Why J.K. Rowling can not escape Harry Potter: The Unbreakable Vow
Harry Potter well and truly put J.K. Rowling’s name on the literary map and initiated her into the literary history books. It is all she has ever been known for. Her iconic name is always going to equate to Harry Potter. Inextricably linked, the franchise now has a tight grasp over Rowling’s creative flare. So why is it that we are so obsessed with comparing her latest work to her beloved young-adult series?
Slammed for her first post-Potter novel, The Casual Vacancy, it was only a matter of time before she tried to publish another title under a pseudonym. So along came Robert Galbraith’s debut crime-novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, and a secret that could not be kept for long. With the release of this crime thriller, the reviews that came with it were largely positive. People wanted more of this newcomer and remarked on how brilliant it was, especially as a debut for the supposedly first-time author.
Uncovered by The Sunday Times, Rowling’s admission to being behind the new novel thrust it into the bright lights of fame. Despite having been rejected by some publishers, it was eventually picked up by the same publisher who first published Rowling all those years ago. (Fun fact: the first Harry Potter manuscript was rejected 12 times before it was successfully chosen to be published in 1997.) Even the pseudonym for The Cuckoo’s Calling was a hidden message in itself. Robert translates to “bright fame” whereas Galbraith means “British foreigner”. So Rowling’s pseudonym roughly decodes to “famous stranger”. Nice one, Jo.
Like so many before us, let’s compare The Casual Vacancy to The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first of her writings since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007. The Casual Vacancy was certainly a long time coming. We eagerly awaited the release date last year and a complete embargo was placed on the new 500-page volume — let me tell you, nothing was sweeter than working in a bookshop and cutting into an embargoed box that contains a new novel from your favourite childhood author.
With mixed reviews, people judged the book based on Rowling’s status as the beloved author of seven Harry Potters. Whilst it was written well, had genuine and well-developed characters and a good plot, it was nothing like her previous work. Why she had even written something else that was not wizard-related was absurd and absolutely pointless to some. What was cast aside was the fact that the writing was actually decent. Rowling should have cemented herself as one of the great writers of our generation by being able to show that she can write something other than the famous chronicles of Harry, Hermione and Ron. However, many critics slammed her new book that she claimed was “just for adults” for being too different to that of what she was famous for writing. Philip Womack from ‘The Telegraph UK’ went so far as to say that The Casual Vacancy was just like the wizarding world without the magic and with a bit more “grit”. The other problem with releasing such a shocking book after penning a series for young-adults was that children and teenagers that had read Harry Potter wanted to read the next book with their beloved author’s name on it. A bad idea, seeing as the ‘c-word’ was dropped within the first few pages. For Rowling to jump genre-ships so significantly was a brave, yet calculated move for her career.
Even though the secret is out, the few weeks that Robert Galbraith was able to hide “his” true identity were truly liberating for Rowling. The Cuckoo’s Calling earned startling reviews from top crime writers with many showering praise over the new author’s work. One even went so far as to compliment the “male” author’s ability to describe women’s clothing. Peter James (international best-selling crime thriller novelist) named Galbraith a “major new talent”. Without Rowling’s real name on the front of the book, she was finally free from the expectations that had previously been placed on her. Perhaps she was trying to avoid the criticisms that came from many after her publication of The Casual Vacancy.
So how did they find out that Galbraith was, in fact, Rowling? Apparently, the ability to describe women’s clothing in startling detail and the refined style of writing led some to believe that a woman could be the author. After some further digging, it was revealed that Galbraith shared the same editor and publisher as Rowling. A confession straight from the horse’s mouth soon followed, with Rowling remarking on how she wished the secret could have been kept a little longer as she was enjoying the freedom that writing under someone else’s name had given her.
Not surprisingly, before it was revealed that Rowling was the author, the book had sold less than 1000 copies. Of course, after the announcement, devoted Rowling fans rushed to the nearest computer and ordered a copy of the crime thriller from their local booksellers and Amazon, causing the book to shoot straight to the top-spot on best-seller lists around the world. Not an unusual move, as the name Rowling now has the ability to draw millions of readers in an instant, with die-hard fans rushing to get their hands on the latest from the author that shaped many a childhood.
So what’s next for Rowling? With the announcement of the movie adaptation of her novella Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Rowling returns to the wizarding world as she prepares to pen the screenplay for the film. Although she is returning to her magical roots, we are excited to see what she pens next. We can also expect a second and third instalment of The Cuckoo’s Calling. Whether or not she is inducted into the hall-of-fame for work that is otherwise different to Harry Potter will remain to be seen. J.K. is such a brilliant craftsman that in our eyes, she can do no wrong. Unfortunately though, for now, it is blatantly obvious that J.K. Rowling is known solely for the Harry Potter series. No one regrets reading the Harry Potter series, but it would be hard for Rowling to enjoy reader’s constant comparisons to Harry Potter. Impossible when The Casual Vacancy and The Cuckoo’s Calling are in totally different ballparks. However, when developing an opinion on her latest work, we need to take a step back and realise that Rowling is only doing what every good author should do — she is writing.
What do you think? Leave a comment.