Holmes! Shandy! Švejk! Can it indeed be that you are alive?
November 2, 2014 1:08 PM   Subscribe

There's a long tradition of Sherlock Holmes fans and scholars affecting to believe that Holmes, Watson et al. really existed. Has this custom been observed with any other fictional characters?

I know the characters in Tristram Shandy were beloved figures throughout Europe in the 18th century, and according to this In Our Time episode (about 36 minutes in), there is a cemetery somewhere in Germany that purports to contain the graves of Uncle Toby and other characters.

I've also read that Jaroslav Hašek's Good Soldier Švejk enjoys a similar place in people's imaginations in Central and Eastern Europe, with several statues of him having been put up, but I'm not sure if that extends to speaking of him as if he had really lived.

Some fans of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series like to speak of his fictional sailors as if they'd been real historical figures, but that's not very widespread in my experience, and I think people who do it are deliberately copying the Holmesians.

Does anyone know of any other examples?

(I'm interested in characters that definitely originated within a work of fiction, not folkloric figures like Robin Hood that may have had some long-ago origin in a real person. Also, please do not respond to this and say "God," "Buddha" or whatever. So you read a Richard Dawkins book last week, good for you.)
posted by Perodicticus potto to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Chronologically inverted, but do you know about Riverside, Iowa, the future birthplace of Captain Kirk?
posted by Mizu at 1:17 PM on November 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Deidrich Knickerbocker is a great example of this.
posted by hobgadling at 1:25 PM on November 2, 2014

Best answer: Juliet Capulet.
posted by iviken at 1:55 PM on November 2, 2014

Best answer: How about Quentin Compson? The wiki article mentions the plaque that was put up in Cambridge, MA to commemorate his death (although there has been a lot of construction around there recently so I'm not sure if it still exists).
posted by litera scripta manet at 2:19 PM on November 2, 2014

Best answer: Oh, and maybe Atticus Finch?
posted by litera scripta manet at 2:26 PM on November 2, 2014

Maybe not King Arthur himself but maybe the knights of the Round Table or the Fisher King. Straight fiction there. The vampire Lestat. Vampires in general.

The Matrix. Fight Club. - More of an altered worldview
posted by irisclara at 5:16 PM on November 2, 2014

Best answer: Other examples that spring to mind are the Wold Newton Universe, and the genealogy of the Duke of Denver.
posted by zamboni at 6:30 PM on November 2, 2014

Best answer: Perhaps not in the exact same spirit, but Alan Moore with John Constantine.
posted by automatic cabinet at 7:02 PM on November 2, 2014

Best answer: In a short story from the previous turn of the century, Enoch Soames travelled 100 years into the future, to visit the Round Reading Room at the British Museum on June 3, 1997. A few showed up to witness the event. So did Soames himself.

Article by Teller
Photo from somebody else who was there
Esquire profile of Teller, which has some relevant bits on page 3, if you must know more
posted by Shmuel510 at 8:18 PM on November 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The City of Detroit was initially reluctant to permit the construction of a statue of that city's greatest fictional law enforcement officer, Robocop, but eventually folded. The statue was privately funded, to the tune of $67K, through Kickstarter, but missed its planned June 4th unveiling on a citywide Robocop Day.

Also, H.P. Lovecraft's fictional city of Arkham Mass. and its august learning institution Miskatonic University live on in Lovecraft fandom, but in particular one story element seems to be most confused with reality: by several accounts I've read, university libraries regularly get requests from patrons and inter-library loan offices requesting a copy of the fictional Necronomicon, a grimoire (magic textbook) written by a worshipper of Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu, that is described in, and sometimes quoted in, some Lovecraft works, as well as same-universe books by other writers. The wikipedia article I linked mentions that some pranksters added the Necronomicon to the Yale U. card catalog, and I doubt it's the only such place.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:23 PM on November 2, 2014

I don't know if this is what you're looking for, but there is an actual Dracula family. Their last offspring used to live in a castle near my family home. Of course, he wasn't a vampire (nor, sadly, immortal.)
posted by LoonyLovegood at 1:09 AM on November 3, 2014

Best answer: Not sure if this counts, but some of the first reviews for the first Flashman novel were clearly written by people who did not know that they were historical fiction, and not real history.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:01 AM on November 3, 2014

Best answer: Got people poking at the corpse of S. Morgenstern.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:18 AM on November 3, 2014

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