Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: The Real-Life Inspirations Behind J.K. Rowling's Characters

June 26th marks the 20th anniversary of J.K. Rowling's debut novel, 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.' We take a look at some of the most memorable characters from the HP series and the real-life people the British author used as inspirations to create them.
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Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Photo

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in the film version of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,' 2001.

Rowling modeled her young hero after her childhood neighborhood friend, Ian Potter, who once lived four doors down from her in her home near Bristol. Ian, who is now a damp-proofer, was a mischievous trickster when he was young, forming an unwelcoming habit of placing slugs on his friends' picnic plates and encouraging Rowling to run through wet concrete with her sister.

Ron Weasley

Young Ron Weasley Harry Potter Photo

Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley in the film version of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,' 2001.

The red-headed lovable Ron was inspired by Rowling's best friend Sean Harris, a British army official. Rowling said she "never set out to describe Sean in Ron, but Ron has a Sean-ish turn of phrase." Just as Ron has always been a loyal and dependable friend to Harry, Rowling has said Harris has been the same for her. "He was the first person with whom I really discussed my serious ambition to be a writer and he was the only person who thought I was bound to be a success at it, which meant much more to me than I ever told him at the time," she admitted. In fact, Rowling has cherished her friendship with Harris so much that she dedicated Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to him.

Herimone Granger

Herimone Granger Harry Potter Photo

Emma Watson as Hermione Granger in the film version of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,' 2001.

Considering Muggle-born Hermione is ambitious, studious, resourceful and smart as a whip, whom do you think could have possibly inspired her character? Of the various influences, a younger version of Rowling — but not necessarily a carbon copy of her. "I did not set out to make Hermione like me but she is . . . she is an exaggeration of how I was when I was younger," she said, also pointing out that some of Granger's vices she could also relate to (e.g. her grave insecurity, fear of failure, and smart-alecky ways). However, above all, Rowling used Hermione's strong character to express her feminist conscience.

Severus Snape

Severus Snape Harry Potter Photo

Alan Rickman as Severus Snape in the film version of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,' 2001.

Admittedly one of her favorite characters to write, Rowling partly drew inspiration in creating her redemptive anti-hero Snape from her secondary school chemistry teacher, John Nettleship, whom she recalled as a very unlikeable fellow. Rowling poached the name "Snape" from the small English village of Snape, Suffolk.

Rubeus Hagrid

Hagrid Harry Potter Photo

Robbie Coltrane as Rubeus Hagrid in the film version of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,' 2001.

The intimidating half-human, half-giant Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds of Hogwarts, found his physical formation, thanks to the Welsh chapter of Hells Angels. According to Rowling, the bikers would take over the West Country and drink the nights away at the local pubs, bringing their "huge mountains of leather and hair" with them. Considering Hagrid has a taste for ale, Rowling chose the surname "Hagrid" since its meaning refers to having a number of bad nights (i.e. hangovers). Interestingly, Hagrid was one of the first Harry Potter characters Rowling created.

Dolores Umbridge

Dolores Umbridge Harry Potter Photo

Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the film version of 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,' 2007.

Of the characters Rowling liked the least, Dolores Umbridge takes the cake. Modeling her character after a teacher whom she admitted she "disliked intensely on sight," Rowling created the pink- and kitten-obsessed torturer who would later be revealed to be in Lord Voldemort's pocket. Describing the real-life person, Rowling writes: "I particularly recall a tiny little plastic bow slide, pale lemon in color that she wore in her short curly hair," adding, "I used to stare at that little slide, which would have been appropriate to a girl of three, as though it was some kind of repellent physical growth."

Aunt Marge

Aunt Marge Harry Potter Photo

Pam Ferris as Aunt Marge Dursley in the film version of 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,' 2004.

Not all relatives are easy to be around, and for a writer like Rowling, they apparently gave her a creative opportunity to channel her grievances. Thanks to the unkind ways of Rowling's real-life maternal grandmother, Frieda, whom the author describes as someone who enjoyed the company of "her dogs to human relatives," the caustic and girthy character of Aunt Marge was born — bulldogs and all.