Anagrams in Novels – Clever or Cringeworthy?

I’m really bad with picking up anagrams.

I recently realised that the name of a famous ebook reading device is an anagram of “book”. (That’s the Kobo, in case you’re worse at it than me.)

And it was only this year, 11 years after the last instalment of The Matrix Trilogy was released, when I realised that for three movies of NEO trying to work out if he is the ONE… you see? And that was only after someone pointed it out to me.

A good example of an accurate anagram. Credit: Paul at Unreality Magazine

A good example of an accurate anagram. Credit: Paul at Unreality Magazine

We sometimes see anagrams used in books and movies and TV shows, maybe in detective mysteries where the culprit leaves an anagram as cryptic clue to tease the police. Or a character might use an anagram of his name as an alias.

A recent famous anagram is “Tom Marvolo Riddle” = “I Am Lord Voldemort” in the book called you-know-what written by you-know-who.

I always felt the “I am” part of that anagram made it looked forced and contrived. If it was a compete name that was an anagram of just “Lord Voldemort” I would have found it far more powerful. I get the feeling JK was struggling to make the anagram thing fit with Lord Voldemort. The “I am” prefix could perhaps be defended by Tom Riddle’s desire to not just create a name, but an association of the name with himself if he were to announce it to a town square full of fearful witches and wizards, just as he did to a lone Harry in the Chamber of Secrets. I can’t remember if there was any reference of him making such an appearance to the wizarding world. Still, the “I am” could have been used separately with the anagram proper.

Anyway, this leads me to my question. Questions.

  • Should we use/avoid using anagrams in our fiction?
  • How far should we push it if it isn’t working?
  • Are they just a cliché or a gimmick that makes the reader groan?
  • Are they more trouble than they are worth?
  • Or can they be powerful elements that enhance a story?

Have you tried to use anagrams in your fiction? If so, how did you use them and how well did it work?

4 thoughts on “Anagrams in Novels – Clever or Cringeworthy?

  1. Kate Johnston

    Anagrams are like puzzles, and me no like puzzles! In all seriousness, I think they could be clever and useful if done well. And not something to use just to gloat that I put an anagram in my book.


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