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12 Book Characters That Are Actually Based on Real People

Art doesn’t appear out of thin air. It needs ideas and images from real life or from other art. This is why artists draw people they see on the streets, musicians listen to birds singing, and writers dedicate their novels to the people they love. Anything can be a source of inspiration, sometimes even really scary stories that we need to know in order to discover a different side of the novels we love. Do you know why Dumas fils wrote The Lady of the Camellias and not about some other flowers?

We at Bright Side decided to tell stories about 12 characters that were based on unexpected facts.

1. John Silver, Treasure Island

“...I had an idea for Long John Silver from which I promised myself funds of entertainment; to take an admired friend of mine, to deprive him of all his finer qualities and higher graces of temperament, and to leave him with nothing but his strength, his courage, his quickness, and his magnificent geniality, and to try to express these in terms of the culture of a raw tarpaulin.”

In childhood, William Ernest Henley suffered from tuberculosis of the bone that resulted in the amputation of his left leg below the knee. All his life, he had to walk with a crutch. People that knew him described him as a big bearded man with a loud voice. One of the people who knew him was Robert Louis Stevenson.

Later, in a letter to Henley, Stevenson wrote, “I will now make a confession: It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver... the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you.”

2. Margarita Gautier, The Lady of the Camellias

The character of The Lady of the Camellias was inspired by Marie Duplessis, the love of Dumas fils. Tuberculosis caused her to stop buying flowers with a strong smell, like roses, and she developed a love for camellias because they almost have no smell at all.

3. Daisy Buchanan, The Great Gatsby

Ginevra King was born into a family of a rich Chicago businessman. At the age of 16, she was sledding with her friends and met then 18-year-old Francis Scott Fitzgerald. They liked each other right away, and their romance developed very fast and lasted for 2 years, but then Ginevra married the son of one of her father’s partners and told Francis about it in a letter.

Biographers think that Fitzgerald probably heard “poor boys shouldn’t dream of marrying rich girls,” from the father of Ginevra.

4. Van Helsing, Dracula

Gerard van Swieten, a Dutch physician, was the personal physician of the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa and he used his position in the name of science. He made a lot of reforms, and created the most advanced doctor teaching system of the time, a botanical garden, and a chemical lab.

Also, Gerard was totally against superstitions and when Austria annexed a part of the Balkans, he personally went to Moravia to investigate the “vampire attacks” the local people talked about. After this trip, van Swieten made a report where he explained all the cases from a scientific point of view and proved that there were no vampires. Other doctors supported him and the empress officially prohibited the killing of people who were thought to be vampires.

Most likely, Gerard van Swieten was the man who inspired Bram Stoker to create the character of a Dutch doctor who investigated vampirism.

5. Treebeard, The Lord of the Rings

Clive Staples Lewis was a great speaker with a loud voice. When Lewis was giving lectures, people could hear him even from behind closed doors. And Tolkien gave such a voice to the oldest living Ent in Middle-Earth.

6. Santiago, The Old Man and the Sea

Gregorio Fuentes met Ernest Hemingway in 1928 which was 24 years before the first appearance of The Old Man and the Sea. Gregorio became the captain of the writer’s boat, he cooked for Hemingway, went fishing with him many times (once they even caught a 300-pound blue marlin), and tracked German submarines during World War II. So, it is not surprising that Gregorio is believed to be the prototype for the character whose story got Hemingway a lot of awards.

But Fuentes benefited from this, too: until he died (he was 104 years old when he died), journalists came to him and he was paid well for every interview.

7. Tintin, The Adventures of Tintin

On what would’ve been Jules Verne’s 100th birthday, the Danish newspaper Politiken started a competition among teenagers in 1928. The winner of the competition would get a chance to go around the world and the newspaper would pay for it. The winner was supposed to do it in 46 days. The means of transportation could be anything, except planes. Among hundreds of participants, a 15-year-old boy named Palle Huld was chosen. He completed the trip in 44 days and 20,000 people came to greet him in Copenhagen. During the trip, Palle visited Germany, Great Britain, Poland, USSR, China, Korea, Japan, and Canada. The comic book about Tintin was released in 1928, the next year after the Palle’s trip.

Tintin, just like his prototype, traveled around the world and had different adventures. Palle and Tintin even look very similar.

8. Lisbeth Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Swedish writer Stig Larsson openly said that he was inspired by the characters of his colleague, Astrid Lindgren. The journalist Mikael Blomkvist, also called Kalle Blomkvist, is a boy detective from Lindgren’s books. Lisbeth Salander’s character was inspired by who Pippi Longstocking would’ve become when she grew up.

9. Ichabod Crane, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

During the War of 1812, Washington Irving served on the staff of Daniel Tompkins, governor of New York, and while accompanying him on one of his expeditions, he met Ichabod Crane. The writer only took his name. He took the character from Jesse Merwin, who was a rural Schoolmaster in upstate New York where Irving lived for several months in 1809.

Unlike the book character, Merwin lived until old age and was respected by people.

10. Captain Quint, Jaws

Peter Benchley who wrote Jaws had been working on the idea for the novel about a huge shark for a long time, but he just couldn’t come up with a good story. He made a breakthrough in 1964. At the time, the American newspapers wrote about an incredibly lucky fisherman Frank Mundus who managed to catch several sharks. One of them weighed more than 2 tons. Benchley even met Mundus and went fishing with him. Later, Frank and Peter started protecting sharks.

When Mundus was asked what he thought about the screen adaptation of Jaws, he criticized the details of the film, saying that not a single real shark could ever pull a boat like in the film.

11. Dolores, Lolita

One of the possible prototypes for the main character of the novel could be the 11-year-old girl Florence Sally Horner. In 1948, the young American girl was kidnapped by a 50-year-old man who traveled around the country with her for a long time. In the text of the novel, Vladimir Nabokov makes a direct reference to the case when Humbert asks himself, “Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank Lasalle, a 50-year-old mechanic, had done to eleven-year-old Sally Horner in 1948?”

12. The Snow Queen

The biographer of the writer Carole Rosen thinks that the possible prototype of the Snow Queen with her cold heart is the opera singer Jenny Lind. The writer was in love with her, but she didn’t love him back. They met in 1840 and they were friends. However, the woman didn’t see any romantic future for this friendship.

Do you think that you could be the prototype for a famous character?