Why J.K. Rowling can not escape Harry Potter: The Unbreakable Vow

JK-Rowling

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.

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My name is Abby Wilson. I am 22 and have graduated with a BA Communication from the University of Newcastle in Australia. I love reading, literature, TV Shows and cats.

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46 Comments

  1. Why is it that I keep seeing articles about JK Rowling and Fifty Shades this year and not much about Cormac McCarthy or Toni Morrison: two writers who, when dead, I expect will be remembered in the same breath as Austen or Hemingway.

    • Kathryn Talbot

      Because people write about what makes them happy, and in this case it is JK Rowling. Even if she were writing about hacky romance novels it would be good, as not every article has to me about modern classics of literature.

      I like the article!

    • Abby Wilson

      J.K. Rowling is my biggest influence and is the reason I am so interested in Literature. So naturally, I had to write an article on her. Seeing as she has been in the mainstream media lately, I thought it was perfect timing to publish it. Thanks for reading, though!

      • Rowling is a big influence on me too, great writing Abby.

  2. Margarete Marie
    0

    Interesting article. We know that the Potter books are a masterwork of structure. That is their enormous strength. So I’m not at all surprised to find that it’s the same story – structure and plotting over style and wit.

    • Abby Wilson

      I guess she is writing what she knows will work. J.K. has done well to jump genre’s though, and I think she should be commended, not criticised for it. Thanks Margaret.

  3. Nichole Sjöberg
    0

    She certainly shows her free will and fervent desire of creating diversifying works, but being a mature writer, she will still have to work hard on crafting language and devising plot. For instance, building a castle in the air is definitely feasible in children’s literature but for an adult fiction which mirrors contemporary social complexity, an extensive research has to be done to construct convincing plot and characters. As a writer who is semi-detached from grass-root and relies much on her imagination, I doubt if she could really penetrate deep enough to impress a wide readership, not just the public but highbrow readers and critics. What I see is her debut definitely captures wide attention due to Harry Potter mania and her fame, but in long run, will the magic still be here?

    • Abby Wilson

      I think there is definitely a lot more work in constructing “normal” adult characters in a social context that we know too well. Our extensive knowledge of “our” world leads to us picking up on things she may have missed. Whenever we read Harry Potter, it is harder for us (as muggles) to pick up on something that may not be true, as it’s all just imagination. With or without Harry Potter, she is most certainly a very good author.

  4. All the poor woman has done is to try her best to produce what is for her a new genre, she’s taken the trouble to think up all the characters, the plot, etc. and hopes that people like it. Good luck to her.

    • Abby Wilson

      She has gone to a lot of trouble, and she always said it was a topic she had always wanted to write about. I believe she’s done well within her new genre’s and she will continue to do well in the future.

  5. Justin Wu

    Good article. I respect Rowling a lot for writing under a pseudonym instead of using her fame to appeal to her fanbase. I find it absurd to compare a crime novel with the Harry Potter series, and I can only hope Rowling will keep writing to shut the critics’ mouths.

    • Abby Wilson

      Thanks Justin. I think comparing anything J.K. Rowling does after Harry Potter is like comparing Apples to Oranges, and they should be it’s own entity. I guess we can’t escape that because comparison is a favourite past-time of our society. I look forward to seeing what she pens in the future!

  6. Lisa Lee

    Interesting article that shows the sheer extent of (perhaps subconscious) bias in criticism. Here, the case of Rowling can be used as a great example of the need for the ‘death of the Author’!

    • Abby Wilson

      I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at, Lisa. But thanks for reading 🙂

      • Lisa Lee

        Haha i didn’t explain it very well! I just think a lot of the points, here, about the way in which Rowling is struggling to be freed from associations with Harry Potter – meaning, perhaps, that her new works don’t get the praise they deserve unless a pseudonym is used – coincide a lot with the ideas in Roland Barthes’ poststructuralist essay, ‘Death of the Author’.

  7. Barry S
    0

    It may perhaps not be very fashionable for a writer to criticize another writer, but after writing children’s stories, news articles, being a radio critic, DJ and foreign correspondent since 55, I can’t see why or how Rowling or beautrix potter ever got to square one in this business. Her fame sprung from stories that are occult related whose characters and behavior are not good for children as role models and I speak also as a single father. Someday, somehow we are going to discover that she obtained her breaks through other means than mere writing. Her prose and plots,etc. is in my opinion quite amateurish and in many ways boring.

    • Abby Wilson

      Her writing definitely matured alongside the maturing story line. If you read the Seventh book after having read the first, you will notice a huge difference in the writing. I believe Rowling’s writing grew with the storyline, and now she has achieved “author-adulthood” and is eager to explore other Genre’s and write about other things.

      A very interesting point, Barry. Thank you.

  8. Nice article. I agree that she will never be able to escape harry potter but I will remain her die hard fan ‘until the end’

    • Abby Wilson

      It’s hard not to remain a big fan of hers, when so many of our generation grew up with that story! Thanks, Catherine.

  9. Jessica Koroll

    Watching this whole saga unfold has been really interesting, especially when it comes to observing how changing the author’s name effects readers’ reactions to the work. It says a lot about the Harry Potter legacy that people who grew up with it are so unwilling and critical of the thought of letting it go. I’m happy that Cuckoo’s Calling was allowed the opportunity to garner better reviews than The Casual Vacancy.

    • Abby Wilson

      It’s such a shame that it is only when she utilises a pseudonym that her work is taken for what it actually is, rather than who it was written by. I think her use of a fake name has made us realise that she’s a human being and a brilliant author who just wants to write. As much as she loves the Harry Potter series, I am sure there is a teeny amount of resentment that it is not letting her write as creatively and freely as she can without the constant comparisons back to Harry Potter. Thanks, Jessica!

  10. Liz Cooper
    0

    Hi Abby, enjoyed reading your article, your a great writer yourself !!

  11. Sean Hodges

    It does seem a terrible pity that the curse of typecasting – for want of a term more suited to the literary world – can also affect authors as well as actors, especially authors as good as Rowling. I thought your article was very fascinating, and it’s certainly given me some food for thought!

    • Abby Wilson

      Isn’t it a shame that we (as a collective term for people who read JK Rowling’s other stuff) expect so much from our childhood author? Nothing she ever does will ever be as good as Harry Potter, but we need to accept this and move on. Thanks for the feedback, Sean 🙂

  12. Michelle Webb

    This is such a wonderful read – thank you!

    I feel sorry for Rowling, she must feel incredibly suffocated and pressured to fulfill what international readers are expecting from her, rather than merely delivering the best writing – magic-related or otherwise – she possibly can. She can do no wrong in my eyes.

    • Abby Wilson

      The fact that she published The Cuckoo’s Calling under a pseudonym shows that as an author, JK is also fed up with the expectation surrounding what she’ll do next. She is a genius and will continue to be one in my eyes. Thanks Michelle!

  13. Sierra Throop

    I just finished the sixth book about an hour ago and saw this article. Your article was very interesting! I was interested to hear about the feedback about this latest book of hers. Personally, I think it’s silly to judge everything Rowling writes against Harry Potter.

    • Abby Wilson

      Sierra, as you can read in my article, I also believe it silly to judge everything she does post-Harry Potter. I am yet to read her latest, but I do think it will be brilliant, just as The Casual Vacancy was and extremely different to Harry Potter. Thank you, Sierra.

  14. Kevin Fischer

    I recently finished read the Harry Potter books for the first time and absolutely love them. They were fun, engaging, and entertaining reads. But I have almost no interest in reading her other two works. I think it has more to do with their genre than anything else, because she certainly had me reading those Harry Potter books like there was no tomorrow.

    • Abby Wilson

      Thanks, Kevin. I really believe that her other books are worth a look at, especially The Casual Vacancy. I will admit I was hesitant at first because of how much I loved Harry Potter, but it is worth the effort in the end.

  15. Fiona Farnsworth

    I suppose that the magnitude of Harry Potter’s success was always going to be difficult to escape, but surely Rowling should be applauded for continuing to write instead of resting on her (considerable) laurels. What do you think about the fact that a male pseudonym led to her discovery: is there really such a thing as “male” and “female” writing? Would she have remained undiscovered if she’d chosen a female alter-ego?

    • Abby Wilson

      What a great question Fiona. I think I should have explored this a little further in my article. I do think that she chose a male pseudonym to use for The Cuckoo’s Calling as crime fiction is such a male dominated genre. Names such as Lynda la Plante and Kathy Reichs are somewhat successful but not as successful as male authors have proven in the past. As a feminist, I think it’s pretty poor that we associate crime with a male oriented audience — don’t get me wrong, women read crime fiction too, in fact I was yelled at the other day at my job for assuming that the lady I was selling a Vince Flynn boxset to was for a man — but I think JK did the right thing by associating a male with the authorship of Cuckoo’s Calling. Norah Roberts took a somewhat male pseudonym under the name J.D. Robb (although that name is a bit gender neutral) so I think JK was just following that path. She would have been found out eventually regardless of whether she used a male or a female alter-ego though.

  16. gracenalty

    She is a talented writer and can obviously write loads of things but people just don’t want to accept that Harry Potter has ended more than anything. For a lot of people they grew up with both the books and the films and to accept that they have ended when the author is still alive and writing upsets a few people I think.

    • Abby Wilson

      Absolutely, Grace. I think especially the Harry Potter fandom on outlets such as Tumblr in particular had a heavy hand in dishing out the negativity surrounding the two publications. Thanks for commenting.

  17. It will be hard for her to escape the Harry Potter books, but the magnitude of their success is hardly something that can easily be exceeded

    • Abby Wilson

      I don’t think JK’s intention of writing these books after her success of the Harry Potter series had anything to do with a need for further success or money. I believe she was simply doing it to prove to herself more than others that she can actually function as an author in other genres. Thanks Tarkan for your thoughts.

  18. J. Bryan Jones

    It’s a shame she’s being pigeonholed.

    • Abby Wilson

      Isn’t it? It’s an absolute shame that in most of her fan’s eyes, she’s done a horrible thing by writing something other than Harry Potter. All I can say is, at least she finished the Harry Potter series before she wrote anything else unlike George R.R. Martin…

  19. Jonathon Wilson

    I think that it is unfortunate, but no surprise, that Rowling was judged on terms of Harry Potter following her leaving Hogwarts for the last time. Her move to publish under a pseudonym with The Cuckoo’s Calling was brilliant, in my opinion, and I was glad to see that she garnered very favorable reviews before she came out of the literary closet and announced that it was her book all along. In the end, Jo will (hopefully) continue to write, and I know that she will continue to do quality work that should be read for her talent and not because she delivered possibly the greatest set of YA books ever written.

    Well written to you as well, Abby. Your last point, about her just writing, it a fantastic one. Even if your favorite author isn’t writing exactly what you want, wouldn’t you rather them be writing at all? Of course you would.

  20. Shannon

    It is sad that most critics are judging Rowling’s work based on her past writing instead of viewing it as a stand-alone effort. Did some of these critics go back and reevaluate their opinion of the novel after discovering Rowling was the author? It reminds me of how people are trying to pen in the actors that starred in the Harry Potter movies as actors that are only able to portray young adult wizards.

  21. Interesting article. JK Rowling did such a marvelous job with the Harry Potter series, and it is a shame that critics are not viewing this new work as one that is one of its own. Being a fan of HP, i am glad that Rowling is still writing. It is better that she is writing at all, rather than just leaving her career to the Harry Potter series. She has a talent, and there is no point wasting it when she can chose to write what she wishes.
    Great article Abby.

  22. J.K. Rowling is an extraordinary writer, and ‘The Casual Vacancy’ is a fantastic novel. I think it’s just growing pains that people associate her with Potter so much. I think (and hope) that eventually she will build up such a body of other work that she finally steps out from that series’ long shadow. Let’s not forget, however, that there’s a reason those books cast such a huge shadow. They’re spectacular. Rowling’s powers of world-building, description and characterisation are second to none, and the criticism she gets mystifies me. ‘The Casual Vacancy’ is outstanding; I couldn’t wait to pick it up and get further into the story every day. Years from now, I think she will define this literary period in the same way Dickens defined the Victorian era.

  23. I love that she has been doing adult novels. I was a kid when the Harry Potter novels were coming out, and grew up with them. But now that I am an adult (and the same goes for many of her HP readers) I really appreciate all of her work. I loved The Casual Vacancy. That woman can really create a characters fully, deeply, and interestingly. I was also very sucked in by The Cuckoo’s Calling and am looking forward to the next installment. Rowling’s language and character development is absolutely stellar in everything she has written. She has really proven herself in every way.

  24. Mary Awad

    Good for her trying to get away from her stigma and write something new. Good for her she didn’t want to be judged for past successes. Keep doing you Rowling.

  25. Helen Parshall

    Excellent article. I admire her for trying to cast off being pigeonholed into the harry potter universe.

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