Is Jacob Holbrook a Real Person? Why is He Called Marsh King?

Neil Burger’s ‘The Marsh King’s Daughter’ unfolds as a psychological crime drama that tests a girl’s love for her father when she discovers the truth about him. Daisy Ridley stars as Helena, brought up by her father in the wilderness. She idolizes him until it turns out that he had kidnapped her mother 12 years ago and was holding her captive. Her father, Jacob, was not the man she thought he was, and this shattering of illusions defines the rest of her life. As impossible as it is to imagine someone’s life like this, the unfortunate truth is that cases like Jacob Holloway are not entirely fictional. The writer of this story found their inspiration in a real-life case. SPOILERS AHEAD

Jacob Holloway is Inspired by a Real Life Kidnapper

‘The Marsh King’s Daughter’ draws its material from Karen Dionne’s novel of the same name, but Dionne was inspired by a real-life case to create the fictional story of Helena in Jacob. Her novel was published in 2017, but the real-life case came to light in 2009 when Phillip Garrido, a convicted sex offender, was arrested for kidnapping and raping Jaycee Lee Dugard, who had been living in his captivity for 18 years. She was 11 years old in 1991 when she was kidnapped by Garrido from the street on her way to school. Despite all efforts, no trace of Dugard was found, and as years passed, the trail went cold.

In the movie, Jacob takes Beth deep into the wilderness, living in the marsh, where there is rarely any other soul around. Such a situation would make it hard to catch the perpetrator. In Garrido’s case, however, the circumstances were much different and, hence, even more appalling. Instead of taking the young Dugard to some wilderness, away from civilization, Garrido held her for eighteen years in his backyard. She was forced to live in tents and sheds behind the house that were concealed so that no one would pay attention to it. What’s worse is that Garrido had parole officers who would visit him, but none of them had any inkling that he was carrying out a crime in their presence for all those years.

Dugard was subjected to rape and abuse, and Garrido wasn’t alone in this. His wife, Nancy, was his accomplice. During her captivity, Dugard gave birth to two daughters, and it was when Garrido visited the University of California campus in Berkley that suspicions arose around him. The girls were eleven and fifteen years old at the time. A few days later, the truth came to light, and Dugard and her daughters finally had their freedom. Garrido was sentenced to 431 years in prison. He is serving his sentence at Corcoran State Prison in the Protective Housing Unit and will not be eligible for parole until 2034. His wife, Nancy, was sentenced to 36 years to life in prison.

Jacob’s Marsh King Moniker Refers to His Abode

The early influence for writing ‘The Marsh King’s Daughter’ came to Karen Dionne from Garrido’s case, but when she sat down to write the novel, she changed the setting as well as the perspective of the story. Drawing from her own experience of living outside of society with her family for several years, she put Helena and her parents in a similar surrounding. This is where the location of the marsh comes into the picture.

In the movie, Jacob receives the moniker of Marsh King and becomes quite a famous person for his actions. After being held in captivity for eighteen years, when Beth finally finds her opening, she jumps at it and runs away with her daughter. Her reappearance causes shock and uproar in the society, and it becomes national news. As the details about the case come to light, it is revealed that the marsh had been the trio’s house for eighteen years. Jacob had chosen the place specifically because he knew no one else would be around much. If no one found them, no one would catch him.

Jacob lived in that land like it was his own, being aware of every nook and cranny and dent in the place. He had laid down elaborate traps not just for animals but also for humans. This is how he made sure that no one, even if they were lost, would ever stumble upon his victims. Eventually, however, he was caught and was called Marsh King after his territory and the crimes it hid for eighteen years.

Read More: The Marsh King’s Daughter is Inspired by the Author’s Own Experiences