The Rabbit as Psychopomp
This is a brief analysis of the rabbit and its role of psychopomp in J.K. Rowling’s novel, Troubled Blood. The article contains spoilers to the book.
Troubled Blood has similarities to a fairy tale as well as being a crime novel. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how Rowling bridged the myth of Harry Potter to Cormoran Strike via Luna Lovegood.¹ Rowling keeps her fairy themes in her crime novels to a necessary minimum but sometimes the similarities become obvious.
So if we look at the character Oonagh Kennedy in Troubled Blood, we find that this former Playboy Bunny (now retired vicar) happens to have buck teeth. She also likes a nice cappuccino along with some carrot cake.²
The search for Oonagh’s missing Playboy Bunny friend, Margot Bamborough, leads Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott to a strange mother and son duo with ‘massive’ ears: Deborah and Samhain Athorn. Oonagh is described as having prominent buck teeth, while the mother and son have the opposite; a definite underbite. Oonagh looks up to her light spiritual father figure (God/Christ) while Deborah looks down to her dark, inverted son. So we can see a parallel of psychic opposites play out as the detectives search for the missing woman.
To find the dead body of Margot Bamborough, Robin and her assistant have to navigate their way past Deborah and Samhain. The pair have been unwittingly holding the body of the former Bunny Girl in their flat. Margot is encased in concrete, in an ottoman, in their living room. The ottoman is covered with an old hippy cloth that has a large mandala imprint; a symbol of wholeness and completion. The odd couple are distracted from the room while Robin and her assistant break open the box to reveal its sad content.
It may seem strange to find symmetry with a figure such as Christ concerning the Athorn duo, but there’s nothing all that special about God and Christ from a mythological perspective. Christianity has always merged and evolved with other myths. The union of the psychic opposites in Troubled Blood brings light and dark together for revelation. Discovery of the body occurs, as a result, followed by healing.
Rather than view the hapless relationship of the mother and son with projected pity, Rowling shows their symbolic role of being dark keepers of Bamborough’s body. The strange pair have come to terms with their unusual inverted life and people such as Strike, recognise their vulnerability to harassment and abuse. Strike himself threatens the couple’s neighbour for his attempt to move them out.
Rabbit symbolism appears briefly with symbolic depth in another part of Troubled Blood. Margot’s daughter Anna hides her photographs of her missing mother in her pajama case, which is in itself, a toy rabbit. But it is the giant-eared sad couple along with the happy, buck-toothed, retired vicar which builds the hidden symbolism towards solving the case. The conscious process of finding the murderer is handled by Cormoran Strike. The unconscious symbolism is mostly navigated by the intuitive Robin Ellacott.
Symmetry within the quest
Oonagh Kennedy may be inspired by Rowling’s hero-worship of Robert F Kennedy. We already know that her nom-de-plume, Robert Galbraith, is (according to herself) based on the same name.³ We learn little of Oonagh’s family, but she has many grandchildren. She has a close relationship with Christ, as evidenced by her wearing a large amethyst crucifix. Her name Oonagh translates as lamb in Gaelic, which conjures up images of Christ as the Lamb of God.
By contrast, the relationship between Deborah and Samhain is introverted and closeted. It occurs as a result of their joint affliction of Fragile X. Oonagh opens up to the light while the name Samhain relates to Halloween, a celebration of the dark. Samhain curls back into his mother’s sad shade for emotional and practical support while Irish Oonagh took a brave leap from her strict family to reach out for life in London. The bucktooth leaping forward and the undercut folding back.
In some respects the same pattern has played out via the church itself. In the distant past the Christian church had to accept the darkness of the carnival and the fairy tale. The folklore of the people acted as a healthy counter balance to the church’s hopeless attempt to deny the collective shadow.
J.K. Rowling is more than happy to accept dark elements into her own mythology which may explain why she was hated by so many Christian fundamentalists in the 2000s. It didn’t help that Harry Potter was competing directly with other mythology at the time, including the decaying, medieval varieties of the Christian church.
In strict terms, the psychopomp is often seen as the psychopompós, the angelic guide to the soul as it leaves the body for the supposed afterlife. In psychological terms, it sits between the unconscious and conscious realms as a mediator or guide. It’s often portrayed by the subconscious mind as an animal.
There is a rule in fairy tales (and in personal dreams) that if you should ever encounter a lost or injured animal, you should give it help. It will then repay you by helping you along in your quest. The animal has intuitive and instinctive gifts that have been lost over time by us over-intellectual humans.
Ms. Rowling’s first-ever story was written in early childhood when she was around 6 years old. It was called Rabbit. How strange that it should lie dormant and then manifest later with the richness of Troubled Blood. In this case, at least, it has taken the role of her personal ally.
1 — For a brief analysis of this symbolic bridge see: J. K. Rowling’s The Silkworm in relation to Troubled Blood
2 — J.K. Rowling, Troubled Blood, Chapter 24, digital edition, Sphere, 2020.
3 — J.K. Rowling, interview on her Robert Galbraith website, 2018.
The introductory photo at the top is actually of a hare not a rabbit, but I liked her sleepy pose: Photo by Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto, at Pixabay.