1. The Chronicles of Narnia: This Wardrobe
The nineteenth-century wardrobe pictured above was made by Richard Lewis, the paternal grandfather of C. S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia. As a child, C. S. Lewis and his cousins used to crawl inside and tell each other adventure stories. Given these fond childhood memories, it’s not terribly surprising that Lewis chose a wardrobe as a gateway to a fantasy land. The wardrobe is currently on display at Wheaton College.
2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: Actual Yellow Bricks
At the tender age of twelve, L. Frank Baum, future author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was shipped off to a military academy in Peekskill, New York. Baum detested the academy and his time in Peekskill, but some historians believe the town’s yellow brick roads influenced his best known work.
3. Dune: An Unfinished Article on Florence, Oregon
In the late 1950s, Frank Herbert traveled to Florence, Oregon to write an article about the U.S. Agriculture Department’s attempts to control the spread of sand dunes with poverty grass. Herbert ended up putting the article on hold and instead turned his ecological research into the well-known Dune Saga.
4. A Song of Ice and Fire: Turtles
The fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire began as elaborate stories young George R. R. Martin concocted about his pet turtles. Sometimes a turtle would die; Martin fantasized that his turtles were plotting against each other to gain the throne of the turtle kingdom. Thus, Westeros was born.
5. The House at Pooh Corner: Stuffed Animals
A. A. Milne had a son named Christopher Robin, who in turn had a menagerie of stuffed toys that lent their names to the animals that lived in the Hundred Acre Woods. How did Winnie get his name? Christopher Robin’s famous teddy bear was named after a black bear that lived at the London Zoo. The stuffed toys that inspired the Pooh novels are on display at New York Public Library.
6. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH: John B. Calhoun
John B. Calhoun spent a good chunk of his professional career studying rat behavior at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). More specifically, he was interested in how rats behaved when they faced overpopulation. The answer, unfortunately, was bleak: breeding competition among rats ultimately destroyed the entire population. Calhoun, frustrated by modern society, believed that his research mirrored the inevitable fate of mankind. Eventually, author Robert C. O’Brien caught wind of Calhoun’s work and thought it would translate well into a children’s story. He was right.
7. The Very Hungry Caterpillar: A Hole Puncher
One day Eric Carle was punching holes in a stack of paper when he decided to write a story about a bookworm, tentatively titled A Week With Willi the Worm. The final product would contain physical holes representing the bookworm’s progress through the book as the story progressed. Carle’s publisher wasn’t thrilled with the initial idea; he was concerned that a story about a worm wouldn’t sell. Carle claims: “Then my editor suggested a caterpillar instead and I said ‘Butterfly!’ That’s how it began.”
8. Animal Farm: A Horse Cart
Greatly distressed by the hierarchical nature of the U.S.S.R., George Orwell decided to write a story that would rescue socialism from the Soviet experiment. The book would expose the “Soviet myth” in a way that was accessible to all potential readers, transcending culture and language. Naturally, it took time to choose appropriate characters and a setting for this daunting task. In the preface to the 1947 Ukrainian edition of Animal Farm, Orwell recounted how the premise of the book suddenly came to him: “…one day (I was then living in a small village) I saw a little boy, perhaps ten years old, driving a huge cart-horse along a narrow path, whipping it whenever it tried to turn. It struck me that if only such animals became aware of their strength we should have no power over them, and that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.”
9. Alice in Wonderland: Alice Pleasance Liddell
In the 1860s, Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, befriended the daughters of Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor, Henry Liddell. On July 4, 1862, Dodgson was out on a boat trip with young Lorina, Alice, and Edith, when Alice requested a story. Dodgson obliged. Alice liked the story so much that she wanted it written down. Three years later, Dodgson gave Alice Liddell a manuscript copy of what would later become Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a Christmas present. Although scholars have debated the extent to which the Liddell children inspired the protagonist, it is clear Dodgson named his character in honor of Alice Liddell.
10. The Hunger Games: Channel Surfing
One night while Suzanne Collins was wondering what to watch, she caught footage of Iraqi war juxtaposed with a reality tv show. Collins claims: “I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way.” Mix in the myth of Theseus, and you’ve got yourself some Hunger Games.
11. Something Wicked This Way Comes: A Carnival Act
In 1932, Ray Bradbury was twelve years old and fascinated by a performer named “Mr. Electrico” at the Dill Brothers’ carnival. According to Bradbury, Mr. Electrico would sit in an electric chair and willingly allow himself to be jolted with fifty thousand volts of electricity. Mr. Electrico took a liking to Bradbury, introducing the boy to his fellow performers; Electrico and these colleagues later became characters in Something Wicked This Way Comes. Additionally, during an act, Mr. Electrico purportedly whispered “live forever” to Bradbury. The curious words stayed with the young author, ultimately inspiring the age-altering carousel and major conflicts in the novel.
12. Charlotte’s Web: A Sick Pig
In 1948, E. B. White published a piece, entitled “Death of a Pig,” detailing his attempts to save the life of a pig he planned to butcher. When the pig suddenly became ill, White went to great lengths to cure it, despite knowing he would have killed the pig had it remained healthy. The experience caused White to rethink the pig’s life: “I discovered, though, that once having given a pig an enema there is no turning back, no chance of resuming one of life’s more stereotyped roles. The pig’s lot and mine were inextricably bound now, as though the rubber tube were the silver cord. From then until the time of his death I held the pig steadily in the bowl of my mind; the task of trying to deliver him from his misery became a strong obsession.” Perhaps dogged by his failed efforts to save this pig, White ensured that Wilbur the pig was rescued from slaughter in 1952’s Charlotte’s Web.
13. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Cadbury Bars
Many of Roald Dahl’s stories are echoes of his childhood in Britain, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When Dahl was young, Cadbury used to send school children samples of new products in exchange for feedback. These samples quickly became the target of Cadbury’s rival company, Rowntree, which sent spies to acquire them. Over time, the competition between the two chocolate companies caused them to become extremely protective of their intellectual property; this behavior is the basis of Willy Wonka’s quest to find a competent successor amid the children bought and paid for by his competitors.
14. A Cricket in Times Square: A Cricket Chirping
George Selden was simply in the right place at the right time. According to Selden, the classic story of a Connecticut cricket who gets lost on the New York subway system was born like this: “One night I was coming home on the subway, and I did hear a cricket chirp in Times Square. The story formed in my mind within minutes. An author is very thankful for minutes like those, although they happen all too infrequently.”
15. Where The Wild Things Are: Badly Drawn Horses
Maurice Sendak’s original plans for the book that became Where the Wild Things Are involved the protagonist escaping to a land populated by wild horses. Luckily for us, Sendak discovered he didn’t have a damn clue how to draw a horse, and changed the concept to “Wild Things,” which he took from the Yiddish expression “Vilde chaya.” Sendak knew how to draw his relatives; he modeled the monsters after them.
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