Monday 15 July 2013

The dishonesty of JK Rowling - the fake biography of Robert Galbraith


One of my major ethical concerns in reading the Harry Potter series was Harry's habitual lying - up to the point in the Deathly Hallows when he is sanctified, after which he becomes completely truthful.

My problem was not so much that Harry lied, but that I did not sense any authorial disapproval of the lying - it was as if the author went-along with Harry's dishonesty, such that almost anything served to justify Harry's lies (even to Dumbledore).

I had the feeling that this flaw was a consequence of Rowling's own moral stance - that she was herself the kind of person who lied easily, and who easily excused her own lying.

Seems I was correct.

It has emerged that JKR has published a crime novel under a male pseudonym

I don't have any disagreement with publishing under a pseudonym, nor even under a male pseudonym - but the fake-biography of the pseudonymous 'Robert Galbraith' is a self-serving lie:

“After several years with the Royal Military Police, Robert Galbraith was attached to the SIB (Special Investigative Branch), the plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since then in the civilian security industry. The idea for Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who returned to the civilian world. ‘Robert Galbraith’ is a pseudonym.”

There is no doubt that the specific but lying claim of the novel to have a basis in direct personal experience lends fake authority to a crime novel in a way which is expedient and financially rewarding to the real author - as much as if the author of a scientific novel falsely-claimed to have a PhD in the subject, or if the author of a self-help book on money making pretended to be a multi-millionare.

I find this very disappointing, and indeed shocking - it goes far beyond even the most extreme exaggeration, hype or spin.

And it confirms my perception that JK Rowling, despite having written one of the most profoundly moral of popular novel series, has become corrupted, a turncoat and traitor, and is now working undercover for the Death Eaters.



Arakawa said...

An additional thing that came up in my mind since I last complained about this.

There's different kinds of deception that can be practiced by a character in literature; some of them are reminiscent of the overweening daring of the classical trickster-figure, while other kinds are more redolent of moral cowardice. Some of the deception in Harry Potter seems to me of the second kind, which is particularly jarring when done by the hero and treated as a matter of course.

The somewhat contrived adventure of the first book establishes a fairly strong pattern that even the Good authority figures at Hogwarts aren't confided in. Meanwhile, the reasons for this are fairly weak. (The one-time coincidences that force the children to act on their own are treated like a perennial justification to act independently from thenceforth even when Good authority figures (Dumbledore, McGonagall) are available to help. The 'boarding-school culture' of casual rulebreaking doesn't help.)

There are a lot of riffs later on the theme of truth and deception (Gilderoy Lockhart's career, Umbridge's tendency to punish truths inconvenient to her regime as 'lies') that might have served the story better if the moral compass on this matter was hammered out more precisely right at the beginning.

Bruce Charlton said...


"I did not feel that Rowling's lie was terrible when I first heard about it yesterday. I can understand that a celebrity would want to hide her identity. Fame can contaminate honest work.

"After reading this blog entry -- thinking that Bruce might be attacking Rowling unfairly -- I read the Amazon reviews of the book that began before July 13th (the reveal). They were unexpected: Many are clearly fake, and do not read as honest reviews. Some of the most painful of these fake reviews go along the lines of "Who could the real author be? This is too good to be a debut novel!" The (too) numerous and highly positive editorial reviews of the novel suddenly appear in a different light.

"I believe that every part of this marketing story is fake. The critical reviews were garnered through marketing effort. The Rowling reveal story is carefully choreographed, not the result of some journalistic investigation into the "real author" of an unknown crime novel. That idea was ludicrous enough in the first place that I should feel ashamed to have even unreflectively credited it.

"I do appreciate the window that this incident has given us into the publishing industry and how books are marketed to us. I thank Rowling for that. I hope that she is only the victim of a marketing team gone amok, trying to preserve the very important Rowling brand. The alternative is painful to contemplate."

Bruce Charlton said...

@JOEL - ""I do appreciate the window that this incident has given us into the publishing industry and how books are marketed to us."

Yes, it is worth finding out about the level of dishonesty in the mass media, even tho it is painful.

When I was briefly the centre of an international PC firestorm in 2008, I was astonished to see myself quoted, and I mean using quotation marks, by the Daily Mail who had never interviewed me (nor had I done any interviews at all) - quoted as having said something that I had 1. Never said; and 2. was the exact opposite of what I believed at that time.

I realized then that the media will not just mislead, exaggerate, be selective and biased - but that they will invent lies out of whole cloth.

The whole Zimmerman affair (and especially the NBC faked recording) has, I suspect, been a similar eye opener for many people in the USA.

It is hard, of course, to live on this assumption - I mean, that the major stories in the international mass media are complete fakes, that there can be suffocating 'smoke' blanketing the globe but with no fire at all - but then we have the example of Anthropogenic CO2 Global Warming from science - so we should not be surprised that the mass media are without honesty.

Ugh said...

I am reminded of the current occupant of the White House and his lie-filled literary biography that predated his quest for higher office. Conveniently ignored by the media and then scrubbed when he was called out on it. I'm wondering if JKR will do the same now that you've called her out.

C. said...

Ugh. There is a special place in Hell for military/veteran fakers.

What surprises me about this is that Rowling and co must have KNOWN that they'd be uncovered. In fact they seem to have counted on it. So why choose such a fake promotional backstory? Rowling was going to be outed eventually and the book would sell, they didn't need to lie.

Is lying about military background simply not frowned upon in the same with in the UK? Here it is, but then no one in the UK really seems to like the military in the first place.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ugh - There are plenty of other dishonest people around who see nothing wrong with lying and will excuse it - most of the reports I've read don't seem aware that there is a problem. Plus of course JK Rowling is a member an a savagely oppressed minority (fantastically wealthy female novelists), therefore obviously *has to* lie in order to survive.

BTW you are correct about the UK not sharing the US respect for the military - or, at least, the feeling is more low class and restricted. e.g. There has been a rule in recent years that military personnel should not wear uniforms in public except where unavoidable.