The Storyteller

The Storyteller Saki or H.H. Munro: What's in a Pen Name?

"The Storyteller" is a short story by an author who went sometimes by his given name, H. H. Munro, and at other times by the nom de plume or "pen name," Saki. But where did this name come from and why only use it some of the time?

There are two theories as to the origins of the name Saki. One theory, noted by scholar Emlyn Williams in his introduction to a Saki anthology, is that the name refers to a cup bearer in the poem "Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam." However, others argue that the name is likely linked to the author's personal history and interest in the foreign and exotic. Munro was born in Burma when it was part of the British Raj and lived there until he was sent to live in England after the sudden death of his mother. Thus, other scholars have been drawn to the explanation that Saki chose his pen name because "saki" is also the name of a South American monkey, which he has been said to reference in at least one of his stories.

Even more intriguing is the distinction the author drew between works published under his given name and pen name. Munro was an author of not only the short stories he is now remembered for, but also plays, newspaper articles, and longer works of fiction. His journalistic work was generally published under his given name, while his darkly satirical short stories were always published under the name Saki. Scholars have drawn out the differences between these two personas as representing the part of the author that lived and succeeded in British society versus the part that saw and critiqued society from afar. As Brian Gibson writes in Reading Saki: The Fiction of H. H. Munro, "[there is a] gap between Munro and Saki--the latter depending, though with dissidence, on the former's English society" (2).