14 Literary Settings Inspired by Real Places

At the end of a good book, do you ever close the back cover, sigh, and think, “I wish I could be there”? Good news: in some cases, you can. While you’re probably never going to make it to Narnia or Hogwarts (I know - I’m disappointed, too), here are a handful of “fictional” places you can actually visit.

© CORBIS

1. Growing up in the midwest means a field trip to Hannibal, Missouri, to see Mark Twain’s old haunting grounds—it was the highlight of my sixth-grade year. Twain has said there was no better place for a boy to grow up than Hannibal and was thus inspired to use many of the area’s landmarks in his writing, especially The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. What was called McDougal Cave in the book is called Mark Twain Cave today - a trip inside will reveal many of the details you might remember from Tom Sawyer.

2. If you want to visit the fictional West Egg from The Great Gatsby, you need only to get yourself to Great Neck, New York, where F. Scott Fitzgerald lived with his wife Zelda for almost two years. It’s thought that he modeled Nick’s “modest” house on his own. In fact, their house is still there today, though I have to say - modest? Really? Maybe in comparison to Jay Gatsby’s...

3. Calling all Little House fans: DeSmet, South Dakota, may just be your next vacation location. Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up in the little pioneer town and took many of her series’ buildings, settings and locations straight from the roads of DeSmet. The Surveyors’ House from By the Shores of Silver Lake is still standing, and you can visit a reconstructed version of Laura’s own Little House. If you don’t think you’ll make it to S.D. anytime soon, never fear - there’s a virtual tour as well.

4. The New York Times wants to help you follow in Holden Caulfield’s footsteps - they’ve painstakingly recreated his route around the city, even though J.D. Salinger was often careful to create pseudonyms for places featured in Catcher in the Rye, especially hotels.

5. If I ever get to Portland, you can bet I’ll take a trip down Klickitat Street. That’s where Ramona Quimby grew up - and it’s not far from where her creator, Beverly Cleary, grew up.

6. Winnie-the-Pooh may not be real, but his home is. Charming Hundred-Acre Wood is based on a place in East Sussex, England, called Ashdown Forest. Many of the landmarks found in the A.A. Milne classics still exist there, including Poohsticks Bridge, Galleon’s Lap (called Gill’s Lap in real life), Roo’s Sandpit and Heffalump Trap. They even hold annual Poohsticks competitions there.

7. The House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Mass. - the oldest surviving mansion house in North America - inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel of the same name that was published in 1851. You can tour it and Hawthorne’s birthplace all for the same fee if you’re ever in Salem, though Hawthorne’s house was actually moved several blocks from the spot where it originally stood.

8. It’s thought that Seven Gables was a huge inspiration to H.P. Lovecraft, who in turn wrote his own tale of a spooky house based on one that really existed. Actually, Lovecraft’s The Shunned House was likely based on two abodes - a Providence, R.I., house Lovecraft’s aunt resided in, and a downright terrifying home in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Lovecraft once called it “a hellish place where night-black deeds must have been done in the early seventeen-hundreds — with a blackish unpainted surface, unnaturally steep roof, and an outside flight of stairs leading to the second story, suffocatingly embowered in a tangle of ivy so dense that one cannot but imagine it accursed or corpse-fed.” That house no longer stands today, but you can still check out the one in Providence, especially if you’re in the market - it’s for sale.

9. James Joyce once said that if Dublin somehow got wiped off the face of the map, you could rebuild it just by reading Ulysses and recreating all of the locations he mentions within its pages. Should you ever want to walk in Bloom’s footsteps, I’d make sure to do it on June 16 - that’s Bloomsday, when thousands of other Joyce fans gather in Dublin to retrace Leopold Bloom’s route.

10. Obviously Walden Pond, made famous by Henry David Thoreau, was never actually represented as a place of fiction, so maybe it doesn’t quite fit this list. But it’s still a location in a classic book that you can actually visit - never fear, it hasn’t been replaced by a parking lot or an apartment complex. Thoreau’s original cabin no longer stands, but you can step into a replica of it and you can see where the real thing once stood.

11. Back in Washington Irving’s time, Sleepy Hollow was known as North Tarrytown, New York. It’s a quaint little town, but I bet you still get the chills when you see the bridge that Irving imagined his Headless Horseman thundering across.

12. Hotels are great settings for mysteries and thrillers - just ask Stephen King. If you ever want to feel like you’re living in pages written by Agatha Christie, just book a room at the Imperial Hotel in Torquay, England. Christie stayed there often and just barely bothered to disguise it as “The Majestic Hotel” in at least three books: Peril at End House, The Body in the Library and Sleeping Murder.

13. I doubt any other little pub has ever inspired as many authors as The Spaniards Inn in London has. The Inn claims that Keats was listening to the birds in the inn’s attached garden when he decided to write “Ode to a Nightingale.” Bram Stroker name-drops the Inn in Dracula, and finally, Charles Dickens set an entire scene of The Pickwick Papers in the inn.

14. It’s hard to say which exact island inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to pick up a pen and write about Jim Hawkins and Treasure Island, but there’s no shortage of theories. Some day Stevenson’s uncle was a seaman who told him detailed stories of Norman Island in the Virgin Islands. It’s also been noted that he visited Brielle, New Jersey, in 1888 and was so taken with a small island on the river that he carved his initials there. Today, it’s called Nienstedt Island. Lastly, Stevenson’s map looks a bit like Scotland’s isle of Unst. Unst makes the official claim to fame, saying that Stevenson wrote Treasure Island after visiting the lighthouse his uncles, David and Thomas Stevenson, built there.

Honorable Mention: Though you can’t actually visit this place these days, at one time, the White City of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago really did exist. And it really did inspire L. Frank Baum to write about a similar venue, though it was a slightly different color: Emerald.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
These Sparrows Have Been Singing the Same Songs for 1500 Years
iStock
iStock

Swamp sparrows are creatures of habit—so much so that they’ve been chirping out the same few tunes for more than 1500 years, Science magazine reports.

These findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, resulted from an analysis of the songs of 615 adult male swamp sparrows found in six different areas of the northeastern U.S. Researchers learned that young swamp sparrows pick up these songs from the adults around them and are able to mimic the notes with astounding accuracy.

Here’s what one of their songs sounds like:

“We were able to show that swamp sparrows very rarely make mistakes when they learn their songs, and they don't just learn songs at random; they pick up commoner songs rather than rarer songs,” Robert Lachlan, a biologist at London’s Queen Mary University and the study’s lead author, tells National Geographic.

Put differently, the birds don’t mimic every song their elders crank out. Instead, they memorize the ones they hear most often, and scientists say this form of “conformist bias” was previously thought to be a uniquely human behavior.

Using acoustic analysis software, researchers broke down each individual note of the sparrows’ songs—160 different syllables in total—and discovered that only 2 percent of sparrows deviated from the norm. They then used a statistical method to determine how the songs would have evolved over time. With recordings from 2009 and the 1970s, they were able to estimate that the oldest swamp sparrow songs date back 1537 years on average.

The swamp sparrow’s dedication to accuracy sets the species apart from other songbirds, according to researchers. “Among songbirds, it is clear that some species of birds learn precisely, such as swamp sparrows, while others rarely learn all parts of a demonstrator’s song precisely,” they write.

According to the Audubon Guide to North American Birds, swamp sparrows are similar to other sparrows, like the Lincoln’s sparrow, song sparrow, and chipping sparrow. They’re frequently found in marshes throughout the Northeast and Midwest, as well as much of Canada. They’re known for their piercing call notes and may respond to birders who make loud squeaking sounds in their habitat.

[h/t Science magazine]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
iStock
iStock

Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

Find It: Amazon

2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

Find It: Hasbro Toy Shop

3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

plant
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

Find It: Amazon

4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

Find It: Amazon

5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

Find It: Amazon

6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

Find It: Amazon

7. UNA GRILL; $139

grill
MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

Find It: MoMa Shop

8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

Find It: Amazon

9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

metal fire pit
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

Find It: Amazon

10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

Find It: Amazon

11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

Find It: Amazon

12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

Vintage Snow Cone Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

Find It: Amazon

13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

Find It: Amazon

14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

Find It: Amazon

15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

Bluetooth speaker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

Find It: Amazon

16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

Find It: Amazon

17. HAMMOCK; $174

hammock
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

Find It: Amazon

18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

Find It: Amazon

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios