10 Book Characters (Surprisingly) Based on Real People

Peek beneath the imaginations of the greatest writers and you’ll find…the real people they based their characters on.

1. The BFG (Roald Dahl)


…more like the Big Friendly Bricklayer. Walter Saunders was a huuuge workman who built Roald Dahl’s beloved writing shack. With truly massive ears, hands ‘like a bunch of bananas’ and a smiling disposition, it’s not hard to see where the writer’s inspiration came from. Even the young heroine, Sophie, was named after Dahl’s granddaughter.

2. Popeye (E.C. Segar)

In Segar’s hometown of Chester, Illinois, there was a local tough guy called Frank ‘Rocky’ Fiegel. Known locally for his corn-cob pipe and the deceptive strength of his wiry frame…well, you can guess the rest. Fiegel was the spitting image of Popeye. Really, all that’s missing is the tin of spinach. He didn’t mind though, and even included an engraved sketch of Popeye on his tombstone.

3. Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)

Huck Finn

No mystery here, because Twain came completely clean in his own autobiography: “In Huckleberry Finn I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had.” Sadly, Tom reputedly fell foul of the law and died just a few years after Twain’s classic book was published. But at least his name lives on.

4. Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer)

Artemis Fowl

The 12-year-old criminal genius (and star of eight best-selling books) had a very clear inspiration – the author’s own younger brother. Apparently, little Donal was “a mischievous mastermind who could get out of any trouble he got into.” So when, years later, Colfer saw a childhood picture of young Donal wearing a suit, it struck the writer that he looked like a tiny James Bond villain. And thus a great idea was born.

5. Ebenezer Scrooge (Charles Dickens)

The infamous miser, from the classic book A Christmas Carol, wasn’t entirely a work of Dickens’ imagination. That’s because the writer knew all about John Elwes, an 18th century British politician who inherited a vast fortune and was determined not to spend a penny of it. As eccentric as he was mean, Elwes ate rotten food, slept in his tattered day clothes and went to bed at sundown to save on candles. A classy guy.

6. Severus Snape (J. K. Rowling)


What is it they say about revenge being a dish best served cold? Harry Potter author Rowling openly admits she based the sadistic potions teacher Snape on her own old chemistry teacher, John Nettleship – who she described as ‘not a particularly pleasant person’. Understandably, the old boy wasn’t too flattered by the comparison: “I knew I was a strict teacher but I didn’t think I was that bad.”

7. Tintin (Hergé)


In 1928, a Danish newspaper challenged a 15-year-old boy to re-enact the circumnavigation of the globe from Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days. (Yes, they really did.) Even more incredibly, the young lad – Palle Huld – did it, crossing war zones and frozen wastelands in just 44 days. (His worried mother was prescribed sleeping tablets for the duration of the trip.) Just months later, Hergé launched a new cartoon about a globe-trotting, adventurous boy named Tintin. Coincidence? Probably not.

8. Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear (A. A. Milne)

Pooh and Christopher

Famously, Milne based these beloved characters directly on his own son, and his teddy bear. Just as famously, Christopher Robin Milne (yes, even the name was the same) greatly resented this unwanted fame. It doesn’t help that, as parents, the Milnes were actually quite cold, stuffy and distant. Christopher was virtually raised by a nanny, so you can see how he might be annoyed by becoming the poster child for an idealized childhood.

9. Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)

Alice Wonderland

Lewis Carroll undoubtedly based his title character on Alice Liddell, the young child of his friends. (The whole idea for the book started when Alice asked him for a story.) Carroll used to spend hours entertaining the seven-year-old, and photographing her – until finally her parents cut off communication with him. Ever since, people have debated whether Carroll’s friendship was entirely wholesome. But it will remain a mystery.

10. Hermione (J. K. Rowling)


The Harry Potter author didn’t spend too long seeking an inspiration for Hogwarts’ most famous female character – which was based on herself. Rowling admitted: “Hermione is loosely…a caricature of me when I was 11, which I’m not particularly proud of. She’s quite annoying in a lot of ways.” Maybe a little annoying sometimes – but this bossy, brainy and brave character has also been a positive role model for millions of young girls.

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