Thank you, Bea, Nick, and Sandy! This is an introductory post, as I hope I said more than once, and I see now I should have added more qualifiers than I did in my lead up to my concluding assertion, one which segues to a post about 'Running Grave' being the end of the Strike series, which will introduce a follow-on piece about what it means for Rowling Studies if Strike7 is indeed the end.

I think now -- and thank you, Sandy, for noting that this is the last site where we would celebrate the end of Rowling's writing (no one takes her craft as seriously as the writers here or appreciates her artistry more) -- I should have asked the rhetorical questions, "What if Rowling were to die tomorrow? What would that mean for Rowling Studies?"

Because that is where I'm heading. As Bea noted, I provided the counter-examples to my own 'rule,' writers that were writing decades after hitting their twenty-five year mark. My point, as I hope you'll see presented in some fullness soon, is that it is time to begin reading Rowling's work as it will be read by men and women in the future, as all other Greats are now read. The current approaches are with very few exceptions captive to the gravitational pulls of her latest work and the book to come or, worse, to the critical lenses of our historical period, a nadir frankly in the history of literary criticism.

So, again, this is a throat-clearing post, not an assertion of any substance in itself, but one to prepare you for thinking about Rowling and her work in an entirely different light. Thank you for your patience as this rolls out -- and thank you, too, for taking my provocation as the lark that it is.

Expand full comment

I said that this was thought provoking, and so it has proved. I'm currently rereading The Casual Vacancy and pondering why many, though as John notes by no means all authors, seem to have this 25 year span of their best work. The power of Rowling's writings are the vivid impressions, both visual and emotional, she creates. The story scaffold and plot help to propel you along. The psychomacia, allusions and perennial imagery create depth, complexity and greatness beyond that which a casual reader (amongst whom I count myself) can consciously appreciate at that moment of reading.

At that moment of reading, when we are seeing what a character is seeing, feeling what they are feeling, we rely entirely on the author distilling what they feel and see into us. For an author of Rowling's stature and fame, her life experiences have had little commonality with ours for now approaching the magic 25 years. Could this affect her work going forward?

In an attempt to answer this question I've been looking at those parts of Vacancy which probably have an analogue in her own life with those that don't. There are a few that particularly resonate with my own life, that Jo has almost certainly never experienced. This I think is the quality that allows an author to remain relevant - empathy. J. K Rowling has this quality spades.

Expand full comment

These are excellent observations, Nick. JKR has a genuinely marvelous gift for creating compelling characters and immersive experiences, the strength of which helps readers like me stay engaged when the stories are marred by gaffes or absurdities. Whether her abundant empathy can sustain her in remaining relatable to the casual reader going forward, is a great question. Certainly, it has to help but I’d also argue for an editorial team that she trusts, that helps her see beyond her current life experience and is unafraid to call BS when they see it. More worrisome to me—and entirely unsupported by any facts I’m aware of—is the notion that she might be drinking her own celebrity Kool aide and starting to believe readers will swallow whatever she writes as long as the higher purposes of her narratives are served. I do believe future readers (and multiple reads) of the Strike novels would benefit from revised editions that root out some of the more blatant contradictions and incredulities, much as Tolkien is reported to have done with The Hobbit.

Expand full comment

Thank you, John! I love this, as provocative and thought provoking as it is. As much as I love this, I do hope time will prove you wrong.

Expand full comment
Nov 1, 2023·edited Nov 1, 2023

I enjoyed your list of those who have broken this rule - and noting that (in the main) those who break the rule are modern (relatively speaking) women, and those who keep to it are less recent men. I like to think Rowling will emulate the women of last century and this with a long and fruitful writing life - and here's to hoping she (like PD James) will still be delighting us with novels written in her 90s!

Expand full comment

Perish the thought! 25, schmelty-five. For crying out loud, SO MUCH on this site is dedicated to JKR's BRILLIANCE and now I'm supposed to FULL STOP entertain a 25 year notion based on WHAT??? Stop it. Long may she write! Also I freaking love this site. So *sigh*

Expand full comment

John, bless you for your patience with my outburst and thank you for saying a bit more. When you suggest it's time to "think about Rowling and her work in an entirely different way," are you referring to the Perennialist way of reading and thinking? I reread about that last night so I'm wondering... Also I'm a little confused because aren't we at HogPro already doing that? Or trying to with your guidance? Because if we are, I don't need to think about the death of someone brilliant to try to appreciate her brilliance more deeply. This 25 year idea is an annoying distraction.

I can't believe I'm taking you on a bit, but I'm a grandma and speaking freely is my jam. And it bears repeating, I deeply appreciate you.

Expand full comment
Nov 2, 2023·edited Nov 2, 2023Author

Thank you for speaking freely -- and with such appreciation, Sandy!

To answer your question, I am not referring to the Perennialist way of thinking when I wrote that this post is the first in a series of posts to introduce a new lens through which to read Rowling's work; as you point out, traditionalist exegesis (symbolism, psychomachean allegory, alchemy, chiastic writing) is what we already and will continue to do here.

Without giving away completely where I'm headed, the new lens is much more 'Lake' than 'Shed,' a real departure for me, but one which my recent reviews of Rowling's complete works and which my familiarity with the three qualities of literary criticism of an author after his or her death make me think it is now time to deploy.

The "annoying distraction" of the twenty-five year idea, in other words, was my attempt to shift our perspective from Rowling-the-Living-Writer and her latest and forthcoming books to the larger view of readers 'looking back' at her work. While allowing that Rowling may write for another twenty years (see the counter-examples I gave to my assertion...), the point was to begin shifting our focus to what is the consensus three-part approach to understanding the life and work of a writer.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and the great kindness and patience you've already shown me in my stumbling roll-out of a significant shift in sight-lines.

Expand full comment

Thank you! "...more Lake than Shed"

Now I'm intrigued and excited, the total opposite of annoyed. Bring it on!

Expand full comment
Nov 5, 2023·edited Nov 5, 2023

With the greatest respect I would like to disagree with this post. I think when looking at Rowling we must examine her through the lens of genre and the expanded life-expectancy coupled with the relative peace & prosperity of the recent past. Both of which are consequential to examining the productivity of the writers listed as examples.

While I would agree with your thesis that many great authors have a 25-year upper bound, from the list above it looks as though most of the examples work in a single or connected genre. The examples provided illustrate a certain consistency and consideration for the types of writing that can be sustained. The comedies of manners of Austen and Dickens are quite different in their construction than say the work of C.S. Lewis or Tolkien who were both writing to revise new and intricate historical mythologies in their works. These authors created and helped to define the bounds of genre in fiction. In essence, to borrow from the great Jasper Fforde, they explored and outlined the boundaries for fiction island. Since then, everyone else has been on an advanced safari following the maps provided by the authors of the past. This is why I believe that many authors who defy the 25-year rule including King (40+ years) and Oates (50+ years), do so through expanding their repertoire by leaving one genre to explore another. I see similarities in Rowling, like both King and Oates she began and found mainstream success early in the context of a single genre with narrow rules. However, by leaving that genre Rowling was able to explore and play with writing tempo, theme, and structure, just as King did in moving from Horror/Crime to Science Fiction/Fantasy and Oates from short stories to novels.

Second, I would like to put forth the following as additional support for the extension of the timeframe for “best work”. Prior to the 1950s life expectancy worldwide was significantly lower due to a number of factors including: medical care, wars and political strife, and food access. Following WWII, the transformation in food availability, medication, and the overall decline in widespread land-based conflict extended the life-expectancy of all peoples worldwide. There is an expectation that authors born following the second world war and those living through the second half of the 20th century can enjoy better health longer than those who were born prior to the 1940s. Unlike Tolkien or Lewis, Rowling has not served on the war-front nor did she live through the war that was “never supposed to happen”. When you do not have the constant specter of illness, inadequacy, and conflict daily it frees up a lot of time and mental energy to write. Perhaps most importantly, the advent of technological progress through the late 20th century to support writing cannot be overstated. Writing takes time, this is true whether it is written out longhand or typed on a computer. However, the dawn of the age of convenience makes it easier for all people to write by providing them with the luxury of time so that they may write regularly. Individuals no longer have the same time burden for meal-preparation, household maintenance, transportation, communication, research, and other important variables that in the past could serve as a constraint on a writer’s output. The best example I have of constrained output is the work of Suzanna Clarke. While I love Dr. Strange and Mr. Norrell, my favorite book of hers is the more recent Piranesi and is provided here as evidence on how health can limit output. Clarke herself has spoken about how illness has greatly reduced her intentions to return to the world of Dr. Strange & Mr. Norrell, but has been unable to do so because of the concentration and effort required to support the fantasy worldbuilding and language construction set forth by the debut. As someone in (apparently) relatively good health, Rowling, like Christie, has the potential for a life unconstrained by the complications of illness.

We do not know what will happen in the future, or if the pattern of history will persist. Examining the output of these writers, as a comparison to Rowling, requires an equally thorough analysis which includes the context of historical events, resource access, and genre. When these relevant factors of input are omitted in a discussion on an author’s output one does influence the scales used for the analysis just a bit.

Also when I refer to Fiction Island, this is what I envision: https://goliath-merchandising.myshopify.com/collections/featured/products/fiction-island-poster

Expand full comment
Nov 5, 2023·edited Nov 5, 2023Author

Thank you for the generous and thoughtful reply!

I think I have already responded to several of these objections to my thesis in my responses above, but I'll risk repeating myself by saying my point was not that Rowling cannot or will not write for several more decades (I supplied examples of seven writers she loves who wrote for far more than the twenty-five of many Greats). My hope in writing this post was to begin to direct critical thought from 'the most recent work,' the 'next work in queue,' or 'twitter header speculations,' to (1) Rowling's work taken as a whole, (2) read through the lenses of her psychological issues and core beliefs, the 'Lake,' and (3) her 'Shed' artistry and meaning.

To make that shift, which is to leave, I understand, the first three generations of Rowling Studies behind (except the the work done in (3) above) is not an easy thing. It makes demands on her serious readers, frankly, that most are not willing or able to make: most importantly in research of her background and study of her neglected work. It also -- and this is to the point of my post -- it means reading Rowling now as if her canon is closed, as if she were as dead as Austen, Nabokov, and Colette, though it obviously isn't.

Yes, there will almost certainly be more work and much of it will be very good (I have my suspicions that it will be difficult for her to improve on 'Troubled Blood' but there is always reason to hope). But it is time for the critical community that takes Rowling-Galbraith more seriously than beach reading entertainment to begin to read her work in the context of all her work, of all her life and beliefs, and of her accomplishments as a craftsman.

Thank you again for sharing your several objections, every one compelling, to an idea to which I am not particularly attached, namely, that Rowling will not write anything more because she has hit the magic wall of twenty-five years. I hope you will reflect on my much more important point that it is past time for Rowling Studies to grow out of its fandom/fangirl stage and to take on a much larger and more challenging view of her writing.

Expand full comment

Thank you for taking the time to reply.

I guess I conveyed my thesis less articulately than I otherwise could have. I think we are in agreement about looking at Rowling’s work as a whole, reading through the lens of the day’s perspective, and examining overall artistry and meaning. My objection while related to the “closing of the latch” was also a broader commentary on the premise that evaluating authors, including the ones listed (Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, etc..) and their works independent of the context of longevity, political strife, and the modern conveniences of the 21st century is itself a disservice.

I also think it is challenging to evaluate an author’s body of work independent of providing a complete narrative within a specific genre of work. I guess my criticism comes when looking at the Strike series as finished, because while it might have originally been plotted/suggested as 7 books, it has now been extended beyond that. While I know that does not suit the Ring reading, I think looking at the Strike series as unfinished presents a more compelling case for analysis of Rowling’s literary contribution and the wider body work, than from within the lens of fandom.

For example, borrowing your example of Tolkien; omitting the period of writing prior to the publication of the Hobbit, you also lose much of the poetry that makes the world of the Lord of the Rings so rich. It is precisely because of the worldbuilding that occurs outside of the 25-year period that makes Tolkien’s Magnum Opus so vivid and resonant.

I guess in the end I am a completionist. To put this another way, if we examine the work of Edith Wharton, who herself published from 1905-1937, we have incomplete pictures that we are required to accept. Wharton died mid-way through what might have been one of her last great works-The Buccaneers. While it is perfectly appropriate to examine Wharton through the lens of all the works completed prior to beginning this story, because The Buccaneers is unfinished, it is judged as part of her cannon and considered by some what might have been her greatest work. We can judge this work within the context of all previous work only because cannot be finished. I do not believe that the same can be said for Rowling, precisely because she has claimed that the larger narrative of the Strike series IS unfinished, and perhaps more consequently because she has not only the plan, but also the health, to finish it.

Instead, I would put forth an argument that this series has evolved to make a bigger commentary than Rowling initially planned. If I was looking at the books, I would say that Rowling’s has a first literary closure that begins with Harry Potter and ends instead with The Silkworm. More broadly a shift came from the publication of Career of Evil, one that has since been expanded upon through the most recent publication of The Running Grave. I would put forward the notion that Rowling’s essential oeuvre began with Career of Evil, not with HP, though that will always be her most popular series.

To take on as you say, “the more challenging view of her writing”, I too believe examining her writing through the lens of all her life and belief means we can look at Strike not in the frame of books 1-7 but as if Career of Evil is the beginning of Joanne/Robert’s writing and everything prior to that was work of JK Rowling. The fantasy created to be the darling of the publishing world.

As noted in your first post response, to look at the rhetorical question “What if Rowling were to Die Tomorrow”, it is in Career of Evil that she really begins her analysis of key themes that are present in the wider lens of her core beliefs and psychological perspectives. Career of Evil is the first book that she throws open the gates for her commentary on violence against women, the media and unsolicited notoriety, and the relationship between predatory men and children. Importantly it is a book that revisits how past “benign” actions impact individuals unseen by larger society, in part because to look at them is to acknowledge failings in oneself-her most consistent refrain over the past 5+ years. Finally, Career of Evil is also, perhaps, the most autobiographical of books as she has her female protagonist proceed with a marriage because it is easy, not because it is right.

Looking back now, I find that many of the earlier writings in Rowling’s cannon were preparation-an exercise in testing language, testing narrative, and testing readers. Yes, HP is excellent, it is among my favorite all-time book series, but as far as Rowling craft and scholarship, I return to both Career of Evil and Troubled Blood when I want to revisit her writing. They are among her best works, and while I find the reading of both challenging, I am willing to put in the time because in terms of artistry and meaning they strike me as the most carefully constructed.

If we are really looking to challenge our view of her work, I would put forth that it is important to examine the Fantasy of JK Rowling the author and publisher’s darling, with the alternative “Writer sometimes known as Robert Galbraith” and the person caught between both fictional creations.

I do not know if I have clarified myself in this analysis or opened the doors to yet more questions. But perhaps that is because I am a completionist. I look forward to further analysis and to the inherent challenges of this discussion in the months and years to come.

Expand full comment