Notable Nobodies

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Sir John Mandeville wasn’t just unreal; he was really unreal:

[A] French book of about 1357... purported to be the recollections of an English knight, Sir John Mandeville. It was really a compilation of travel stories from classical and medieval times put together by a Benedictine monk who probably never travelled further than his monastery’s library. (So many works continue to claim that he was a real person that the Dictionary of National Biography has included an entry to make clear he’s fictional. He joins a select company of myth figures in the DNB that includes Britannia, Merlin, Robin Hood, John Bull, Ned Ludd, the Unknown Warrior and Piltdown Man.)

I love the idea that there are negative certifications for nonexistent people, with prestigious non-individuals having their unreality officially underlined. It’s almost as though a smidgeon of doubt may linger around common nonentities until they’ve been properly vetted and deemed clubbable, and they might enjoy the merest shadow of potential existence until authorities confirm otherwise. Perhaps someday such endorsements will be made more widely available, and an entire inverted Who’s Who will debunk the existence of absolutely everybody who’s nobody.

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