Many have fallen in love with the Harry Potter series and the fantastical wizarding world created by JK Rowling. Harry Potter's history is rich with detailed fiction – from the idea of a Horcrux to the intensely terrifying presence of Dementors. It's got decades of rules and words and customs that even hardcore fans struggle to keep straight. However, while the stories themselves are fictional, real world inspiration lies behind the series. There are tons of Harry Potter references based on real life events, myths, or traditions.
JK Rowling has a knack for foreshadowing what's going to happen in Harry Potter with historical references. From Britain's biggest prison break to the bombings of the Irish Republican Army, the real world events in Harry Potter grant the books a rich, intelligent context. Readers will enjoy picking apart fact vs. truth in the books, especially those who paid attention in history classes in high school and college. The true events alluded to in the books and movies make the wizarding world – with all its spells and sorcerer's stones -- seem that much more real.
From Nazis to Catholic saints, here are some historical references you may have missed in Harry Potter (but don't even get us started on the The Fantastic Beasts universe).
It's no secret Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince producer David Heyman also produced the Holocaust drama The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Apparently, his experience working on the film helped him wrap his mind around Voldemort and the Death Eaters because they shared similar ideals about blood purity.
“Voldemort and his followers, the Death Eaters, are obsessed with the preservation of blood purity,” Heyman said in an interview, “They’re not Nazis but they recall the politics and attitudes of Nazi Germany. And aesthetically—although it’s a cliché—the [Death Eater] Lucius Malfoy and his family are blond, like Hitler’s ideal of the quintessential Aryan.”
Throughout the series, prejudiced characters like Lucius Malfoy would use the term "half-blood" to refer to wizards who had muggles in their ancestry. This is similar to how Nazis used a Mischling test to determine whether or not a person had Jewish heritage. If a person was found to be Mischling (or mixed-blood) they could face racial persecution, which often included sterilization. According to JK Rowling, who only noticed the parallels after visiting a Holocaust museum, being a half-blood wizard was just as bad as being a full-fledged muggle to a Death Eater.
Nicolas Flamel of the Harry Potter world is actually a real person. In the series, Flamel is the only known maker of the Philosopher's Stone, which grants immortality with the Elixir of Life. According to Pottermore, the real Nicolas Flamel hails from fourteenth century France. Had he survived as he did in the book, he would have been around 665 at the time period in The Philosopher's Stone.
Historians can't agree on whether or not he was actually an alchemist, but he had an extensive library with alchemical texts and may have spent time trying to decode a mysterious book filled with alchemical symbols. The Philosopher's Stone also comes from history and is sometimes referred to as "the tincture" and "the powder." Believers in Western Alchemy thought the stone had the power to transform base metals into precious metals like gold and silver and could yield the elixir of life, the key to immortality.
The Death Eaters are pure evil, but they're also extremely reminiscent of the IRA, a republican paramilitary organization that sought to end British rule in Northern Ireland. The parallels are astounding when you consider the fact that Harry Potter takes place in the '90s - the same period that saw a number of terroristic incidents from various Irish paramilitaries before the IRA declared peace in 2005.
The attacks the Death Eaters carry out on the Brockdale Bridge in The Half-Blood Prince coincide with the IRA's real-life bombings throughout 1996 (including the two bombings carried out by the IRA, one of which caused a partial bridge collapse in 1939).
JK Rowling modeled the Black Sisters (Bellatrix Lastrange, Narcissa Malfoy, and Andromeda Tonks) after the real life Mitford Sisters. The Mitford family was widely known in World War II for their fascist sympathies, much how the Black Sisters are linked to Voldemort.
Ballatrix, who was a favorite of Voldemort, is inspired by Unity Mitford, who was in love with Hitler. Narcissa, who married the Death Eater Lucius Malfoy, is inspired by Diana Mitford, who left her husband in 1932 to marry the head of the British Fascist Party. Andromeda, who shamed her family by running off to marry the Muggle-born Ted Tonks, is likely inspired by Civil Rights advocate Jessica Mitford, the lone communist in the Milford family. Andromeda's decision led to great animosity between her and her sisters.