10 Famous Literary Characters Based on Real People

“Write what you know,” they say, so it makes sense that many authors take a good look at friends and family when creating characters for their books.

1. Mark Twain based Huckleberry Finn on his childhood friend.

Mark Twain once admitted that he wasn’t terribly creative in creating Huckleberry Finn—he shaped the character almost precisely on his buddy Tom Blankenship. From his 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. His liberties were totally unrestricted. He was the only really independent person—boy or man—in the community, and by consequence he was tranquilly and continuously happy and envied by the rest of us. And as his society was forbidden us by our parents the prohibition trebled and quadrupled its value, and therefore we sought and got more of his society than any other boy's."

Sadly, according to the editor’s notes in Twain’s posthumously published autobiography, Blankenship was repeatedly arrested for theft and died just five years after Huckleberry Finn was published.

2. Jack Kerouac recreated his travel buddies in On the Road.

When Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road, he was really writing about his own cross-country exploits with his Beat Generation colleagues. For example, the selfish Dean Moriarty represents Neal Cassady, close pal of Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, and the Grateful Dead (among others). In fact, the character’s name is Neal in the original On the Road scroll. But that’s not the only character Cassady inspired: Kesey, Hunter S. Thompson, and Tom Wolfe all took inspiration from him.

The real Neal died at the age of 41 after being found comatose by a railroad track in Guanajunto, Mexico, in 1968.

3. Dashiell Hammett based The Thin Man's heroine on his girlfriend.

One of the wittiest female characters in literary history, Nora Charles from The Thin Man, doesn’t hold a candle to her inspiration, Lillian Hellman. Lillian was author Dashiell Hammett’s significant other for 30 years, but she was also a respected playwright, screenwriter, author, and outspoken political activist. Hammett apparently told Hellman that she was the inspiration for his female villains as well.

4. One of three women might have inspired Charles Dickens's Miss Havisham.

It’s almost hard to imagine that the furious and completely insane jilted bride of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations has a flesh-and-blood counterpart. But she does—in fact, there are at least three that might fit the bill.

The first, Eliza Emily Donnithorne, was an Australian woman who thought she was getting married in 1856. When she was stood up by the groom, she refused to change anything about the house; the wedding feast even sat out until it rotted into non-existence. Legend has it that Donnithorne never left the house again.

Another possible inspiration was Elizabeth Parker. This Shropshire, England, woman was also jilted on her wedding day and became quite reclusive afterward. Dickens was known to visit Shropshire, and the fact that Parker’s house was called Havisham Court seems like it must be more than coincidence.

Finally, Madame Eliza Jumel, Aaron Burr’s second wife, may have gone a little crazy in her desperate attempts to break into New York high society; after finally throwing a successful dinner party for Joseph Bonaparte, she supposedly left the banquet and place settings out for decades to commemorate her social acceptance.

5. Sylvia Plath's rich protagonist was modeled on her own patron.

The wealthy Philomena Guinea of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar was based on Plath’s own benefactor, Olive Higgins Prouty. Prouty was a novelist probably best known now for Now, Voyager.

6. A gravestone may have inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne' Hester Prynne.

The modest grave of Elizabeth Pain in Boston’s King’s Chapel Burying Ground holds a secret if you look at it closely. Some believe the A inscribed on the stone shows that she was “whipt with twenty stripes,” though it was for the murder of her child, not for adultery (she was found innocent, by the way). The damning mark may have served as Nathaniel Hawthorne's inspiration for Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. There’s also a record of one Hester Craford who was severely flogged for “fornication” with a man named John Wedg in 1669. At the very least, Hawthorne may have borrowed her name.

7. Louisa May Alcott's neighbor was the model for one of the Little Women.

As a neighbor of the Alcott family in Concord, Massachusetts, Elizabeth Hoar served as the model for Beth March in Little Women. Hoar was also good friends with Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who liked to call her “Elizabeth the wise.”

8. Douglas Adams's character Ford Prefect is based on a real-life object.

Douglas Adams once explained that his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy alien had “skimped a bit on his preparatory research" of Earth and thought he was choosing an inconspicuous name for himself. Adams later explained further, saying that Prefect saw vehicles swarming the streets of our little planet and “had simply mistaken the dominant life form.” The Ford Prefect, by the way, was a British car produced from 1938 to 1961.

9. JK Rowling's teacher was the basis for Severus Snape.

His name was almost as wizardy: John Nettleship. Rowling may not have enjoyed his classes very much, based on this description of Snape:

Snape is the very sadistic teacher loosely based on a teacher I myself had, I have to say. Children are very aware and we're kidding ourselves if we don't think that they are—that teachers do sometimes abuse their power and this particular teacher does abuse his power. He is not a particularly pleasant person at all.”

Nettleship wasn’t thrilled with the comparison when he found out about it, saying, “I knew I was a strict teacher but I didn't think I was that bad." He later came to terms with it enough to write a book called Harry Potter's Chepstow about various locations from Rowling's school days that may have inspired people and places from her successful series. Nettleship died of cancer in 2011.

10. Anyone with a younger sibling can probably relate to Eoin Colfer’s inspiration for his character Artemis Fowl.

Colfer's little brother, Donal, was "a mischievous mastermind who could get out of any trouble he got into,” and seeing a picture of Donal in a dapper first communion suit reminded Colfer of a tiny James Bond villain.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

Turn Your LEGO Bricks Into a Drone With the Flybrix Drone Kit

Flyxbrix/FatBrain
Flyxbrix/FatBrain

Now more than ever, it’s important to have a good hobby. Of course, a lot of people—maybe even you—have been obsessed with learning TikTok dances and baking sourdough bread for the last few months, but those hobbies can wear out their welcome pretty fast. So if you or someone you love is looking for something that’s a little more intellectually stimulating, you need to check out the Flybrix LEGO drone kit from Fat Brain Toys.

What is a Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit?

The Flybrix drone kit lets you build your own drones out of LEGO bricks and fly them around your house using your smartphone as a remote control (via Bluetooth). The kit itself comes with absolutely everything you need to start flying almost immediately, including a bag of 56-plus LEGO bricks, a LEGO figure pilot, eight quick-connect motors, eight propellers, a propeller wrench, a pre-programmed Flybrix flight board PCB, a USB data cord, a LiPo battery, and a USB LiPo battery charger. All you’ll have to do is download the Flybrix Configuration Software, the Bluetooth Flight Control App, and access online instructions and tutorials.

Experiment with your own designs.

The Flybrix LEGO drone kit is specifically designed to promote exploration and experimentation. All the components are tough and can totally withstand a few crash landings, so you can build and rebuild your own drones until you come up with the perfect design. Then you can do it all again. Try different motor arrangements, add your own LEGO bricks, experiment with different shapes—this kit is a wannabe engineer’s dream.

For the more advanced STEM learners out there, Flybrix lets you experiment with coding and block-based coding. It uses an arduino-based hackable circuit board, and the Flybrix app has advanced features that let you try your hand at software design.

Who is the Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit for?

Flybrix is a really fun way to introduce a number of core STEM concepts, which makes it ideal for kids—and technically, that’s who it was designed for. But because engineering and coding can get a little complicated, the recommended age for independent experimentation is 13 and up. However, kids younger than 13 can certainly work on Flybrix drones with the help of their parents. In fact, it actually makes a fantastic family hobby.

Ready to start building your own LEGO drones? Click here to order your Flybrix kit today for $198.

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6 Things We Know About the Game of Thrones Prequel Series, House of the Dragon

HBO
HBO

By the time Game of Thrones wrapped up its record-breaking eight-season run in 2019, it was a no-brainer that HBO would be producing another GoT series to keep the success going. The first announced show in the works, which was reportedly picked from a few prequel ideas, was going to chronicle a time thousands of years before the start of GoT, and was set to star actress Naomi Watts. Unfortunately, that project was eventually scrapped after the pilot was shot—but a new prequel series, House of the Dragon, was announced in October 2019. Here's what we know about it so far.

1. House of the Dragon will be based on George R.R. Martin's book Fire & Blood.

George R.R. Martin's novel Fire & Blood, which tells the story of House Targaryen, will serve as the source of inspiration for the plot of House of the Dragon. The first of two volumes was published in 2018, and takes place 300 years before Game of Thrones.

2. House of the Dragon will likely chronicle the Targaryen family's tumultuous past.

Game of Thrones showed that the Targaryen family has a long-standing history of inbreeding, secrets, betrayal, war, and insanity. Fire & Blood covers topics like the first Aegon Targaryen's conquest of the Seven Kingdoms and his subsequent reign, as well as the lives of his sons. Seems like we'll probably be meeting Dany's ancestors, and Martin confirmed there will definitely be dragons present—maybe even Balerion the Black Dread, the biggest dragon in all of Westerosi history.

3. George R.R. Martin and Ryan Condal are co-creators of House of the Dragon.

Co-Executive Producer George R.R. Martin arrives at the premiere of HBO's 'Game Of Thrones' Season 3 at TCL Chinese Theatre on March 18, 2013 in Hollywood, California
George R.R. Martin
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Martin shared on his blog that he's been working with writer and producer Ryan Condal (Rampage, Colony), on the show. "Ryan Condal is new to Westeros, but not to me," the acclaimed author wrote. "I first met Ryan when he came to New Mexico to shoot a pilot for a fantasy western that was not picked up. I visited his set and we became friendly ... He’s a terrific writer … and a fan of my books since well before we met." In another blog post, Martin said that the show's script and bible were "terrific, first-rate, exciting." Sounds like we'll be in good hands.

5. A Game of Thrones director is returning for House of the Dragon.

Per a tweet from the Game of Thrones Twitter account announcing the show, Miguel Sapochnik, who directed many of the original HBO series' biggest episodes, such as "Battle of the Bastards" and "Hardhome," will be returning for House of the Dragon as showrunner alongside Condal. Sapochnik is also known for directing a handful of other notable shows, such as True Detective, Masters of Sex, and Altered Carbon.

6. House of the Dragon could be coming in 2022.

HBO ordered 10 episodes of House of the Dragon, and HBO president of programming Casey Bloys said he thought that the show would debut "sometime in 2022." However, with the film industry facing major delays due to safety concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, there's no word on when the show will begin filming.

Meanwhile, Martin revealed that he won't be writing any scripts for House of the Dragon until he finishes The Winds of Winter, which has been in the works since A Dance With Dragons, his most recent book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, debuted in 2011. The good news, however, is that Martin says he has been "writing every day" while keeping indoors and social distancing, leaving fans with the hope that The Winds of Winter will come soon.