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Famous literary characters based on real people

Most of us have seen the Disney film, but did you know Pocahontas was a real person? This week marks the 400th anniversary of Pocahontas burial in the UK. Here, we take a look at some of the most famous literary characters based on real people.


You probably know her as the animated Native American chief’s daughter who sang ‘Colours of the Wind’ in the Disney film. But Pocahontas was very much a real person: she was captured by the English in 1613 and brought back to England. You can even visit Pocahontas’s grave in Gravesend, Kent.

Severus Snape

From Harry Potter by JK Rowling. Rowling based potions teacher, Snape on her own chemistry teacher from school: John Nettleship. It was only after the films came out that Nettleship, with the help of his wife and students, realised he had been immortalised in Rowling’s hugely popular book series

Ebenezer Scrooge

From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It’s hard to believe that anybody in real life could be as miserly and cruel as Scrooge. But it’s true: Dickens based his mean, penny-pinching character on politician John Elwes, who was famous for being rich but incredibly stingy. Read the ebook and listen to the audiobook.

Sherlock Holmes

From The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle People associate Sherlock Holmes with his almost super-human ability to deduce facts from the smallest details, making it hard to believe there was actually a real life Holmes. Doyle based Holmes on Dr Joseph Bell, a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. Bell had been a doctor’s clerk and reportedly advised on several police investigations. Read the ebooks and listen to the audio-books of the series here.


From Animal Farm by George Orwell. Animal Farm is a brilliant work of satire which skewers twentieth century politics and the machinations of power. Squealer is one of the pigs leading the revolution on the farm, and represented Stalin’s protégé, Molotov.

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