues and vices being accompanied by symbolical animals and plants (Becker, 1975, pp.49-51). The angry dog and the stag are also featured in Baemler’s woodcuts of Patience and Wrath (Becker, 1975, p.50).
 The concrete forms for gluttony and abstinence feature in the Quidditch World Cup and the Triwizard Tournament and the varied reactions by the wizarding world towards these events (GoF, pp.80-5, 165-70).
Note that Singer’s list echoes Lady Alchymia’s points, an article which she discusses at some length, for four of the five books the MuggleNet editorial covered. The arguments, such as they are for ‘largesse over greed’ and ‘gluttony over abstinence’ remain remarkably tenuous, but ‘chivalry’ instead of ‘chastity’ is an excellent clarification and ‘wrath versus’ patience’ is a great improvement over Lay Alchymia’s ‘mercy defeats envy’ for Prisoner, especially with the woodcut tradition for psychomachia discussed in footnote 2. Lady Alchymia predicted that ‘Diligence’ would be the virtue depicted in Half-Blood Prince, a bullseye hit based on the Prudentian list not acknowledged by Singer, but which seems fitting as a point of their agreement.
Most of Singer’s piece is devoted to Deathly Hallows and it rewards careful reading. It makes careful mention of the first chapters and the depiction of the ‘Murder of Charity’ by the Dark Lord and Harry’s changed relationship with his cousin Dudley at Privet Drive as a key to the finale and the summary victory of the virtue of Selfless Love (Charity) over ego-centrism. Again, read the whole thing, but her are Singer’s concluding paragraphs:
Locating Christian motifs has been a popular approach of literary criticism to the Harry Potter series in the past years. The vast majority of critics have come to the conclusion that the novels either feature a few, unsystematic references to Christian ethics (Baumgart, 2006, p. 96) or none at all (see Abanes, 2001, pp. 272-5).
As I have shown, however, the heptalogy does indeed carry a Christian message, even if this message remains to some extent concealed as a result of the novels’ secularized language, setting and characters. The series both follows the fashion of the psychomachia, a literary genre based on Christian morals, and uses central motifs of the psychomachia, as I have discussed with regard to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The seventh and final instalment was chosen for two reasons.
Firstly, the psychomachia is constructed to result In the eventual self-destruction of the vices due to their violent nature. In Deathly Hallows, the battle between virtues and vices is resolved because the Death Eaters increasingly turn against each other. Lord Voldemort’s defeat is the direct consequence of Harry’s sacrifice and refusal to resort to violence.
Secondly, the psychomachia takes the form of a cycle in its depictions of the battle between virtues and vices. Following this tradition, Deathly Hallows mirrors the theme of the first novel because the central virtue, charity, is constructed as the immaterial counterpart to largesse, the virtue presented in Philosophr’s Stone. Charity and largesse serve as a frame for Harry’s entire moral development and, this way, direct the readers’ attention to the most central message of the series: ‘Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins’ (Proverbs 10:12).
Take-Aways: Prudentian Psychomachia, Post Potter Seven Part Publications, and the Strike Novels as Allegories of Virtue and Vice
My conclusions from this survey of the several interpretations of the Hogwarts Saga as a seven-part Prudentian allegory are, in brief, that this is a very important discussion and that that we are still a very long way from a definitive vice-virtue allegorical reading. I think this is almost certainly a lens through which Rowling’s writing can and should be read — see the introduction to this post for why — but that the assignments of virtues and vices to specific novels seems arbitrary or forced.
The reading of Philosopher’s Stone as a battle between Greed and Largesse, for example, or Goblet as a transparency for the conflict between gluttony and abstinence, just don’t have the textual strength for them to stand-up to scrutiny or alternative readings. Semmens’ reading through the Roman Catholic virtues of temperance and courage, respectively, for example, are at least as compelling.
I am reminded here of two other seven-part allegorical readings of Harry’s seven years at Hogwarts, namely, the astrological reading per Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia in which individual planets’ qualities are found in each novel and the detailed alchemical reading of each book being a representation of the seven stages of metallurgical alchemy. These readings ‘work,’ but only to a degree; contrary assignments of planets and alchemical stages to specific books by different readers demonstrate it isn’t an interpretative key that springs a lock as Ward’s reading does the Narniad.
That being said, the Prudentian soul allegory of a battle between virtues and vices certainly has its, well, virtues or strengths. It’s only the insistence that the books follow Prudentius’ model-parade, what Alaister Fowler would have called a ‘triumph,’ in lock-step that these exegetes trip up. Semmens’ suggestion that the books be read in light of Rowling’s postmodern virtues is helpful in this regard and Singer’s observation of the cyclic nature of the series, at least with regard to its beginning and end pieces, too, points to an alternative allegorical virtue reading.
Rowling only name-drops one virtue in the series and that is Charity, selfless love, whose contrary, ego-driven desire and self-consumed love, is evident in the Dark Lord who murders her at the opening of Deathly Hallows. A safer and more fruitful means of interpreting the series, again per Semmens and my work on Harry as Everyman, may be just to read each novel as a different challenge faced by a maturing soul in its grasp of the importance of Love, the foundation of all virtue in a magical Creation whose Creator is Love Himself (and Who keeps appearing at key points symbolically throughout the series).
That reading has Stone as the new soul without an identity struggling to find its place in the world, Goblet the same soul confronted with the temptations of fame and ambition, philotimi, and Hallows as the culmination and conclusion of the previous adventures when we have the Charity versus Self-Importance battle straight up. Contrast that charity-focused reading, in which each of the first books acts as a pointer to and shadow of the finale of Harry’s soul journey with the inconclusive arguments for point-to-point readings, more assertion frankly than evidence-based links, except for Deathly Hallows. Equivalent work along the lines of what Singer has done for Hallows should be attempted for the first six books, albeit as variations of the foundational allegory rather than dot-to-dot virtue-vice correspondence-seeking (something like a pin the tail on the donkey game, alas). The Stone-Goblet-Hallows axis of selflessness and sacrificial love in its various virtue and vice forms is very encouraging, I think, in this regard.
Casual Vacancy, The Ickabog, and Christmas Pig are also seven part books with evident Christian and virtue-vice opposition; reading them as Prudentian psychomachian allegories is an inviting lens for a close re-reading. Are they allegories of Charity as per Harry Potter or of other virtues? Do they follow a similar or different path to love’s victory over the death of egotism? I confess to being especially interested in a reading of The Ickabog along these lines, both because of the subtlety (deftness?) with which Rowling revealed its seven parts and because of the fairy tale genre’s aptness for allegorical depictions. Fantastic Beasts, though not a septology as such, invites a Prudentian reading because of the mythological backdrop chosen for it and the Virtue Names of major characters (Credence, Chastity, and Modesty for Pilgrim’s Progress starters).
The Strike novels, written in playful parallel of their Potter equivalent numbers, too, have not been read from this view. That ‘Prudence’ is promised to be a featured character in Running Grave’s start suggests either an open hat-tip to ‘Prudentius’ or a marker that the key virtue to be celebrated in this book and the seven book series is ‘Prudence,’ practical wisdom, as ‘Charity’ or selfless love was in Hallows. Prudence will be the subject of my next post, DV.
For grins and giggles, though, assuming the Parallel Series Idea applies not only to plot points and major characters but to structure and allegorical reading as well, the question arises: “Are the first six Strike novels Prudentian allegories of Robin and Cormoran’s recovery of integrated souls, the bad guys representing vices that they must acquire the corresponding virtues to overcome?” I’ll use Singer’s list of Potter virtues and vices as our measure.
Cuckoo’s Calling: Largesse/Greed. If you squint, you can make this one work. Strike has no money and his detective agency is about to fail for lack of funds. His first paying client of means and his first celebrity investigation sure to make his reputation come in the form of the Lula Landry cold-case. His love of money that John Bristow is paying him, if he allows it to blind him from the truth, would mean that he never suspects his client to be the murderer. A stretch, but that’s the best I’ve got.
The Silkworm: Chivalry/Lust. I think there’s a lot more material here. Leonora Quine’s husband is an adulterer and sexual adventurer (not to say ‘pervert’). Strike himself sleeps with a woman only to advance his investigation by gaining access to Bombyx Mori. The Agency’s decision to take the case and to refuse to forsake the mother and handicapped daughter despite their inability to pay and the consensus view that Leonora killed her feckless husband is certainly chivalrous in a Knight-in-Shining-Armor way.
Career of Evil: Patience/Wrath. We certainly see anger in this book; Robin loses it over her husband’s infidelity before they were married, an enraged Strike fires his unofficial partner over her explicitly forbidden rescue mission, and the villain of the piece is driven by a rage-fueled desire for revenge that is simultaneously wrathful and patient. I’ll need some help, though, to see how anyone overcomes their rage via long-suffering acceptance of a trying circumstance or injustice. Robin forgives Matt and Strike forgives Robin and…? I don’t see it.
Lethal White: Abstinence/Gluttony. I suspect that I cannot see this correspondence because ‘gluttony’ and ‘abstinence’ in my mind are categories of self-control chiefly with respect to food, drink, and sex. Strike does go on an overnight binge with a red-headed bimbo, a self-indulgent fall that means Robin was easily able to make-up with Matt in the Maldives, but that hardly is the tone or theme of the novel. What am I missing?
Troubled Blood: Humility/Pride. This is the best of the lot, I think, and not just because its the best Strike novel, perhaps the finest thing Rowling has published to date. Strike, the Redcrosse Knight of this Faerie Queene retelling, repeatedly does stupid things and then repents in humiliating, which is to say, ‘self-humbling’ fashion. He calls Robin to apologize for the St Valentine’s Day debacle. He is devastated by what his attempted punch to Oakden’s face did to Robin and comes as close to confessing his love for her, whiskey-powered contrition and repentance, sure, but the real deal. Strike’s conversations with Aunt Joan, too, are hallmark moments in which he realizes how much he has neglected his de facto mother of decades. This virtue/vice assignment resonates with the text.
Ink Black Heart: Diligence/Sloth. The Strike Agency does ‘carry on’ through the longest novel Rowling has written to date. Where, though, is the temptation or vice of ‘sloth’? And how is the ‘diligence’ displayed here different than that shown in The Silkworm, a virtue that could have destroyed the Agency in Strike2? Or in Troubled Blood when the clients stop payment after the year-deadline passes? If this pairing is there, it’s not obvious.
That scorecard is not a winner; by my tabulation, there is only a one in six hit rate. Either the Singer list is not good or the Parallel Series Idea does not work here. I think it may be a combination of both. If I’m right that Singer’s argument about Charity in Deathly Hallows is best taken as the over-arching virtue-vice psychomachia for the series as well as the finale, that all of the battles within and outside Harry’s soul in each of the seven books is a variation of selfless versus ego-driven love, then we may be seeing the same thing in the Strike novels, cued to the virtue of Prudence in Strike7 as we were to Charity by the opening scene of Hallows.
Time for an in depth discussion of Prudence, then! The title of this piece was in the form of a question about whether Strike’s Jungian analyst sort of blood relative survives their first encounter. I have to guess that she will, but the Prudentian reading of Potter and Strike suggests strongly that Running Grave will be the straight-on depiction of this virtue in the face of its contrary vice, a magna voce version of what happens in all the books thus far.
I look forward to reading your thoughts on this original, Prudentian psychomachia as an allegorical lenses through which Rowling’s works may be read with profit, as well as your ideas about the Strike novels and what virtues and vices seem to be the best fits for them. More on Prudence later this week; until then, happy Fourth of July!
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