The Quick 6: Six Children's Book Characters Inspired by Real People

Image credit: 

Children not only read children's books, they sometimes inspire them as well. It shouldn't come as any surprise that some of the most classic characters of all time were based on someone the author knew in real life "“ perhaps that's why the not-so-fictional people seem to come right off the pages (well"¦ that, plus good writing, obviously). Here are six of the most famous.

1. Alice Liddell was the real-life inspiration behind Alice in Wonderland. Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, became friends with the Liddell family when he was working as a photographer in Oxford in the mid-1800s. The Alice stories were a series of yarns Dodgson spun for Alice and her sisters.
2. Liza Minelli. Yes, THAT Liza Minelli! Eloise author Kay Thompson was Minelli's godmother and was thought to have been inspired by Minelli's antics growing up in a very strange, hotel-filled lifestyle. When asked if Minelli was indeed Eloise, Thompson simply responded, "I am Eloise." So"¦ maybe, maybe not. But it sure puts a whole new spin on the series!
3. Christopher Robin Milne. The son of Dorothy and Alan Alexander Milne received a teddy bear on his first birthday, and his attachment to Edward the Bear sparked an idea in his father's head. The name Winnie came from a famous bear who lived at the London Zoo at the time. His schoolmates made fun of him, though, for being the Christopher Robin in the Winnie the Pooh books.

davies4. Michael Llewelyn Davies was one of a band of brothers author J.M. Barrie became friendly with before writing Peter Pan "“ if you've seen Finding Neverland, you already know that. Davies was the fourth of five sons born to Arthur and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and although Barrie used them all as inspiration, especially for the Lost Boys, it's Michael who is thought to have been The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up himself. Michael was an infant when Barrie was writing about Peter as an infant, and was almost five when Barrie wrote Peter Pan. When both Llewelyn Davies parents died, Barrie became the legal guardian of the boys, who called him "Uncle Jim." Sadly, Michael died in a somewhat suspicious drowning when he was just 21 years old (it's speculated that he and his male lover may have had some sort of a suicide pact).

5. Sean Harris. The name might not be familiar to you, but the character almost certainly is "“ Ron Weasley. J.K. Rowling based Harry's BFF on her own "“ sort of. She said she didn't set out thinking that she would write a character just like her best friend, but that as she wrote and developed the character, he just sort of took on some of the same characteristics. Rowling dedicated Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to the real-life Ron.

6. Dorothy Louise Gage, L. Frank Baum's niece, at least loaned her name to the famous Dorothy Gale from Kansas. The real Dorothy died when she was just five months old and Baum's wife was so upset by the death of her niece that Baum decided to create sort of a memorial for the little girl by immortalizing her in his books. Dorothy Gale's personality and characteristics were, in part, derived from Baum's mother-in-law, suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage.

I was really interested in finding the real-life inspirations behind Harriet the Spy and Ramona Quimby, but couldn't dig up a bit of research that says they came from anywhere but the authors' brains. Do you know of any beloved children's characters who were based on a real person? Share them in the comments!

Have a Q10 request? I'm on Twitter and I'm all ears! Err... all keys. Something.

twitterbanner.jpg

More from mental_floss...

August 19, 2009 - 11:00am
submit to reddit