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Most Influential People Who Never Existed

Sucheta Pradhan
Unreal fictional characters tend to make a greater impact on people's minds, often even more than real people. Read through this story to know about some of the most influential people who never existed.
I've learned a lot of things about the characters I write from people who read about them. Readers expand them in ways I don't think of and take them to places I can't go.
~ Ann Brashares
The role of fiction in human life is immense. For one, apart from making us acquainted with the world around us, it also kind of shapes it in our mind. Some fictional tales are so inspiring that we actually start believing in them, and set out to create our world accordingly.
Reason why our belief in fictional stories becomes so strong, is mainly because of the various characters which live these stories. Some of these fictional characters, appearing in literature, movies and television seem so outstanding, yet real, that more often than not, we tend to idolize them and seek to incorporate their traits into our own personalities.
This happens simply because we begin to identify with these characters, even if the story in which they appear is as old as our great-grandparents. Nevertheless, we laugh with them, cry with them, and consider them as one of us.
Fictional and legendary characters have been influencing people throughout the world since antiquity. Some of their personalities are so powerful that we actually want to become like them, and mold others around us as well.
With their stories, these characters give us a feel of life that we may want to live, which is why they seem to be so inspiring. And, the influence they have on our minds cannot be simply ignored. In fact, many times, it is even more profound than that of real people.

Influential Characters Who Didn't Exist

There have been hundreds and thousands of people who lived only in fiction, but still managed to influence our thoughts, beliefs, and actions very deeply. Here are a few (un)real characters, who never seem to loosen their grip on people's minds.

Santa Claus

Santa Claus, our very own Father Christmas, is by far, the most popular legendary character in the world.
This cute-looking, joyous and jolly old man with a white beard and red clothes, is believed to distribute gifts among all the good children, the night before Christmas.

Origin(s): The myth of Santa seems to be a combination of various premodern traditions of the Dutch and Germanic cultures, beginning from the 4th century.
Influence: Children throughout the Christian world, patiently await the arrival of Santa at their doorstep every year. Even the non-Christian world is not unacquainted with the myth, as Santa has been popularized by various media - movies, comics, television, and so on.
According the TV producer Jonathan Meath, "Santa is really the only cultural icon we have, who's male, does not carry a gun, and is all about peace, joy, giving, and caring for other people.
That's part of the magic for me, especially in a culture where we've become so commercialized and hooked into manufactured icons. Santa is much more organic, integral, connected to the past, and therefore connected to the future."

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is a character that stereotyped the image of a detective.
No detective story, novel, series, or movie today, can be complete without having a character with at least some of the overwhelming abilities of this London-based fictional detective. Every detective character that was conceptualized thenceforth, definitely had some or the other trait of Sherlock Holmes.
Origin(s): Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes Series - the first novel A Study in Scarlet, published in 1887 in Beeton's Christmas Annual.
Influence: Sherlock Holmes continues to be a great inspiration for forensic science in fiction. Not only this, all the techniques such as ballistics and handwriting analysis, which Holmes used to solve his fictional cases, have become a reality today, and they are used worldwide in major crime investigations.
The Royal Society of Chemistry, London, conferred their honorary fellowship on Sherlock Holmes in 2002, "for his use of forensic science and analytical chemistry in popular literature." This makes Holmes, the only fictional character in the history of the world to be honored in such a way.

Harry Potter

Since 1997, Harry Potter, the young wizard, has been intriguing and inspiring people throughout the world, children and adults alike.
Everything about Harry - his friends, his teachers, his school, and his enemies - has managed to keep the readers and movie audiences hooked to their seats, so much so that many people don't believe that the series has come to an end.
Origin(s): First novel in the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, first published in June 1997.
Influence: Translated worldwide, in as many as 67 languages, Harry Potter found his way to the bookshelves of millions of people. Children all over the world aspire to become like Harry, and adults enjoy reading his magical feats and narrate them to their children.
The Harry Potter series of movies made by Warner Brothers is no less popular worldwide. Plus, there are a number of games and merchandise, making Harry Potter a world-renowned brand. Apart from the numerous awards and accolades that the series gained, it was a huge financial success making J.K. Rowling, the only billionaire author by far.

Marlboro Man

Remember the adverts of Marlboro Cigarettes, which featured a cowboy smoking a filtered cigarette? The tough-looking cowboy, sometimes, riding a horse, does nothing major in the ad, apart from smoking. Yet, the transformation that he was able to bring about was significant.

Origin(s): First conceived by Leo Burnett in 1954
Influence: The very aim of the Marlboro Man campaign was to promote filtered cigarettes for men. Before the campaign, men didn't smoke filtered cigarettes, as they were believed to be mild, and hence, feminine.
However, the Marlboro Man campaign worked wonders. Today, filtered cigarettes are sold in abundance everywhere, and are purchased by men and women alike. Marlboro Man became such a popular icon of America, that characters similar to him began to be portrayed in popular culture worldwide.


The awe-inspiring rags to riches story of a young girl, Cinderella, and how she magically finds her Prince Charming is well-known throughout the world. One of the most popular fairy tales in the world, Cinderella has a huge influence over the popular culture of the world.
Origin(s): Ancient folk tale having obscure origins - first published in 1697 in Stories or Fairy Tales from Past Times with Morals (Histoires ou contes du temps passé) by Charles Perrault.
Influence: The fairy tale has hundreds and thousands of versions all over the world, and though the central character's name differs from version to version, the gist remains similar. Despite the fact that there have been innumerable adaptations of the plot till date, it seems new and fresh every time we watch/read it.
One of the major influences of Cinderella lies in the fact that, in spite of her adverse circumstances, she does achieve recognition at the end, a climax that continues to motivate people the world over. The story of her Prince Charming rescuing her unexpectedly from the clutches of her stepmother, remains Cinderella's greatest influence on young girls.

Uncle Sam

For all those living in America, Uncle Sam is not unfamiliar. This tall, bearded man, wearing a hat and a suit, and having a serious expression on his face is the personification of the federal government of the United States of America. The initials of Uncle Sam, U.S., stand for the United States of America.
Origin(s): The 1775, original Yankee Doodle lyrics of the revolutionary war had the first ever mention of Uncle Sam. In 1816, he made his first literary appearance in The Adventures of Uncle Sam in Search After His Lost Honor by Frederick Augustus Fidfaddy, Esq. Legends tells us that Uncle Sam's posters were introduced during the War of 1812.
Influence: Uncle Sam, as a symbol of American identity, was used on a poster designed to recruit soldiers in the American army during both the World wars. This advertisement poster was designed in 1917. During WWII, Uncle Sam's influence was so much that the German intelligence agency Abwehr gave U.S. the code-name "Samland."

Big Brother

"Big Brother is watching you", is the famous phrase that keeps people around the world hooked to their television screens. Big Brother, the fictional character, is synonymous to an extreme form of dictatorship, where people are under constant surveillance.

Origin(s): Nineteen Eighty-Four, novel by George Orwell, first published in 1949.
Influence: Whether you have read the novel or not, there is hardly anyone across the globe who is not familiar with Big Brother. In 2000, the worldwide television reality show of the same name was premiered, and today, it is not only viewed worldwide, but there are also several versions of the show in different languages.
The very idea of keeping people under constant surveillance is freaky, and that is what has added to the popularity of the character. In 2011, a product similar to Nineteen Eighty-Four's telescreen surveillance system was patented by Microsoft, that could monitor people and enabled the providers to take prompt action in cases of violation.


The child who remained isolated from human habitation throughout his life, parented by apes and grew up in the company of wild animals, is one of the most popular fictional characters in the world. The tales of Tarzan are still widely popular, especially with children.

Origin(s): Tarzan of the Apes, a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, first published in 1914.
Influence: Considered as one of the best-known literary characters, Tarzan is blessed with some unmatched skills and qualities, which are, more often than not, beyond the reach of ordinary humans.
With his unmatched skills and abilities which captured children's attention, Tarzan soon made his way out of the novels into comics, games, movies, theater, television, radio, and became popular the world over, so much so that people still like to read/watch his heroic tales.
Moreover, Tarzan has become a popular nickname for people with a strong and good physique.

Romeo and Juliet

The romantic tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is the story that taught the world to love and made people fall in love all over again. The two protagonists, as archetypal young lovers, are capable of making people smile and shed tears, all at the same time.
Origin(s): Characters from the Shakespearean play of the same name, written between 1591 and 1595, and first published in 1597.
Influence: The story of two young lovers who died on account of a feud between their families, is indeed very emotional and tragic. Nevertheless, it is the story of the triumph of true love, of two lovers who died for their love.
The influence that Romeo and Juliet have on youngsters across the world even today, is immeasurable.
Virtually, every couple wants to love each other like Romeo and Juliet. But that's not all, there is a statue of Juliet in Verona, Italy (where the story is based), and it is believed that if a person strokes the statue's right breast, he/she will get good luck.


The popularity of the tale from The Arabian Nights, Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, knows no bounds. This Middle Eastern folk tale is so famous across the world, that Aladdin and his companion, the wish-granting genie, are known to all.

Origin(s): Obscure
Influence: Sources tell us that pantomimes based on Aladdin's tale are being performed for the past 200 years, and have been attracting thousands of viewers each time. Aladdin, as a character, and his story from rags to riches, became so famous the world over that in 1962, the Walt Disney Company published a story called Donald and Aladdin's Cave.
Since then, the character has been a part of numerous animated films, movies, television series, and video and computer games. Moreover, owing to the popularity and influence of Aladdin, a famous casino in Las Vegas was named after him from 1966 to 2007.


The ten-headed vicious king of Lanka, Rāvaṇa is a primary antagonist in the Hindu epic Rāmāyaṇa.
He is believed to have been a devout follower of Lord Shiva, an able ruler and a great scholar. Despite being portrayed as a villain, it is indeed interesting that there are numerous temples dedicated to Rāvaṇa in India and Sri Lanka.

Origin(s): According to Hindu mythology, Rāvaṇa was born to sage Vishrava and his wife Kaikesi.
Influence: While some people believe that Rāvaṇa was not just a mythological character but a real person, there has been no conclusive evidence to prove this till today, apart from some scattered finds. However, despite performing some really cruel acts, he still exercises immense influence on the Hindu world.
Apart from the fact that he was an able ruler and a scholar of political science, astrology and Ayurveda, he was also a musical maestro, profound in playing various musical instruments.
One such instrument, the Ravanahatha, is believed to have made by Rāvaṇa, and some scholars have postulated that the instrument might have influenced the invention of the violin.


How can we not include this famous fictional antihero, who has been continuously entertaining us from 2006, till today? Dexter Morgan, the serial killer, has definitely influenced a large number of people across the world, though negatively.
Origin(s): Dexter first appeared in a series of novels by Jeff Lindsay, the first of which, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, was published in 2004.
Influence: Dexter works as a forensic blood spatter analyst at the Miami-Metro Police Department, however, he is also a serial killer, who chooses his victims only after gathering enough evidence to prove that they are guilty of killing someone. He then destroys all the evidence of his crime, so that he doesn't get caught.
Dexter's modus operandi has influenced several people, many of whom have murdered people the Dexter way. In 2009, CBS News reported a story about an Indiana teen, Andrew Conley, who was inspired by Dexter, and killed his younger brother. Shockingly, there are many more such instances.

Robin Hood

The outlawed hero of the English folk tale, Robin Hood is famous for his acts of robbing the rich and distributing the collected booty among the poor. The fairy tale of Robin Hood and his merry men is as popular as ever, even today.

Origin(s): Obscure
Influence: An idea that comes to mind after reading/watching the story of Robin Hood is with regards to the redistribution of wealth.
While many people, especially children, are wrongly influenced by this folkloric hero distributing his looted booty among the poor, a big number of them also believe that, no matter how hard he strove for the well-being of the poor, he was still a thief.
However, the tale is famous ever since the medieval period till today, and has been influencing a large number of people, though these influences are distributed.

Pied Piper

The Pied Piper of Hamelin, who lured the children away from their homes, never to return again, is a popular fictional character, since the Middle Ages.

Origin(s): The earliest known depiction of the tale can be found on a 1300 A.D. stained glass window in the Church of Hamelin.
Influence: The term 'Pied Piper' has become a well-known phrase in English language, and is now used metaphorically for describing a person who is a capable of charming people and driving them astray. There have been several versions of the tale in different media till date, and though there have been innumerable variations in the story line, it is still liked by people the world over.

Jack Sparrow

The pirate captain Jack Sparrow, who prefers to use his wits and exceptional negotiation skills rather than force, has been enthralling world audiences since 2003. He is definitely one of the most influential fictional characters in the world.
Origin(s): Fictional character in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series - first appeared in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl in the year 2003.
Influence: According to film critic Todd Gilchrist, Jack Sparrow is the only fictional character from films that will remain timeless. One of the major influences of Jack Sparrow is that the character has sort of redefined masculinity in the 21st century, from a more clichéd action-adventure hero to a calm yet treacherous personality.
Moreover, Sparrow's influence on women, as a romantic fantasy figure with carefree attitude, is immense.
It is very important to analyze why and how a certain fictional character appeals to the audience, so much so that they start getting influenced by it. The very popularity of some of these characters defines their public reach, and hence their ability to inspire people's thoughts.
What is vital for people, however, is that they need to be careful while judging the exact nature of the fictional character before getting influenced by it.