What a week it’s been for the Potterverse. No sooner do we get back from donating our copies of The Casual Vacancy to the used bookstore, than we discover that the entire Harry Potter series was written under a pseudonym, and that the real author is a retired bank manager named Robert Q. Galbraith, O.B.E.
No—wait. That didn’t happen.
What did happen, though, is no less extraordinary. Well, not much less extraordinary, any rate. In case you’re just coming to the story now, here’s a NECESSARY SPOILER: J.K. Rowling published a murder mystery called The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. And apparently absolutely no one knew—just Rowling, her agent, and her lawyer. Oh, and her lawyer’s wife. Oh, and her lawyer’s wife’s best friend. And Twitter. And the world in general. The lead started with a tweet, turned into investigative journalism, then became a veritable two-ring circus of press releases and recriminations and official statements all round.
Still, it’s no real surprise that Rowling wrote a detective novel, given her outspoken love for the genre. The surprise is the creation of Mr Galbraith. Although that’s not too surprising either, given the venerable history of the nom de plume—remember Richard Bachman?
And believe me, no matter how thrilled the media is about all this now, it’s nothing to how grateful Rowling’s future biographers will be. The facts of the event are, of course, obscured by spin and publicity and simple temporal proximity, but I’ll be curious to read various biographers’ interpretations of the past few weeks and months, in thirty or forty years or so.
I’d intended to write my own op-ed about all this (can you believe). I wanted to discuss the merits and demerits of pseudonymity, and Rowling’s use thereof. And I wanted to raise a number of questions that have been puzzling me.
But when I sat down to write, I found I’d been scooped. My article had already been written, with eloquence and sensitivity, by Allan Massie over at The Scotsman. (That’s especially worth reading if you don’t already know about the audacious nom de plume wars Walter Scott waged against himself.) And most of my questions are answered (satisfactorily, if not definitively) in the FAQ at www.robert-galbraith.com–written, of course, with Rowling’s usual good-humour and grace. So check out both those links.
There are still two questions I’m not seeing answered anywhere. For one thing, why did Rowling publish The Cuckoo’s Calling under a pseudonym, but not The Casual Vacancy? When CV released there was, I remember, a big to-do about how Rowling wanted to stand behind her own work. Was CC simply a bridge too far afield from the Potterverse? (The Casual Vacancy could perhaps be let in as a year in the life of the Dursleys.)
And for another—remember what Ian Rankin tweeted during the run up to CV?
Wouldn’t it be funny if J K Rowling’s first novel for adults turned out to be a crime story set in Edinburgh? My word yes.
…Did he know all along?