J. K. Rowling & Pseudonymity
Did you hear the news? J. K. Rowling wrote a new book!
When I heard this I was absolutely thrilled.
But there’s just one thing.
J. K. Rowling used a pseudonym.
Instead of using her famous pen name “J. K. Rowling” for her new detective novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, the book was written under the false name, Robert Galbraith. Some publishers turned down this “debut” by “Robert Galbraith.” Business Insider writes about how this reveals a lot about publishing.
Rowling said that this offered her an exciting opportunity to write without pressure. No doubt this also allowed critics and those normally interested in the genre of detective novels to read the book on its own terms. Since no one had ever heard of someone named Robert Galbraith, the work really did have to do all the work on its own.
What do you make of this news?
First off, I wish I had more time on my hands to pick up this book and read it! Of course, I absolutely disliked Rowling’s first post-Potter narrative, The Casual Vacancy. I wrote a few reviews of that book which you can read here and here. It is disappointing in so many ways. In the aftermath of the book’s bad reception, Rowling mentioned that she would go back to children’s literature. I was thrilled at this news—The Casual Vacancy is such an unnatural and forced attempt to be “mature”—but the sudden appearance of a new book outside of children’s literature really excites me.
And what’s more, the book has been well received by critics and there is talk of turning the book into a TV series. But this brings up a second issue, how would the world have responded if Rowling used her own name? Certainly there would have been a lot more hype. Would this have negatively affected the book’s appeal?
By using a pseudonym this raises all sorts of questions for me. If it is the case that avoiding “J. K. Rowling” affected critical reception in some way, what are we to make of the fact that Rowling used a male pseudonym? How did this affect critical reception? What do you think about this? Is this indicative of something? Does it reveal something about prejudices? Of course, the name “J. K. Rowling” is in some ways a pseudonym itself. Rowling actually doesn’t have a middle name, she is just Joanne Rowling. She used the middle initial “K” in honor of her grandma, Kathleen. In fact, her publisher told her to use the name “J. K. Rowling” because it would sound more “bloke-ish.” That is, readers would mistakenly assume the author was a male. Maybe prejudices would be more strong in a set of literature aimed at young children who may still believe in cooties or something. But why a male pseudonym for adult literature?
Anyways, these are just some initial thoughts. Of course, I’m super excited to read this new book (whenever I get some free time), but I think there is something worth talking about further here. What do you make of Rowling’s decision to use a pseudonym? And additionally, what do you make of her decision to use a male pseudonym? Do you think she was afraid of failing again after The Casual Vacancy flopped?
Leave your comments below.