We love fiction because it gives life to things that could never happen and people who could never exist. But the boundary of existence isn't well-defined and some of the wackiest, most iconic moments in pop culture are paralleled by even zanier historical precedents.


1. Princess Leia's buns are based on a Native American hairstyle

star wars

Unlike other pop culture princess, your Peaches and such, Leia got her hands dirty, racking up a kill count and even absorbing the only accurate Stormtrooper laser bolt in the entirety of Star Wars. The quickest draw in all princessdom, in 1977 Carrie Fisher explained that George Lucas purposely avoided the "damsel in distress" trope to create the fightingest, laser-blastiest princess in cinematic history.

In a 2002 Time interview, Lucas described Princess Leia as a spiritual successor to the soldaderas, the female freedom fighters of the Mexican Revolution. Women like Clara de la Rocha, a grizzled, stout woman who kicked all sorts of ass and apparently sported a Leia-like double bun, according to the following photograph taken at the Star Wars historical exhibit at the Denver Museum of Art:

eric tang
via Eric Tang

But according to author Tabea Linhard, the soldaderas may not have worn the double bun, or any signature hairstyle, as they were too busy building a new Mexico and generally raising hell. One of Clara de la Rocha's descendants did mention a time when the freedom fighter crossed a river on horseback and disabled a power station to enable a stealthy night mission -- that definitely sounds like something Leia would do. But as far looks go, the Princess of Alderaan seems to have more in common with the women of the Hopi Native American tribe. 

via Edward S. Curtis

Often called a "squash blossom," a traditional hairdo for unmarried women in the Hopi tribe in Arizona. The "buns" you see on either side of the head are actually loops of hair held together with wood. Though the style had been around for much longer, it wasn't until photography became more commonplace that the squash blossom became more widespread, eventually spreading to a galaxy far, far away.


2. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory's candy spies were a real thing

willy wonka

Roald Dahl is most famous for authoring the children's classics The BFG and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but in reality was less Mr. Rogers and more James Bond. During World War II, Dahl punked Nazis as Royal Air Force fighter pilot. Then he basically became Austin Powers, an undercover agent so sexy and randy that his superiors tasked him with seducing important women.

Before all that, the image of a magical chocolate factory formed in Dahl's mind as a boy. Lil' Dahl attended the famed Repton school, sometimes used as a chocolate bar testing ground by the nearby Cadbury factory. Riding a sugar high one day, Dahl pictured Cadbury HQ as a wondrous Rube Goldberg machine that pooped out fantastical candies.

But it was espionage that finally inspired Dahl to transform the idea into Charlie and Chocolate Factory. Not international espionage, but chocolate espionage. At its core, the story of Willy Wonka and his protoge is a surprisingly accurate representation of the secretive, cutthroat nature of the real-life candy industry.

See, companies in the confectionary biz were unable to patent their confectionary recipes, which meant that anyone who managed to get a specific formula could reproduce any candy they wanted. This resulted in a real-life game of Spy Vs. Spy, with corporations scrambling to steal each other's delicious trade secrets. Infiltrating rival factories with moles is a favored industry practice -- which as you may remember were a big part of the plot in Willy Wonka's world. These spies were exemplified by misters Slugworth, Prodnose, and Fickelgruber, spymasters who sent their goons to purloin Willy Wonka's sugary formulas.

Slugworth in particular you might remember as the creeper who showed up to tempt the children in movie scenes that are much more disturbing in hindsight. Though "Slugworth" was revealed to be an impostor that was working on Wonka's side, Dahl was nonetheless enraged by the studio's attempt to add an actual villain to the story. That reaction is especially weird considering that the fake Slugworth testing loyalty seems like the kind of classic espionage maneuver Dahl might have been witness to during his time in the service of the crown. Then again, this is the same guy who hated Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, so maybe his judgment was a little clouded. 

3. There's an actual Sword in the Stone (that predates King Arthur)


The stories of King Arthur and his knightly knights are sadly apocryphal, but they may have been partially inspired by real events and items. But until archaeologists unearth twin graves marked Arthur and Guinevere, the best evidence lies in the rolling hills of Tuscany, at the Capella di San Galgano a Montesiepi.

This proof, as it turns out, is a real life sword in the stone. It belonged to Galgano Guidotti, a saint who died in 1181, and so predates the Arthurian legend which was written sometime in the 13th century.


So the story goes: Galgano Guidetti was an impetuous, impious noble until the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him one day and gave him the eternal salvation spiel. 

So Galgano devoted himself to asceticism and on his way up a mountain to establish a hermitage was accosted by an ethereal voice (others say a fellow traveler) who implored him to give up earthly desires. Galgano replied that doing so is as feasible as his sword cleaving stone, and so swung his weapon at a nearby boulder, into which it sank like so much butter.

Several years later, the now-saintly Galgano died. Instead of moving the sword and incurring a holy curse, locals built the Montesiepi Chapel around it to immortalize the legend. At least until it's torn down to accommodate a B&B.

This might sound like a crock of crap, but scientists dated the sword to the 12th century and, intriguingly, ground penetrating radar revealed a Galgano-sized burial niche beneath the sword. It likely contains either the saint himself or you know, King Arthur -- though researchers can't get at it without disturbing the sword and stone.

4. Monty Python and the Holy Grail's Black Knight and Evil Rabbit come straight from history

black knight

No franchise is responsible as many inside jokes among awkward nerds as Monty Python.  Especially Monty Python and the Holy Grail, whose scenes continue to play in geekdom's collective consciousness more than 40 years later.

Unlike the fictional Arthurian fables from which the film derives its theme, certain scenes allude to historical occasions. For example, the endlessly-quoted Black Knight that King Arthur reduced to a bloody stump alludes to an ancient Roman wrestler who won a match in spite of the overwhelming odds of being dead.


The story goes like so: Two wrestlers achieved a seemingly perpetual stalemate, locked in a communal submission hold until one man's arm snapped from the totally heterosexual pressure of the embrace.

The broken-armed man tapped out, but at some point during the maneuver had squeezed the life from his opponent, who, not having submitted in the process of being killed, was declared champion.

This tale was relayed to John Cleese by his friend "Jumper" Gee as the ultimate "never give up" story. Cleese didn't entirely agree with the sentiment but nonetheless used the inspiration to create an immortal piece of pop culture. As a minor note, it's possible that the nationality of the wrestler changed across the retellings because ancient records mention such an incident occurring to a Greek combatant named Arrhichion.

And then there's the rabbit.


The cave-dwelling Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog is a modern spin on a chivalrous principle - the shame of cowardice. It's inspired by a scene etched into the façade of Notre Dame Cathedral, which shows a caitiff knight ditching his sword and fleeing an uncharacteristically aggressive rabbit. Unfortunately we're missing the sculpture depicting the knight getting his throat torn out.


5. The Vulcan Salute dates back 3,000 years

star trek

Other than the peace sign and the middle finger, the Vulcan salute is probably the world's most recognizable hand gesture. Unlike the former two, the Vulcan salute has a clear origin in, of all things, Orthodox Judaism.

Performed with both hands, the hand sign you see above is the preferred blessing method of the Cohanim, descendants of Moses' brother Aaron. Cohanim continue to repeat the ritual that Aaron blessed them with more than 3,000 years ago, donning of a prayer shawl (tallit) over the face, reciting words of reverence, and spreading out the hands like so:

live long and prosper
via Kleuske 

To connect this to Star Trek, we have to dive back into the childhood of Spock himself. As a boy, Leonard Nimoy partook in such a "Shekhinah" ceremony at a synagogue in Boston and risked his immortal soul by peeking from beneath the tallit, an act his father told him was explicitly forbidden. It was then that Nimoy witnessed the holy men brandishing the ancient gesture and the surreal scene forever lodged itself in his brain.

The gesture also corresponds to the Hebrew letter "shin", which looks like a fancy "W" but makes the "sh" sound that prefixes such consecrated words as Shalom and Shaddai, one of God's nicknames in Hebrew.

Later on, as a spacefaring adult, Spock visited the planet Vulcan and suggested that the gesture should become the Vulcan symbol of greeting. Nimoy only used one hand, however, as he presumably feared a smiting should he associate such a sacred sign with a television show centered around William Shatner's interstellar sexual escapades.