The Original ‘J. K.’ a French Novelist?

The great lacuna in Potter studies is what Rowling read and loved in her French studies at Exeter and beyond.

Victor Hugo and Colette are the only authors we have for certain from her testimony and names in her work and Manon Lescaut is the only French story title she has mentioned as a favorite.

There is a famous French writer, though, Joris-Karl Huysmans, who was known by his first initials, i.e., ‘J. K.’ 

Never heard of him? Me, neither. From his wikipedia page:

Charles-Marie-Georges Huysmans(5 February 1848 – 12 May 1907) was a French novelist and art critic who published his works as Joris-Karl Huysmans, variably abbreviated as J. K. or J.-K.). He is most famous for the novel À rebours (1884, published in English as Against the Grain or Against Nature). He supported himself by a 30-year career in the French civil service.

Huysmans’ work is considered remarkable for its idiosyncratic use of the French language, large vocabulary, descriptions, satirical wit and far-ranging erudition. First considered part of Naturalism, he became associated with the decadent movement with his publication of À rebours. His work expressed his deep pessimism, which had led him to the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. In later years, his novels reflected his study of Catholicism, religious conversion, and becoming an oblate. He discussed the iconography of Christian architecture at length in La cathédrale (1898), set at Chartres and with its cathedral as the focus of the book.

Là-bas (1891), En route (1895) and La cathédrale (1898) are a trilogy that feature Durtal, an autobiographical character whose spiritual progress is tracked and who converts to Catholicism. In the novel that follows, L’Oblat (1903), Durtal becomes an oblate in a monastery, as Huysmans himself was in the Benedictine Abbey at Ligugé, near Poitiers, in 1901. La cathédrale was his most commercially successful work. Its profits enabled Huysmans to retire from his civil service job and live on his royalties.

I wonder if Huysmans was well known to the Presence through her French studies at Exeter or travels in France and if she thought her life as a school teacher and sometime writer when she became J. K. herself would parallel his life as a civil servant cum author when she chose the ‘K’ for her faux middle initial.

The ‘Kathleen’ as grandmother’s name is not a reason per se because she had many other relatives, I’m sure, and teachers whose names she might have chosen. As her ‘Galbraith’ and “Potter’ “explanations,” the K-rationale rings hollow.

I am not a Francophone or Francophile as noted. So I asked Cory Faniel at La Gazette du Sorcier, “Is Huysmans someone Rowling is sure to have read, a French studies staple akin to Zola, Hugo, and Proust?” Cory responded promptly for his staff at France’s most important Wizarding World fan site:

Huysmans is not a big name in French studies as far as we know.

We had to Google him. He might be briefly mentionned when discussing L’Assommoir de Zola.

Note that no one in my team studied French Literature in France at University, so were are not completely aware of the details of programs on offer.

I reached out to Beatrice Groves as well. Nope; this French novelist J. K. is not an author with whom she is familiar.

Anyone out there a Modern Languages major with a concentration in French Literature care to comment? Is this J. K. an author that Rowling is likely to have read at Exeter? Any similarities between his work and hers, i.e., was this an association that she might have wanted a well read (in French!) person to make? It trumps J. K. Galbraith, no?

A J. K. Rowling ‘Beasts’ Revenge Theory

On the thread discussing ‘J. K. Rowling Still writing Fantastic Beasts 3 Screenplay,’ David Llewellyn Dodds, wrote, “What about the possibility of an analogue of ‘director’s cut’ in the form of ‘Rowling novels following movies’?” I started to write a reply but it soon became post length. In brief, I think this is a wonderful possibility and at least as unlikely as it would be both delightful and characteristic of Rowling the Subversive.

I trust David to correct me if I misunderstand what he is suggesting, which in my version goes something like this:

Novelists have their popular stories ‘adapted,’ which is to say ‘transformed, changed, and diminished,’ by movie makers. The original creators usually have little say in these medium metamorphases which are done by a screenwriter or a team of such, and, much more often than not, the new story is what most people remember of the work rather than the original creation and point which was the book. Nabokov was asked to write the screenplay for the first Lolita adaptation, he complied, they ignored his work (!), and he eventually published his ‘adaptation.’ Only Nabokov scholars, of course, have read it or are even aware of it.

So what do novelists get? They get a huge payday both in the form of payment for movie rights and from royalties (a successful film even if a bad or distortive adaptation, and, again, due to the opposing nature of the media, imaginative vs straight sense perception, all adaptations are inherently distortive and diminishing – will revive interest in a book indefinitely).

What they lose is larger public understanding of their work. Readers who come to the original work after seeing the film inevitably ‘see’ the film imaginatively in light of the screened images they have already consumed which supplants their capacity to envisage what the author has written. Hence the resistance of some novelists and their estates — think J. D. Salinger and Catcher in the Rye and the Tolkien estate — to Hollywood perversion of their creative visions.

Is there a way out of this bind except refusing the Tinsel Town galleons? Not really, especially if the author is beholden to charity commitments as Rowling is, or if the film rights to a work have been sold long ago as with Fantastic Beasts (with little thought perhaps given to its adaptation), or if an Estate faces family members who crave film gold and royalty revival (I think, forgive me, of the C. S. Lewis group, alas).

David’s suggestion, though, is that Rowling has a way of exacting creative revenge. Her reverse play, if I understand David, would be to take part in the screenwriting collaborative process and submit to all the changes and cuts the director and various Executive Producers insist are necessary. Something approximating her original vision makes it to the screen and she (her brand as well as her Volant and Lumos charities) gets a huge payout.

Then — and this is the defamiliarizing twist on the usual formula — Rowling publishes the novel versions of these stories. This publication-post-film-making has the following effects:

(1) A Dickensian ‘New Edition’ Payday: Dickens famously sold his novels in three chapter bundles as he wrote them, then repackaged and sold the complete book, and then came out with various ‘Collector’s Editions,’ all of which issues of the same book gave him a new income stream. Rowling, by publishing her truly original novels after the film screenplay collaborations, gets paid twice for her work. And, forgive me, these novels would sell the way the Harry Potter books did because they are Wizarding World stories from the hand of the One and Only.

(2) Exposure of the Screenwriting ‘Sausage Making’ Process: By giving us the true story, readers who have seen the movies (which, frankly, is ‘all readers’) will inevitably be saying as they read, “Oh, wow! That was isn’t the film! Why did they cut that out? That’s really important….” Rowling will exact revenge for all novelists who cannot believe what was cut from their stories in the film making and what made up in conformity with film-making formula (“A chase scene or two! In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe!”) but who cannot complain because they took Babylon’s money in exchange for rights to their work. Writing or just publishing the true stories, ‘true’ in the sense of fidelity to the original vision of the author of course,after the films shows just how little of that vision survives the inane demands and story-butchery of film making. Which is genius, frankly, and a characteristically Rowling-esque subversive twist on the power holders. Think Hermione and The Quibbler.

(3) Revelation to Film Devotees of Media Reality: The follow-up novels, more importantly if much less obviously, might also expose to the more thoughtful reader the inherently diminishing and distortive effects of film adaptations. Movie lovers are — without exception in my limited experience — blissfully unaware of the iconoclastic quality of the medium they prefer, a story-telling medium that serves and reflects the materialist and inherently secular ideas defining the historical period in which we live. By reducing by transforming imaginative immersion to sense perception, all that films can communicate in the end is fear or emotional sentiment, hence the importance of physical beauty and the inevitable chase. Rowling’s reverse-play, by giving the reader of the true story a much greater experience than the film version, would be revealing the paucity of the movie medium.

Unfortunately, this last falls victim to the same trap that the usual sequence of novel-to-film gives readers. Rowling’s feast for the reader imagination and the much broader spectrum of interior experience and transformation in Newt Scamander stories will inevitably all be restricted in reader minds to their mental pictures from the films of what Newt, Jacob, Queenie, Tina, Gellert, Albus, and Company look like and behave.

There’s really no winning here, in other words, on that score; the Salinger Option is the only way to retain control and its ascetic quality is all but anathema in this time period.

But what a delight if Rowling would publish her Scamander-Grindelwald stories as novels ex post facto the film versions! We readers would get the real thing and Warner Brothers would be exposed as the corporate story prostitution factory that it is. I have to doubt very much Rowling will do this as characteristic a rwist as it certainly would be, but I can imagine few more exciting possibilities. Thank you, David, for the idea — and forgive me if this idea is not what you meant!


Lethal White Filming for BBC1 Begins: Robert Glenister as Jasper Chiswell!

Bronte Studios has begun filming the adaptation of Lethal White for BBC1 written by screenwriter Tom Edge. Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger are back in the lead roles as Cormoran and Robin and the actors who have played Charlotte and Matthew return as well. See the BBC1 announcement here.

The surprise? Robert Glenister, the brilliant narrator of the Strike audio book versions, has been cast as Jasper Chiswell:

Burke (The Souvenir, War And Peace) and Grainger (Animals, The Capture) lead a cast of acclaimed British actors including Robert Glenister, who most recently starred in Curfew for Sky Atlantic, other credits include Paranoid, Journey’s End and Live By Night as well as conman Ash “Three Socks” Morgan in the hit BBC One series Hustle. Glenister also read the audio-book versions of the Robert Galbraith books including Lethal White. Natasha O’Keeffe (Peaky Blinders, Sherlock) and Kerr Logan (Alias Grace, London Irish) also return as Strike’s ex-girlfriend and Robin’s fiancé respectively.

I guess this casting shouldn’t be that much of a surprise given Glenister’s accomplishments as an actor but the overlap is fascinating and curious. I mean, Stephen Fry and Jim Dale are famous comedians and actors, too, but they weren’t invited to take part in the remarkably large ensemble cast of the Hogwarts Saga film adaptations.

I look forward to the day (if I live long enough to see it — I don’t think this day will be coming anytime soon) when we learn the background machinations of The Presence in all things Cormoran Strike, from her planning and writing of the books to the adaptations for the wee screen and the serendipitous casting of Burke as Rosmer in the West End revival production of Rosmersholm the summer before Lethal White is filmed. I suspect that Glenister’s casting as Chiswell was as much a coincidence as Burke’s was, which is to say, “not an accident at all.”

I am not a fan of film adaptations, but I so admire Glenister’s readings that I confess to looking forward to seeing his version of Jasper Chiswell. You?

Hidden Photos at Rowling Websites: Digital Clues and Detective Work #2

We got some great results in our first look at embedded pictures on The Presence’s website homepage. The Smith’s album cover shown is from an album that has song lyrics noting three different murders (per Louise Freeman) and one song with a suggestive title, ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’ (Chris Calderon). For more discussion on that, go to the thread following ‘Hidden Photos at Rowling Websites: Digital Clues and Detective Work #1.’

Today let’s have a look at another photo-on-the-edge, this one in plain site but hard to figure: a book and what looks to be a coaster but the url says is a ‘bath.’

Well, the url actually says “bath-book.png” and looking at the book maybe it just means the book was dropped in the tub during a reading (Rowling has said this a common fate for her favorite books).

The book is Off With Their Heads by Ngaio Marsh and it deserves it’s own longish post. Just as a teaser, it features a white horse so it got this brief mention in our Lethal White pre-publication White Horse Round-Up:

Rowling’s home web site is not PotterMore; it is It’s worth a visit every month or so to see what she’s put up there. Early this year I noticed a book cover I’d missed on previous drop-ins. The title is barely legible (see picture on the right), but it turns out to be Ngaio Marsh’s Off With His Head! which was published as Death of a Fool in the United States. I asked my Lewis Carroll expert and friend, Brian Basore, to look into it because I assumed it was a reference to the Queen of Hearts in Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. Not so much, it turns out.

But — Alchemy (the forge!), the Fool (see Evan Willis on the Harlequin) temperaments/humours, Shakespeare, Jonson, mise en abyme, murder mystery… with P. D. James’ The Skull Beneath the Skin, Marsh’s Off With His Head is another model for Silkworm and a brilliant alchemical murder-mystery set-piece. It’s must reading for Potter Pundits, especially with the cover posting.

And, as Brian Basore reminds me, the murder in the novel turns on the details of a Morris Dance routine in which the star figure is a white horse in two pieces. Are you seeing a pattern?

I will write up those notes soon, trust me, but what I’m really wondering about today is that coaster:

Any ideas? The closest thing I could find was a Welsh dragon bumper sticker. I’m confident that’s not it. Please tweet it out to your friends, do the requisite Google searches, or post it on FaceBook for your followers to recognize. I look forward to reading your findings…

Will Benson and Tess De Vere Reminder: ‘Summary Justice’ On Deck at HogPro

I have just finished John Fairfax’s Summary Justice, the first of his courtroom thrillers featuring the convicted-murderer-become-barrister William Benson and his much more conventional and accredited lawyer cum tutor Tess de Vere. I am delighted to say it is a winner and a wonderful opening to what looks to be a series somewhat akin to the Cormoran Strike – Robin Ellacott detective mysteries.

The three biggest points of correspondence are just the ones you’d want to find if you’re a Serious Striker.

First, the novel was a satisfying story unto itself with twists upon twists, spectacular back and forth revelations in the Old Bailey, and delightfully involved narratives written by both the murder victim and by the murderer. Summary Justice works as a stand-alone book.

Second, there are two background mysteries akin to Robin’s reasons for dropping out of college and the death of Leda Strike. Tess de Vere has just returned to the UK after years overseas and why she left and came back is only hinted at (her best friend Sally really wants to know). More important and urgent is whether Benson did or not did not commit the murder for which he was convicted and served eleven years in prison. Tess sets out with Sally to find out who killed Paul Harbeton if it wasn’t Benson — and what Tess learns and what we see of Will’s time at home with father and brother is not especially reassuring with respect to his innocence.

Third, the lead characters and the supporting cast are well-drawn, credible, and engaging. Benson’s sidekick from prison, Archie Congreve, his legal secretary, Molly Robson, and his legal mentor and seeming Magwitch, Miss Camberley, promise to be constants and delights in the novels to come.

I look forward, then, to starting the next book, Blind Defence, which I’m sure will be another thrill-ride, to taking the next step forward in it to learning about the over-arching mysteries, and just to spending time with Will, Tess, and Company. As I do with Strike5, right?

Please do get a copy of Summary Justice and give it at least one reading before we start discussing it next month. I was confident that it would be a great choice for our conversation after reading five of Brodrick’s Father Anselm mysteries; after finishing Summary Justice today, I know you will love it.

If you need an extra boost, read the rave reviews sans spoilers for the book at The Literary Shed (UK) and at GoodReads. Then go to the library or your local bookstore or to, pick up your copy, and start reading!