Is “V for Vendetta” Based On A Real Story?

Published between 1982 and 1989, Alan Moore’s and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta has since become a cult classic comic book and certainly among the best ones ever written. It is an example of Moore’s writing genius, but also a story that has become a symbol of defiance against state tyranny. In today’s article, I am going to talk about the actual history behind V for Vendetta, so get ready for a treat.

V for Vendetta is not based on any actual historical event, but it is heavily inspired by the Gunpowder Plot and Guy Fawkes’ role in it, being a symbolic and dystopian retelling of these historical events set in the 1980s. 

In today’s article, I am going to tell you about the actual history that inspired Moore’s V for Vendetta. You are going to find out about the real historical event that inspired the graphic novel. You are also going to find out what historical years and eras are important for understanding the narrative and setting of this cult classic comic book. Enjoy!

Is V for Vendetta based on a real story?

The story of V for Vendetta is well known, but it doesn’t really hurt to revisit it so that you can get some context for the rest of the article in case you’ve forgotten some details. 

A paperback edition from 2008 summarized the plot in the following way: “Set in a futurist totalitarian England, a country without freedom or faith, a mysterious man in a white porcelain mask strikes back against the oppressive overlords on behalf of the voiceless. Armed with only knives and his wits, V, as he’s called, aims to bring about change in this horrific new world. His only ally? A young woman named Evey Hammond. And she is in for much more than she ever bargained for…”

Long story short, Britain is ruled by the Norsefire political party, a party that is outright Nordic supremacist, neo-fascist, outwardly Christofascistic, and homophobic. The party has eliminated all of its opponents in concentration camps and is now running a totalitarian, police state with absolutely no civil liberties. 

The protagonist and antihero of Moore’s story is the enigmatic V, an anarchist revolutionary always hidden behind a Guy Fawkes mask. He was a former prisoner of the state but managed to escape. He then launched a complex, elaborate, and rather theatrical revolutionary campaign to murder his former captors and bring down the tyrannical state. He offers anarchy instead of fascism, opining that even a lawless society is better than a tyrannical one. 

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Along the way, he saves and inspired a young woman named Evey Hammond, who at one point decides to join him and becomes his protégée. 

Now, the context of this synopsis reveals that this story could hardly have happened in history, and while authors are allowed to take certain liberties with historical events, this plot is far too elaborate to have happened in real life. First of all, such a tyrannical state never existed (although we have been close to it during World War II and the Cold War), and secondly, Moore’s characters are obviously too fictional to have been real. 

This brings us to the conclusion that V for Vendetta isn’t a retelling of any real historical event, but rather a symbolic and dystopian interpretation of some historical events that inspired the story. Let us see what events Moore was referring to in his story.

Credit DC Comics

What is V for Vendetta inspired by?

We have established that V for Vendetta is a fictional story and that it was partially inspired by some historical events, but it isn’t directly based on them. There is one specific historical event that is used as a basis for V for Vendetta and that is the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. 

The Gunpowder Plot is one of the most famous events in British history. It involved a plot to assassinate King James I while he was in the House of Lords, and then install his nine-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, as the new ruler. The reasons behind the plot were mostly of a religious nature, as the plotters were Catholics who wanted to overthrow the Anglican Church from the throne. The plotters were led by Robert Catesby, but he has become a secondary figure thanks to the actions of one of the plotters – Guy Fawkes. 

The plot was worked out quite well. The plotters managed to procure large amounts of gunpowder and hide them underneath the House of Lords. When the King arrived, they would light the gunpowder and blow him up, along with the House of Lords. And it probably would have worked, had an anonymous letter not arrived in the hands of a peer, William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle. This happened on October 26, 1605.

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The plot was discovered and the King ordered a thorough search of the premises. In the evening of November 4, 1605, the King’s guards discovered Guy Fawkes guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder in the House’s undercroft; that was enough explosive to blow up the whole building. When approached, Fawkes said that he had been guarding the explosives for his master, Thomas Percy, and left with the guards. 

As the guards left, Fawkes returned to the planned crime scene. The guards became suspicious, as Thomas Percy was a well-known Catholic agitator so they decided to return to the undercroft later that night. 

They found Guy Fawkes there once again and arrested him; this time, he gave the name John Johnson as his own. He was taken to the King on November 5, 1605 and that was the official failure of the Gunpowder Plot. The Crown later went after the remaining plotters, who had fled London, catching some of them, while a lot of the others managed to escape. Guy Fawks was later executed. 

As you can see, the Gunpowder Plot is not a direct basis for V for Vendetta, but Guy Fawkes and his fight against what he perceived to be a tyrannical state heavily inspired Moore. In fact, the rhyme “Remember, remember, the 5th of November”, a reference to the event, is closely associated with V for Vendetta in contemporary pop-culture. 

Now that I have explained this, I can continue by telling you what other events and eras inspired Moore’s narrative. 

What years are important in V for Vendetta?

Alan Moore is a narrative genius. That is a fact. The guy has consistently proven that he is not just a brilliant and creative mind, but also that he is able to reinvent people’s perception of certain events. Almost all of his comics have done much in that aspect, with Moore either reshaping history or the traditional comic book narrative that people had been used to up to that point. V for Vendetta is not an exception here, but it falls into the former category. 

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In this section, I am going to tell you about the major historical events and eras that Moore “reinvented” and reinterpreted in his 1980s masterpiece. 

The Gunpowder Plot is an essential element to Moore’s story, but I have already explained its importance and course in the previous section of this article, so I am not going to repeat these facts here. 

Other aspects that inspired Moore were the Interwar Period and World War II, or, more specifically, the domination of fascism and Nazism in these two periods. Moore’s Norsefire party has too many obvious similarities with the German Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler, and the Italian Fascist Party, led by Benito Mussolini. A lot of their ideas are the same and while Norsefire’s Britain is a much more ruthless police state than the Third Reich ever was (not that it did not want to be like that, it was just, thankfully, stopped before it could reach that level of tyranny), the influences are quite obvious. Moore used Nazism as an inspiration, but twisted it into an even worse form, i.e., visualized what would have been had Nazism not been defeated. 

There are also obvious parallels between Norsefire’s Britain and Orwell’s Oceania, the principal among the states in his classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell’s work was inspired by the terrors of Stalinism in the Soviet Union, but the parallels between Moore’s and Orwell’s dystopias are quite obvious. 

The most direct influence on the setting was not history, though, but the present. Namely, V for Vendetta is a hyperbolic reaction against what Moore perceived as Thatcherian fascism. In the 1980s, Britain’s government was headed by the extremely conservative Margaret Thatcher. This caused a lot of social tensions in the United Kingdom and the Thatcherian period is often criticized for some of its social policies. 

Of course, Margaret Thatcher was not a fascist and Alan Moore knew that quite well, but for many, she was far from an ideal Prime Minister and Moore, doing what he does best, decided to twist that rule and portray it as a tyrannical fascist regime that his protagonist wanted to destroy. 

And with this, I can conclude today’s article. See you next time!