J.K. Rowling And “Robert Galbraith” – A Controversy

[The Cuckoo’s Calling] is so well written that I suspect that some years down the road we will hear the author’s name is a pseudonym of some famous writer. You could feel the weather, the tension, the pain, the atmosphere in the gatherings. It is a wonderful mystery with a surprise ending, and I look forward to more by the same author.” – Amazon.com reviewer

“After several years with the Royal Military Police, Robert Galbraith was attached to the SIB (Special Investigative Branch), the plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since then in the civilian security industry. The idea for Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who returned to the civilian world.” Author bio on the jacket flap of The Cuckoo’s Calling

“J.K. Rowling, creator of the bestselling Harry Potter fantasy novels for children, reportedly has been unmasked for writing a detective novel for adults under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The Cuckoo’s Calling had been released in April to warm reviews, prompting speculation about the author’s true identity. ‘In a rare feat, the pseudonymous Galbraith combines a complex and compelling sleuth and an equally well-formed and unlikely assistant with a baffling crime in his stellar debut,’ Publishers Weekly wrote in its review. In a story out this weekend, Rowling told the Sunday Times of London ‘I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.'” – The Wall Street Journal

The news took the Muggle world by storm. The Cuckoo’s Calling by “Robert Galbraith” was doing modestly well for a novel by a (supposedly) first-time author, having sold several thousand copies and received two offers from television production companies, when it was leaked this July that J.K. Rowling had written the novel under a pseudonym. Surprise! Reactions were mixed. Some people were gleeful; others, outraged, because they viewed this as a marketing ploy.

I wholly support Rowling’s decision to disguise her identity. Stephen King did the same thing with his Richard Bachman books. Although I prefer to approach books more objectively, some people buy their favorite author’s books simply because of a name on the cover. Rowling wanted to try her hand at detective fiction, explaining that “most of the Harry Potter stories are whodunits at heart.” She says, “I was yearning to go back to the the-cuckoo_s-callingbeginning of a writing career in this new genre, to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback. It was a fantastic experience and I only wish it could have gone on a little longer.” Her experiment proved that readers were truly judging her book based on the merits of its writing. They weren’t distracted by a big name; they just thought the book was good. I can understand her decision and her interviews prove that she was genuinely curious, not trying cause a ruckus.

But what does her use of a male pseudonym mean? She became famous under a pen name, after all. When Rowling was trying to publish Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone nearly two decades ago, her publisher said that J.K. was better than Joanne because boys wouldn’t read books written by a woman. (Fun fact: She has no middle name and only used Kathleen as a tribute to her grandmother because it made her nom de plume longer.) That’s an incredibly shallow reason not to read something and besides, this was proven false by the huge number of boys who read her series knowing full well that a girl wrote it.

If Rowling wanted to remain anonymous, why didn’t she publish under the name Roberta Galbraith? Many articles about the leak claim that the big names in detective fiction are male. But I have always thought (and was happy to hear that she did too) that Harry Potter is a mystery even more than it is a fantasy: Where is the Department of Mysteries? Who were Voldemort’s parents? Where do Snape’s true allegiances lie? Rowling has already proven that she can write mysteries. And to anyone who insists that only men write successful mysteries, I give them one name: Agatha Christie. “Queen of crime.” Want more? Dorothy L. Sayers, Margaret Truman, and P.D. James.

I used to put authors on metaphorical pedestals, idolizing my favorites, believing they were perfect writers as well as perfect people. I don’t do this anymore because I have seen how those favorites disappoint me. Rowling did not attempt to make the publishing world an equal playing field for men and women. She didn’t challenge any assumptions about who writes which genres; all she did was perpetuate them.

I dream of publishing my own stories someday and as that is no easy feat, you can bet that I want to see my name or at least my gender represented on the front cover, saying to the world, “Hey, I wrote a thing!” Should I write in a male-dominated genre, I don’t want to use another name or even be rejected simply because I am a woman. As a fan of J.K. Rowling, I am thrilled to learn that I can read more of her writing – I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling –  but I am disappointed that with this recent novel she did nothing to make the world of writing a better place for women.


About nevillegirl

Elizabeth. University of Iowa class of 2019. Triple majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies. Twenty-one-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, aspiring writer, and lesbian. Passionate about feminism, mental health, comic books, and cats.
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13 Responses to J.K. Rowling And “Robert Galbraith” – A Controversy

  1. matttblack42 says:

    This book is on my to-read list, along with “The Casual Vacancy.” I’m wasn’t that surprised when I found out Rowling did this, because it’s exactly what I would have done if I were in her place. People were bound to be disappointed with The Casual Vacancy because they had such high expectations of her.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Oh my Gollum, someone actually commented! *gasp* xD I’ve been in kind of a bad writing mood lately since I think I’ve had about six comments (that weren’t mine) on the last three posts, this one included.

      Anyway. I don’t think The Casual Vacancy would have been published if a little-known/unknown author (or someone using a pseudonym) had written it. It wasn’t that good. Unfortunately.

      • matttblack42 says:

        I feel your pain. Sometimes I go from thirty comments on one post to one spam comment on the next one. It’s frustrating.

        A lot of trusted people I know hated the book as well, so I’ll probably agree with you.

        “That’s an incredibly shallow reason not to read something and besides, this was proven false by the huge number of boys who read her series knowing full well that a girl wrote it.” I completely agree with the whole statement. I for one don’t care if the author’s a girl, or if the main character’s a girl. As long as the premise is something awesome like “time traveling sharks,” I’ll read it.

        Also, I just decided to write a book about time-traveling sharks.

    • nevillegirl says:

      It really annoys me when people make that gender comment. “How can Rowling write about the BOY Who Lived?” Well, let me see. How did Tolkien write about hobbits, seeing as he wasn’t one? Oh, wait. Having a lot in common with your characters doesn’t matter. What matters is having a big imagination and, if necessary, doing your research.

      Also, I’m so glad that boys have such choices in their reading. *sarcasm* Sometimes girls don’t have many female authors to look up to in a genre so even if we’d rather not read something by a guy, we don’t always have that choice.
      (That wasn’t aimed at you, since you’re a boy, just at the boys who do make comments like that.)

  2. Charley R says:

    Well, to be fair to Rowling, she was probably aiming to get the pseudonym as far from her actual person as possible – swapping the gender seems only a logical step therefrom, and it better fit the story she built up for “Galbraith”, too (if it hadn’t been rock solid, it would have been smashed through much quicker, which is not what she wanted).

    Then again, I do think you are right – more needs to be done to level the playing field. I’m quite lucky – ‘Charley’ is a pretty gender neutral name, so I won’t have to worry overmuch about putting readers off that way. On the whole, I’m not actually sure if male readers are put off by an author’s gender – I don’t think kids are. Look at Cressida Cowell, Cornelia Funke and the author of the Horrid Henry books! It’s probably more of an adult problem, and that’s easily solved – if boys grow up reading books by female authors, then it will be much easier just to continue the gender equivalence into adulthood. Even our parents’ generation came from a much more male-dominated literary world.

    We’ve just got to keep going, and we can tip the balance, one book at a time.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Point taken – but then, I can’t think of many (any?) male authors who have used female pseudonyms.

      Agreed. I don’t care about the author’s name, or what that name says about their gender, or even if they’re some bigwig who writes their name in huge letters on the front cover because they’re so famous (I’M LOOKING AT YOU, GEORGE R.R. MARTIN!) – I don’t care about any of that until I’ve finished the book. Then, if I liked it, I look at the author bio-thingy to see who’s behind such a lovely book.
      And yes, most kids don’t seem to care. It’s the adults who seem to want to make kids care about such things. Just read the freaking book and don’t worry about who wrote it!

  3. Lydia says:

    It can’t be easy for Rowling to continue her career, and I understand perfectly why she would want to write under a pen name. I feel a bit sorry for her. Had to be exasperating to have her cover blown like that.

    The gender of an author has never seemed relevant to me. If a person can tell a good story, who cares whether they’re male or female? It’s depressing to me that authors like L.M. Montgomery and the Bronte sisters had to keep their gender secret in order for their books to be accepted.

    Incidentally, I do know of a male author who went by a female pseudonym. I read a fairly obscure book by someone called “Madeleine Brent” and was quite surprised when I clicked on her Goodreads profile only to find that “she” was a man.

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