Why J.K. Rowling’s adult, totally not for children books are OK by me

Rowling

Jo has come a long way from the days of Harry Potter. It’s weird to think that one of the biggest children’s writers of our time is now catering to adults, but it’s happening, and it’s probably not going to stop.

When I read 2013’s suburbia novel The Casual Vacancy, which J.K. Rowling wrote several years after children’s book The Tales of Beedle the Bard (a spin-off from the Potter line), I was surprised at how literally the author seemed to construe the term “adult readership.” The book is good, and it mellows out a bit, but I felt like Rowling was trying to cram as much mature content into the opening as she possibly could. Name a dirty topic, and she was making it a character trait.

Now I’m in the middle of reading A Cuckoo’s Calling* (which, hey, is getting a sequel in June), a crime-detective mystery that she published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. After how much flack she got for the rather brash Casual Vacancy, it makes sense that the poor woman would choose to bury the Rowling name with the Harry Potter series and start anew.

Last year in July, Rowling went on record saying, “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.”

Can you blame her? Maybe it’s because of critics’ quotes like this one from Bloomberg: “Imagine Harry Potter with nothing but Muggles — mean, graceless people without a trace of magic. It would be a dull book indeed.”

The Casual Vacancy is not a perfect book. I think it’s terribly flawed in the beginning, like Rowling was trying too hard to leave Harry behind and rewrite everyone’s notion of her as this charming British lady who writes about wizards and magic and young adulthood. Remember, this is the same woman who killed off — OK wait, spoiler alert from 2007 — Hedwig for no reason other than to teach children that our friends die (seriously, read the quote at the front of the book). I thought the rest of Casual Vacancy was quite wonderful. It’s just not something you’d read to your kids.

It’s wrong of us to expect Rowling to keep writing children’s fiction just because of her earlier success. If she needs to ditch her name and adopt a pseudonym to get us to drop the incessant comparisons to Harry Potter and why The Casual Vacancy and A Cuckoo’s Calling aren’t Harry Potter, then more power to her.

She’s a writer. Let her write. If you don’t like it, go reread Sorcerer’s Stone — and shush.

*More on Cuckoo’s Calling from me soon.

9 thoughts on “Why J.K. Rowling’s adult, totally not for children books are OK by me

  1. I’m with you on this one. I liked the Casual Vacancy, but so many people were upset that it isn’t Harry Potter. It was completely ridiculous. Hope you like the rest of Cuckoo’s Calling. I enjoyed it.

    1. Yeah, it’s totally an unfair standard. We can’t expect Rowling to churn out Harry Potters all the time, or to want to. Just because she was successful writing children’s books doesn’t mean that’s all she has to write, ever.

      Even if adult books maybe aren’t her thing (I think she’s doing fine!), she has the right to try out something new, flex her writing muscles.

      I’ll be sure to write up my thoughts on Cuckoo’s Calling. I like it so far. :)

  2. This was a great write-up, Stephanie. Since I’m not much of a fantasy fan, I only read book 1 in the Potter series, and maybe this allowed me to go into Casual Vacancy with an open mind. Unfortunately, I thought it was a terrible book. The adult themes didn’t bother me. I felt there was way too much going on, with far too many characters. It was a bit of a chaotic, bloated mess. Encouraging to hear good things about Cukoo’s Calling. I’ve seen lurking it on my library’s shelves lately, but I’ve been hesitant to pick it up. Maybe now I will. Thanks.

    1. Thanks, Gwen! I’ll have my review of Cuckoo’s Calling up soon, so maybe wait until then (sorry I replied to this late!). ;) I totally get what you’re saying about The Casual Vacancy. There was a ton of stuff going on, and it was particularly overwhelming and messy, to me, in the beginning.

  3. I agree: “She’s a writer. Let her write. If you don’t like it, go reread Sorcerer’s Stone — and shush.”

    It makes sense that JK Rowling has multiple stories inside of her. It also makes sense that she might want to write something geared toward the adults who were among her very first fans when they were kids. Personally, though, I don’t have much interest in Casual Vacancy or Cuckoo’s Calling, especially after what she tried to pull with her fake bio. I can understand wanting to write under a pseudonym, but claiming military experience just went too far for me. I’m still a JK Rowling fan, but I’ll stick to re-reading Harry Potter.

    1. That’s a great point — what you said about her wanting to write for the adults who were the kids first reading her books. I didn’t even think of it that way, but you’re right.

      Fair enough about wanting to stick to Harry Potter. :) So far, IMO, she hasn’t done better than that. But I’m always interested in seeing what she does next.

  4. I wonder if she ever wishes she wrote the adult books first, and then a children’s series. Surely from here on, her every writing move will be critiqued. That can’t be fun as a writer or a person.

    1. Good point! Though on the flip side, her Harry Potter success gives her the freedom to write whatever she wants without worrying about money or getting a book deal. She’s guaranteed one now. Can’t say it would be easier if it were the other way around, though the more famous you are, the more criticism you get, for sure.

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