Alice in Wonderland

Five Book Characters Based on People the Author Knew

Many celebrated authors throughout history have admitted to turning people from their own lives into some of their most iconic characters. Some of these characters are well-known to have real-life counterparts, while others are more surprising. Here are a few of each.



1. The BFG



Image Via The Telegraph



Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant was inspired by his friend Wally Saunders. According to Saunders’ nephew, he built from scratch the famous hut in which Dahl wrote some of his classics. Saunders was very tall and strong, with prominent ears and an extremely generous nature. No one who knew him has any doubt that this man inspired the BFG – indeed, he was a bit of a ‘big friendly giant’ himself!


2. Mary Poppins


Mary Poppins

Image Via Simon & Schuster


The world’s most beloved nanny and the star of P. L. Travers’ series of the same name, Mary Poppins was inspired by the author’s great aunt, Helen Morehead. Travers first wrote about her aunt in the short story ‘Aunt Sass’, which was only printed to give to her friends and family for Christmas and only became available to the public recently. In the short story, Morehead was renamed Christina Saraset. Years after writing Mary Poppins, Travers realized that her aunt also appeared there, “though unconsciously and without intent”.


Most people know Mary Poppins through the celebrated Disney movie adaptation starring Julie Andrews, but Travers absolutely hated the movie. Walt Disney had spent years trying to convince her to sell him the film rights, and she reportedly sobbed as she watched it – and not in a good way. “I said, ‘Oh, God, what have they done?’,” she later remembered. Mary Poppins, she felt, was far too sweet and pretty, and had been entirely declawed, bearing no resemblance to Travers’ caring but stern aunt.


3. Christopher Robin


Christopher Robin

Image Via Country Living


A. A. Milne’s stories of Winnie-the-Pooh and his human friend Christopher Robin are among the most popular children’s stories of all time. Christopher Robin was based on, and named for, Milne’s young son. Christopher Robin Milne’s favorite teddy bear made it into the story too – although the name ‘Winnie’ came from a bear at the zoo, not from the stuffed toy.


He resented his fictional counterpart immensely. He wrote that his father “had filched from me my good name and had left me with nothing but the empty fame of being his son.” He went on to marry his first cousin Lesley, which caused a serious rift between Christopher and his parents – not because of the family relation, but because his mother Daphne, and her brother (Lesley’s father) had been estranged for decades. In the last years of A. A. Milne’s life, he rarely saw his son. Daphne Milne lived for another fifteen years, during which she saw Christopher only once. She refused to see him on her deathbed.


4. Huckleberry Finn

Huck Finn

Image Via New York Times


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen-name Mark Twain, is an American classic (and often, mandatory high school reading). The title character originally appeared as a supporting character in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and starred in his own novel in 1884. Twain later admitted that Huck was heavily inspired by a boy who he had known growing up, Tom Blankenship. 


In his autobiography, Twain wrote, “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.”



5. Alice

Alice in Wonderland

Image Via The Vintage News


Alice Liddell is one of the better-known sources of literary inspiration: she was the ten-year-old for whom Charles Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.


Alice and her sisters Lorina and Edith were the younger sisters of Dodgson’s friend Harry. One afternoon he was asked to entertain them, and so he made up a story about a whimsical underground adventure, naming his main character after his young friend. Alice asked him to write it down for her. He agreed, sending her the manuscript when he was done.


Alice later fell in love with Prince Leopold, whose mother Queen Victoria would not let them marry. Instead, she married Reginald Hargreaves. They had three sons. The eldest two were killed in World War I, and the third died not long after. Alice was eventually forced to sell the original manuscript in order to maintain their estate.


Feature Image Via Time