Is it a True Story?

The Queen’s Gambit was the most popular miniseries of 2020, leaving many to wonder where the show came from. Its origins are unknown to many fans, thus leaving them to speculate about who Beth Harmon could be. Many fans are under the impression that Beth Harmon was a real person. While that is untrue, she was inspired by many former chess prodigies throughout history.

Beth Harmon was the subject of the 1983 novel The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis. The limited series is not an exact fascimile of the book, as with every adaptation. However, it was the main inspiration for the limited series as a whole. Whether season two will happen or not


The People Who Inspired Beth Harmon

Anya Taylor-Joy plays with her hair and chess in The Queen's Gambit

Sadly, there is no actual Beth Harmon for young girls in chess to look up to. However, there are many historical pioneers and prodigies of the game. There are also many female players who broke glass ceilings to play chess alongside their male counterparts, just like Beth.

When Tevis wrote The Queen’s Gambit in 1983, he was vastly inspired by the chess prodigies of history who popularized the game, prodigies such as Bobby Fischer, who brought the Soviet-dominated game to the forefront of the Cold War in the ’60s and’ 70s. Fischer even went so far as to teach himself Russian so that he could read articles and learn more about his competitors across the ocean, very similar to Beth taking extra Russian classes to do the same. Their careers also mirrored each other. The two played the same tournaments, similar Soviets, and had similar reactions when they lost; both won the US championship title in 1967.

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It’s hard to say that Beth’s character and career were not influenced by Fischer, but there were women who came before Beth Harmon as well, laying the path for her, even if she did not know it. A UK-based, Russian-born player, Vera Menchik, was the Beth Harmon of the 1920s, or the real Beth Harmon, as some have called her. She broke almost every panel of the original glass ceilings set for women in chess, just like audiences saw Beth do. While Bobby Fischer may have been the original inspiration for Beth, it’s hard to ignore Vera’s influence as well.

The Book That Inspired the Show

A nervous chess contender stares at the chess board in Queen's Gambit

As mentioned previously, the show us is one of the best miniseries based on a book, directly from the novel by Walter Tevis of the same name. The novel follows the exact same story that we see in the limited series. With very minimal differences between the novel and the show, fans need not seek out the book to learn anything more about Beth, as the stories are exactly the same were saddened to find that there was not much more to learn about her. Kudos to the creators of the show for staying so true to the novel, even though it may have hurt some readers to see that they already knew everything about Beth.

Related:Anya Taylor-Joy’s The Queen’s Gambit Is Netflix’s Most-Watched Limited Series Ever

Reading about Tevis’ inspirations for the novel may be as close as any fans get to a fuller, more realistic portrait of what and who Beth Harmon stemmed from. Chess Grandmasters Boris Spassky and Anatoly Karpov inspired the author while he was writing the novel, and have been assimilated into the character of Harmon. Tevis also put his own struggles with substance use disorder into his book and character, telling The New York Times in 1983:

When I was young, I was diagnosed as having a rheumatic heart and given heavy drug doses in a hospital. That’s where Beth’s drug dependency comes from in the novel […] Writing about her was purgative. There was some pain – I did a lot of dreaming while writing that part of the story. But artistically, I did not allow myself to be self-indulgent.

The Queen’s Gambit Season 2?

A bored and beautiful Anya Taylor-Joy playing chess in The Queens Gambit

Sadly, author Walter Tevis passed away the year after The Queen’s Gambit was released, in 1984. Due to his inability to expand upon the story of Beth Harmon past the first novel, it is hard to say if there is material for a second season. Not only was the show marketed as a limited series, but the story of Beth seemed quite wrapped up at the end of the season, just as it was at the end of the novel. Thus, where is there for Beth to go next, what more is there for her to do?

Obviously, the character still has a lot of life to live, but how can that be true to the character created in 1983 when its creator isn’t here to make sure? Many fans do not care about this discrepancy in character development, in other words, the gap between the book Beth and the TV Beth. In fact, many fans much prefer the limited series over the novel. At the end of the day, it is up to the creators of the show to decide whether there is anything left for Beth to say.

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