5 Legendary Monsters Who Were Based On Real People
It's easy to think of monsters as metaphors for whatever needs metaphorizing(?), be it racism or drugs or being nicer to the weird kid at summer camp. But it turns out a lot of history's greatest boogeymen only exist because of regular ol' real people ... being regular ol' real dicks. Like how ...
Count Dracula Was Based On Some Asshole Actor Bram Stoker Worked With
As worldly, educated types who read internet comedy websites, you're all probably already aware that Wallachian governor and murder super fan Vlad the Impaler was the basis for Bram Stoker's most famous creation, Count Chocula. But as it turns out, old Vlad was not the only inspiration, and he probably wasn't even the primary one.
At one point in the lean "I'll take any job you have available" phase that all famous authors go through, Stoker was a manager at the Lyceum Theatre in London, where he found himself in the thrall of Sir Henry Irving, arguably the premier actor of the British stage at the time. Helpless against the man's charms, Stoker basically became Irving's personal assistant ... and Irving would be goddamned if he was going to be cool about it.
The actor regularly took advantage of Stoker, having the writer (who was, again, the fucking manager of the theater he worked for) answer all of his correspondence. Stoker once remarked that he wrote at least half a million letters for Irving. And being nothing if not a colossal dickhead, Irving bragged about Stoker's subservience. Once, when asked if he had a college degree, Irving remarked, "No, but I have a secretary who has two."
While all this was going on, Stoker began writing Dracula, his soon-to-be-world-famous novel about a well-mannered and relentlessly captivating asshole who feeds on the life force of others to sustain himself, which was definitely not drawn in any way from his one-sided relationship with Irving. Reportedly, the author also based a lot of Dracula's physical descriptions and mannerisms on Irving, from his "smoldering eyes" to his "elegant long hands." Stoker even tried to cast Irving as Dracula in a stage version of the book, only for Irving, a shitbag to the end, to refuse, calling the story "dreadful."
"Godzilla" Was Apparently A Nickname For A Big PR Guy
Godzilla is hands down the most famous giant radioactive lizard on the planet. Everyone knows Godzilla, even your crotchety old grandma who thinks TV peaked with Ozzie & Harriet. But "Godzilla" is not Godzilla's real name. "Godzilla" is the Americanized form of the Japanese "Gojira," which itself is a portmanteau of the words for "gorilla" (gorira) and "whale" (kujira). Because Godzilla is big, like whales and ... gorillas?
You know who else was big? One of Toho Studio's PR guys. According to director Ishiro Honda, he and a few other folks working on the original Gojira in 1954 took to arguing whether that guy was as big as a gorilla or a whale. Eventually, they decided he was as big as a gorilla-whale, put the two words together, and voila, cinematic history.
It should be noted that Honda's wife Kimi shrugged off this story following his death, saying she "didn't believe it." But given how often Honda told the story over the years, the general air of mystery around the origin, and the fact that by all accounts the word "Gojira" just kind of showed up casually in his journal one day, we're inclined to go with the grade-school version of events.
An Old-Timey Gentleman Thief Was The Real Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde
Dr. Jekyll's alter-ego Mr. Hyde may not be the most famous of evildoers, but the story is still easily one of the most borrowed in history (*cough*TheIncredibleHulk*cough* ). As much as it might seem like the notion of a man living two lives -- one of renown and one of infamy -- kinda writes itself, it turns out that Robert Louis Stevenson's two-faced villain was based on a real dude.
In mid-1700s Scotland, there lived a man named William Brodie, a fancy-pants socialite and cabinetmaker to the stars. He was elected deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights and given a seat on the Edinburgh town council. Far from the images of Parks And Recreation running through your head, that was kind of a big deal. The richest and most important people in the city thought nothing of giving Brodie the keys to their homes so he could install their cabinets in peace while they were out accusing women of being witches or whatever it was people did for fun in the 1700s.
But here's where things got illegal. Brodie would make wax impressions of all of those keys, and then, dressed in black, he would break into their homes in the dead of night and take all their brandy, silverware, and other rich people shit. Like, for years. Then, after literally running into fellow thief George Smith on a street corner, he started a small gang of thieves that went around robbing stores of gold, tobacco, and tea. They even swiped the ceremonial mace from the University of Edinburgh.
Soon enough, Brodie and friends set their sights on all the money in Scotland -- and that's barely hyperbole. They were going to rob the Excise Office, where the country's collected taxes were held in cold hard cash. Unfortunately, moments after breaking in, they got spooked and fled with only 16 pounds between them. But because people still got in trouble for using the government as their own personal piggy bank back then, everyone except Brodie was arrested and promptly started talking. Brodie fled to Amsterdam, only to get ratted out and sent back to Edinburgh. Within days he was hanged, with an audience of 40,000 watching.
So why would a man of such wealth and legitimate means do all this? Because this well-adjusted and much-beloved city council member regularly gambled himself broke on cards and cockfights in the amazingly named Fleshmarket Close district. He also had five kids with two mistresses, neither of whom knew about the other.
Anyway, all of this added to the reputation of Brodie's "monstrous" second life, and the story was passed around Scotland for the next century. Robert Louis Stevenson, who had a confirmed Brodie original cabinet in his bedroom, became fascinated by the tale. His first attempt at telling it, a play titled Deacon Brodie, Or The Double Life, didn't go over so well, so he tried again, this time with a few liberties, and voila, The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde was born.
European Werewolf Mythology Drew From Stories Of Viking Berserkers
The first known European werewolf stories bear a striking resemblance to those told about Norse berserkers, an Odin-worshiping subset of Viking shock troopers famous for taking mushrooms and then going absolutely nuts on their enemies. Berserk, if you will. Now, "berserker" literally translates into "bear coat," because -- and stay with me here -- most of these particular Vikings wore bear pelts (and only bear pelts) into battle. But like any good sect of skull-crushing lunatics, there were various factions within, though the term "berserker" became kind of a catch-all for all of them -- including the significantly crazier Ulfhednar.
The Ulfhednar were the hardest of hardcore berserkers, favoring hollowed-out wolf skins over bear hides. These "Men in Wolf Skin" were said to become so bloodthirsty and savage, in fact, that many of their victims (and even fellow Vikings) reported that they actually turned into wolves. You see where this is going, right?
Thanks to the lingering gory memories of Viking conquest, a couple hundred years later, Europeans in the Middle Ages associated the "wolves" of the Ulfhednar with madness and inhuman murder. Soon enough, the werewolf was born. And they weren't even subtle about it. Before curses and Satan entered the picture, some dude dressing up in a wolf's skin and taking on the qualities of the animal was how werewolves were first said to transform.
So there you go. Werewolves are Vikings. You know, in case you needed to be reminded of why they're the best, most badass monsters around. Suck it, mummies.
The Cannibals From The Hills Have Eyes Were Inspired By A Famous Scottish Cannibal (Who Was Created By The English To Shit All Over The Scots)
Wes Craven is best-known as the creator of the Nightmare On Elm Street and Scream series, but before either of those, he directed the 1977 classic The Hills Have Eyes. The people-eating hillbilly movie cemented Craven as a horror visionary and did irreversible damage to rural road trips and lonely gas stations everywhere.
Over the years, Craven was fairly open about the fact that the Jupiter clan of inbred, cave-dwelling cannibals was inspired by the story of Alexander "Sawney" Bean, the patriarch of an inbred, cave-dwelling cannibal family that kidnapped and tortured travelers before feasting on their flesh and guts. Bean has remained a dark legend for centuries. To this day, there are several tourist attractions in his name, and multiple seaside caves claiming to be the "real" home of the man-eating Beans. But here's the thing: Sawney Bean never existed.
Bean was created in the 1800s by an unnamed English writer specifically trying to make Scottish people look bad in the wake of the Jacobite rebellions. And what's more dehumanizing than calling them people-eating, sister-fucking monsters? Hell, the name "Sawney" itself is an insult, akin to calling an Irishman "Paddy," which kind of gives away the game.
It's entirely possible that the Beans were based on a real 1600s incident involving husband-and-wife robbers and their brood of child cannibals. Historical records are sketchy, to say the least. But according to that story, one of the people-eating daughters was spared pitchfork vengeance due to her age, and she grew up to become not-so-much-a-cannibal ... at least for a little while. Which, despite not being included in any version of the Sawney Bean tale, is also the fate of one of the daughters in The Hills Have Eyes.
Which, I guess, is the moral here: Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction -- or at least, it's as strange as fiction that's based on truth that's actually fiction that might actually be truth.
Eirik Gumeny is a real-life Frankenstein's monster. He's written a bunch of books, most of which feature some combination of werewolves, zombies, chupacabra, and ghosts. Follow him on Twitter ... if you dare.
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