Guest Post: Harry Potter and ‘The Goldfinch’

Today’s Guest post is from Claudia in Germany.  Claudia has a Master of Arts in Linguistics and German Literature, whose thesis was titled (auf Deutsch) ‘The Art of Reading: About the Cognitive Foundations of Reading in light of its Historical Development.’ She and I have corresponded on several topics and I begged her to write up her notes about the relationship of the Hogwarts Saga and the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Goldfinch. Enjoy!

Dear Professors and Readers of the “Hogwarts Professor”,

This spring I received “The Goldfinch”, the Pulitzer Price winning novel by Donna Tartt, as a birthday present. Hesitatingly I began to read because the book has got 1000 pages (in German; English nearly 800; German title “Der Distelfink” = translation of the bird’s name).  And although I wanted to read the book because Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” was an unforgettable reading experience, I was not exactly looking forward to the story: I don’t like stories about adolescent teenagers, honestly, if they’re not about our favourite one.

And: I nearly didn’t make it to the end. I was constantly comparing the book to Harry’s story and all the time I wanted to step in and shake the guy (the protagonist) to make him come to his senses and react normally, positively, to come out of his depression. But he didn’t. I tried to jump to the end to find out if he made it, but it didn’t work, I couldn’t find out like that. So I did a fast read through to the end.

Well, my attitude towards the protagonist didn’t change and I’m still kind of cross with Ms Tartt for writing her protagonist the way she did.  But I made up my mind about the book. In my eyes “The Goldfinch” is possibly having a literary dialogue with the Potterverse. And I would be very interested in the HogPros opinions on this.

From now on you find my ideas about the “Goldfinch”.  Therefore: all those who haven’t read the novel yet but want to: attention – spoilers ahead!

The protagonist of the “Goldfinch” is a 27 year old man who narrates his life’s story from his thirteenth year on (narrated and narrating time are the same – the present –> published 2013). At one point of the story he receives new glasses. They make him look like Harry Potter. Later his best friend uses to call him not by his given name but “Potter”. This is the most obvious pointer to the Harry-novels.

If I remember correctly the Harry Potter novels are mentioned explicitly more than one time; they seem to be common knowledge to the younger people in the story.

What is following now is a rough list of the points that, in my eyes, seem to support the idea of the literary dialogue between The Goldfinch and the Potterverse – the novels themselves and their reception, too (these points should only serve as an incentive for the discussion since I’m sure there are a lot more links to be found).

  • the protagonist is named Theodore (Decker)
  • his mother dies when he is thirteen years old in an explosion;
    Theo is practically orphaned already then because his father had left them some time before without hint or word
  • his father dies two years later (probably killing himself) in a car accident – so Theo is really orphaned then
  • the explosion, that kills his mother, happens in a museum (MoMA) that Theo is visiting together with her, he survives because he is in another room but is injured and traumatized
  • moments before the explosion Theo meets an old gentleman together with a young girl his age – he feels connected, attracted – she is an ethereal redhead AND she is injured and traumatized in the explosion too, that is why she is the only one to share and understand his experience without words (the old man was her legal guardian, so she lost her caretaker too – whos name was BLACKwell): Theo loves her desperately but his affection is unrequited because she feels he is “too much like her”
  • when Theo comes back to consciousness after the explosion (he was unconscious for a longer period) the old man is dying next to him – before he dies he gives a ring to Theo, sends him somewhere with it and makes him take (steal) a very famous and valuable picture
    –> it is the picture providing the title: “The Goldfinch” by Carel Fabritius from 1654; it depicts, well, a goldfinch –> a little yellow golden bird, depicted there on a small wooden board in front of a shining yellow golden wall, the bird seems to be alive, the light of the picture is absolutely shining and otherworldly

    –> –> in the end I understood this picture as the Golden Snitch of the book; the little bird is in captivity like the part of Theos soul that was injured through the explosion and the loss of his mother

  • after the explosion Theo is without a custodian because his father is not to be found, there are no relatives of his mother, and his paternal granddad and his father’s stepmother don’t want to have him, so the youth welfare service starts to step in
  • to avoid the orphanage Theo names the family of a childhood friend as contact persons and because they are rich and the mother is a charity lady they take him in – their son Andy is his age and a nerd and kind of autistic – there are two more older brothers (the oldest is the black sheep of the family), a stand-offish father (psychological illness) and a sister, which Theo later is nearly going to marry
  • Theo there meets a thin, blond, slightly older Ukrainian boy named Boris, who calles him “Potter” frequently; together they steal, drink, take drugs and skip school, Theo kind of loves Boris, they have a bit of gay sex for company; Boris father is a very violent, alcohol-addicted Ukrainian mining engineer;
    –> their relationship might express what would have happened had Harry befriended Draco, although Boris is in his way as tough and positive as Ron, but he betrays Theo very badly
  • the ring Theo receives from the dying old man leads him to a shop that sells antique furniture “Hobart and Blackwell”; James Hobart (Hobie) is the business partner of the dead “Welty” Blackwell, he is the carpenter of the business, an elegant, tall and gay man, who has style and calmness, he knows how to enjoy life, he loves his work and old things and beauty, he tends to ignore problems; he becomes Theos custodian, teacher and fatherly friend
  • Theo later becomes Hobie’s business partner and saves that business from bankruptcy, without Hobie knowing, through selling restored furniture as very expensive original antiquities

From here on I didn’t read every page anymore – one third of the book is still left. And without giving too much away: Theo keeps the Goldfinch painting all the time although it is illegal and seems to be dangerous for him. The picture is like a lifeline for him and even more so the most manifest link to his mother (when he has gotten the picture in the MoMA he had a kind of vision of his mother). In the end he defends the picture with his life in a rather absurd showdown (I can already see the action scenes of the film with Dan Radcliffe as Theo and Tom Felton as Boris) which might make the reader ask: ‘Is this real or is it only in Theo’s head?’

Here are two opinions of critics that might make HogPro readers eager to get on with the discussion. First, from The Washington Times:

  • “While the plot of “The Goldfinch” keeps the reader on his toes with constant surprises, what makes the novel unique is Theo’s narrative voice. Permanently damaged and scarred by the explosion and the death of his mother, the voice of the traumatized youth and the cynical, self-involved adult is ingenuous and startling.”

Well, serious Potter-readers do know where this voice technically has been used before. The whole novel is written from Theo’s point of view – of course here it is the true first person narrator; the reader sees and feels and judges the world through the eyes and emotions of the remembering Theo.

Next, from Vanity Fair:

  • “Its tone, language, and story belong in children’s literature,” wrote critic James Wood, in The New Yorker. He found a book stuffed with relentless, far-fetched plotting; cloying stock characters; and an overwrought message tacked on at the end as a plea for seriousness. “Tartt’s consoling message, blared in the book’s final pages, is that what will survive of us is great art, but this seems an anxious compensation, as if Tartt were unconsciously acknowledging that the 2013 ‘Goldfinch’ might not survive the way the 1654 ‘Goldfinch’ has.” Days after she was awarded the Pulitzer, Wood told Vanity Fair, “I think that the rapture with which this novel has been received is further proof of the infantilization of our literary culture: a world in which adults go around reading Harry Potter.
Mr. Wood is pointing to the last two pages, where the magic and the love  finally show up. Mr. Wood in my eyes, however, is totally wrong about both The Goldfinch and, of course, about the value of Harry Potter.
I won’t quote from the last two pages: this would be a sacrilege, because I would have to translate back from German to English a work originally written in English.
Donna Tartt is a marvellous writer (even translated); she has a magical way with words. Where the plot is concerned she could learn from Mrs. Rowling.
Finally I would also disagree with Mr. Wood about the message or main theme of The Goldfinch. Of course art plays a very important role in it with many layers of meaning and implications – literally, art is IMMORTAL.
In the beginning of my reading I wrote out some quotations that struck me as important and it turned out  all these passages had the same theme: death and dying. The main themes of The Goldfinch, then, seem to be death, loss and the freedom of choice, because our choices determine the way we live with those unavoidable life events.

Let me stop on that assertion. I hope that those here who love the Hogwarts books as I do and who have read The Goldfinch more carefully than I will comment on this link between the two and that you will point out others I have missed.

With curiosity I’m looking forward to a fruitful discussion. Thank you for reading this brief paper, and, in advance, for your consideration and comparison of these books!

Sincerely yours,



  1. Penelope Clearwater says

    I love the snitch comparison, but the idea that Theo and Boris represent Harry and Draco is ridiculous. Boris has BLACK hair. He’s not even blond.

  2. Well, Penelope, you are perfectly right: Boris is dark haired. It seems that Boris – at least for me – in a certain manner felt so much like Draco that I believed him to be blond and didn’t check again.
    Thanks for sharing your appreciation and your hint,

  3. I know it’s already been said but it bothers me so much I have to say it again. Boris’ dark hair is mentioned many times throughout the novel. He’s not Draco.

  4. absolutely. and to be honest, i found it ridiculous when he had the dream about his mother and he was able to see her and her shining blue eyes through the mirror. so stolen from the mirror of erised!

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