Skip to main content

Real Animals Made Famous By Fiction

Ms. Carroll is a retired paralegal who now works as a certified professional aromatherapist. She enjoys freelance writing in her spare time.


Peter Rabbit Or Peter Cottontail?

REAL: The Eastern Cottontail is the most common rabbit found in North America. These big ears don't dig their own dens, but use holes or burrows created by other species such as woodchucks. They eat bark, twigs, leaves, fruits, buds, flowers, and grass or rush seeds. They eat dandelions like children sometimes eat their spaghetti noodles! It's no surprise these long-eared, fluffy-tailed, docile creatures have been irresistible to authors of children's books for centuries.

FICTION: Peter Cottontail and Peter Rabbit are two very famous but very different rabbits brought to life in children's books. In 1917, Thornton Waldo Burgess wrote The Adventures of Peter Cottontail wherein Peter Rabbit decides at the outset that he needs a more sophisticated name like "Cottontail." By Chapter Three; however, Peter realizes that 'Rabbit' isn't such a bad name after all. Peter is also referred to as 'Brer Rabbit' in the book.

In Beatrix Potter's book The Tale of Peter Rabbit formally published in 1902, Potter introduces Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter. The story is said to be inspired by a pet rabbit which Potter had as a child named Peter Piper (who may have liked to eat pickled peppers). In Potter's story, Peter is the eldest of his soft and furry siblings, but he likes to disobey his mother by eating Mr. McGregor's garden (despite the knowledge that Peter's father became one of Mrs. McGregor's pies).

It wasn't until 1971 that Peter Cottontail twitched his tail again. An Easter TV special named Here Comes Peter Cottontail showcased Peter as the 'Chief Cottontail'. The show was based on a 1957 novel by Priscilla and Otto Friedrich entitled The Easter Bunny That Overslept, while the song "Here Comes Peter Cottontail," was actually recorded by Gene Autry in 1950. It was the country/pop song hit that gave today's Easter Bunny his name.

MORE FLOPPY FICTION: Br’er Rabbit is another famous rabbit — this one made famous by the 1946 Disney film Song of the South. Br'er Rabbit was instrumental in showing viewers that even if you're not physically strong, you can still outsmart someone. Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear play the villains while Br'er Rabbit uses reverse psychology to outsmart them. A loosely inspired version of the now partially banned Disney film was made available in 2006 called The Adventures of Br'er Rabbit. Many of the same characters from Song of the South are carried forward to The Adventures of Br'er Rabbit.

Sitting Luck II

Sitting Luck II

Why Bluebirds And Woodpeckers Are Special

REAL, SORT OF: Bluebirds are quite special although they may seem commonplace. According to legend, they symbolize hope, love, and renewal. Some people believe dreams about bluebirds indicate good luck. Others believe bluebirds are sent by angels to deliver important messages to us.

REAL, DEFINITELY: There are three types of bluebirds: the Eastern Bluebird, the Western Bluebird, and the Mountain Bluebird. East, West, or mountainous, these highly social birds live about six years. Missouri and New York chose the beautiful Eastern Bluebird (pictured here) as their official state bird. The oldest bluebird on record was banded in New York but died in South Carolina at the ripe age of ten.

REAL: The bluebird is mentioned in countless songs. The most famous is probably Mister Bluebird who was mentioned in Zip-a-dee-doo-dah from the famous Disney movie Song of the South. The movie is now partly banned, but true to legend Uncle Remus depicted the bluebird as a symbol of luck and happiness. Joan Baez wrote and sang the famous song, Glad Bluebird of Happiness. Bluebird of Happiness Day is observed each year on September 24. Paul McCartney and the Wings performed a wonderful tune simply called Bluebird. One of the oldest songs, Bluebird of Happiness, became a worldwide hit in 1945. reports that a 1908 play named The Blue Bird by Maurice Maeterlinck was premised on two children searching for the Bluebird of Happiness. This play was eventually adapted to opera, film, and a children’s novel.

Let's look at another famous feathered friend:

Woody Woodpecker

Woody Woodpecker is a cartoon caricature created in 1940 and first depicted on TV in 1957 in The Woody Woodpecker Show. The cartoon was developed by Walter Lantz and the Walter Lantz Studio who produced theatrical cartoons for the majority of his career. The laughable woodpecker was actually inspired by an Acorn Woodpecker that was heard and observed by Lantz and his wife on their honeymoon. However, Woody's hairy red-top which certainly resembles a Pileated Woodpecker, assured that he has been commonly mistaken as one for most of his fictional life. The famous laugh and self-confident voice of Woody is that of Mel Blanc of Warner Brothers.

Woody was a staple from 1957 until 1972 when Lantz finally closed his studio due to economic hardships. Woody made such a lasting impression that he has a motion picture star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is the official mascot for Universal Studios. He also made a cameo appearance in the 1988 flick, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Indeed, Woody deserved the accolades. He starred in over 200 cartoon films, three of which were nominated for an Academy Award including The Dizzy Acrobat, Musical Moments from Chopin, and Wet Blanket Policy. (Author's Note: One of my personal favorite's is one of the shorts named Who's Cooking Who?)

Acorn Woodpecker

Acorn Woodpecker

Rudolph Meets Bambino

No single animal has managed to capture the hearts and minds of children as much as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

REAL: Rudolph's character was originally based on a roe deer (although the male species is sometimes called a roebuck). The roe is a small reddish and grey-brown deer which is well-adapted to cold environments.

FICTION: Created from an original story in 1939 by Robert May, Rudolph as we know him today was adapted to a 1949 song (written by May's brother, Johnny May). The imaginary reindeer led to a TV special in 1964.

Scroll to Continue

Rudolph is still flying high in the imaginations of children today. The story features Rudolph as the ninth and youngest of Santa's reindeers Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. The rather nasal sounding roe deer uses his unique and luminous, sometimes blinking nose to guide Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve.

REAL AGAIN: There have been many versions of Rudolph over the years but most notably the 1964 version did not show Santa picking up toys from the Island of Misfit. A letter-writing campaign demanded the ending be added in 1965. When Disney decided to create its own version, they based the Rudolph character on a mule deer instead of a roe deer.

May said his inspiration for Rudolph came from The Ugly Duckling AND from an actual true story. As a child he “had known what it was like to be an underdog.” The name Rudolph was chosen for alliterative reasons thanks to an 1820 poem named A Visit from Saint Nicholas. Among the names considered were Rollo, Rodney, Roland, Roderick and Reggy though it is very difficult to fathom any name more fitting to a luminous red-nosed reindeer than Rudolph.

MORE ROE FICTION: Bambi is the lead fictional character in Bambi, A Life in the Woods published in 1923. It was written by Austrian Felix Salten. The book was made into an American animated film produced by Walt Disney and released during World War II. Surprisingly, the film didn't produce bucks (pun intended) for quite some time, but today it remains is a classic animal favorite. The film features Bambi's friends' Thumper, the pink-nosed rabbit; Flower, a sweet and shy skunk that Bambi mistook as an actual flower; and Faline, Bambi's future mate.

REAL: Salten said he came up with the name Bambi based on the Italian word for baby, bambino. A sequel to Bambi was also written and published by Salten named Bambi's Children. Salten, who was of Jewish descent, was forced to write the sequel while living in exile in Switzerland because he was forced to flee Nazi-occupied Austria. In the sequel, twin fawns named Geno and Gurri are the children of Faline and Bambi.



Brer Turtle Today

Brer Turtle Today

Turtles And Other Dinosaur Mutants

REAL: Turtles as old as dinosaurs? That's right! Turtles beat snakes and crocodiles out for the oldest reptilian group in the world. They're over 200 million years old. Some of them live as long as 150 years (the one I captured here might be getting close). Sea turtles are popular in the news but what's not as well known is the fact they can hold their breath for five hours underwater while they eat algae and seagrass. Land turtles eat snails, earthworms, beetles, fruits, grasses, and even flowers.

FICTION: Brer Turtle might seem like a bad fit for a reptilian name, but it was Brer Turtle characterized in The Adventures of Brer Rabbit that explained how animals once lived in outer space. It was the Moon who gave Brer Rabbit (notice the apostrophe is now dropped) an order to get a message to Earth. When Brer Rabbit botches the Moon's order, he winds up having to move to the Earth but he convinces all the other animals in space to move with him to Earth.

More down-to-earth are recollections of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, and Donatello (named after Italian Renaissance artists). Comic book artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird made themselves famous with the turtles in 1984. The turtles quickly became an animated hit TV series AND a Nintendo video game. The four turtles, trained in the Japanese art of Ninjutsu, found creative ways to fight evil among the sewers of New York City.

The Turtles have now appeared in at least six feature films between 1993 and 2007. Michelangelo is famous for preferring playtime to training; Donatello is the smartest, but gentlest; Leonardo and Raphael always seem to find trouble between themselves.

The trouble-busting teenage turtles could not resist their space legacy (remember, Brer Turtle was from the Moon). Venus de Milo was later introduced in the TV series and shortened to Venus. Venus was the only female mutant ninja turtle and she was named after a work of art versus an actual artist. She was not born of Peter Laird's imagination though. Laird resisted the idea of Venus, mainly because his four turtles were just NOT interested in girls.

Franklin Turtle made TV headlines in 1997. Franklin and his best friend Bear lived in a small North American village called Woodland. All of the books in the original 1986 series were authored by Paulette Bourgeois and illustrated by Brenda Clark. The TV series is mostly based on books in the Franklin Adventure series written by Sharon Jennings. The adaptation of TV stories from the books was eventually dropped some of these books should retain their value over time. In all, 25 books were released (soft back and hard back, as well as an activity book which is now priced around $50). The TV series aired for six seasons of 13 episodes each and ran from 1997 to 2004.

REAL AND FICTION: Franklin Turtle appeals to readers on many practical levels such as fear of the dark, loosing a tooth, being boss, the first day of school, telling fibs, and so on.

Titanic Turtle

Titanic Turtle

Sources Other Than Wikipedia:,Italian%20word%20for%20baby%2C%20bambino

Related Articles