Is Vladimir Nabokov Credence’s Father?

J. K. Rowling is a big fan and serious reader of Vladimir Nabokov. For all the times she has said he is — with Austen and Collette — one of her three favorite writers, “the writer I really love,” and to read about his influence on her work (e.g., cryptonyms, literary alchemy, ring composition, the-dead-who-never-leave-us, etc.) read Harry Potter and Lolita: J. K. Rowling’s ‘Relationship’ with Vladimir Nabokov (Names, Politics, Alchemy, and Parody) and Harry Potter and Lolita: Rowling’s Rings and Vladimir Nabokov’s Story Mirrors (The Alchemy of Narrative Structure).

Nabokov is a big deal in Rowling studies and, with the exception of Collette, the most neglected author among Rowling’s essential influences. Just as a ‘for instance’ of this, go ahead and seach the internet for possible meanings of Credence’s supposedly ‘real name, ‘Aurelius.’ You won’t find a single reference to the author from whom Rowling almost certainly found the name ‘Grindelwald’ (read Pale Fire, my favorite Nabokov novel and many say his best, and you’ll find it, trust me). But Nabokov wrote a short story called ‘The Aurelian’ in 1930, the translation into English was published in November, 1941, and you can read it in The Atlantic Magazine online archives.

It is the story of an older lepidopterist and struggling shopkeeper in Berlin who has dreamed since he was a child of traveling the world to see the butterflies he loves in their native surroundings.

Although once or twice he had had the chance to switch to a more profitable business—selling cloth, for instance, instead of moths—he stubbornly held on to his shop as the symbolic link between his dreary existence and the phantom of perfect happiness. What he craved for, with a fierce, almost morbid intensity, was to net himself the rarest butterflies of distant countries, to see them in flight with his own eyes, to stand waist-deep in lush grass and feel the follow-through of the swishing net and then the furious throbbing of wings through a clutched fold of the gauze.

Why is he an “Aurelian”?

[Paul] Pilgram belonged, or rather was meant to belong (something—the place, the time, the man—had been ill-chosen), to a special breed of dreamers, such dreamers as used to be called in the old days ‘Aurelians’—perhaps on account of those chrysalids, those ‘jewels of Nature,’ which they loved to find hanging on fences above the dusty nettles of country lanes.

What possible meaning could this have for Credence Barebone, the man Gellert Grindelwald tells us is really ‘Aurelius Dumbledore’? I think we’re meant to think of chrysalis, the transformation of pupa to butterfly here, a completely natural and wonderfully miraculous metamorphosis akin to alchemical magic of lead being changed into gold. Paul Pilgram’s sad fate, though, as well as his name, suggests that Credence’s end will not be majestic if his heart is not right.

Do read the whole thing and let me know what you think. ‘The Aurelian’ is a small jewel from Nabokov, a fellow lepidopterist who found himself essentially trapped in Berlin in 1930, and, given the Russo-American novelist’s outsized influence on Rowling, the short story might be a pointer to Credence-Aurelius’ fate.


  1. John!
    The Aurelian mentions the biography of a silkworm (aka Bombyx Mori).
    And Rowling tweeted that she was writing a chapter in Lethal White during the filming of Fantastic Beasts.
    And Catullus 16 (quoted in Lethal White) is an invective against Aurelius.
    And Nabokov quotes Catullus in Lolita (a ring composition).
    Proof positive that Potter fans should read Cormoran Strike.

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