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Top 10 Books Written Under Pen Names


For whatever reason, some authors choose to publish books under a name different from their real one. In some cases, like Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte publishing under Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell are under advice from publishers to make the book sell better. In other instances, perhaps a well-known author wants to publish a different style of book from their usual fare, and wants the freedom to do it without the expectations attached to their usual name. Regardless of the whys and wherefores, it’s something a lot of authors have chosen to do. Josh Lacey lists 10 of his favorite pseudonymous books on The Guardian today. As much as it might be an obvious choice, I’d have to include The Running Man by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King). I’m not usually a fan of Stephen King’s writing, but that one was innovative and brutal long before anyone had thought of The Hunger Games. On with the list!

1. Tintin in Tibet by Hergé
Georges Remi originally signed his drawings with his initials. He then turned them around and used “RG” instead, which soon morphed into “Hergé”. (It makes sense if you pronounce the letters in a French accent.) I’ve always adored the Tintin books and, without realising what I was doing, borrowed from them when I wrote my own Grk books, the stories of a plucky boy and a little dog travelling around the world, combating injustice and solving mysteries.

2. The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
Daniel Handler has written several novels under his own name, but none of them have achieved the fame and glory of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The 13-book sequence sags a little in the middle, but the first few books are absolutely brilliant, particularly the first of them all, which is a masterpiece of character and comedy. Handler’s greatest creation is his narrator, Lemony Snicket, a sad, lonely and utterly charming character whose melancholy tone pervades the series. Handler originally invented the name to hide behind when he baited neo-Nazis over the internet; his delicious mischievousness jumps off every page.

3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens took his pseudonym from the call of sailors on the Mississippi, shouting out “mark twain”, the depth of “two fathoms”. I was forced to read the story of Huck Finn at school and hated it. I picked it up again as an adult and fell in love. What could be a better spur to a story than this: “The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer I lit out.” All the best children’s adventure stories begin in the same way: I was bored at home, tired of domestic life, so I set out to find some excitement…

4. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The perplexing games, puns and trickery of Alice in Wonderland begin with the author’s name. When Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was thinking of a new name for himself, he took his first two names and translated them into Latin. That gave him “Carolus Lodovicus”. He switched them around and translated them back into English, ending up with Lewis Carroll.

5. The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Robinson Crusoe
The first readers of Robinson Crusoe’s extraordinary adventures believed that they were reading an autobiography: the title page said Mr Crusoe’s book was “written by himself” and there were no hints to suggest any editors or ghostwriters had been involved. After 28 years on an island, he had dragged himself back to London and penned his life story. If it works, this is the best possible way to use a pseudonym: nothing stands between the readers and the truth of the story.

6. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Carlo Lorenzini was a journalist and satirist who thought his own best-known work was “childish twaddle”, which may have been why he published it under a pseudonym, taking his new name from the village near Florence where he spent his childhood. He didn’t like Pinocchio much, inflicting constant pain and humiliation on his fictional character, and had to be persuaded by his publishers to keep writing. The original story is much more rebellious and antagonistic than Disney’s version.

7. The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss
I once read a biography of Theodore Seuss Geisel and learnt one snippet of biographical information that I’ve never forgotten. Whenever a journalist asked where he got his ideas, Dr Seuss would reply that he found them on his annual visit to Über Gletch, a small town in the Austrian Alps, where he went each year to get his cuckoo clock repaired. Here’s another nice fact about him: Dr Seuss didn’t just invent his own name, he made up the name of an imaginary daughter too, and even dedicated one of his books to her.

8. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E Lockhart
Frankie Landau-Banks is a girl who finds herself confronted by a tricky problem: how can she be a teenager without being an idiot? She’s a pupil at an expensive, exclusive American boarding-school, where the girls are expected to be pretty, polite and dumb, and the smartest boys group themselves into a club which forbids entrance to females. If Frankie wants to be liked – or even loved – does she have to hide her intelligence, suffocate her wit and stifle her own imagination? This is a wonderfully funny and clever novel about a teenage girl refusing to obey the rules. Having read it, I discovered that the mysterious E Lockhart is also Emily Jenkins, the author of some excellent picture books.

9. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Eric Blair apparently borrowed his pseudonym from the river in Suffolk and added George for its solid Englishness. I can’t imagine Animal Farm was intended as a children’s book, but I read it as a child; like a great fable or fairy tale, it speaks to all readers, whatever their age, allowing each of them to find different pleasures.

10. The Story-Teller by Saki
This is the story of three kids on a train, whose aunt tells them a dull moral tale to pass the journey. Seeing how bored they are, another passenger takes over the narrative duties and tells a deliciously subversive story about a little girl who is so good that she’s given a chestful of medals. A hungry wolf comes past. The girl hides, but her trembling makes the medals clink and clatter. Alerted by the noise, the wolf finds her and gobbles her up. The aunt is furious: “A most improper story to tell to young children! You have undermined the effect of years of careful teaching.” Hector Hugh Munro didn’t write “The Storyteller” for children, but it is an example to anyone who does.

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Beth Carswell

About Beth Carswell

I've been reading, selling, researching, loving and writing about books with AbeBooks since 2000.

3 Responses to “Top 10 Books Written Under Pen Names”

  1. Good list. I have read 6 of these books (who hasn’t read or been read The Cat in the Hat). I didn’t know George Orwell was a pen name.

  2. This was wonderful. It brought back memories of many favorite classics read in childhoood. I am a child therapist who loves writing and comes from a wild family; I definitely need anonymity as I consider a blog!

    Thanks,
    Joan

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