The Harry Potter/Glass Family Connection

J.D. Salinger published very little, considering his literary legend. His place in classic American literature of the 20th century is secured mostly by his single novel The Catcher in the Rye, his collection of short fiction Nine Stories, and his series of short stories and novellas known collectively as the Glass Family saga. His idiosyncratic prose and dialogue, as well as his oddball characters, tend to elicit strong reactions from readers, either positive or negative.

I, for one, am a huge fan of Salinger, especially his Glass saga. My favorite from this series is “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut,” from Nine Stories. None of the Glasses actually appear in this story, rather a character, Eloise, recalls her college relationship with Walt Glass, just before he is shipped off to fight (and die) in WWII. The titular “Uncle Wiggily” refers to the name by which Walt describes Eloise’s ankle, after she sprains it running for a bus.

“Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” is also the only Salinger text to be made into a film, My Foolish Heart (1949). The film was a critical flop and followed Salinger’s original only glancingly, which enraged the writer. In fact, Salinger hated My Foolish Heart so much that he vowed to never again allow his work to be adapted into film, which is why we’ll probably never see a movie version of the classic character from The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield. But Salinger’s vow is especially interesting considering that one of the characters in “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” closely resembles one of the most popular book and film characters of all time, Harry Potter.

The plot of “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” follows an afternoon visit between two New York girls who used to be college roommates, Eloise and Mary Jane, where they spend an afternoon drinking too much and reminiscing about their college days. They talk in Salinger’s distinctive educated, upper-middle class dialect, with frequent stops and starts, the conversation often seeming to go nowhere. But from their meandering talk we get a sense of their characters that more pointed conversation likely would obscure, in particular learning that Eloise is rather a jaded individual. We also see Eloise’s young daughter, Ramona, who appears briefly but significantly. One passage has Ramona describing her imaginary friend, Jimmy Jimmereeno, and it is him that bears the Harry Potter resemblance.

Ramona’s interaction with her mother show the latter’s insensitivity, as well as establishes a thematic parallel between mother and daughter in a common penchant for creating fantasies. In some ways Ramona’s creation of her imaginary friend, Jimmy, reflects a desire on her part to escape her mother’s callousness. But the existence of Jimmy also highlights the similarities between Ramona and Eloise, in that both seem to be natural fabulists. Eloise tries to relive an idealized version of her relationship with Walt Glass before he shipped off to fight in WWII. The mother’s “imaginings” have to do with concocting alternative histories where her own character flaws seem more palatable than her present behavior would suggest. “Uncle Wiggily” reflects a suburban culture of unrest in the thematic parallel of Ramona’s childlike fantasies with Eloise’s wish to recast herself within her own biography. Their respective fantasies both counterpoint and complement each other.

The physical description of Jimmy Jimmereeno, as given by Ramona, unmistakably evokes that of Harry Potter. Jimmy is described as a boy with “black hair,” “green eyes,” “no mommy and daddy,” “no freckles,” and as having “a sword.” Like Jimmy, Harry Potter has green eyes, black hair and no freckles—this last physical attribute is a negative one, and is interesting mainly in consideration that Harry’s best friend, Ron Weasley, does have freckles. Also, like Jimmy, Harry is an orphan and during several important episodes from the series, Harry wields the Sword of Gryffindor, just like Jimmy does his “sword.”

Thus, there are three physical similarities between Jimmy and Harry, one family similarity, and one common accessory. Of course, these are only five syncs from hundreds of Harry Potter’s attributes, as they are detailed in the book and film series in which he is the main character. The resemblance of Jimmy to Harry Potter is, of course, much more striking than that of Harry Potter to Jimmy. But it is interesting that these fives attributes are all that we know of Jimmy Jimmereeno, and all five correspond. Two other more indirect correspondences are that Ramona wears glasses, like Harry Potter, and Jimmy has the same first name as Harry’s father, James.

Add to this several other considerations: A) the persona of the famously reclusive J.D. Salinger as compared to that of J.K. Rowling, being arguably one of the world’s most public literary figures, B) the fact that Salinger was fiercely protective of his work being adapted into film, while Rowling’s books have been made into the most successful franchise in film history, C) The fact that both Salinger and Rowling loved children, wrote what is nowadays described as “Young Adult fiction,” and included children in virtually all of their works, D) that both “Uncle Wiggily” and the Harry Potter series feature young characters living in unsupportive, unloving families.

Drawing the comparison is not at all to suggest that J.K. Rowling knowingly used Jimmy Jimmereeno as a model for Harry Potter, or was even aware of the character. It doesn’t mean anything at all, really, except that it’s an interesting coincidence. Could one go so far as to suggest that the description of a boy with no mother and father, wielding a sword, with black hair, green eyes, and no freckles constitutes some hero archetype, belonging not to one story or one book series but to part of the “collective unconscious,” which Salinger and Rowling both independently accessed? Probably not. But it’s kind of fun to think so.

Nathan Pensky is an assoc. editor for feature interviews at PopMatters, where he also contributes columns, reviews and feature articles. He is also an assoc. editor for the online literary review JMWW, and a recent graduate of the MFA program at Mills College. His writing has been widely published on the web and in print. His hobbies include the ancient art of animal husbandry and speaking about himself in the third person.


  1. Is this meant to be satire?  Otherwise, you are basically saying: “Harry Potter is JUST like this obscure imaginary character from a story almost no one has ever read because he has black hair, green eyes, no freckles, and once held a sword”.

    1. Leaping from YOUR ignorance to a blanket statement about who in the world has read what reflects poorly on you.

      “9 Stories” has been a best-seller since the year it came out.  MILLIONS of people have read it.

  2. Hmm okay?

    More importantly didn’t I read once that JD Salinger intended that selling the movie rights after he died would essentially be part of his families inheritance? He just didn’t want to be a part of it.

  3. There are not many colors of hair (blond/black/brown/red/gray — although not usually the last of those in children). There are not many colors of eyes (blue/brown/gray/green would account for the vast majority). The chance there being two characters having black hair and green eyes is therefore very high. Not having freckles is a very common condition, and would scarcely reduce that probability.

    How many objects does Harry handle over the course of the six books? Very many, I should imagine (I’m not going to go count). But given that he handled many objects, it’s not surprising that one of the objects he handled was also in the possession of another character.

    On how many points does Harry’s character differ from Jimmy’s? Let’s not talk about that, in case it makes the “similarity” of the two characters look even more absurd!

    I’m baffled at the point of this article. It seems like a waste of pixels, unless it’s regarded as a way of demonstrating how prone human minds are to seeing significance where none exists.

        1. But the perception that it’s a rare combination could actually encourage authors to choose that look for their characters.

          Green eyes are a standard trope for magical/powerful/alluring/special characters.  And everybody knows that redheads are more magical.  It’s no different than evil people and those pesky facial warts.

  4. Isn’t Igby Goes Down essentially an adaptation of Catcher in the Rye?  Maybe a little looser than, say, West Side Story vs. Romeo and Juliet or The Lion King vs. Hamlet.  But still…

    1. Igby Goes Down definitely is a loose adaptation, and a pretty good movie–almost certainly as good or better than whatever authorized adaptation might be made.

      I’d like to think that this was wise old Mr. Salinger’s final lesson and gift to us–that we had the magic in us all along, that we never needed his silly old book as a crutch, etc. But of course in reality it boiled down to 

      (a) superhuman crotchetiness
      (b) inability to give a damn
      (c) fuck you, that’s why.

      Not that I’m complaining! I was kind of hoping that when he died, he’d left instructions to be cremated on a pyre of unpublished masterpieces that he’d been hoarding all this time just to spite us.

      1. Making up stupid stories about Salinger’s unpublished works (which still reside in a file cabinet, according to his daughter Margaret) is obnoxious and cruel, and adds noting whatsoever to human civilization.

  5. In addition the the other brilliant points already made here in the comments, I feel compelled to draw attention to the fact that a very high number of characters in young adult fiction are either orphans or their parents are so lackadaisical that they may as well be.  Just look at the entire body of work by Roald Dahl. 

  6. … not to mention the original title of another Glass Family favorite, “Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters (By, Y’know, Pointing Your Wands At It)”

  7. Also, can I just say that I was very disappointed that this wasn’t about the connection between Harry Potter and the Glass family that includes Ira and Philip. Ira Glass really does (arguably) look like a grown-up, slightly more hipsterish Harry Potter. At the very least, you could see the boy from the illustrations growing up into him.

    HARRY POTTER: …So I’m standing there in Hagrid’s shed, I’m drenched in centaur blood, I’m late for the Yule Ball, but there are two healthy newborn centaur colts gamboling around the yard. And that’s when I had this epiphany. I was like, wow, magic isn’t something you do… magic is something that does you

    IRA GLASS: Well, from WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it’s This American Life. Each week on our program we choose some theme, invite a variety of writers and performers to tackle that theme. This week’s theme… orphans. Act one, the story of one of the spider hatchlings left to fend for itself after Aragog’s death in the Forbidden Forest. Act two, we talk with a Hogwarts student about being raised by a grandmother who can see through walls. And in act three, we are once again joined by Sarah Vowell.

    SARAH VOWELL: As I sat in the Hogwarts Library, reading the sanitized copy of the diary of one Mr. Tom Marvolo Riddle, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I might finally have found a teenager who listened to even more Depeche Mode than I did.

    IRA GLASS: All that and more when we come back. Stay with us.

    (“Koyaanisqatsi” theme plays)

  8. That’s just ridiculous, everybody knows that Jimmy Jimmereeno’s looks were based on Dmitry Shostakovich.

  9. Ouch! While I may or may not agree with the overall points in the comments here, I think you’re all being a bit harsh. It’s easy to critique when it isn’t your ass in the hot seat.

  10. Sounds like Edmund from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Edmund’s “eye color” is not mentioned, but “he” is described as “green with envy”. Both stories deal with WWII also.  Is Harry Potter really Edmund? There’s a wardrobe in the book and movie too! And, technically, their parents “are not there”, they “have no parents” at their Uncles home. A ton of bible twitching good and evil stuff too. 

    Can I write a BB Article about this? I think I’m on to something.

  11. I really don’t see anything wrong with your reasoning, even if the connection isn’t very meaningful, but I am kind of curious what the point is if you end the analysis without having taken this connection to any kind of destination. The article would honestly feel less incomplete if the comparison to Potter was omitted entirely and this was limited simply to the comments about Salinger, which were interesting to read.

    … was this whole thing just an excuse to talk about Salinger? I totally support that endeavor, if so.

  12. Hi all. I’m grateful for your comments and criticisms, even the super-negative ones. Feel free to come over to my Twitter, @Nathan_Pensky to discuss more, if you’d like. Don’t hold back, I can take it!

  13. I think you’re reaching, here.

    Orphan-heroes are ten a penny in fairy-tale and children’s stories; a sword is more use for fighting monsters than a tennis racket (and note that Jimmy’s attribute is a sword, while Harry’s is a wand; sure, Harry _wields_ a sword from time to time, but it’s not his main identifier). All the other ‘connections’ seem even weaker. In some ways, Harry Potter has almost as much in common with Luke Skywalker as he does with Jimmy Jimmereeno.

    If Rowling had really been inspired by Salinger, the moat and fountains of Hogwarts would be full of bananafish.

  14. Uhm……… Is this a joke? Having read “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” I feel inclined to call this post complete bs.

  15. isn’t there a dinner party axiom which states if someone says ‘i think it’s an interesting coincidence’, it almost certainly isn’t?

  16. Hi again, commenters: Thought I’d chime in. Because I know people can be protective of their favorite writers, I just wanted to reassure you all that in no way did I mean to suggest that this coincidence “means anything.” I didn’t include a conclusion to this observation, because as far as I’m concerned there isn’t one. The connection is pure whimsy.

    That said, I do find five common attributes striking. I would be very happy if someone could find another character from literature with all five of these attributes in common, especially one so famous as Harry Potter. That’s not me being snarky or whatever, I’d really like to know if there is another one. Thanks.

    1. I accept your challenge, sir.

      A few seconds on Google Books with the search term [“black hair” “blue eyes” orphan sword] brought up a few possibilities. Some of the results are snippet view only, so it’s not always easy to get full information. 
      Tarzan is a near miss: he has black hair, *gray* eyes, no freckles, and held a sword (in “Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar”). He is of course an orphan. 4/5.In a book called “The Chains of Fate” there’s the sentence “And I beheld a boy, small for his age, but already breeched, in a black suit with a miniature sword and black-plumed hat: an astonishingly beautiful child, with his father’s black hair and large vivid blue eyes.” I don’t know if he’s an orphan, but that’s 4/5 in one sentence.A Jules Verne character, Captain Hector Sarvadac, is described as an orphan, “thin, graceful, black hair in natural curls, handsome hands, handsome feet, moustache gracefully turned up, blue eyes.” (No freckles are described). And the story seems to center around a duel — involving swords. Given that one page of results from a very incomplete sampling of world literature turned up one five-point match and two four-point matches, I think that it’s safe to say that there’s a high likelihood of there being several (perhaps many) fictional orphans with black hair, blue eyes, no freckles, and swords.

      1. Hi, Bodhipaksa. Thanks for that. Interesting stuff, though I wasn’t “challenging” anyone. Very combative, you Boing Boing commenters… Also, both Jimmy and HP have “green eyes,” not blue. Green eyes are less common than blue. I tried your method and there were only seven hits, one of which was Jimmy, none of which had anything like 4/5. But like you say, Google Books is not a good representation of all of literature. There may be more, though perhaps none so famous.

        Of course, one of the difficulties with the HP comparison is that Harry’s most iconic features (glasses, forehead scar) do not correspond. Then again, he is obviously a much better developed, much more completely described character than Jimmy J. There are seven long books about Harry, and only one very brief description of Jimmy. It’s actually fairly hard to get a mental picture of Jimmy, as these five points are the only descriptions of his appearance that we are told. And yet every single one of them correspond with HP. That’s where the interest was for me. Then again, I like coincidences.

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