Humans are often attracted to glorious tales of brave leaders, mythological beings, and amazing minds. Folklore and history are often interwoven. Throughout history, thousands of historical figures have shaped our society, but have you ever wondered if they all existed? Many researchers and historians have dedicated their lives to researching this question. Some famous people you’ve heard of may never have existed, so here are a few.
There are so many famous fictional characters based on Sherlock Holmes that many believe he is a real person. Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Holmes, did base him upon the real-life surgeon Joseph Bell, who, like Holmes, was known for drawing broad conclusions from very small details.
Zorro is such a beloved character that many people believe he was a real person, as is Sherlock Holmes. As a fictional character, Zorro is usually portrayed as a charming vigilante who defends the common people of California from tyrants. His work is believed to have been inspired by Joaquin Murrieta, known as the Robin Hood of the West.
Washington Irving’s short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow features Ichabod Crane, the protagonist. There are a large number of people who believe he was real, but he was merely a fictional character. In the 1999 Tim Burton adaptation, Johnny Depp portrayed a crane.
In China, Mulan was already a legendary figure long before she appeared in the Disney animated film. She is not universally accepted as a real person. In the 6th century, during the Southern Chen dynasty, Mulan’s Ballad first appeared in the Musical Records of Old and New.
Even though King Arthur has been featured in many books, plays, movies, and T.V. shows, most historians agree that he is not a historical figure. King Arthur was largely based on English and Welsh folklore and literary inventions.
English folklore often features Robin Hood as an outlaw, and he’s an important character in books and films. His habit of stealing from the rich to give to the poor made him famous. Throughout history, there have been numerous debates over whether he existed or not; however, there has never been any solid evidence showing his existence.
Scholars agree that philosopher and great thinker Confucius was, in fact, a real person, but some have questioned his existence. Professor Lionel M. Jensen, co-director of the Chinese studies program at the University of Colorado Denver, claims Jesuit missionaries contributed to the idea that Confucius was the founder of the Chinese school of thought during the 16th century.
The Swiss folk tale hero William Tell is known throughout the world. In legend, Tell was an expert crossbow shooter and killed Albrecht Gessler, a tyrant of Altdorf, with a crossbow. Modern historians do not believe he was a real person, but many have debated that he was.
Sun Tzu is credited with writing the influential book The Art of War, a book that served as a military strategist, philosopher, and writer. However, it is not 100% clear if he existed or not. His historical relevance is still in question, and many say the book may be a collection of lessons he learned from many military leaders.
Scholars disagree over whether he existed. Some believe he was alive in the 8th or 9th century BCE and came from Ionia. His would have been an oral tradition, and so the works attributed to him were probably transcribed by others.
Known as a steel-driving man, John Henry made holes in the rock by hammering steel into it during railroad tunnel construction. Blues folk songs, several films, and T.V. shows all feature his story.
This is a character from the 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family that later became a hit 1977 T.V. miniseries. LeVar Burton played a role in the show. However, Kunta Kinte was not a real person.
Helen of Troy
Helen of Troy was the face that launched a thousand ships, states Doctor Faustus in Marlowe’s play. Homer’s epic poem The Iliad only mentions the legendary beautiful woman as a character, not one who is based on fact.
So here’s the tricky part: many historians believe that Jesus existed in the past, but many believe that his portrayal in the Bible might not have been accurate or reliable. However, you cannot deny his importance to Christianity.
According to scholars, Solomon was probably a real person, but academics across the spectrum of biblical archeology agree it is difficult to construct an accurate portrait of the king.
The Midas touch is the expression we use to describe King Midas, who was cursed with the power to turn anything he touched into gold. He most likely existed as a real king, but the story about him is highly unlikely to be historical. However, it is very important in Greek mythology.
Jack the Ripper
In 1888, Jack the Ripper was a serial killer who targeted impoverished areas of London. Since he’s never been identified, it’s hard to determine whether one individual committed every murder attributed to him. Jack the Ripper remains unsolved to this day, which has led to many Jack the Ripper legends being derived from pseudo-history, folklore, and historical research.
In Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus, known by his Latin name Ulysses, is the central figure and hero. As well, he plays a prominent role in The Illiad. However, no concrete evidence has yet been found to prove he existed.
The Pythagorean Theorem is well known, but who is the man behind it? Even though scholars agree he existed, little about his life is known for certain, and almost nothing is known for certain about him. It remains unclear whether he authored all of the works and teachings attributed to him.
Several Abrahamic religions revere Moses as one of the most important figures, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Bahai faith. According to scholars, the Biblical character is widely considered a mythical being even though he existed during the 13th century BCE.
You may have heard that Carolyn Keene wrote the Nancy Drew mystery series. However, did you know that this was a pseudonym? Stratemeyer Syndicate wrote the stories written by writers such as Mildred Wirt for the popular books. However, they were paid just $125 per book and were required to surrender the rights to the works and maintain confidentiality.
Have you ever seen a film that Alan Smithee directed? If this was the case, you watched a movie directed by someone who wanted to get rid of a project. Alan Smithee was the official pseudonym used for this purpose between 1968 and 2000 when it was formally discontinued.
In the film Adaptation, Nicholas Cage played actor Donald Kaufman, Charlie Kaufman’s brother. Watchers of the movie become convinced he is real, but Donald Kaufman is a character created by Charlie for the film.
It was Thomas D. Rice who developed Jim Crow and would perform as the character in blackface. In the end, the stage persona led to negative stereotypes about blacks. After it passed Jim Crow laws, the Civil Rights Act was signed by Lyndon Johnson. Jim Crow can’t have ever existed.
John Doe and Jane Doe
Males hiding or not revealing their true names are known by the multiple-use name John Doe. Females are referred to as Jane Doe. Names such as John Doe do not refer to a historical person but were chosen to satisfy the technical requirements of the jurisdiction. Folk etymologies may exist for the name, but the rationale behind the names is unknown.
For advertising campaigns, the company behind the brand of the same name creates a fictional character, Betty Crocker. In 1936, they commissioned a portrait of Betty Crocker for use on product packaging. It was never possible for her to exist in the real world. In choosing Betty, we wanted to give her a cheery, all-American name.
Alfred Bull top Stormalong
Massachusetts-based nautical tall tales tell about Alfred Bull top Stormalong, a folk hero. Sea shanties first mentioned the name, and then Here’s Audacity! Appeared in 1930 by Frank Shay. Although he wrote many songs and stories about himself, nobody believed he was real.
James S.A. Corey
Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank collaborated and wrote the science fiction series The Expanse under James S.A. Corey’s pen name. Pen name created based on author’s middle name where S.A. is the initials of Abraham’s daughter. We also meant the name to give an impression of space opera writers from the 1970s.
Titanic events were certainly true, but not everything shown was an accurate depiction of them in the 1997 movie Titanic. There is a grave labeled J. Dawson at the Fairview Cemetery where 121 victims are buried, although Dawson was a fictional character. The real J. In the ship’s engine room, Dawson was a trimmer named Joseph. Unbelievably, the crew realized the coincidence only after filming had finished.
An extremely popular YouTube channel, lonelygirl15, documented the everyday life of a 15-year-old girl named Bree. 19-year-old actress Jessica Rose played the character of Bree. This news didn’t go over well with fans.