The Minor Characters of “The Cuckoo’s Calling”
As usual with Rowling books, it’s not just the main characters that capture our imaginations – Jo does a great job peppering her books with minor characters that add a lot to the book. I loved the supporting characters that filled out the world of The Cuckoo’s Calling. Many of them still called to mind Goblet of Fire counterparts in how they are depicted. There are a few that I would like to analyze because of things I found interesting in their portrayal.
The Sweet Supermodel
I confess myself thrilled by Ciara’s character because in a book (and genre) filled with archetypes, she completely defies expectation. The expectation is for supermodels to be catty and obnoxious, and considering Ciara was clearly outshone by Lula at every turn, one would expect Ciara to be simmering with resentment. I know that I expected a better-looking version of Bryony Radford, the gossipy make-up artist whom Strike considers “suggestible and mendacious.” (TCC 317)
Instead, the supermodel proves to be the single nicest person in Lula Landry’s circle of friends. It was much more apparent upon a reread, but every single person Strike interviews has something nasty to say about someone else… except Ciara. Poor Lula must have had the patience of a saint since it seems her social circle occupied half their time with trash-talking other members. Strike even notices an extreme example of this: “for every name [Rochelle] mentioned there was a deprecating remark.” (TCC 233) This explains why the only person who disparages Ciara is Rochelle Onifade, referring to her as “fucking Ciara Porter.” (TCC 229)
But Ciara does not have anything bad to say about anyone. She is sweet to Guy Somé, is the only one to defend Evan Duffield, treats Kieran decently, and is nice in general. Ciara seems like the only Hufflepuff in the entire book. Go figure that the nicest person would be a supermodel.
Ciara calls to mind Fleur – both beautiful women who make the most of their looks and are consistently underestimated because of them. They are the two most overtly sexual characters in their respective books. It’s made apparent that Fleur and Roger Davies were doing something sexual during the Yule Ball: Harry “saw Fleur Delacour and Roger Davies standing half-concealed in a rosebush nearby. […] Fleur and Davies looked very busy to Harry.” (GoF 427) “Fleur and Roger Davies had disappeared, probably into a more private clump of bushes.” (GF 429) “Fleur Delacour and Roger Davies came giggling in from the grounds.” (DH 680)
In that same vein, “She’s got a bit of a rep as a good-time girl, Ciara. I mean, you can’t help liking her, but…” (Bryony, TCC 316) Ciara lives up to that reputation by sleeping with Strike soon after that. And it was very clearly just a one-night stand, as her tryst with Strike is not really brought up again. Similarly, Roger Davies is no more than a date for Fleur since he is never again brought up in relation to her.
What I wonder is whether readers will respond better to Ciara than they do to Fleur. I’d like to believe the fandom won’t start slut-shaming Ciara like they do with Ginny (as I discussed in my feminism essay). We, as a fandom, have to be better than that.
I believe we are meant to like Ciara, as Bryony’s quote suggests. And that is where Ciara and Fleur diverge. We are very clearly not meant to like Fleur at first, as her entire character arc is one of redemption and learning humility. In contrast, Ciara is already there – she does not consider people beneath her, despite her stunning looks. And that’s why I agree with Bryony – I can’t help but like her.
The two police officers – Wardle and Carver – are like the two sides of Cornelius Fudge. Jo has already made her point that she does not have a high opinion of law enforcement officials (Dawlish and the other Aurors come to mind). In keeping with that, the two police officers here are not presented in a particularly flattering light.
Wardle represents the earlier version of Fudge, the version we got to know up until the end of GoF. “[Harry] had always thought of Fudge as a kindly figure, a little blustering, a little pompous, but essentially good-natured.” (GF 707) It’s clear Wardle enjoys the media attention (much to Carver’s stern disapproval). He’s very aware of his good looks and cultivates his image. In short, he is all about how he is perceived – much like Fudge, who worries about how the wizarding public will react to Dumbledore’s suggestion.
Preposterous!” shouted Fudge again. “[…] I’d be kicked out of office for suggesting it!”
“You — you cannot be serious!” Fudge gasped, shaking his head and retreating further from Dumbledore. “If the magical community got wind that I had approached the giants — […] end of my career —”
“You are blinded,” said Dumbledore […] “by the love of the office you hold, Cornelius!” (GF 707-708)
Both Wardle and the early incarnation of Fudge are presented in a gentle light – characters to be mocked or disliked, certainly, but not outright hated. Carver, on the other hand, is similar to the angry and unpleasant Fudge we get in Book 5, a character that is clearly detestable. He interrogates Strike in a very hostile manner, similar to Fudge at Harry’s trial.
Even the physical descriptions are similar. Carver has “glaring blue eyes vivid in the purple-red face” (TCC 368); Fudge goes from “a shade of magenta of which Uncle Vernon would have been proud” (OP 147) to “a slightly deeper shade of puce.” (OP 149) Jo uses this color as a kind of shorthand for rage that is so extreme as to be absurd – after having Fudge and Uncle Vernon as precedents, it’s abundantly clear from the get-go that Carver is a joke.
And of course, our heroes get the last laugh. As Harry brazenly tells Scrimgeour, “[Fudge] tried interfering at Hogwarts. You might have noticed he’s not Minister anymore, but Dumbledore’s still headmaster.” (HBP 348) Strike openly mocks Carver to his face: “I’m thinking what a tit you’re going to look when this interview gets reported in the press.” (TCC 368) And sure enough, in The Silkworm we see that the police have less-than-sterling reputations following the Lula Landry affair. The point is that the figures in power should never discount someone just because they may not seem like the most reputable source.
I find it fascinating that Lula Landry’s character is among the most developed in the book, despite Lula not physically appearing in a single scene. In a way, Lula Landry is the focal point of the entire book. It’s amazing how we can piece together what this woman was like, just based on second-hand accounts of her.
Naturally, this is familiar territory for Jo. After all, James and Lily Potter have a huge presence in the HP books, despite not physically being there. In HP, we get a few interactions with them in the form of their shades (GoF, DH) and Pensieve memories (OotP, DH). But what makes them come alive as characters is the Marauders’ and other characters’ recollections of them. There’s a reason why there is as much James/Lily fanfiction as there is, even though (pre-DH) we’d only met them in one flashback. We felt like we knew them second-hand, and they were as real for us as the living characters.
In TCC, Jo has even less to work with, as our only direct interaction with Lula is reading her emails. Yet through the recollections of all the characters, we get to know her. Not all these recollections are positive – quite a few characters condemned Lula for selfishness. Of course, these characters are the same ones who wanted something from Lula, be it handbags, money or fame. So while other characters’ descriptions of Lula Landry have to be taken with grains of salt, a clear picture does emerge. I really can’t think of another writer who makes dead characters so significant and so real in a story, so let’s chalk that up to another of Jo’s amazing skills.
I quite liked Guy Somé, who most calls to mind Moaning Myrtle. Both are wildly inappropriate and thereby serve primarily as comic relief. But both of them also prove to be incredibly important in the end through what they tell the protagonist. Guy reveals that he sent his clothes to Deeby Macc, which helps Strike piece together what happened the night Lula died (because the guy in the footage was wearing Guy’s clothes). Myrtle reveals to Harry what the second task is going to be. The parallel works even better considering Chamber of Secrets, where Myrtle’s death pieces together the puzzle for Harry and Ron.
Also, Guy is the first overtly gay character to appear in Jo’s books, so bravo to Jo for making the characters of TCC reflective of the diversity that really is found in London. She would continue in this vein with The Silkworm, where she wrote in a transgender character, Pippa Midgley.
Jo doesn’t much like law enforcement, as mentioned above, and she also does not care for the media. This is evident in Rita Skeeter in GoF (easily one of the most detestable characters, even if her recent articles were awesome) and in Skeeter’s TCC counterpart, Marlene Higson. Marlene Higson is the biological mother of Lula Landry and very hungry for media attention in connection to her famous daughter. She jumps at the chance to talk to anyone from the media to get a bit of publicity.
It’s easy to see where Jo got the inspiration for this – from her own father. For those unfamiliar with the story, Jo is estranged from her father because of an incident with the media. Peter Rowling was in desperate need of money and sold one of his signed and personalized HP books. Jo was furious upon finding out, and their relationship was ruined. There was a Daily Mail article two years ago claiming they finally reconciled, but we can’t know whether that’s genuine. Either way, it’s clear why Marlene Higson is portrayed so unsympathetically in TCC.
I know that the Cormoran Strike novels seem to be largely standalone books – none of these supporting characters make a return appearance in The Silkworm – but I would love it if we got to spend more time with them. Perhaps in the final Cormoran Strike novel (whenever that’s released), these characters will be brought back in some capacity. After all, Deathly Hallows brought back a lot of characters from earlier books. So here’s hoping we’ll run into the TCC gang again someday!