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.